Today I read Why Women Still Can't Have it All by Anne Marie Slaughter in the Atlantic Monthly. I have seen it everywhere I turn today. If you haven't read it, you should. It's long, but worth the time spent. The author dares to speak some truths about valuing family obligations despite societal expectations. Though her specific experiences are very very different than mine, the underlying similarities are there. We need to not only respect the choices people make regarding their families, but to honor them and give them a place in a successful career. We need also to find a way to respect situations different from our own without judgement, especially where the luxury of choice is not present.
I started practicing law in 1985 when I graduated from law school and passed the bar exam. I went steadily up the tiers toward partnership for a few years and then had a baby. I went back to work full time and managed everything very nicely. Then I had another baby and did the same thing, though the juggling act was markedly more difficult with two kids. I thought I resumed my climb but found out later that those two maternity leaves were really quite the career error. It was made very clear to me that despite my aptitude for and commitment to the work, I had been placed on a "mommy track". And the mommy track at this particular place was not a different track leading to the same place, but a dead end. but It was blatant sexism. I changed jobs and started up again.
As Professor Harold Hill says: The sadder but wiser girl is the girl for me.
A couple of years after all this happened Maggie was born. At first we thought she would have a complicated course in infancy but would be OK after several surgeries. Things became increasingly complicated over those first weeks and it became clear very quickly that my career was over - or at least on a very significant hiatus. I suppose it didn't have to be my career, it could have been Steve who left work. I don't remember ever even having a discussion about that. And to be clear, I don't feel even the least bit resentful about that. (and I don't think he does either.)
Some people understood the situation. Others did not. I was asked when I was going back to work, why couldn't I meet them for drinks, why was I giving up all my expertise. I was told that I wasted my education, that I was too smart for this. Other people had expectations of me. I had expectations of myself. All those expectations went out the window when Maggie was born. For a long time I grieved for what I lost, but I had to reinvent myself, and we had to reinvent our family.
It wasn't a conscious choice in any way. Something had to give. This wasn't just a matter of daycare versus at home parenting, this was life and death. Maggie could not go to a daycare and we could not afford the round the clock nursing care that she needed. Maggie needed me in different way than most babies and the boys needed me in a way that all kids need a parent with the additional issues of worrying about their baby sister. I needed to care for all of them - for all of us; moreover, I wanted to do it. We were under siege and I was protecting my family. It was instinctual. It was hard. It was expensive. It was scary We had to change everything and work 24 hours a day to keep everything moving, but we did it.
We slowly built a new life and learned everything there was to know about all of Maggie's medical and developmental issues. I was her advocate, her voice. I kept the boys on track and weaved all of this medical stuff into our lives in a way that felt almost seamless. It was working. Then one day someone said to me,, "I know she's sick, but you have to live your life too." That was especially offensive. I WAS living my life. I AM living my life.
People feel sorry for us because of our circumstances,we have a disabled child, we had to sacrifice 50% of our income, I had to give up my career, we can't travel, etc etc etc.Our life did not turn out the way anyone expected, least of all us.
Do I miss my old life? All the time.
Did we wish for this life? Certainly not.
Do we wish things were different? Of course.
Did we expect this life? Not in a million years.
Did we survive? You bet!
Have we made the best of things? Absolutely.
Am I proud of that?
You better believe it.