I’ve been thinking a lot lately about work. About work and babies and my career and babies and childcare and, also, babies. I’ve been looking back at my self-assured-but-actually-totally-naïve self who ranted on just months ago about Sheryl Sandberg and leaning in and leaning back and can’t I just sit up straight?
I’m currently doing work that I love, in a two-year fellowship that wraps up this summer. This summer, the summer that I am, finally, so much later than I expected to be, pregnant. The summer where I have to contemplate things like maternity-bathing-suit and no mojitos. The summer that I have spent, pregnant, hiding my SeaBands, and interviewing for new jobs.
Last week, I got two job offers. And in my decision-making, there was something new I contemplated – What will this job mean for an infant? How will my commute affect the additional costs of childcare? What kind of career do I want? *pulls out hair* WHAT KIND OF LIFE WILL I LEAD!
It all felt, quite frankly, really, terrifyingly, adult.
And then, I accepted a job. It’s the right job for my “career.” It’s the right move “professionally.” It’s a potential stepping-stone to what I’ve said I’ve always wanted and what, at least today, I still really do want. But it will be incredibly challenging – a burdensome workload, a lot of demands on my time, etc. WOE IS ME.
I’ve taken a job where they do not know that I am pregnant and where, I presume, they will not be super psyched to discover that I am taking maternity leave come December. C reminds me that it doesn’t matter what they think – that if they aren’t grown up enough to deal with reproducing female employees, then tough. C came out, feminist fists a-swinging, chiding me for feeling even an ounce of guilt over something that I should never have to apologize for. And I can’t say I didn’t need the reminder. (I also cannot say that I didn’t ask him how he would like to tell the director of his medical residency program, so long, I’m taking 12 weeks off. TOUCHE I WIN. Ahem.)
I think Meg Keene, at Reclaiming Wife, was most articulate: the way we think about mothers and work is truly fucked. Her recent piece is largely about childcare – and acknowledging that moms who work outside the home rely on help; require help. That we can’t do it alone and that to presume otherwise is, in a word, fucked. It creates a paradigm where no one wins – not the moms who stay at home, and not the moms who go.
And it’s this – the being pregnant, the taking a new job and figuring out what I want, what kind of *deep breath, I know we just love this phrase* work-life-balance I hope to carve out – that has been occupying me for the last couple weeks. It’s the thing that has existed in theory only until right now. Because, you know, THERE’S A FETUS INSIDE ME.
Because here’s the thing. C and I are both going to work outside the home. Full time. Doctor, lawyer, etc. But despite the fact that both of us have advanced degrees and (hopefully) promising careers, there will always be, in the background, an assumption that I chose to keep working. That I chose not to stay home. No one will ask C whether he considered staying home. I will be one of many professional women I know who feels almost obligated to justify her career. A smart, accomplished colleague of mine often remarks that she works so that she can pay her childcare costs. Ha, ha. But as far as I know, no one has ever compared the cost of childcare to her husband’s salary. My own mother-in-law recounts having returned to work after her second child only so that her income could go to a college fund. But if money is fungible – and, I think, in committed, long term relationships it generally is – then why make the distinction? Money is money. It goes in a pot and it’s used to cover expenses. Suggesting otherwise gives credence to the tacit assumption that the full time employment of women outside the home is only some kind of luxury; some kind of choice wrought of privilege (and of course, in a sense, it is).
So that’s where I am. At least according to the not-insane-pregnancy-books, I will start my second trimester tomorrow. And I will do so while contemplating the prospect of having to invest in a new, pregnancy-ready business suit and preparing to start a new job in a matter of weeks. There are moments when I momentarily wonder what it would be like to be a stay at home mom – not because I plan to escape the life of lawyerdom, in which I'm pretty happy – but because it feels almost anthropological for me. It’s very distant from the reality in which I grew up – both of my parents worked, very full time – and the reality in which I see my self, or my future self. At the same time, I am struck – in a way that before was purely hypothetical – that I will, come December, be the full time working mother of an infant. I can already hear Sheryl Sandberg shouting, don’t leave before you leave!
 And, like a crazy person – crazy informed! – I have already looked up my state’s maternity leave policy which is, thank goodness, more generous than the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires an ungodly number of hours worked in the preceding 12 months in order to qualify. Which, of course, with just six months under my belt by the time I’m due, I would not have. *deep breath*
 There was not actually any literal fist swinging.
 I’ll save my liberal arts college voice – But who is the help? Poor women of color who you pay to raise your baby so you can work in your fancy job? – for another time. But I assure you, it’s there. Because there’s always something to feel guilty about.
 Except, full disclosure: until a year after we got married, C and I still kept exclusively separate bank accounts and kept a running list of who-covered-what-expense on the refrigerator. It was…
Egalitarian! Liberated! totally
ridiculous and an utter waste of time. We’ve graduated to a joint checking
and savings account prior to which we had a serious discussion about not
nit-picking the other’s small expenses and always discussing the big ones ahead
of time. So far, so good.