Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about motherhood.
No, not because it’s anywhere close to being on my personal horizon.
More so, because I’m in awe of it. Terrified of it. Longing for it. Obsessed with the idea of it.
Maybe it’s because I just finished reading Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s new novel, Fleishman Is in Trouble (about a woman’s breakdown caused by the societal pressures placed on motherhood, combined with a high-stress career) and Sheila Heti’s latest memoir, Motherhood.
Maybe it’s because last night my friend made a comment about my mothering nature. I’d cooked dinner for two of my friends and was washing the dishes and cleaning up when one of them started meandering around my apartment, unfolding the neatly stacked piles of clothing carefully placed beside my dresser. From the kitchen, hands drenched in suds, I snapped, “Please fold that and put it back where you found it!” She replied–half-joking, half-not–to our other friend, “Sometimes, I feel like Linne is my mother.”
Maybe it’s because every time I see a woman, diaper bag weighing down her shoulder, struggling to carry a stroller down the steps of the subway, I feel a panic attack arise for her.
You see, I’ve always known that I want to be a mother. But, I’ve also always known that I want to have a career. Yes, I was the child that attentively tended to my Barbie’s every needs, but I was also the child that spent hours playing with my sketchbook and studying glossy magazines.
The career thing, I’m starting to get the hang of. Or, at least, I’m on a path that feels good. And though motherhood is nowhere in sight for me, I’m starting to have these thoughts and fears around it. There are days when I’ll get home from work, fulfilled by my own productivity, but utterly exhausted by the thought of having to be accountable for anything more involved than lying on my couch and watching Bravo with my bra off. It’s on those days that the question racing through my mind becomes: How the hell do mothers do this? How the hell do women come home after work and be present to attend to their children’s needs, their partner’s needs, their household’s needs?? How the hell am I going to be able to do this when I become a mother???
My own mother has chosen to mother in one way. She is endlessly dedicated to both her work and her two children. She has made choices along the way in order to create space in her life for those things to be her clearly delineated priorities. And her path is one I am grateful for and inspired by.
But, I wanted to see how some other mothers did it too, in hopes of learning from a multiplicity of experiences. So, I decided to seek out some moms.
The three mothers I spoke with have very different stories. One is a single mother to a young son, working full-time in a high-powered position in the fashion industry. One is a married mother to two sons, who chose to stay at home when her kids were young and then went back to school, after they had grown, to become a nurse. And the last woman is a married mother of one young son, who owns her own business.
Below, they speak to their own delicate balancing of motherhood and career, the tough choices they made along the way, and their surprising response to the question, “Can women have it all?”…
On their decision (or lack thereof) to stay home or go back to work…
Samira Nasr | Executive Fashion Director at Vanity Fair, single mother of one young son
I’m parenting on my own, so there’s no choice there. It’s just what our lives look like. I have to take care of my family and I have to work. But, I’m very grateful that I have a job and that I have the job that I do. I don’t take either for granted.
You have to go out there and create the life you’ve envisioned for yourself. I think that women need to understand that–just go and create the life that you want. It may not look like the person on the left or the person on the right’s family, but it’s your family. And it’s your story, unique to you.
When I adopted Lex, the laws in New York stated that you only got one week of maternity leave. At the time, my boss gave me three-and-a-half weeks, but I still had to be reachable on email. I still don’t feel like I ever had the time that I deserved to have with my son. So, I was not happy to go back to work. It was very, very hard. The feeling of not being a good enough mom and not being good enough at work was amplified because I didn’t have the time that I needed.
Ellyn Rubin | Stay-at-Home Mom turned Mother & Baby Nurse, married mother of two grown sons
I was working as a Speech Pathologist when [my first son] was born…I switched to part-time. During those two years, it was really hard for me to focus on work because my heart was at home.
When [my second son] was born, I knew I was going to have to stay home because I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to be with my children.
[My husband and I] were fortunate enough that we could make that work. But, by the time they went to school, I was always in my head questioning, “Should I go back to work?” That question was always on one end of my mind. And, on the other end of my mind, I felt very content knowing that I was raising good children.
I’m proud that I made the decision to stay home, especially because I think there’s a stigma with it. When you go to parties and you meet people in the business world and they ask you, “What do you do?”… and you kind of shrink down and say, “Well, I stay at home with my kids”… and then the conversation ends…
Lydia Andrews | Founder & Designer at Maple and Moss Designs, married mother of one young son
When I first held my son, Oliver, I thought, “I can’t go back to work!” I saw a lot of my friends who stayed home and thought, “I’ll do that, too!” Quickly, however, I realized that it was not for me to be home all the time. I became depressed and felt my identity slipping away. I felt guilt and shame that my son didn’t bring me all of the joy to fill my life. I started resenting new motherhood. I wanted to be home with Oli some of the time, but I wanted to pursue my passions as well.
I couldn’t afford daycare at the time. It didn’t make sense compared to the paycheck I’d be getting. So, I figured it out…slowly. Oliver went to friends’ and families’ homes a couple hours a week. Building a business is no joke. Building a business with a baby on your boob? Pretty much insane.
On what surprised them about motherhood…
Samira: I never feel like it gets easier. I don’t mean that in a “woe is me” kind of way. The constant effort to strike a balance and feel like I’m doing well at both things is challenging and I’m surprised that I’m still surprised by that.
Ellyn: It really was a blink of an eye, it just happens so quickly… Looking back on it, those were my happiest years in terms of time well-spent.
Lydia: My husband and I laugh thinking back on the conversations we had when we were dating: “So we’ll have a baby, and then we’ll wait a few years (we don’t want them too close in age, but not too far apart either) for the next one.”
I am not apologizing for the way we do family.
Oliver was born at 33 weeks. I had severe Preeclampsia. I ended up in the hospital for over 12 days. Oliver stayed a month. It was hell. We waited awhile to try for our second. Since Oliver, we’ve had four miscarriages. Two years of pain and sadness–and the last pregnancy we lost was twins. I’m not sharing this for any other reason then to express that expectations of any sort as a parent are hard. When you don’t get that vision of Motherhood you have dreamed up in your head, it hurts. We can all be a little more sensitive to conversations regarding motherhood…
On the myth of being able to “have it all”…
Samira: I think that is the greatest lie ever told. I think you can have it all, but in degrees. You have to prioritize what is most important to you. And you can’t have it all at the same time, in the same way, at the same level. My experience as a single parent in New York City is that you just can’t. I can still experience a lot of different things; I can experience joy and I can have a rich, full life.
Ellyn: Maybe you could have it all, but it wouldn’t be whole pieces. You only have a certain amount of time. Time is limited, it’s finite. So, if you have a wonderful family, a wonderful career, wonderful hobbies and passions, you’re always going to be choosing to give time to one thing over another…I think you can be happy and have a lot of wonderful things in your life. But, can you have it all? I don’t really think so.
Lydia: If having it all is the goal, you might as well quit. What you can do is have a clear expectation for what your “all” is. Balance really isn’t sustainable.
On the sacrifices that were made along the way…
Lydia: I’d have dinner with a different friend every night of the week if I could. We used to try and then my sweet husband looked at me and said, “We need a few nights at home each week. It’s just too much.” He was right. I was clinging so tightly to keeping things the way they were before Oliver, insisting on the idea that parenthood wouldn’t change us. But, it did. And it does. Friendships change, too.
On recognizing the woman they were before motherhood and the ways in which they’ve grown…
Samira: She got me to this point. That is who I am, at my core. But, I also don’t think I’ll ever be her again because… I’m a mom now. It has changed me in ways that I’m just grateful for. So, I take the essence of who that person was and I carry her with me. I’m where I am now and this is exactly where I should be.
Ellyn: As soon as he was born, it was like…oh my god…this love encapsulates you. I just wanted to be with him all the time…
But, by the time that they were leaving the house, I felt that I needed to find some sort of personal satisfaction and purpose elsewhere.
I learned that it’s a good thing to show people that you can do things that are outside of your comfort zone.
I had always known that I wanted to be in the medical field, but I was very doubtful when I was graduating high school and going into college. As I got older and once my boys were grown, I was like, “You know what? Screw it! I’m gonna put aside all my doubts and fears and I’m just gonna go for it!” I had about two years of prerequisites I had to take at a community college.
I had this Dell computer that was two inches thick and probably weighed five pounds–it looked like a dinosaur. When I got to school, I sat in the back and took it out of my backpack. I watched the kids to see what they were doing. Were they writing with paper and pen? Or, were they taking notes on their laptops? I remember thinking, if, God forbid, they’re taking notes on their laptops, I don’t know what I’m going to do!
Then I went to nursing school. There were a lot of times when it felt embarrassing being so old, so out of place. And yet, it’s okay. I learned that it’s a good thing to show people that you can do things that are outside of your comfort zone. I got the hang of it. Becoming a nurse also helped me learn that you can’t make assumptions about people when you don’t know what their background is. It’s been a great experience for me.
Lydia: I stayed up late. I built my own website. I put that baby in a carrier, while I decorated homes. I cried a lot. But, you know what? I started to become a little more me. A better me for my husband and my baby. I was tired, but it was worth it. So was it what I dreamed of or envisioned for myself? Nope. Not even a little. But parenting is about cause and effect. Reacting to where you are in the moment, and making small choices to better your family, your schedule, your finances.
Much love and gratitude to the women who shared their stories for this piece. Thank you!