What's a Job Worth
A man has to decide whether to back his wife and have lab-grown children or not
I stared over the edge of the old stone bridge at the frozen pond below, when my wife had said that she wanted to put her eggs on ice so that we could have children later in life, this was not the way I had thought that things would go. That her work would offer her the chance to take part in the first human trials of lab-grown babies, and that she would want to take the offer.
“I can’t go through with the pregnancy, Jared,” she had said, “I just can’t. But this way we can still have a family.”
My wife was a career woman, and to say that she was driven would be an understatement, within the next several years she would probably ascend to CEO or at least to CFO. That’s why I had offered to be a stay-at-home parent. It just made sense, she made way more money than me, and besides as I was a writer, I could simply work from home, which she could not do.
But now she was certain that if she took time off to have a baby, it would hinder her chances to ascend to CEO.
“Robbo’s got his family, four kids,” my wife had said. “And yet you wouldn’t know it because he took no time off. And it’s between me and Robbo for the next CEO, the moment the old man stands down, it’s between me and him. If I take time off it might give Robbo an edge.”
I understood what she meant, even if the pregnancy went well and she took the bare minimum time of six weeks, just enough to have the baby and then recover from the pregnancy, Robbo would still gain time on her. And even I knew that in their place of work, it was all about momentum, if that momentum gets broken a person could easily fall behind, or rather Robbo could easily get a step ahead, and that one step could be the difference between becoming CEO and not becoming CEO.
“And then there’s the potential side effects of pregnancy,” my wife had said, “my mum had great problems with morning sickness. Her head as well, she always tells me that every time she got pregnant her head ended up all over the place. I need to be focused, Jared,” my wife had said. “Getting pregnant could make me lose that focus. And then what if I get postnatal depression, that’s something my mum got. Imagine what that would do to my chances of getting the job.”
How could I argue with her, I've checked Wikipedia you see, and it says that over nine in ten women report at least one health problem as a result of their pregnancy, and over 20% suffer post-natal depression, 38% of that 20% still suffer from it three years after the birth.
And my wife has a history of issues with depression, she was bullied at school for being overweight. That’s why she was obsessed with the gym and keeping slim and in shape. Even though she wouldn’t admit it, I knew that at least a part of this was about the fact that she was afraid of being out of shape, she was afraid of getting stretch marks. She was afraid that she may never look like she does now again.
So I say again, how could I argue with her? But argued I had. “It’s too much of a risk,” I had said. “And then think of how people will treat our son or daughter, even if it’s successful. He or she’ll be seen as a lab experiment. We have to do this the natural way and you swore that we would!”
She had burst into tears afterward. I regretted having said the words, but at the same time, I did not. She had promised me kids, and that we would have them the normal way. She was now trying to renege on that promise.
Footsteps crunching against snow, I looked to my left. It was Jeannie’s mother, Elsie, I had agreed to meet her here.
“You can’t let her do this, Jared,” Elsie said. “You can’t let her miss out on what it feels like to have a child growing inside of you, to miss out on feeling it kick for the first time, to feel that bond growing stronger every day, to feel that connection, it will make her realise what it truly means to be alive, to be a woman. No job is worth more than that feeling, you have to make her believe that.”
“How can I make her believe that if even you can’t?”
“Because she listens to you, Jared, you can get her to see sense. You must get her to see sense, just think about it, I mean what if it goes wrong? Then you will not be able to have children at all, if you waste those eggs that will be it. And then what if the child is deformed? And even if it’s successful…”
I knew what she was going to say and say it she did, your children will spend their lives as living lab experiments, as public spectacles. And there will be those who see them as abominations and will persecute them as such.
The truth of these words were inescapable. My wife though, she believed it to be a price worth paying, she truly believed that doing this would help liberate women. That it would give them the choice they presently lacked, whether to carry the child themselves or to have it grown in a lab. She said this was the true path to equality for women. The last step. And she believed it. Truly believed it.
“This is the final step, Jared,” she had said, “this is how women truly get equality with men. Think about it, imagine a woman being able to do just what a man does, have a family without hindering their career. Imagine it. Imagine knowing that not getting pregnant is not going to put the future of the human race in jeopardy, because you can have children another way. Imagine being free of that burden. This is the greatest thing I can do for women, being a part of this trial.”
What could I say to that? I was a man, I’d never been “burdened” with carrying a child, but I’d always believed that women didn’t see it as a burden, I’d always believed that they saw it as a blessing. My wife’s mother was telling me that I was right and that it was a blessing. Yet my wife herself was implying otherwise.
It was probably both, depending on the person. But then my wife wanted to get pregnant, she just didn’t want to lose everything she had worked for.
“Jared, I helped build this, how can I now refuse to take part in it?”
Because she had promised to carry our child inside herself.
My phone started ringing, it was my wife. I ignored it, a text message swiftly followed: I wish I had just got pregnant when I was younger, my wife wrote. I really do. I was so afraid of falling behind that I thought it was better waiting. But I was wrong, it would have been better having them back then.
The use of telling me this now was? I wrote that but then deleted it and wrote: You couldn’t have known that.
It was only right, she was reaching out to me, and shutting her down would help no one.
It wasn’t just that, she wrote, I liked our life, the holidays, the nights out, the chilling just you and me, the focus I could give at work, I thought a kid back then would mess all that up. I thought freezing my eggs would give us the best of both worlds. But now…
I knew what she was saying, not doing this could not just cost her the chance of being CEO, it could cost her, her job full stop. The old man was desperate for her to take the offer, would be great PR he claimed. And I knew what he was hinting, if she got pregnant herself rather than taking part in the trial, it would be bad PR.
The hours had flashed by and yet I was still stood staring down at the frozen pond below, it was so crystal clear I could see my face, but I wasn’t sure who was looking back at me, or even what that person looking back at me was saying. I had supported my wife throughout her entire career, I had put hers before mine all this time. As a result, she had promised me two children, which she would grow inside of her. She owed me that, surely?
I felt guilty at that thought, but why should I, it was a fair thought wasn’t it? I had the right to have such thoughts? It was her body not mine, I knew that, and it should be her right to choose whether to get pregnant or not, but she had promised that we would have one of both, a boy and a girl, even if that meant having to have three or four kids. And she had promised to do it the natural way.
“You’re never going to agree, are you?” my wife said approaching me on the bridge.
I really wanted to. I really wanted to be on her side. But I just couldn’t escape the thought of our children being lab projects and being seen by the world as lab projects. How could I? How could I let her turn our children into lab projects?
“How could you even want our children to be lab projects?” I said, regretting it right after, her entire career had been based on building this project, and here was me tearing it down. I felt such a hypocrite, supporting something and claiming to be on her side but then rejecting it.
But I wasn’t rejecting it, I was just asking her to keep her word. “I backed the project, and I still do, but you promised me we would have our children the normal way. No matter what.”
She stared at me long and hard, but then nodded and said, “I’ll let the old man know we won’t be part of the trial.”
I was back home, my wife was in the living room, sat there on the sofa. And the way she was sitting, elbows on her knees, hands in a pair formation in front of her face, eyes so distant, something was wrong. “What is it?” I said. “Did you let him know? Is everything okay?”
“He fired me…”
“He did what?”
“Or put me on gardening leave I should say until I find a new job, but it’s the same thing…”
“He can’t do that? Surely?”
“He can and he did. He said he couldn’t have someone on the project that didn’t believe in it and so he would have to let me go.”
I was once again stood on the bridge looking over the edge at the frozen pond, the ice was misted as was my reflection in it. I had relented, how could I not, all the support I had given my wife in her career, I couldn’t take it away at the moment she needed it most, and now we had two beautiful lab-grown children, five beautiful lab-grown grandchildren. I was old, my wife was still working, she was CEO.
That’s right she got the job, not Robbo, and had made an amazing success of it, and though some called her the destroyer of womanhood, a monster, there were equally as many who called her the liberator of career women and a maverick. Which one she was, whether I was right to back her, I guess that is for the future to decide.
Written as an entry for the SFS 7: Long Thaw challenge.
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