Women are in the privileged position of being judged if they have children or if they don’t. Those who give birth are immediately put to the “how-many-balls-can-you-juggle” test. They’re applauded for trying to “have it all,” but are just as easily denigrated when they choose their professional lives over their personal ones—or vice versa. (Plus, motherhood costs them gobs of money.) Meanwhile, women without children are often characterized as taking a stand against female stereotypes, or as single-minded careerists, or as outsiders and outcasts.
In both circumstances though, having a child or not tends to be framed as a conscious decision by a woman. That’s why Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s recent revelation of her miscarriage is so important. She told The Sunday Times that she had a miscarriage in 2011 when she was deputy first minister. “By allowing my own experience to be reported I hope, perhaps ironically, that I might contribute in a small way to a future climate in which these matters are respected as entirely personal—rather than pored over and speculated about as they often are now,” she said.
(The Times, which reported the news as part of a book excerpt, apparently missed Sturgeon’s larger point since it ran a sidebar titled “Childless Politicians” that only featured women.)
As Laura Cohn wrote for Fortune, high-ranking women in business and politics who don’t have children can be judged just as harshly as powerful mothers like Hillary Clinton and Marissa Mayer, whose maternal demeanors and parental decisions are constantly under a microscope. Sturgeon’s heartbreaking disclosure is a reminder that having a child or not shouldn’t define a woman since it’s something she sometimes has no control over.