Let me start by saying I'm not pregnant. I'm at an age where I find myself saying that a lot. I say, “I have news!” Followed by, “Wait, what? Oh. No, I'm not pregnant,” or “Something exciting has happened! (No, I'm not pregnant.).” It's to the point that when male friends ask to talk, I amuse myself by starting the conversation, “Are you knocked up?”
As a woman with a Business Baby and a lovely extended family clamoring (mostly gently) for a Baby Baby, this is a subject that's on my mind - at 4:30 am. My Business Baby often wakes me up at this hour, or frankly any other that it decides it needs attention. It demands my attention while I’m driving, while I’m eating, and especially while I'm watching the Good Wife, prompting me to compare and contrast Alicia Florick’s choices about work and family with my own.
I keep telling my family, “I’m not ready.” or “See, I have this Business Baby, and I’m excited to have it take all my time and energy right now.” There’s a part of me that, simply put, is totally freaking terrified of the impact getting pregnant will have on my business. There’s not exactly built-in maternity leave or sick days when you’re an entrepreneur with a startup. And on a personal note, I’m enjoying the occasional unplanned solo day trip to the beach.
The brilliant Denise Duffield-Thomas recently posted a vlog (video blog/the grossest word ever) Will Having a Baby Ruin My Business? Her post made me hopeful that I'm creating a false dichotomy. She shares that she doubled her company’s already ample profits since having a bébé and then doubled them again.
I’m glad I’m able to help women recognize biases and navigate around them, but as you might expect, I think it’s garbage that we have to. Frankly, I'm fortunate to be in one of the few roles to which motherhood lends greater credibility, but it's still not the right time for me.
I remember a sociology professor describing the way women’s bodies and deeply personal choices are deemed appropriate fodder for discussion. She remarked that once she'd been married for a year, people switched from asking “When’s the baby coming?” to “Is everything ok? Are you able to have kids?”, implying there must be something wrong if she didn’t get preggo lickity split after getting hitched. And men don’t get these questions. My husband cannot remember the last time he got asked. For me, it was at lunch two hours ago.
Years ago, a close friend planned a wedding in the final few months of med school so that she and her hubs could have the wedding knocked out before her residency. “Are you so excited for the most important day of your life?”, a well-wisher asked. Whether she actually responded this way or not, I don’t know, but in her recap to me, my friend said, “You mean yesterday, when I got my medical license?”
Like my friend’s well-wisher, even the best intentioned people prioritize family milestones over women’s professional success. (We prioritize women's appearances over professional accomplishments as well).
And this impacts all women. I hear frustrations from women who choose not to buddy up romantically or haven’t found a partner, including those who don’t identify as heterosexual. I hear them from women who choose not to, haven’t yet, or aren't able to have kids. They feel like their decisions or circumstances are perceived as some sort of flaw -- that they’re perceived to be defective.
Whether it’s the mother who’s being judged for working, the mother who’s being judged for not working, or the professional who’s expected to work holidays or stay late “because they don’t have a family,” it’s all bullshit.
Lean In (or Not)
Recognizing the narrow audience it was written for, I enjoyed the book Lean In. What I thoroughly don’t enjoy is the way the term “lean in” has been added to the already ample number of ways society tells women they're doing it wrong.
When Daily Show female correspondent Jessica Williams disappointed fans by tweeting that she was “extremely under-qualified” to host when Jon Stewart left, a blogger questioned whether she should was a “victim” of the imposter syndrome and suggested she “lean in”.
Williams responded beautifully with a post articulating the ways that telling her to Lean In was disrespectful to her as woman and invalidated her decisions. She eloquently concluded with “No offense, but Lean the f*** away from me for the next couple of days. I need a minute."
Whatever your jam is right now with your career, family, or personal life, recognizing and naming the external pressures can help you decide what YOU want instead of what you “should” want.
For me, for right now, my Business Baby is plenty exciting, demanding, and exhausting enough to take all of my attention. Knowing my love of lil ones, I expect that will change with time, but if it didn’t that’d be just fine too.
A version of this piece was originally published by Forbes