Book Review: The Big Lie

A review copy of Tanya Selvaratnam’s new book, The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, and I have to admit, I was curious from the get go. There’s no big secret that motherhood and feminism have an interesting relationship (to say the least). I’m always up for reading more from anyone that decides to take it on. And, I had yet to read something so in depth about feminism and infertility. The book itself is part memoir and part research that focuses mostly on infertility and advanced maternal age.

I dug in, interested to see what Selvaratnam had to say about issues surrounding infertility and especially how they relate to feminism. The memoir parts of the book are particularly gripping. Selvaratnam’s story is a heartbreaking one. She takes us through a number of miscarriages, a cancer diagnosis, and separation from her husband, all in intimate detail.


In between opening up and bravely sharing these parts of her life, Selvaratnam feeds us stats and quotes surrounding a variety of related topics from looking at the reproductive lives of girls and women to the media’s fixation on pregnancy, babies and motherhood. Yet at times, I found myself flipping past these sections discussing statistics and findings to get back into her personal story, eager to find out what happened next.

One sticking point for me throughout the entire book, however, almost seems to be the one the book rests on, this “Big Lie.” Selvaratnam describes how feminism paved the way for women to more easily obtain and succeed in their careers, but by doing so, neglected to mention the fact that the family part of the work/life balance would be harder to obtain as women aged. I can understand that frustration. The fact that the feminist movement may have played a role in the “having it all” debate, promising that you could put off family life to focus on your career, only to find out that your fertility decreased with each passing year. Selvaratnam felt like she had the wool pulled over her eyes, when I have to wonder if perhaps she may have been wearing blinders.

To me, it almost feels like you can’t escape the talking heads, magazine articles, and general coffee shop talk surrounding the fact that everyone feels that having kids younger is “better” – both for you, the kids, society, etc… I feel like anyone who even talks about getting pregnant after 35 is subjected to all the harsh reminders about aging eggs, increased risks of chromosomal abnormalities, higher risks of more difficult pregnancies, and more of a chance at unexplained infertility. I even asked around, and most friends I spoke with, from mid-twenties into their fifties all agreed that they were aware of the connection between age and fertility challenges.

However, while I can’t quite get behind Selvaratnam’s push that this is all a “big lie” that we’re fed, I can understand the frustration and hurt being told that you can have it all, when the reality is that for many women, sacrifices do have to be made. My hope is that women who make their choices – whether it’s for a career, or children, or a wonderfully magical balance of the two – do so with all the facts at the ready.

That being said, The Big Lie still offers a compelling story, interesting data, and a chance for us to dig deeper into the way society looks at and talks about women, motherhood, fertility, and feminism.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Big Lie

  1. Reblogged this on Make It All Work and commented:
    This sounds like an interesting and informative read. I am one of those women who waited to get pregnant after starting my career because I incorrectly assumed that getting pregnant would be quick and easy. No women in my social circles had kids because we thought we had plenty of time for a family later. I certainly wasn’t thinking about infertility issues in my twenties or early thirties. I was thinking about taking on the corporate world now because I had plenty of time to have kids. I guess I was one of those women with “blinders” on, as were many of my friends and colleagues.

  2. I’m reading too. It’s the circular reasoning that gets me. On the one hand, don’t give up on feminism but then in an interview for The Cut as well as in the book, she talks about how our current sex ed isn’t enough, that its only about contraception–not even reproduction and rhythm. Well, one of the reasons that is so comes from the pressure Second Wavers put on women to establish careers and delay motherhood. We aren’t supposed to think about reproduction until we are fully established adults with career and independent income. Her earlier shocking lack of knowledge about reproduction is a direct result of feminist pressure on both sex ed and individual women; we are told to put blinders on. For this, she still has blinders on.

    • It’s definitely frustrating and I wish as a society we were at a better place to allow for balance – provide the information around sexual & reproductive health and provide the access to career and financial equality & then maybe there will actually be choices to be made. Also, we talk a lot about putting off career or family – I’d love to see more of a push for our country to provide for both simultaneously as many European ones do – paid family leave, paid sick leave, better quality/affordable childcare, more flexible work shifts/hours, etc… just to start with. Then maybe we wouldn’t have such a panic when it comes to later in life infertility b/c women wouldn’t feel as pressured to do one or the other.

  3. Funny that I should come across this post accidentally, since part of my job is to promote a conference for “Heart-Broken Career Women” who are precisely in the situation mentioned here. It’s a conference for women like this to get together, share their experiences, and find help and healing. Don’t know how you feel about links in comments, but just in case it’s kosher, check it out:

  4. Pingback: Ruth Institute Blog » Book Review: The Big Lie

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