Still, the pressures of pursuing a scientific career lead many to choose to wait to start trying to have a family. “Richard,” who is in his early 30s and is a faculty member at a midwestern university, says he and his wife, who is a speech therapist, have been trying to have a baby since 2010. “We had both decided to postpone trying to have children until we were done with graduate school,” he says.
Looking back, he wishes they would have started sooner. “Don’t take fertility for granted,” he says. “Putting off a family for the sake of a career has consequences that you may not be prepared for.”
But for many chemists, particularly women, it remains taboo to have a baby during graduate school. “When you’re in graduate school, the implicit understanding is, ‘Thou shall not get pregnant,’ ” says “Rebecca,” who, with her husband, waited until they both had jobs before trying to have a baby. Their first child came relatively easily, but Rebecca was diagnosed with secondary infertility and was never able to have a second child.
Some people simply don’t meet the right person until later in life. “I didn’t meet anybody that I wanted to get married to,” says “Betty,” who is now a chemistry professor at a large research university. “I worked all the time.”
She got her first faculty appointment at age 34. “I was an assistant professor, and I still hadn’t met anybody. It gets really hard as an assistant professor to meet people because you’re working your butt off to try and get tenure.” She acknowledges that when she was 38, she seriously considered getting a sperm donor and having a baby alone. She also considered freezing her eggs, a procedure with no guarantees of success.
At age 39, she finally did meet someone, and they got married. “I met him through the personal ads in the local newspaper, and he was widowed with two teenage children,” she says. “We got married four months after we met, and I got pregnant right away at 39 years old.”
After the birth of their first child, they tried unsuccessfully to have a second one. “We tried artificial insemination for a year, and we did two or three rounds of that.” She then used a donor egg and got pregnant, but that pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.
A second miscarriage followed shortly after. “It was horrible,” she says. Her grief over the loss made it tough to focus on her teaching and research that semester, she says. “My students gave me really bad evaluations, and I didn’t feel comfortable talking to hardly anybody about it.”
Betty estimates she and her husband spent around $40,000 out of pocket for two rounds of in vitro fertilization. “At that point, I was 47, and I just quit trying.”This is a tough one to read, but it's a good article. The difficulty in talking about this sort of thing is quite understandable; would that we all had more workplaces where we could talk about it more openly.