Thursday, June 13, 2013

work it girl, 12 weeks, 6 days

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[1]. 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[2], 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[3]. 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[4] – 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!

[1] 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*
[2] There was not actually any literal fist swinging.
[3] 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.
[4] 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…Feminist! 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.


  1. Oh, the age-old working Mom vs. stay at home Mom debate. Ultimately, we all need to make the choices that are right for us (and for our family). In Canada we get one year of Parental leave and (if I get pregnant) I definitely plan to go back to work after that. I know I am a happier person when I feel fulfilled, and I get that from the work I do. I'm sure a happier Mom is a good thing for the whole family.

    But man, isn't day care crazy expensive? And then all the hassle about where to send baby when he is sick and when the day care is closed for holidays etc. People always find a way to make it work though.

    Congrats on the new job and for following your dreams.

  2. Congrats on making it through the first trimester! Things will get better from now on.

  3. Am I allowed to tell you that it all works out in the end? Because I firmly believe that it just... does. Don't worry about December yet. For all you know, Mrs. Doubtfire (or even Robin Williams in drag) will show up on your doorstep offering a reasonable rate and a nurturing environment for your little one. Either way, you'd be in great hands, right?

    All joking aside, do your research and you'll make the right childcare choice. I went to daycare and I turned out fine; in fact, I still keep in touch with some people who I met there. It's like a big giant playdate if you pick a good one.

    Happy trimester two! I'm soooo jelly!

  4. 2nd trimester! Can I get a woot woot? I think it's great that you are thinking about this issue now, and seem to be sure about what you want. Recognize too that you can't really know how you'll feel once the babe is actually in your arms. It's so hard for us Canadian chiquitas to fathom the 12 week mat leave thing. So. Hard. 12 weeks? 12 measly weeks? I'm sorry, I doubt this is making you feel any better. Yet so many amazing working mamas make it work and everyone is absolutely fine, and you will make it work too, and it will be fine. I love my work, need my work, and have the best situation in that my husband wants to stay home, so I can't really complain. Can't complain at all. Yet I there is still the working mama guilt that is out there for all of us that fathers don't seem to feel to the same extent.

  5. Congratulations on reaching 2nd trimester! And you are a very responsible mom to think about "work life balance" before hand. You will make it work, and if it doesn't work, you can try something else.

    Have to echo the other girls that 12 weeks mat leave seems like nothing at all, and not at all fair. You should have more. It is what it is I guess.

    I don't feel like I can decide the work/stay at home thing until I have an actual baby. I don't have strong philosophical leanings either way. To me it depends on the situation, the baby, me, us: a whole lot of variables that simply can't be added up until the situation is real. Although I cannot see myself with a baby or even a toddler and working in the same manner as I do now. But when it really happens...who knows.

  6. I've been married for three years and my husband and I still have separate accounts and still pay each other back for CRAZY small amounts -- like even a $10 lunch. Something about the joint account bugged me, but we had to set one up after we got married and people wrote cheques addressed to the both of us (Mr. and Mrs. HIS LAST NAME -- not considering that I might keep my own). Anyway, we never use it. But I do feel kinda weird about being so separate with money... and I'm basically going to be relying solely on my husband to finance my spending needs during mat leave.

    How long will you get, then, once baby is here? In Canada, you automatically get a full year, but I know in the U.S. it can be as little as a couple of weeks (INSANE!). In any case, I was raised by two parents who not only worked full time but often worked well into the night, and yes I had a slew of nannies, and I turned out just fine. I never felt like my parents didn't love me or anything, and weekends were always sacred family time, so there was plenty of bonding to be had. And I was proud of them, too -- being able to say, in class, that my mom was a doctor felt awesome!

  7. I posted a useless, not-so-focused post about this myself. It's freaking annoying because there is really no right answer to this. It is so hard that it is a "choice" we have to make, but no one ever asks the men. And whatever you choose, you wonder. I also am a career person and don't know who I would be if I weren't a psychologist. But lately, I've been feeling like, if it weren't for the fact that I bring in the health insurance for the family, I'd be ready to be a stay at home mom. Ha. I wonder how long that fleeting feeling will last. I guess what I'm saying is that it sucks and it's not easy. Hopefully we can figure out how to have our cake and eat it too. Yeah right.