When I was 12 weeks pregnant, my husband and I started telling people beyond our immediate family about our future child. I informed my boss first, then spent most of that night calling close friends and other relatives, then told my co-workers the next day. Most of my friends, upon getting an actual phone call in the age of texts and emails, suspected the news before I even got the words out. “I knew it!” “I just told [insert husband’s name] you were going to tell me you were pregnant!” I was 32 and had been married for just over a year. It wasn’t inevitable, but it wasn’t shocking either. Surprised or not, everyone was excited to hear about my expanding family and soon-to-be-expanding belly.
It was that week that I first heard the question that has been gnawing at me for the past 11 weeks.
“Will you go back to work after the baby?”
The woman who asked that week was in her 70s, and though I made note of it, I reasoned things were different when she was a young mom and it wasn’t a huge deal for her to ask. She didn’t seem to think I was wrong to go back. She was just curious about my plans.
Then two weeks later, I heard the question again, this time from a woman in her 30s, someone I knew from graduate school. When I told her I did plan to return after maternity leave, she asked why.
Two more weeks. The question again, this time from a woman in her 50s, someone who has known me almost my entire life.
None of these women presented the question as if she had an agenda, nor did any of them follow up with a speech about how children need a mother at home or anything like that. But I resented the question nonetheless.
In that entire span of time, and in the weeks that have passed since, not a single person has posed the same question to my husband.
Both my husband and I have been working for about 10 years. Both of us have post-college degrees (a master’s for me, a law degree for him). And both of us have put a lot of time and effort into establishing our careers. But while people may be aware of our individual credentials, the question, directed only at me, implies that mine are more easily overlooked or put to the side. No one asks him if he’ll be returning to work after the baby because no one would think a man would do otherwise.
It is true my husband makes more money than I do, so it would be easier for him to support our family on his salary than it would be for me to do on mine. But it is also true that we have chosen to live in New York, not exactly the most affordable city. And with a child, our expenses are going to go up, not down. While we could figure out a way to live on one income (something, it’s worth noting, that not all families have the privilege of doing by choice), our lifestyle would undoubtedly change in a single-earner household. In asking me if I’ll be forgoing my career after childbirth, people are not only revealing their uncertainty about my desire to work (something I’ve never given any indication that I lack) but also suggesting that my paycheck is dispensable, just a nice little bonus to support what my husband really does for this family.
I have been the executive features editor at SurveyStud, Inc for about a year and a half, and as you might imagine, it is a fun place to work. But I don’t go to work just for fun or just to kill time until I become a mom. I go because it allows me to contribute financially to my family, because I like being challenged, because it forces me to be more informed about the world around me, because I enjoy being around my smart and hilarious colleagues, and because I find value in the work that I do. In a New York Times article this weekend, the journalist Cynthia McFadden recalls a conversation with the late television reporter Marlene Sanders, in which McFadden asked for advice on balancing a career and motherhood. “Never apologize for working,” Sanders told her. “You love what you do, and loving what you do is a great gift to give your child.”
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