When I unexpectedly saw two pink lines on my pregnancy test,
three distinct thoughts flashed in my mind: 1. I'll have to go through labor
(FEAR); 2. My body is officially ruined (VANITY); and 3. My career is over
To be fair, my career hadn't even started. I was
21 years old, crouched in position at the starting line of adulthood—a
freshly printed college degree tucked under one arm and an appointment book of
high-stakes job interviews under the other. The gun was about to go off. I even
had a bit of a lead, given my prestigious internships that I had, quite
literally, just completed. I was off
to the races!
Until, instantly, I wasn't. Nothing about my future made sense,
except for the fact that it was ruined. I felt like I had spent four years inflating
my life with ambition, achievement and carefully laid plans, and now all I
could hear was the slow whistle of my very existence deflating. I had defied
the impossible and nailed interviews and allies within the most demanding,
competitive market in the magazine industry, and I just knew I couldn't give my
all—not how I originally planned. I
was going to be a mother, and so good-bye
I was met with a heavy dose of pity about my untimely
circumstance, whether from professors or colleagues or friends. "Such a
shame," I could see on their faces. "She had such potential." After all, us Millennial
girls were trained to follow the "career first, family later" rule. Get thrown
off track too early and there's no recovering. Get pregnant too young and
you'll destroy your future. (Dun-dun-duuuun!)
"I do think there's something to … the argument that perhaps
ambitious women in their 20s who also want kids should consider having them
sooner rather than later," said Slate writer Jessica Grose. "The lack of support for pregnant women in the U.S. is
not going to change in the very near term, and that goes for 20-year-olds and
40-year-olds. Many women are in the middle of the career ladder when they get
pregnant in their early 30s, and in a cruel twist, that's when a lot of workers
have the least flexibility."
Even Penelope Trunk—career author, blogger and
entrepreneur—has firmly insisted that if women want high-powered careers,
they should get
pregnant at 25 years old.
"Here's the truth for women: You should not plan your life
so that you work until you're 30 and then have kids, and also have a huge
career," said Trunk. "Because you will be taking care of kids during the very
time when all the men you worked with are working harder and longer hours than
ever before. Men who have kids are in a great position to climb the ladder.
They have wives at home. Women cannot go full speed ahead until the kids are
While I'm not sure it's as simplistic as Trunk makes it seem—not everyone has found the right partner in their early 20s, and the last
thing women need is more pressure to pick a lane—I do understand the idea. In
fact, I've discovered many perks
to starting a family early.
We can make choices and sacrifices without dooming us to a dead end. There are no dead ends.
Because I got started so young, I'll have an empty nest when
I'm 40 years old. FORTY! There are plenty of fortysomething women just venturing
into the world of motherhood—taking maternity leave, calling in on snow days,
downshifting a fast-paced lifestyle to accommodate a new, tender time of life.
And I'll be done with the most
demanding period of motherhood, with plenty of time and freedom to shift into
We can slowly and
patiently build a career, even just part-time, while prioritizing our
can finish our education/residencies/internships
while having a young family. We can
make choices and sacrifices without dooming us to a dead end. There are no dead
Beyond that, I experienced a significant shift
in my priorities and perspective after becoming a mother—something many women can relate to. Motherhood often refocuses and redefines what we
think, feel and do. We might have a surge of creativity, or an ingenious
business idea, or a sudden need to change the world. Many women feel "changed" after having a baby. I'm
grateful to have experienced that change at the beginning of my career, rather than midway through.
Does that mean the magical answer to the "have it all"
debate is to get pregnant before the age of 25? Of course not; there is "no
one size fits all" answer.
Just as there's no "right" time, perhaps there's no "wrong"
time either. We live in a world that's constantly screaming, "Don't have kids
too soon, but don't wait too long!" We're judged and chastised for practically
any choice we make, so we might as well make the one right for our lives.
And even if it's not a conscious choice—even if life takes
us through unexpected routes and unpaved detours—it could still turn out to
be the best career decision you never made.