I teetered into the office, more than 8 months pregnant, wearing a pencil skirt, a brightly colored top and heels. I no doubt looked like one of those hippo-in-high-heels cartoons, but I didn't care. I was there to get a job.
"I'm sorry, but when are you due?" the female executive sitting across the desk from me asked.
"Uh, huh," she said, looking down at my résumé. She lifted her head and pulled off her reading glasses, I can only assume for earnest emphasis.
"I think you're probably going to feel differently next week. Why don't you have your baby and enjoy this time? Then come back. OK?" She pushed her chair out from behind her desk, stood up and put her hand out in that and-now-this-meeting-is-over way. I lowered my gaze, defeated, grabbed my purse and waddled back to my car.
"Women are THE WORST," I yelled to my husband over the phone. "A man would never have said that to me. At worst, a man would have been wondering how pregnant a woman would have to be to not want to have sex with her during the interview. But he never would have been so inappropriate as to tell me to 'Go home and have my baby.' He may have thought it, but he certainly never would have said it!"
I'm not saying that having children should knock the ambition out of you. In fact, I know personally it can't.
I was fuming. Like Penny Herscher says in her recent piece in Fortune Mag, after popping out this baby, I had no intention of missing a beat in my professional trajectory. That high-level woman was clearly just trying to keep me down, man.
CUT TO: THE DELIVERY ROOM 6 DAYS LATER
"Give me my baby!" I screamed with a Courtney-Love-at-her-worst intensity, as they took my newborn to be cleaned off. "He's crying because I'm his mother, and he needs to be with me, and you've taken him over there. WHY HAVE YOU TAKEN HIM OVER THERE????"
I actually yelled this question out loud. I was not high.
An eternity later (probably 3 minutes), they brought my firstborn to me. I felt his skin on mine, and I wept in a way I never had before or since. I could not believe it was really me in this moment, that this tiny, beautiful being came out of my body, and all I did was have sex and eat a lot. Mind blown. And heart and soul and everything I knew to be true about myself.
Although I have worked steadily since his birth and the birth of another boy, I am not that same woman that I was sitting in that office that day.
In her heart, you run a very high risk of having her always wish she was just a little more interesting so Mommy could have stayed around more.
For 10 years following that first delivery, I produced a live storytelling show called "Afterbirth ... Stories You Won't Read in a Parenting Magazine." I asked writer/parents to share a story with me about, and this was the exact prompt, THE MOMENT YOU KNEW YOUR LIFE CHANGED FOREVER BECOMING A PARENT. Only once in a decade, and traversing cities across the country, did a writer respond to this suggestion with a blank stare. He then said, "Yeah, my life really hasn't changed that much." His wife looked at me and rolled her eyes.
So in a sense, it was refreshing to read Herscher's commentary in defense of the working mother. I had never heard a woman be so committed to not allowing motherhood to change her.
In the piece, Hersher recalls wondering, "Why would I be any less committed to my career than I was before I became a mother?" Gee, I don't know, maybe because you brought two helpless beings in the world who might want their mother around to do boring stuff like read them a story 5,000 times, wipe their tears once in a while when they're scared of the dark, or hold them when they have a fever. Pretty tough to do from a hotel room.
I'm not saying that having children should knock the ambition out of you. In fact, I know personally it can't. I'm saying Herscher's point of view sounded very familiar to me, since it was the same one I had sitting in that office that day, before I had given birth. But she is writing this op-ed piece after having had two children, and yet she proudly asserts that she has not allowed it to affect her behavior at all.
In fact, according to her, she has stepped up her work game, lest anyone think she's, I don't know, weak? She tells us, "I eventually realized that some men actually saw me as a bad wife and mother because I traveled frequently. I thought this was absurd, so I traveled even more to prove them wrong." She goes on to say that she took any opportunity to leave home for work, all to prove to co-workers she's committed to her job.
I am not condemning women for working, I was raised by one, and I'm currently working at The Feminist Majority to raise money to secure women's rights around the world. But can we all please be clear about why we take time away from our families when we do?
Because at the end of the day, your daughter, as Herscher contends, might be proud of you for creating and selling your own company on an intellectual level, particularly when she grows up. But, in her heart, you run a very high risk of having her always wish she was just a little more interesting so Mommy could have stayed around more.
Trust me, I had this mother, I know what I'm talking about here.
I'm not taking away anyone's freedoms, or suggesting we should all stay home and nurse our children until they're 15. I'm just saying take a deeper look at the cost, Ms. Herscher. Or at least do yourself a favor and listen to the classic song, "The Cat's in the Cradle":
I've long since retired and my son's moved away I called him up just the other day I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind" He said, "I'd love to, dad, if I could find the time You see, my new job's a hassle, and the kid's got the flu But it's sure nice talking to you, dad It's been sure nice talking to you" And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me He'd grown up just like me My boy was just like me