Photo Credit: Emily Long
Today I purged my closet of black pants. I did not need 15 pairs of dress pants when I was working and I most certainly do not need them now that my “desk” is my daughter’s play mat, my “meeting” involves other mommies and babies, and my looming “deadline” involves a bottle, a diaper change, and a nap.
Usually I find cleaning out my closet to be cathartic. Look at those empty hangers! Look at that open space! I usually feel about ten pounds lighter after filling a bag for the local Goodwill, but today I felt hollow. For so many years, black pants formed the backbone of my work wardrobe. From Wall Street to Midtown to business school, from apartment to apartment, from London to Michigan to New York, and from job to job, the black pants came with me.
They were so much more than pants. They were grown-up, dry-clean-only clothes. They were crisp, with their sharp creases and clean hems. They were sophisticated, savvy, take-charge pants. They were “make your parents proud” pants. They meant I had places to go and things to do and people to see. I felt like the world somehow expected more of me when I wore them – and I was happy to deliver.
For the past nine months, however, another kind of black pants (that would be the Lululemon Groove pant!) has dominated my wardrobe because four days before my daughter was born, I packed up my office, turned in my ID, thanked my boss, and headed into the great unknown of stay-at-home-mommyhood.
I left a job I’d worked in for five years. For much of that time, I lived and breathed this job during the workday, on weekends, in the middle of the night, and while on vacation. With a boss who rarely slept, like many in New York, I frequently checked my email in the middle of the night so if she needed anything, she didn’t have to wait until sunrise. For many years, my work was my identity, full stop.
And then one morning, everything changed. Everything. My husband was still asleep when I nudged him gently to say “the test is positive.”
In the weeks that followed, once I emerged from the all-day nausea and fatigue, I found myself wondering about the new life growing inside of me. While I had actively followed the “mommy wars” for years, wondering if I “should” work once I became a mom, now that I was actually faced with that decision the questions were so much more complicated and more emotionally charged than I ever anticipated.
What the media frames in such stark, black and white terms is anything but. Women of our generation are encouraged to “lean in” to both work and family; to contribute financially while staging Pinterest-worthy afternoon projects; to run five miles before sunrise, prepare an organic breakfast, and end the day in a sexy nighty, all without losing sight of her retirement plan, all in the guise of the balance that is always just slightly out of reach.
For me, on the one hand, work was deeply gratifying and, as someone who values independence and financial security, the thought of giving up a paycheck – not to mention the intellectual stimulus – was terrifying. On the other hand, even before meeting her I was pretty sure my daughter would transform my life in unimaginable ways, and I was already feeling a yearning to spend more time with her than any dynamic, exciting, and challenging job would allow.
During my pregnancy, I was consumed by the “should I or shouldn’t I?” conversations amongst my friends, in books, and on the news. As I wrestled with these and other questions, I felt like I was somehow betraying myself, my education, and my future security by even contemplating staying at home with my baby.
I studied the lives of the women I know – working and not – in search of a common root of their happiness, or unhappiness. I wanted an easy answer and there simply was not one to be found.
With my due date approaching, what finally emerged was a realization that my story is mine and mine alone. Just because some women work so much that they are in a perpetual frenzy, rarely seeing their children, didn’t mean I shouldn’t work. And just because some women are so wrapped up in the lives of their children that they lose themselves didn’t mean I should.
The questions for me, then, became much more personal: Do I love this job enough, at this time, to be okay with it taking time away from my baby? Is this the job to take with me into this next season of life?
It took time for the small but clear voice in my gut to emerge, saying “For you, in this moment, the right choice is for you to be home with your baby.”
Nine months into motherhood, I don’t doubt my choice. I would not trade this time for all the black pants in the world. But I’d also be lying if I said I never wonder how life would be different if I was working. Sometimes I cringe a bit when my daughter and I are looking out the window and I see a women in heels dashing for the subway and sometimes I feel like the world’s most boring person when I sit down to dinner with my husband.
In these moments, I remind myself that by being home, I am not saying “never” but simply “not now.” It only takes a few glimpses of my daughter’s smile to remind me that for now, I am where I belong.