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Jennifer Aniston, Tina Fey & The Celebrity Fertility Inquisition

Jennifer Aniston wants to reassure us. “I think people honestly just want to see me as a mom and married and barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen,” she tells People magazine. “And I just want to say, ‘Everybody, relax! It’s going to happen.’”

Aniston’s response to what has become a relentless public inquisition about her romantic and reproductive life is characteristically lighthearted and affable. ” I’m really happy, really,” she says. “My version of happiness is sitting where I’m sitting right now.”

Tina Fey, on the other hand, is not really happy. In her brilliant essay, “Confessions of a Juggler” in this week’s New Yorker, Fey spells out just how miserable the question of whether to have another baby has made her.

The piece is essential reading for any working woman thinking about having a second, or even a first, child. Especially working mothers who are circling 40. Oh hell, everyone should read it. It’s that good.

Sure, Fey has the somewhat unique predicament of being not only at the tail end of fertility, but of box office marketability: “Science shows that fertility and movie offers drop off steeply for women after forty.” But her story is not just a celebrity crisis. To use Hollywood parlance, it’s very “relatable.” At her age, I faced the same problem. Do I have a second kid? And why is it that everyone, from my mother to the mailman, needs to ask me about it?

Fey’s questions are every working mother’s questions: “And what’s so great about work anyway? Work won’t visit you when you’re old. Work won’t drive you to the radiologist’s for a mammogram and take you out afterward for soup.” Though the movie business offers its own particular expression of sexism, we can all relate to this on some level: “I know older men in comedy who can barely feed and clean themselves, and they still work. The women, though, they’re all ‘crazy’.”

One of the most affecting aspects of Fey’s essay is how far she gets into her bitterness. And it’s not ugly. It’s brilliant and clear and strong. Like any really great comedian, Fey is not afraid to take you to the very darkest place before dragging you up up for a laugh. And what a laugh it is, when it comes at the end of some real pain. In this case it’s the pain of the working mother.

In the end, Fey comes to a similar conclusion to good old Jennifer Aniston. While a boatload of therapy is implicit in what Aniston says–”There’s no part of me that doesn’t know that everything is happening the way it’s supposed to be happening”–Fey is more explicit about her support system. “I have a great gynecologist,” she writes, “who is as gifted at listening as she is at rectal exams.” This sage physician waits for Fey to stop crying and then tells her, “Everything will be fine.”

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