Motherhood and career ambitions are a ceaseless tug-of-war. This conflict is faced by thousands of women as they grapple with mixed feelings. Since there is no ‘solution’ or ‘formula’, there are no right choices here.
It’s exactly what Candace Alnaji says: “You are not a bad mom because you go to work each day. Similarly, you are not a failure because you left your career altogether. Choices regarding work and family are personal – there is no one-size-fits-all method. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong.”
Maybe you’re expecting a baby, or are a new mom. Maybe you’re a new mom who’s about to start work again or a mom who’s just quit her job. No matter your situation, I’m here with a story that will give you the perspective you seek. Let’s begin the journey together, and see how others have walked in our shoes before.
Motherhood Or Career? Choosing Between A Baby And Career
I wondered how I could work with the dilemma that so many women across the globe face. And believe me when I say that I was lost. This until I met Jay. An accidental run-in, a mutual friend we both share, and a train ride back home. I knew which story I’d tell, and how I’d tell it. His words had struck a chord with me, and in his words would I write this account.
Jay’s better half had gone through the same problem you’re facing: choosing between a baby and a career. She too had gone through the motions of frustration, anger, silence, and acceptance. Here is a tale that explores motherhood and career, and everything this tussle brings.
“She feared that getting pregnant could hamper her career”
I waited for an hour outside Mithibai college to break the news to her. While clutching my wife’s blood reports that I had received the same day, I was waiting impatiently while she was attending a lecture inside the campus.
Earlier in the day, she had complained of dizziness and exhaustion, but she was certain that she was not pregnant. When she came out and we walked toward the taxi, I told her that her belief (of not being pregnant) was unfounded. She looked at me in disbelief and walked beside me in complete silence, not holding my hand, as we crossed the street. She was lost in her thoughts.
Even before she moved into my apartment in Sion, we had discussed this numerous times. Though we were very active sexually, she had made it clear that she didn’t want a baby. She was a journalist and feared that getting pregnant could hamper her career, or even totally destroy it. Her preference between motherhood or career was clear.
We took all kinds of precautions. While I always used a condom, she was on the pill. But as they say, sex is strange: sometimes you cannot take precautions. It is not possible to resist the temptation if you don’t have a condom in the immediate vicinity. Also, as we had discovered, the fragile condom can’t be fully trusted either.
Related Reading: Should I Have A Baby? Decide To Go Ahead With These 12 Reasons
“It wasn’t a game anymore”
Now and then, I would buy a pack of pregnancy kits and she would take a test. It was kind of a game that we had begun to enjoy. However, one day, it wasn’t a game anymore. We never thought that she’d have to make the choice between motherhood or career.
One day, we forgot to discard the stick. A minute or two later, I noticed a faint second line on the indicator panel. I told her immediately. “Let’s try once more. Go and bring some more pregnancy kits,” she asked. I went and brought six different pregnancy kits for her. Two of them showed a positive result, two weren’t clear, and the other two gave a negative result.
A friend advised us to get a blood test done, apparently the sure-fire way to confirm a pregnancy. Thanks to her busy schedule, we managed to get the blood tests done only two weeks later. And three days later, we received the report that was positive.
The same day, we decided to see a doctor across the road from the college. By the time we procured an appointment with the doctor, two more weeks had passed and she had already missed her period. She wanted an abortion. For this, we’d have to go to a private clinic.
“We heard the sound of a beating heart”
A week later, we decided to consult another doctor. By this time, my wife was already in the sixth week of her pregnancy and the doctor advised her to undergo an ultrasound. “Your baby has a beating heart. Listen to it. Then come back to me,” the doctor said.
Five days later, we returned to Lilavati hospital for the procedure. We heard the sound of a beating heart. It was loud, clear and faster than a normal heartbeat which went straight to my heart. After the ultrasound, I told her that I could not bear to have that beating heart silenced. She was trying to choose between motherhood or career but my mind kept going back to that wish-woosh sound coming from the ultrasound machine.
The doctor was very clear that it is inadvisable to terminate the first pregnancy because it might create medical issues afterward. We were supposed to decide quickly because a delay might lead to endangering my wife’s life too. She was virtually silent for the next few days, mechanically going through her daily routine. Maybe she was worried about making mistakes as a parent.
I could sense that she was torn between choosing the baby and her career. She really longed to be at work since her promotion was round the corner. Merely sitting at home and nursing a newborn was not her definition of a ‘meaningful life’.
Five days had passed since she went ‘silent’, so I decided to initiate the conversation. After I started the conversation, she revealed that she had yet not made a decision between motherhood and career. Later, I consulted the doctor who was strongly opposed to abortion.
I called her older sister too and told her about the pregnancy. She shared the “good news” with everybody else in their family. My wife’s phone started ringing incessantly. She answered most of those calls in monosyllables before hanging up while promising to call everyone back, which she never did. Meanwhile, time had run out for a safe abortion. Any further delay could amount to medical complications for the mother.
Related Reading: 12 Tips To Be A Successful Single Mother
“My final resort, my mother…”
Finally, I went to the last resort of dialing my mother’s number. She was a cancer patient who had never asked my wife for anything. I have never heard my wife say ‘no’ to my mother either. They shared a healthy bond and had a lot of respect for each other.
My mother, who was too ill to travel, asked my wife to see her in Kolkata by herself. Five days later, my pregnant spouse flew over. She returned after a week – beaming, smiling and back to her old self. She declared – much to my joy – that she would deliver the baby and manage the career as well. That was probably the happiest day of my life (but certainly not happier than the day our baby was born).
As the days and weeks rolled by, it became increasingly difficult for my wife to juggle between her job and the pregnancy and things got complicated along the way (a different story for another day). She rarely found any me-time for herself. In the first week of August 2012, my mother telephoned me at 10 PM. She wished me luck for the baby and told me that she wanted to listen to my voice one last time. Two minutes later, she ran out of breath.
On February 6, 2013, my son was born. What passed between my wife and my mother is a secret to date. But here is what she will share:
In a mother’s own words: motherhood or career?
The decision to have a baby is never easy. Everything changes; your professional, personal, and married life. A baby will keep you away from your active work life for a minimum of at least six months. Your pregnancy will slow you down while your colleagues will continue to run at the same pace, if not faster, in their professional lives.
We talk about balancing the two and working through pregnancy but ask any mother and she will tell you how difficult it actually is. At some point, you have to make a choice – either the baby or your professional life. There is indeed no balance.
During the last three months leading to the birth, and another three months afterward, you are forced to shift your focus from your professional life to concentrate solely on the baby. You end up with the former between motherhood or career.
When you are finally ready to return to work seriously, the decision comes as a blow to your conscience. Your baby is dependent on breastfeeding and will now have to drink from the bottle while you will be away at work. Imagine the feeling when the baby is crying for your milk but you are ready to leave for work in a minute or two.
Then you are torn by colossal doubts of whether the baby is being looked after properly in your absence. The baby’s arrival changes everything in the mother’s life, and the first thing to become a casualty is her professional life.
I haven’t had a regular job since my baby was born. I can’t return to my old job or position, at least not immediately. My baby has, however, given me immense joy. He is the entire world to me. But I will be lying if I say that I have no regrets in choosing between career and baby.
(Names changed to protect identities)
The juggling is very difficult, and you end up wishing you did both better. But it is possible. You look at your career as a source of personal fulfillment. Your baby will ultimately look up to you as a role model: a happy, fulfilled adult. But don’t expect to be perfect in your roles. You will make mistakes, something or the other will get compromised. You can strike a balance by setting your priorities straight and keeping the two spheres apart.
Yes, of course, she can. A supportive organization and family, a lot of willpower, and emotional strength and stability can do wonders. There are countless splendid women out there who have successful careers and great relationships with their kids. It’s not an ‘either-or’ situation.
There is no fixed answer that is applicable to all. It depends on the mother, the baby, and the nature of her job. It’s a very personal call you make. If you think your baby is still very dependent on you and needs your presence for his development, then you can prolong your maternity leave. But it will always be hard to go back to work when you know you have to leave your baby at home: stay determined!