February 06, 2023

Having It All? Motherhood in an Increasingly “Planned" World

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos

Whether, when, and even how to have children are increasingly complicated questions facing women today. On the one hand, revived abortion debates and restrictive legislation in many U.S. states may mean forced motherhood for those who become pregnant; on the other, both cultural and financial pressures around motherhood are weakening. For the first time in history there are now more women than men in the college-educated workforce, meaning that fewer women are sticking to stay-at-home parenting, and our culture is increasingly starting to view motherhood as an option rather than as an expectation.

In addition to more financial and cultural freedom, accessible contraception has also made it possible for women to be more intentional about whether and when they want to have children than in the past. In 2018, an estimated 65% of U.S. women of reproductive age (those aged 15 – 49) were using some form of contraceptive method and there were no significant differences based on level of education. Whether they dropped out of high school or have a Ph.D., these women share one thing in common – most of them are taking active steps to control their fertility. These efforts have been successful, too: the rate of unintended pregnancies has seen a significant decline over the past two decades.

As the sociological imagination invites us to explore, these larger social forces are having real-life impacts on the decisions women are making around motherhood. Women have become far less likely to have children before the age of 30 since the mid-2000s and are instead increasingly likely to wait until their 30s or 40s to have their first child. While these trends are positive in that women can make more informed choices about when to start a family, they may also come with some challenges. For example, if more women decide to not have children all together, we could eventually end up with a host of economic issues: without a big enough labor force to support the aging population, social safety nets like Social Security and Medicare could become underfunded.

Another challenge that comes along with women’s increased control over their fertility relates to the practicality of getting pregnant once they have decided that they are ready. In an article published last year in Sociological Forum, Eliza Brown interviews women in heterosexual relationships who are trying to conceive about the work they put into getting pregnant.

Brown finds that contrary to the “romantic” cultural ideals of what sexual intercourse should be like between partners, women experience having intercourse with their partner for the sole purpose of conceiving as another stressful, full-time job. Because they are unwilling to wait to conceive “spontaneously” or have struggled with fertility, they find themselves having to meticulously plan the perfect time to have intercourse to optimize their chance of getting pregnant. Women reported feeling emotionally drained and exhausted by this process, particularly because they were trying to keep their partners excited and engaged by performing desire and interest in being intimate outside of just the purpose of conceiving.

In this new era of women’s increased control over their fertility, planning a pregnancy is another way in which the sociological concept of “emotional labor” manifests for women. Originally coined by Arlie Hochschild, the term refers to the work that “requires one to induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others” (20). Hochschild argued that women perform emotional labor at much higher rates than men do– both in their personal and work lives. From a young age, women are taught to set the emotional tone in interpersonal settings and to display caring emotion in acceptable and “thoughtful” ways. In the case of planning a pregnancy, Brown argues that women are forced not just to monitor their own bodies (constantly checking for signs of ovulation),  but also to perform this emotional labor with their partners:  they have to perform wanting intercourse, not just needing it to conceive, in order to keep the ideal of a romantic marriage intact. So, while it does seem that women are increasingly able to “have it all” – i.e. a career and a family on their own terms and on their own timeline – this research shows that having it all may also come at an emotional and mental cost.


The earth is getting more and more populous. So birth control is very right.

An article that was posted by WW Norton on February 6th, 2023, titled “Having it all? Motherhood in increasingly “planned” world. Written by Jenny Enos was very intriguing because being a mother, I can comprehend. In this Article, I feel like the topic of restrictive legislation can be taken very heartfelt to others. This article we are informed that motherhood is an option not an expectation. The rate of unintended pregnancies has declined over the years. Women waiting until they are in their 30s or 40s to start a family. Unaware that possible dangers due to waited too long to impregnate. Placing mothers at high risk. For an example, late pregnancies can cause miscarriages, birth defects, gestational diabetes or even a difficult labor. The article also talked about how women are taking conception. Which taking contraception can be dangerous; it affects mood swings, headaches, blood clots and weight gain much like myself taking contraceptive pills affected my body. Such as, gaining more weight more than expected. Not knowing how much id gain but also taking Plan B learning that this form of contraception is an abortion pill. which many aren't aware of this. The article tells us that Brown argues that woman are forced to monitor their bodies. However, I agree to a certain extent I feel that people aren’t taking sex seriously.

The globe is growing increasingly congested. As a result, birth control is really necessary.

Women now have more financial and cultural freedom, and accessible contraception allows them to make intentional choices about when or if to have children.

new job, and twelve had left their jobs and planned to stay home for the foreseeable future.

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