17 comments for “Women Are Delaying Pregnancy, and That’s a Good Thing

  1. benvolio
    June 22, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    So all those airings of Teen Mom are having an educational effect?

  2. June 22, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    In most ways, I think this is awesome. But I really wish that it wasn’t necessary to delay motherhood in order to become established in your career, especially male-dominated careers. I know several fellow chemistry students who have babies, but all of them are men. I would love to start trying for a baby, but it’s just not an option for me right now. It just sucks.

  3. unacomplished
    June 22, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    kinda interesting that these stats should pop up now that were in the midst of anti – abortion laws are popular again mambo number 5. Not sure if one could be affecting the other.

  4. Zac
    June 22, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    [quote]I know several fellow chemistry students who have babies, but all of them are men.[/quote]

    This sounds like an imbalance in their relationship, not necessarily society.

  5. June 22, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    I thought she meant the babies were all men, at first.

  6. June 22, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    This sounds like an imbalance in their relationship, not necessarily society.

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean by that. The truth is that male science grad students and postdocs can start a family and deal with little-to-no judge for it, while the same is not true for female science grad students. In fact, I’m almost positive that it would kill my career as a scientist, if I were to get pregnant right now. My guess is that this dynamic is true for other professions, especially male dominated ones that require lots of early-career training.

  7. Kristen J.
    June 22, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    My guess is that this dynamic is true for other professions, especially male dominated ones that require lots of early-career training.

    Agreed. Having children at almost any point as a lawyer *marks* you as a “mommy” (or worse); whereas for dudes it makes you a famiy man with incentives to work hard. Bullshit and assholery all around.

  8. LMM
    June 23, 2012 at 9:31 am

    This sounds like an imbalance in their relationship, not necessarily society.

    In part, definitely. As another chemist, though, there’s a caveat you’ve missed: many of the *big* subfields in chemistry (most notably, organic and inorganic chemistry) require researchers to work daily with chemicals which are either tetragenic or unstudied with respect to their effects upon fetuses. The last post (on alcohol) to the contrary, there’s a difference between voluntarily participating in an activity with reasonably known risks while pregnant and doing something regularly as a part of your job. (Even if one completely ignores that factor, I suspect that an enhanced sense of smell would wreck havoc on your abilities in lab. Even the best academic labs have, well, a lot of different odors — and while some of them grow on you with time (acetone! smells like home!), I can’t imagine it being pleasant for a lot of women.)

    Are there (theoretically) work-arounds? I suppose. One could spend nine months writing a review article, or switch over to doing computations. Theoretically, if one does a lot of synthesis (which is what’s most likely to lead to chemical exposure), one might be able to train a subordinate (an undergrad, say) to do the steps that are most likely to be harmful — but that would be incredibly tedious, to say the least, and in a synthetic lab, a lot of what you do is about mastering the subtleties of techniques. (Think of a master chef trying to get the dishwasher to substitute in for nine months.)

    Maybe you could take nine months off of work? Well, there are funding issues which come into play — legal issues aside, asking your advisor to pay for your salary when you can’t do much lab work is kind of awkward. You could be a teaching assistant, I suppose, though you’d have to time the pregnancy right and make arrangements so you weren’t teaching a synthetic lab.

    But all of those are massively complicated arrangements. I knew a woman who got pregnant when she was in grad school for chemistry — but she was lucky; her professor’s work (unlike the vast majority of profs in the department) was biochemically oriented, and she was unlikely to have to deal with the sorts of chemical exposures that most other researchers in the department would have had to deal with. Most other female grad students would have had to sit down and think about the risks — and, quite likely, seriously contemplate an abortion.

  9. Katya
    June 23, 2012 at 10:17 am

    While I think it’s great that women have the ability to delay childbearing until they are ready, I agree that it’s not great that delayed childbearing is a necessity in many fields/types of careers. In some ways, it would be better if women who wanted children could have them earlier, when, frankly, it’s easier on their bodies and many pregnancy risks are lower, and be able to build their careers later. But that would require a level of social support that doesn’t exist, even for middle-class women.

  10. EG
    June 23, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    In some ways, it would be better if women who wanted children could have them earlier, when, frankly, it’s easier on their bodies and many pregnancy risks are lower, and be able to build their careers later. But that would require a level of social support that doesn’t exist, even for middle-class women.

    Word. It would require a job/career system built with the life-cycles of people other than white-collar white men in the 1950s in mind, and God knows we can’t have that.

  11. June 23, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    While I think it’s great that women have the ability to delay childbearing until they are ready, I agree that it’s not great that delayed childbearing is a necessity in many fields/types of careers. In some ways, it would be better if women who wanted children could have them earlier, when, frankly, it’s easier on their bodies and many pregnancy risks are lower, and be able to build their careers later. But that would require a level of social support that doesn’t exist, even for middle-class women.

    I concur. I think that we can build such a system of social support, though. The status quo precludes its existence, but things certainly don’t have to be this way.

  12. June 24, 2012 at 11:04 am

    As another chemist, though, there’s a caveat you’ve missed: many of the *big* subfields in chemistry (most notably, organic and inorganic chemistry) require researchers to work daily with chemicals which are either tetragenic or unstudied with respect to their effects upon fetuses.

    But this is definitely not true for all areas of chemistry (materials chemistry is HUGE, and often doesn’t carry those risks. Same for biochem, analytical chem, theoretical chem, and most physical chem), including the one I work with (mostly aqueous work). Also, theoretically, exposure to toxic chemicals is minimal, due to proper safety mechanisms. Yes, there are always risks. Always. But that’s true of everything. What are the risks of a major exposure while working in a lab vs. risks of getting injured in a care accident? The only major exposure I’ve had, after working in the lab for six years, has been getting doused with acetone. Clearly not ideal, but not exactly a medical emergency.

    Anyways, I have a feeling that, even if I understood the risks of being pregnant in the lab, I would still face a ton of judgement if I got pregnant and decided to go through with the pregnancy, both professionally and from non-chemists who have absolutely no idea of the risks.

    Also, clearly the same risks are not true for, say, being a lawyer, where Kristen J. says that similar pressures are in place.

  13. Bagelsan
    June 24, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Plenty of chemicals I worked with in biochem/bio were no good for you, but that’s why you only put them on the tissue sample and not yourself! *licks up spill on bench* :p

  14. LMM
    June 24, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    But this is definitely not true for all areas of chemistry (materials chemistry is HUGE, and often doesn’t carry those risks. Same for biochem, analytical chem, theoretical chem, and most physical chem), including the one I work with (mostly aqueous work). Also, theoretically, exposure to toxic chemicals is minimal, due to proper safety mechanisms.

    I was in materials chemistry for awhile (among other things), and everyone I knew used non-aqueous solvents (e.g. toluene and THF) all the time. This isn’t about emergency exposure (I only managed to drench myself once, and that was through stupidity as much as luck). This is about chemical vapors and slow-duration exposure. This is about the chemicals you *think* you’re being careful with that it turns out you need to take extra safety precautions with. (Turns out, a few sensitizing agents go straight through gloves, as I discovered accidentally. It was a solid, not a liquid. I was doing *everything* according to the books, but, from then on, I handled that compound with double gloves when I had to and stored it in the glovebox between uses.) My coworkers with children talked about going home and showering as soon as possible, just to minimize any exposure to chemicals. How much more should one be concerned about a fetus?

    I’m not shaming anyone who is making these decisions. I’m simply pointing out that, for many chemists, getting pregnant is not a decision that can be made lightly.

    Biochem isn’t treated as part of chemistry — it’s its own program. (And, interacting with a biochem group, I was shocked at the number of women who were willing to get pregnant.) Analytical chemistry … well, it depends upon what you’re dealing with. Physical chemistry and theoretical chemistry I’ll grant you (I *did* mention calculations).

    I’m glad the problems *you* face are cultural. I’m glad that all you have to face is disapproval. Many of us don’t. I had several conversations with friends in my department, and *none* of us would have felt comfortable getting pregnant — not for reasons of stigma but for simple concerns about chemical safety.

  15. mim
    June 25, 2012 at 10:00 am

    “Biochem isn’t treated as part of chemistry — it’s its own program. (And, interacting with a biochem group, I was shocked at the number of women who were willing to get pregnant.)”

    SHOCKED!?!??! You don’t say. Those crazy women, getting pregnant while doing RESEARCH.

    “I had several conversations with friends in my department, and *none* of us would have felt comfortable getting pregnant — not for reasons of stigma but for simple concerns about chemical safety.”

    This ties in with the “shocked that biochemists have teh babies!!??!?!” First of all, biochemistry is not chemistry, and while there are toxic substances involved, they are not usually inhale-able and standard precautions like wearing gloves take care of the vast majority of risk. So having a baby while working in biochemistry? Likely more than fine, and a seasoned researcher would know how to protect herself. In chemistry, the game changes with harmful solvents that you could breathe in, ect. But I think someone else pointed out that the risk is minimal if you don’t expose yourself to toxic substances by, you know, following safety guidelines? (Chemical hoods, they’re there for a reason…) That said, mayyybe some things are absolutely counter-indicated and maybe you really really can’t do your job if you’re pregnant (this I kind of doubt…). This is why there are other people working with you in lab, and if no possible accommodations can be made at all, then the lab environment seems extremely inflexible, but this is hardly reflective of all chemistry labs evar.

    Finally, if the worry really is that a pregnant woman could possibly expose her fetus to something really terrible, are you also equally hand-wringing over the men who might bring trace toxic substances on their body/clothes/personal items from work into their home where they could expose their young children? Because that risk is certainly real. Not to mention the fact that you risk toxic exposure to a fetus or your child by doing any number of things from drinking lattes in paper cups while pregnant (so many chemicals leaching into your coffee!) to taking them out for a walk (oh noes, the child will breathe dioxins in the air from car exhaust and get cancer!!!!). Everything carries a risk. What I’m trying to point out is that there are ways to manage risk, and women are not too incompetent to do it if they work in a high-risk field, just as men aren’t immune from bringing that risk home to their kids.

  16. tmc
    June 25, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    I happen to work in a chemistry lab that has more women than men. One of my coworkers just returned from maternity leave last month and another one will be having her baby in the fall. There were some minor adjustments that needed to be made for the pregnant women in the group, but following proper PPE and lab safety guidelines pretty much takes care of the risk (which is something all of the non-pregnant people need to do anyway).

    Almost everyone in my group, including the men, has a child or two at home. As far as I know, no one has injured their familes or their fetuses because of the work we do here (although on occasion someone may find that an acid has eaten holes through their jeans and whatever else was put in the washer with those jeans). I don’t see what makes a chemistry lab a particularly dangerous place for a woman, a pregnant woman, or a woman with a child at home that does not also apply to men, men who are trying to conceive, or men with a child at home.

  17. unacomplished
    June 26, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean by that. The truth is that male science grad students and postdocs can start a family and deal with little-to-no judge for it, while the same is not true for female science grad students.

    um, perhaps socially but is that really the practical problem? I mean, I work in a STEM field (sorta) but not one that is heavy with PHDs and grad students. The ones I do interact with are typically pretty tied down financially and the only thing they have less of than money is time. Is there really a much more of a limitation due to “mommy stigma” rather than simply not being able to take time off for recovery or parent hood?

    Cus even with a partner willing to stay at home with the kids the idea of being a grad student, full time professional, AND a young parent seems pretty ungodly harsh unless you have some serious money in the bank, no matter what the gender of the person going to work is.

Comments are closed.