I was only seven weeks pregnant, so it seemed like a heavy period, not the loss of a potential human life. But suddenly I knew I wanted children, knew I wanted to be a mother, knew that if I didn’t have that privilege, my life would not be complete.
It is funny to me now that I was in such denial about my desire to be a mother. The only way I can make sense of it is to recognize how deeply I had absorbed the negative narratives regarding career and motherhood. I believed I couldn’t do both well, so I put my career ahead of everything, until I couldn’t anymore. And, well, you know the rest of that story.
Looking back, the regrets I do have about how I handled my career are primarily focused on the fact that I didn’t plan for motherhood. Or more specifically, I wasn’t honest with myself about how important motherhood was to me. As a result, I didn’t try to look at the ecosystem in which I was operating and didn’t make a plan to navigate it in a way that could work for me and my family. I am not talking about derailing my career plans or downshifting my ambitions. I am talking about having a very clear understanding of the challenges women face in the world once they become mothers and developing strategies and tactics that would enable me to achieve my personal and professional goals. Because I didn’t make conscious choices, I operated reactively, not proactively.
I write these words as a cautionary tale. To give you insight into how our unconscious choices lead to consequences that may not be what we intend. Yes, I worked, I paused, and now I feel as though I am thriving, but it happened largely by dint of luck. And, despite my sense that professionally I am on the right track, the financial consequences have not been insignificant. If one thing had gone another way (if my husband had lost his job or became ill and couldn’t work or we had divorced or …), my life would have followed a completely different trajectory. Perhaps I would have thrived in that case as well; I’ll never know. But I do know smart, modern women don’t have to do what I did and gamble with their human capital or their family’s financial well-being.
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I am excited by the many ways the ambitious young women I meet are leaning in to their careers. They seem to truly believe nothing will get in the way of their professional dreams. I hope that is true, but I have my concerns. When I speak to these women, most aren’t thinking about their options or evaluating their choices when it comes to integrating kids with their careers. They’re winging it like I did.
Consider UC Berkeley Haas School of Business student Sarah Tait. She’s well on her way to establishing her professional life. She has a fantastic job offer with an exciting start-up. She is also building the foundation of her personal life and will soon be married.
Sarah and her fiance, Mark Kinnish, are committed to an equal partnership; they are busy planning their “feminist” wedding. They’ve decided on a destination event in Cabo San Lucas where they will walk down the aisle together because, as she says on their Our Feminist Wedding blog, “No one owns me, I’m not for being given away.”
They’ve broken other traditions as well, such as advance viewing of the wedding dress (he’s seen it) and the changing of her name (she’ll keep it), but one tradition Mark found hard to break was the engagement ring.
He wanted to give her one as a sign of his “investment” in his love for her. She said she’d rather have a tattoo. Mark won Sarah over and now she proudly wears her solitaire diamond.
“We are committed to a marriage of equals, but I worried that if our marriage started out with a gift that is one-sided, it would set a precedent,” Sarah said. “In the end, I realized you have to give and take to find a happy equilibrium.”
So true. And yet, while Sarah has planned her career and is now busy thoughtfully planning a wedding that aligns with her and Mark’s values, she’s not planning how to be a mother. She told me, “I haven’t really given mothering any thought. I guess I should, shouldn’t I?”