Tanya Selvaratnam’s book The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism and the Reality of the Biological Clock is a deeply personal journey through pregnancies, miscarriages, infertility and the myths and misconceptions that surround female fertility and delaying motherhood. In her own words, Selvaratnam explores “many Big Lies, one of which is that women can delay motherhood until we’re ready and if we’re not able to get pregnant naturally, then science will make it happen for us.”
The Big Lie is that women can do what they want on their own time-tables. — The Big Lie is that women can delay motherhood until they are ready emotionally and financially, until they have their careers figured out and have found the perfect partner, and that if they have trouble, then science will find a way to give them a child. But is it a lie or a willing deception?
I am familiar with that thinking and have done it myself. As a married woman turning 30 this year, with plenty of career ambitions and aspirations and fear about not being able to find a way to fit together my career and becoming a mother, I constantly try to identify the “perfect time” for having a child. I wonder whether I should get a few more years of work experience under my belt, a few more career goals accomplished, before starting a family – but rarely do I factor in the issue of biology. Not once have I seriously thought about infertility, mainly because for me, it hasn’t yet been a relevant topic. However, as becomes clear from Selvaratnam’s book, if we always wait to learn about infertility until it does actually become relevant to us on a personal level, it may already be too late.
Selvaratnam also explores the connection of feminism with women’s decision to delay motherhood. She asks:
Did feminism devalue motherhood? Did it lure us to impossible expectations? Did it lull us into complacency? Or did it create a world full of new possibilities that enticed us to wait until it was too late?
She goes on to acknowledge that no one ever told women not to become mothers, but that feminism focused on telling us what else women could do – which may have led to misconceptions about biological realities. She discusses the impact of stories of celebrities who go on to have biological children in their late thirties and early forties, but notes that these stories only show us the end result – and never the struggles (or price tag) to reach that goal. For many women, waiting until late thirties to try to get pregnant may be too late – and the price of state-of-the-art fertility treatments may be out of reach.
While the topic of “The Big Lie” is deeply personal and emotional, and the message might not be the easiest to digest, it is also one of the most important messages for women to hear. One of Selvaratnam’s suggestions is that basic information about fertility should be offered as part of sexual education in schools, but until that becomes a reality, obtaining that information largely depends on women’s willingness to go out and look for the facts themselves. Armed with statistics, facts and resources about fertility and biology – but with a deeply emotional personal story entwined with scientific and feminist explorations – “The Big Lie” is a book I highly recommend for every woman as the first step towards informing yourselves about the facts of fertility.
One of the biggest take-home messages of “The Big Lie” is the importance of staying informed, obtaining reliable facts and recognizing that while some aspects of our society may have changed in terms of gender equality, biology does not bend to our will. Selvaratnam calls for feminism and feminists to arm women with information and knowledge, so that women can make more informed choices and take control of their future – including their fertility. This is something we can all take part in – and we can start at the personal level. Inform yourself, educate yourself and get to know your options early on – and then talk to your friends and family members about these issues too. Awareness is the first step towards taking control of our bodies, our fertility, and our future.