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Getting Pregnant in Your 20s Could Be Good for Your Career

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 (COMPLETE CERTAINTY).

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!

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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 career.

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!)

It's everywhere in our society. Young moms are depicted as being perpetually poor and unsuccessful, teen pregnancy prevention billboards read things like, "You're supposed to be changing the world, not changing diapers," and companies are now paying for female employees to freeze their eggs—hoping to help in the age-old "how to have it all" debate.

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.

But we're only starting to reveal the truth: No one can have it all. More than that, it's not always detrimental to get pregnant in your 20s. In fact, it could be good for your career.

After the New York Times ran an article called "Pregnant in Medical School"—in which medical student Anna Jesus explains why getting pregnant in grad school can be a smart decision. Slate expanded on that idea in "The Case for Having Kids in Your 20s."

"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 grown up."

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 overdrive.

We can slowly and patiently build a career, even just part-time, while prioritizing our children. We 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 ends.

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.

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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.

I know it was for me.

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