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The Pill’s 50th Birthday

How was your Mother’s Day? I hope it was as relaxing and enjoyable as mine was. Mother’s Day is always special, but this year for us Moms we shared the day with a pretty big anniversary. ‘The Pill’ officially turned 50 on Mother’s Day.

From protests to controversy to liberation, the pill has been nothing short of a revolution for women around the world. Elaine Tyler May wrote a fabulous op-ed piece in the Washington Post where she touches on the many positive things the pill did for women, while also astutely mentioning important aspects of the pill that often get forgotten or ignored…

But there is a bitter irony in the fact that the same pill that gave mothers the ability to combine childbearing and a career by controlling fertility has also led many women to delay childbearing so long that they jeopardize that fertility. Contraception makes it possible to postpone motherhood, but it doesn’t solve the problem of how to combine caring for children with going to work. As a result, many women wait to have a child until they are financially secure enough to afford child care.

In some sense, the pill let employers and the government off the hook by giving women the means to juggle jobs and families. Sanger and Katharine McCormick hoped that the pill would allow women to control their lives, but they did not count on women being stuck with such hard choices. For while mothers’ lives have changed over the past 50 years, the work world has lagged behind: Most jobs are still 9 to 5 — or longer — leaving little time to care for children. The cost of child care is, for many women, ruinously high. Paid parental leave is still too rare, and where it exists, usually too brief. For the most part, it is women who, aided by the pill, have adjusted to the demands of the workforce, rather than the other way around.

The pill may have been a gift to mothers. But 50 years on, it could use some new accessories. This Mother’s Day, instead of jewelry, candy or flowers, how about some more novel presents: lengthy paid parental leaves, government-supported child care and flex-time.