When I heard the news that scientists are getting closer to a new era in fertility treatments ("Scientists use ovarian stem cells to create healthy human eggs," Feb. 27), in which eggs might be restored to the ovaries of postmenopausal women, it was hard not to interpret it as yet another attempt to fit women's reproductive lives into an unnaturally stressful social system.
In America, working women who become mothers must choose either their jobs or parenting, or an obstacle-strewn mix of both.
Technology-assisted, later-than-ever motherhood fits neatly with an inflexible work culture that already affects family health. Scientists tell us that a mother's stress can affect her baby's future health.
Birth itself is scheduled and rushed, a third of the time leaving women to recover from major surgery while adjusting to a new family member -- and in many cases preparing to return to work in a matter of weeks or even days.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least 12 months of breast-feeding, exclusively for the first six. Yet pumping breast milk is an expensive logistical hassle that can be physically difficult. Unsurprisingly, the need to pump often leads to early weaning.
Meanwhile, the cost of child care can be so high that an American mother's better financial option may be to quit working.
If she keeps her job, long days of separation from a young infant often goes against her comfort and instinct -- but must be weighed against the cost of wage loss or career suicide.
The infamous "Mommy Wars" of the previous decade, in which books and articles depicted stay-at-home moms pitted against career mothers, preached that women ought not judge one another for their choices.
I suspect that women actually were doing no such thing (except in the book publicity spotlight), but the more important point remained entirely missed: This supposed "choice" is lose-lose.
When a woman's options are to leave her baby before she feels ready in order to rescue an unattended career or to leave her career before it is secure in order to care for unattended children, her choice is at best ambivalent, at worst devastating.
Solutions do exist. The United States is the world's only developed economy without guaranteed paid maternity leave.
Ranked among all nations, we keep little company: Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea also boast unpaid maternity leave.
In the Netherlands, where I recently lived, working women who have babies typically receive 16 weeks' leave with full pay (at least four weeks must be taken prior to a woman's due date, due to evidence that relaxed women have easier, healthier and therefore less-expensive births).
When my friend Dani, an advertiser, had her second daughter, it took longer than usual for her to regain her vigor. Working with government doctors, she extended her leave to six months, then returned to work on a gradual schedule of two half-days per week until her daughter was a year old.
At that time, Dani's hours returned to normal (although she still could claim 18 months of parental leave).
Like all Dutch children, her daughter had the option of attending a public child-care center, the cost of which would be largely reimbursed by the government. In 1971, President Richard Nixon vetoed the Child Development Act, which had passed Congress with bipartisan support. Federally funded child-care legislation has never again come close to becoming an American reality.
New reproductive technology certainly will be good news to women who have lost their eggs and still wish to have biological children.
But presented as a green light for families to postpone childbearing beyond natural limits, the technology smacks of the same cold, impersonal, isolating "solutions" that force women and babies to suit American business: induced labor, Caesarean section, breast pumps, lactation stalls, expensive or insufficient day care, and forced, sometimes permanent, career hiatus.
I would hate for the brilliance of fertility treatments to blind lawmakers and employers to families' needs for flexible work arrangements.
Even worse might be women themselves relaxing into further compliance with a system that doesn't care whether we watch our babies grow, tend to our families when they need us or live long enough to meet our grandchildren.
Despite the promise of technology, there is such a thing as too late. I wonder if America can relearn the meaning of "family-friendly" in time to show our children that parenting and working carry equal weight and therefore must be balanced.
Bonnie J. Rough is the author of the 2011 Minnesota Book Award-winning "Carrier: Untangling the Danger in My DNA," a memoir about choosing healthy children in the age of medical genetics. Her website is bonniejrough.com.