Must Reads: For anyone who thinks they can have it all

Tanya Selvaratnam

Photo by Naomi White

Last month, I read what has easily become my new favorite non-fiction book.

The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock by Tanya Selvaratnam is the perfect combination of smarts and heart. What business does someone like me, who still shudders at the thought of having a child any time soon, have reading a book about motherhood? Ah, well, lots, actually. The information and message in this book pertain to anyone who might want to become a parent some day.

The book addresses the harmful myth that we can “have it all” and make babies when it’s most convenient—like say, after we’ve established a career and settled comfortably into adulthood. Selvaratnam packs a lot of stats and research about fertility into her book. Did you know 10 percent of the world’s population experiences fertility issues, which affect all people (rich/poor, black/white, male/female) equally? And that the initial drop in fertility among women happens as early as 25 to 29 years old? Which is not to say you should be freaking out if you are 30 or older—but you should be empowering yourself with the knowledge of such facts.

The Big Lie is not all statistics and percentages, though.

What surprised me most about it is how much Selvaratnam’s personal story with three miscarriages and a cancer discovery humanized everything I was learning throughout the book. She really gets vulnerable here, and I found myself teary-eyed and cheering Selvaratnam on along the way. That’s what really set this book apart for me.

Though I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In yet, I think anyone who has read it (whether they agreed with it or not) is likely to enjoy The Big Lie. It touches on similar issues, but comes from a generally more relatable perspective—as in, the COO of Facebook didn’t write it.

The Big Lie

I had the chance to do a Q&A with Selvaratnam over at Neon Tommy, and she shared some wise and thoughtful words. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“When someone says feminism is no longer necessary, I think, Tell that to the mother raising five kids who can’t get paid as much as a man to do the same job; tell that to the woman who is treated as the aggressor when she is raped; tell that to the girl who isn’t allowed to learn how to read. It’s a Big Lie that we don’t need feminism.”

We also talked about Millennials having a harder time than earlier generations to afford children, as well as the importance of having conversations with our partners and doctors about our eventual plans for children. Tanya also had some fantastic book recommendations for anyone interested in these topics. You can read our conversation (and find out what the “big lie” is) here.

The Big Lie has already gotten a lot of attention from the press, and I hope it becomes one of those books you see popping up all over the blogosphere. Check it out for yourself, and let me know what you think!

Get the newsletter

Sign up to get love letters, good reads, writing deadlines & more delivered to your inbox every week!

powered by TinyLetter

And don't forget to follow WTH on Twitter, Facebook & Bloglovin'!


  1. That does sound like an amazing book – thanks for brining it to my attention!

    • Cassie Paton says:

      You’re quite welcome! I really want my blogger friends to read it so I can find out what they think about it.

  2. Cassie, thanks for the rec, I’ve added the book to my reading list! Have you seen Miss Represented or It’s a Girl on Netflix instant? Great documentaries, I think you’d like them. I read Lean In and absolutely loved it – recommended it to all my gfriends. There were so many moments from the book I recognized from my own experiences in the workplaces – times where I was treated differently because I’m female and, admittedly, times I wish I would have spoken up, asked for more or established boundaries but didn’t (and then of course thought of the perfect thing to say a day later, doh). I think it’s an essential read though I agree it’s hard to relate to at times given the level of Sandberg’s success. Feminism is important! 🙂

    • Cassie Paton says:

      I haven’t seen either of those, but Miss Represented is on my Netflix list! I’ll have to finally watch it and add It’s a Girl to my list, too. I definitely want to read Lean In, as well. I’ve read so many opinions about the book, but I’d like to form my own! It sounds like a great read, even if Sandberg has certain privileges most of us don’t.

  3. Is this that book you were telling me about during BWAB? I’m intrigued…

  4. I’ve not done a lot of reading for a long time, but this definitely sounds like a good read.
    I studied feminism as part of a theatre studies course I did at university and the different attitudes that people have towards it amaze me.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      I really wish I’d taken more women’s studies courses during undergrad. I might have to see if I can sneak into one while I’m in grad school. This is a great book to get you back to reading!

  5. Thanks for the recommendation. I have been thinking about motherhood a lot because my sister had a baby. There are various reasons I’m not having children and one of the major ones is that I have a shitload of student loans debt I need to pay off. I mean, that’s sad.

    I am going to check out this book. Thanks for the recommendation.

  6. Kathleen Walther says:

    LOVED reading about this book from you!!! In fact, my own experience with motherhood was quite a journey – a journey that finally led me to China and our own live China doll, at her young age of 10 months. So hard to believe she’s now 1/2 way finished with college and on her way to becoming a teacher. This is a book I think I’ll recommend to her or give her as a gift. THANKS!!

    • Cassie Paton says:

      This book is also great because it’s totally inclusive of all the ways people can become parents. It really takes everything into consideration. You’ll love it, and so will your daughter!

  7. I’m definitely going to check this one out. I’m pretty firm in my decision not to have children, but in some ways, I’m starting to wonder if that decision is holding me back from other things in life.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      It’s a good thing to consider. And of course, only you know the answer to what’s right for you.

  8. I’m heading over to read the interview now, Cassie, and have the tab open, ready to purchase the book. It sounds like a really fantastic read – there’s so much talk out there, about motherhood, about why we shouldn’t wait, or why we should wait and pursue other paths, and wait until we are more settled, but – from what I can tell – it certainly doesn’t seem as simple as that. I’m 28, with no career path as of yet, and no plans for children, at least not for now (especially as the boy and I are at uni, and he is 3 1/2 years younger), but I do wonder if I’ll ever reach a place in time when I wish I’d had them. There are so many other things constantly up in the air, so many worries etc, it doesn’t seem like there will ever be a time when I can just draw a line and say ‘now’. Anyway, I’ll be rabbiting on forever if I start my story….

    I look forward to following Tanya on her journey.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Ha yeah, that’s the one thing about parenthood… for a lot of people, there never is a “right” time. I’ll never have kids if I wait for that moment. But I have a lot to consider if and when I do decide to take the plunge.

  9. Sounds like a great read – I think seeing what’s going on with the Nigerian girls it’s evident feminism is important on a worldwide scale. I think we’re quick to think we’ve sorta “caught up” when in fact while we may have to some degree here in the States it is not the case in other parts of the world and that’s what’s truly devastating to see. Thanks for recommending the book Cassie and have a great one! -Iva

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Yes, that is such an important point. We ARE catching up, but we’re by no means caught up yet. We’ve got a long ways to go for sure.

  10. sounds like an interesting book. i read lean in and liked it. also, we definitely know that we cannot afford kids right now… i actually have no idea how other people are affording kids… i guess a stable job helps.

  11. It sounds like such a necessary book. Many women feel that they need to go after a career and then have kids once they’re a little established. That’s how I feel. But it’s so true that for so many reasons it’s hard to plan like that.

    I have family members who have had trouble having kids naturally and it can be a struggle. It’s a tough thing to go through. I like that the book talks about other options for having kids. Adoption is so important too. My brother and his wife adopted and they have amazing little ones that turn 10 years old tomorrow.

  12. I’ve been thinking about how kids fit into my life plan lately, and it’s rather intimidating. No debt here, but a husband without a great employment track record, among other things. Fodder for a future post…

    This reminds me of a link I posted to Facebook a while ago and got reamed for: … Apparently I know too many people who are rah rah and think I’m failing women everywhere for believing that it is damn near impossible to have all the things- a glittering career, happy marriage, family, and whatever else is important to you. Makes me feel like a total failure for struggling just to balance life as a healthy 20-something without kids or pet or even much in the way of extracurriculars.

  13. I read this about 6 months ago. I LOVED it and found myself referencing it in many conversations during and after reading! A thoughtful, nuanced discussion of the complexities of being a modern feminist.

Speak Your Mind