Planning for Babies

Planning for Babies | CorporetteOver at Law.com’s The Careerist, Vivia Chen ponders one of the most interesting lessons from Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk: “Don’t leave before you leave.” As she notes:

But it was Sandberg’s third point that really stopped me in my tracks: Women sabotage their own careers because they consciously or unconsciously put the brakes on their jobs. Often young women are so concerned about balancing work and family that they pull back from challenging work–even at the starting gate.

This was also one of the most interesting points to me, if only because I know that I’ve done this to some degree, and so have other friends.   (Pictured: Naked Mohawk-Baby Carrot Jockeys, from the fabulous humor blog Cake Wrecks.) So let’s talk about this:

1) Did you plan your career with a family juggle in mind? I know one friend who, upon starting her MBA, was interested in the investment banking track — and she was overwhelmed with “don’t do it” advice from other people, all of whom pointed out that no women do that track because the job requires too much.

2) Have you changed your career due to babies on your brain? How so? I think I can speak for a lot of women when I say that babies and the family juggle were absolutely not on my mind when I applied to law school — ah, the hubris of youth!  It was only several years later, in my late 20s, when friends started to have kids, that I took a long look at working conditions of the few supervisors I worked with who were mothers and seriously assessed my career options.

3) For those of you *with* kids — what’s your advice to those of us without kids? Plan ahead?  Roll with the punches? What job benefits have you found absolutely essential to you as a mother? Flex time? Ability to work from home?  For those of you who quit jobs over lack of certain benefits, or if you have a wishlist of benefits, which ones would you like to see?

Comments

  1. Group hug as we start this topic. (Deep breath). Excuse short, direct sentences as I blurt this out. On “don’t leave before you leave” — Tough pregnancies, difficulties trying to conceive, and a host of other problems sometimes force you to downshift before you go on maternity leave. Co-workers and bosses are patient (sorta) during your preggo time, and then you leave for maternity leave. And then you come back. After 3-6 months, with other folks doing your work (begrudgingly, most of the time). And….when set foot back in that door, you’re swimming upstream to create a reputation that you can work just as hard (or harder) than when you had a baby. Which is impossible for most women. JMHO.

    • Yep. Same here. They hired a new associate while I was out, I think to replace me because they thought I’d change my mind about coming back. Now I’m competing with him for work.

      And yeah, working while pregnant is not always easy. My hours suffered major damage during the first trimester depression/fatigue.

    • Anonymous :

      I don’t think what you describe is what Sandberg meant by leaving before you leave. You’re describing having to scale down your work in response to your medical or emotional needs, which is perfectly reasonable. What Sandberg meant is the phenomenon of women choosing a certain job track before babies are even on the horizon.

      • Sheryl talked about in her speech how it takes x months to conceive, x months of pregnancy, x months of maternity leave… All of this was described in the “leaving before you leave” scenario.

        • Anonymous :

          Yes, but she began the point with the story of a young woman who was trying to plan a career track that would balance motherhood with work when she didn’t even have a boyfriend yet.

          • Good point. I actually think that is an extreme example to make her point (i.e., woman with no boyfriend talking about having a baby, being a wife). Ridic. Most women I know bump into the “reality” the way that Kat did — go to law school, go to a high-powered law school/B-school, land “golden” job,” get married, stay married for a few years, ponder a family in the future, take a look around to find role models of women who “have it all.”

          • Yeah, I think that kind of “leaving before you leave” – planning for kids when you don’t even have a boyfriend – is a really bad idea. Particularly because if a woman goes into a field she is passionate about, does well, receives accolades and gets a good reputation, it will probably be easier for her to create a flexible arrangement for herself later – as a consultant or advisor, in a part-time or flex position created especially for her, etc. Being a “star” in your field can bring a lot of flexibility to your life; people who are in-demand as professionals can often write their own tickets. In my experience.

    • My deepest belief is that you have to know, deep in your heart, which matters more to you. Fighting, for most law and industry careers of power involve fighting, or deeply engaged physical proximity-type motherhood. Equally as important, those careers have to find a way to allow that period where one has to choose to be a short and seamless as possible.

  2. I work for Big Oil, and graduated college in December 09 with a degree in logistics. I asked every single interviewer, across all industries, about their work-life balance programs. While I never specifically asked about maternity leave, sometimes that information was offered up to me after asking that question. I also chose not to pursue a career in a particular field of logistics, because of the implications I knew it would have on my future (way, way in the future) family.

    Also, while I’d prefer to wait until I have a few years of experience under my belt before going back to school for a Master’s, I’ve decided it’s easier to do it now, before I have a family, and an even more demanding job. I’m fortunate that my company will pay for me to go back to school part time and for now, I only have myself to support and think of.

    • I work in BigOil and not in the US. While I planned my maternity (we got luck that stuff happened when it did) to fit around my assignments, I know that’s not always so easy. But a trusted boss gave me this advice: if at all possible, plan ahead – not to dump your career, but for instance, try not to get preggers when you just start a new role, etc type of planning.

      My career is important to me, and I’m grateful to live where i can easily afford a fulltime carer for my son. I also took a few mths off work (unpaid) before starting my next role, which was due to the ‘planning’.

      That said, my good friend in the US is undergoing a really tough pregnancy (bleeding, bedrest, you name it) and she has n’t slowed down at all. Her bedrest = sitting on the sofa all day and working/taking calls. I admire that and am sure she’ll be great at resuming her life.

      I’ve seen scores of women who’ve ‘left before they left’ too….as LPC says, it’s upto you to choose.

  3. The biggest perk of my current job is that it’s as great a legal job as one can have for having kids. I can take time off, have flex. hours, have reasonable hours as is, no one expects me to work on the weekends or most holidays, and no one expects me to be chained to my BB 24 hours a day.
    I can’t say I sought it out for that reason, but it’s definitely in the calculus for why I may stay here long term.
    I do, however, wonder if I am missing out on other opportunities right now as a result.
    The thing that most impressed me in what Sandberg said was that if you got pregnant *right now*, it really wouldn’t be that big a deal; that it’s the planning that can ruin things. I think she’s probably right. It sounds simple but I think it’s really affected the way I now think about my future.

    • May I ask what this dream job in the legal field is?

      • Government.
        It comes with the appropriate pay cut vs. private practice, but it’s def. a “living wage” & for me the perks & security are really worth the trade offs.

        • Awesome, that’s where I want to be. Local, State or Fed? How did you find, end up there?

          • State.
            Networking and volunteering (or if you are still in school, internships) are basically the best way in. It’s very hard to get hired “off the street.” Try to figure out where you want to be & then interact with the people who can let you know of positions as they are about to open & who can recommend you for the positions when they do open.
            Before accepting this job, I also interviewed at federal agencies, and it’s very similar. They want a commitment to public service, to feel someone is “one of them.” Best way to show that is with relevant experience, even if it’s just some occasional pro bono work at the pro se office.

          • Anonymous :

            I work for the state government, and the pay really does vary from state to state. In my state, the benefits are good, but the pay is nowhere near what you’d make in almost any other legal job. With the salary freezes, I would have made much more as a teacher as I will probably be able to make in my current job. There are other public sector/family friendly options in my state that pay a decent enough wage.

        • I work in state government also and agree that the benefits for me are really worth the lower salary (which isn’t that low, unless compared to biglaw.) I am pregnant with my third child and am very happy with the sort of balance I have between work and home.

          • Preggo Angie :

            I moved from a corporate job to a government job with less pay but better benefits. And much better work-life balance. It’s tough, but it’s worth coming home every night being able to spend hours with my son (and soon-to-be-here daughter) as opposed to an hour.

        • OldHouseGal :

          Further to AIMS–well we’re not on the same track, but have found legal careers that work for us. I’m in private practice and my area is trusts & estates

    • Anonymous :

      Same here, but I don’t have kids yet. I am a lawyer for a non-profit, and I love having reasonable hours, holidays off, only working on the rare weekend, and having flex time available to me so I can work from home when I need to. Because these things are the norm at my office, it doesn’t affect the career trajectory of parents who choose to take advantage of them in order to care for their children. It’s at companies where these benefits are not the norm that women end up being disadvantaged when they ask for them.

    • OldHouseGal :

      I might be on the same track as AIMS. I’ve done the work-life balance for over 25 years, and still have a child (with special needs) I’m caring for. My reputation has not suffered, people seek me out, I have the respect of my colleagues, I do interesting work for interesting clients, and I love it. My compensation, however, has suffered, as I’ve chosen to bill fewer hours/year. But I’m certainly not going hungry.

    • I’m in state government too, newlywed, and only vaguely starting to think about babies. But, I have to agree with your comment: “I do, however, wonder if I am missing out on other opportunities right now as a result.” I know that state government is an amazing position for me to be in when I want to have kids, but am I missing out on advancing my career now for a stable job with good benefits but lower pay? Is it a “grass is always greener” type situation?

  4. Never considered med school because school + residency take too long.

    Am I insane for thinking I don’t want to and won’t be out of the office for 3 months when I have a baby? I’m thinking within 2 weeks max I’ll be back part time. I worked while I studied for the bar, I worked during the second half of my 1L year (against ABA policy); I’m just generally a much more productive and better person when I work. Has anyone else gone back right away?

    • I haven’t had a baby, but from previous discussions on this topic on this blog, I think there are some serious real physical issues (for both you and baby) that would prevent you from going back to work in two weeks, even assuming you had a breezy vaginal birth. You’re assuming you’ll be physically recovered, getting good nights of sleep, that your baby won’t have any feeding, etc. issues. I would think most employers would be alarmed if you came back any earlier than 8 weeks.

      • “I would think most employers would be alarmed if you came back any earlier than 8 weeks.”
        I think this might be a little bit of an overstatement. Most employers will only pay you for 8 weeks if you have c-section or 6 weeks if you have vaginal delivery (you know, if they pay you at all). So I doubt that they would be “alarmed” if you came back at 6 weeks after a vaginal delivery. In fact, a 6 week leave is pretty standard.

      • OldHouseGal :

        Two weeks is pushing the limit. If you can work from home, however, you could be doing some billable work and certainly staying in touch w/colleagues and clients

    • Physically, I was not ready to go back for 4 weeks. At 6 weeks, I was ready to go back. When I went back at 8, I was miserable and exhausted from working and then being up all night. But if I waited any longer than that, I feel like I would have been too out of it and behind.

      I know women who have gone back after 3-4 because they had to to keep their job (small businesses). None of them were thrilled with going back, but none of them killed themselves to do it either.

      • Yeah, while I was happy to be back after 8 weeks (caring for a baby 24/7 is a kind of stress I’m not well-adapted to!), night after night of truncated sleep is STILL taking a toll on my work day (and my son is now 7 months old).

    • Yes you are insane. 6 weeks is do-able. For me, 8 weeks was right. But 2 weeks is insane, and probably not physically realistic. I wasn’t even allowed to drive for 2 weeks after delivery, and mine was uncomplicated. You may underestimate the physical toll on your body that having a baby takes (and the how consuming keeping a 2-week-old alive is).

    • Physically, you may not be able to go back that soon. With my first I lost a lot of blood with delivery and even walking around the block for 4-5 weeks was a struggle. Plus your hoo-ha will be all messed up (even with the best of deliveries) and you will be bleeding for at least 6 weeks – trust me, you won’t want to go back to work that soon!

      • I did go back to work within 48 hours of breaking my leg, so I’m okay with working with physical discomfort (and working with a fuzzy mind). Thanks all for the heads up on unrealistic expectations!

        • Umm, are your bosses/clients OK with you working with a fuzzy mind? Yikes!

          • Yep – its not like I’m a partner. I can still read and understand legal documents on pain pills.

        • But breaking your leg is totally different. You are dealing with caring for yourself alone. Giving birth is both physical strain on your body AND creates a small person who wants/needs no one but mom for a period of time. To emphasize, it’s not just the physical recovery, though that is a large part of it. It also is fitting this little person into your life and meeting his/her needs which are particularly demanding in those very early weeks.

          • Very honestly, the first two weeks after my son was born went by and I didn’t even notice what day it was until my husband told me he had to go back to work the next day (his employer gave men two weeks paternity leave, paid, and the amazing thing is, in this country that’s considered generous). I was not ready to go back at 6 weeks and I was barely ready to go back at 8 weeks. I didn’t get “cleared” to go back until 10 weeks (and I had arranged for a 12-week leave, paid partially with short-term disability and partially with leave) because I had a complicated delivery and had some lingering effects from it.

            Once the baby is born, unless you get an exceptionally good sleeper, your days and nights are no longer dictated by the clock but by when the baby is awake and when they are asleep. My baby never slept more than 2 hours at a time, round the clock, and I was breastfeeding 3o minutes out of every 2 hours he was awake. By the end of the first two weeks I could have been on Mars and I wouldn’t have realized it, I was so out of it. This is one of those situations where no one can explain to you fully what it is like, you have to experience it for yourself. I am a lifelong amnesiac and have gone days without sleep, used to regularly pull all-nighters and weeks with only 4 hours a night of sleep, etc. The total reversal (or maybe blending) of night and day and the sleep-wake cycle you have been in since your infancy is unbelievably disorienting. My OB, who was a battle surgeon in Vietnam in his early career, told me that sleep disruption has been used as a form of torture in nearly every modern conflict where the enemy takes POWs. After I experienced having a non-sleeping newborn, I understood why!

      • LOL@ Hoo-ha. :)

    • Agreed with previous posters. Aside from being swollen from water retention and feeling sore “down there,” I was so exhausted for at least the first month, if not two. My baby still wakes up 3 times a night to eat and I’ve been back at work for 2 months now. I am just like you – a more productive and better person when I work – but geez, I am tired and I miss my baby, too. :(. I highly recommend taking at least 6-8 weeks off for your own sanity.

    • Anonymous :

      Having a baby is a lot of work. It’s not like you’ll be unproductive the whole time you’re on maternity leave – in fact, you’ll be busy as hell. I can see not wanting to be just on vacation for six weeks, but maternity leave is anything but a vacation.

    • I had a c-section w/ twins. I could have gone back after 6 weeks, but only because I’d given up nursing, and my kids were decent enough sleepers. But at 2 weeks? No freaking way. You’re lucky to get 3 hours of sleep a night during the first 4 weeks. I’d have been committing malpractice on a daily basis. Physically and emotionally, I would have been OK, but the sheer exhaustion would have done me in.

    • It’s all true that the physical (and hormonal) aspects of childbirth are intense, especially if you have a c-section — but the bigger issue is that two weeks after birth you will have a two-week-old baby who will need you more than your job will.

      • quantjockette :

        Amen.

      • AtlantaAttorney :

        This is absolutely correct. EVEN IF you were somehow superhuman and could surmount the sleep deprivation (there is simply no way to describe it until you live it) and your own physical recovery, the baby needs you in that time.

      • I had a baby right after starting law school in 2006. I missed 2 days of school with a c-section. I only worked part time but I went back after 2 weeks because they were being mean to my replacement. I still made law review my first year. I was fortunate to have my saintly mother to watch the baby. The only thing I had to worry about with my mom’s daycare is that she will run away with my baby and not give her back. And now thank you economy I have tons of time to spend with my kids.

    • AnonforThis :

      I worked as mgmt for cut-and-sew factories for years. One of my fore-women worked an 18-hour day, went home, popped out a baby (her 3rd or 4th) and was back in the factory sometime late in the afternoon the next day (I assume baby was with grandmother). I cried like a baby when I went back to work 6 mths after giving birth. We are wusses.

      • Anonymous :

        I think we need to address “can” vs “want to” – my mom was back at work less than a week after a c-section (my sis) because she didn’t have the option of maternity leave. So in that situation, either you quit forever or you suck it up. We have come a long way since then, in a relatively short amount of time… but, it is something to think about nonetheless.

      • Haha. I was born during my mom’s last year of nursing school (on my due date which happened to be her day off from classes – I was such a convenient baby). While she was going through clinicals. I’ve since learned from friends who have gone through nursing programs that missing clinicals isn’t like missing class – there’s not much of an option about going. She was a trooper (and a wonderful working mom and a fantastic role-model). :)

    • I wasn’t even allowed to drive for two weeks after my c-section, let alone go back to work. But I went back at 8 and was getting antsy to go back around 6.

    • What’s the point of having a baby if you are planning to march back to the office without the commitment it takes to care for the baby in the first stage of its life?

    • Believe, I know where you’re coming from because I used to be of the same mindset. “I’m tough, I love my job, I’ll be billing from the hospital!” But no — I have a 7-month-old baby, and after having a c-section, learning how to breastfeed and take care of a whole new freaking human being, there is no WAY I could have gone back at 2 weeks, let alone 6, let alone 8. (My maternity leave was 3 months.) My hats off to you ladies who did go back “right away,” but for me it would have been both physically and emotionally impossible. Oh, and I just have to throw this out there — I’m not wussy; I run marathons so this is not for a want of stamina.

      • I agree. It is not possible to plan for these things because every birth, and every baby is different.

        My son had a rough birth and it took us eight weeks to get him breastfeeding. He was a nightmare of a sleeper too. It would not have been physically possible for me to return to work before I did (18 weeks).

    • Yes. You are insane :) In my very recent experience, I needed a full 4 weeks to leave the house, 8 weeks to feel human, and 12 weeks to figure out the feeding/sleeping bozoness of it all. For frame of reference, I am a uber-Type A , enjoy my job, and love getting out of the house, had a “normal vaginal delivery” and a healthy, (fussy) baby.

    • I went back as soon as I had the clear from my OB, I was two weeks late, and had to been induced and, as per most inductions stories, had a c-section after midnight. I had an easy recovery (despite the c section) and was up and walking and running errands within a few weeks. I was also very active prior to and throughout my pregnancy, and it’s my understanding that makes a big difference. My advice, go back when your ready, but hit the gym before, during and after your pregnancy to help your body cope, and remember your mental health as well. PPD can really suck.

    • I was back part time from home after 2 weeks. I’m a partner in an IP boutique, and I had no intention of passing my clients to other partners while I was out. I took off two months, by taking off two weeks fully, then handling only email and client contact, and then slowly ramping back up over two months.

      I never did go back to truly full time, but since I’m a partner with my own book of business, everyone has handled it fairly well.

      I also have an incredibly supportive husband who is the primary caretaker for the kids.

    • Sorry to say this, but yes, 2 weeks is pushing ‘insane’ limits. You’ll need AT LEAST 4 weeks to recover (physically, mentally, etc). That’s assuming all goes to plan, you have a perfect vaginal birth etc.

    • I do know a female partner who has only taken 2 days off for each of her four children. (She induces labor on a Thursday so that she can be back on Monday. BTW, she’s very nice and her kids are great.)

      I think it’s doable if you 1) don’t nurse (even pumping will keep you up nights) and 2) hire a nighttime nanny (along with the daytime nanny I presume you’ll be getting).

      • I don’t doubt that she is nice, and that her kids are great, but wow, that is the saddest thing I think I’ve read in a very long time. Taking only two days off for the birth of a new baby is not something to be applauded; it is to be mourned. She (and her babies) missed out on what is perhaps the most amazing time in the human experience.

        I feel sorry for her.

  5. Oh wow, glad you took this on, Kat! I have not changed my career goals because of my desire to also have kids. But I have thought about timing. The hubs and I are getting close to ‘pulling the goalie’ and, if it works, I am going to stay at my big law firm through it to get the awesome maternity leave. Then apply for Dream Job. But if we are having trouble conceiving (probable, as I am 31), I am going to apply for the dream job this summer and keep the pedal to the metal, as Sandberg suggests. This could turn into a whole big mess, either way that it goes (will I even want Dream Job after having a baby?). This is just our initial thinking and I think having babies is an area of your life where you can pretty much expect that nothing will go as planned. So I am trying to stay open to the possibilities.

    It was a pretty interesting conversation with the hubs trying to get him to see how the “when should we try to have a baby” question is closely tied to my career goals/timing. He had just never thought about it.

    • My hubby and I are in the planning stages, and I too have had trouble getting him to understand the connection between my career goal timing and having a baby. I guess that for him, looking for a job while pregnant is not something he’d have to worry about, but it is a big factor for me. I have to assume that it would be taken negatively.

    • I did exactly what you are planning to do (was 30 at the time, and it took 10 months to conceive). Right after I gave notice (but before moving across country to start my “dream job”) I found out that I was pregnant. So, I started a new job and was not able to take as much leave (and a lot of it was unpaid). But, I have no regrets at all. You need the dream job to pull you back to work after you fall in love with your baby. This is exactly what Sandberg is talking about. If your current job is not your dream job, pursue your dream job now. It might take awhile to get pregnant (or it might not, in your case), but either way, you’ll be happy. I also have friends who took their biglaw maternity leave first and then went for their dream job and it worked out great for them as well, except one of them had to pump right before and right after a long day of interviews for her dream job and that did not sound like fun.

    • “It was a pretty interesting conversation with the hubs trying to get him to see how the “when should we try to have a baby” question is closely tied to my career goals/timing. He had just never thought about it.”

      This is the truest statement ever. Love my husband, but he just doesn’t get it.

      • So true! When I unexpectedly got pregnant, my husband at first accused me of doing it on purpose! He totally did not get that I had soooo much more to lose career-wise than he did over this.

        And don’t get me wrong–he’s fantastic and helps me with baby more than your average dad. But love it or hate it, the brunt of the responsibilities and life changes fall on mom in the early years, and it’s mom’s career that takes the hardest hit.

        • Leaving for a new job right after maternity leave or taking the full leave and then not returning will alienate at least some of the lawyers you work with. Just something to keep in mind, you may be hurting both yourself (you will be perceived as abusing the maternity leave policy and might burn some bridges) and other woman i.e. the reason some posters have noted their firm hired their replacements while they were on leave is because a decent amount of women do leave right after the maternity leave and firms then try to protect themselves.

    • Yikes, do we really think 31 is old for having a baby? I’m just reading that into you saying you expected it to take a while to get pregnant. As someone who’s 31 and single, I find that a bit depressing–hopefully that’s not universally true!

      • It’s not too old to have a baby, nor does it necessarily mean you’ll have difficulty getting pregnant absent other complications.

      • Another Sarah :

        ^^Agree with Anon above. My Mom had me when she was 30, my sister when she was 33 (nos. 1 and 2). It might be different depending on each woman’s personal situation. My friend’s MD has basically told her that, because of some gyno issues, she’s not going to get pregnant past the age of 32-33. So for some, 31 is pushing it; for others, it’s not. :-)

      • Not saying that at all! I’m just not taking it for granted that I will be able to get pregnant easily — it might take some time. 31 is not old (my gyno actually said “you’re young….for a professsional”), but the stats are out there that it just isn’t as easy as if I were, say 20.

      • Anonymous :

        My mentor, fwiw, conceived her healthy, smart, pretty daughter at 37, almost 20 years ago.

      • Yeah, I don’t think that it’s “probable” that one will have fertility difficulties at 31. The probability of difficulties is higher than it is at 21, but it’s still more likely than not that a 31-year-old will get pregnant without medical intervention.

      • I think it’s healthy to realize it might take a while. But I didn’t marry and try for kids until I was 36. Conceived my kids in 3 months each at ages 36 and 38 (with the fabulous assistance of a fertility monitor, which was worth every penny). I am thankful every day for that and for their health. But it can happen quickly for some — 31 is nothing!

      • Conceived at 32, no trouble at all. Relax! There are good stories as well as horror stories for everything under the sun.

      • I am in my late 20s, and most of my friends are single — certainly not married and/or thinking about having kids yet. I don’t think you should worry too much.

        My boyfriend’s mom was 45 when she had him (dad was 50). He is by far the most “traditionally successful” of his siblings (he’s the youngest), and did the Ivy League BA + T5 JD + Vault T10 thing (the latter still going strong).

        • I think there can also be a difference as to when you have the first child. I’ve heard that having the first child later in life can be more difficult vs. having subsequent pregnancies.

          I think of my grandmother who had kids well into her 40s, but she had several children prior to those late-40s pregnancies.

      • There’s a huge misconception that 30 year old women would have difficulty getting pregnant. The chances of a typical couple conceiving in any one menstrual cycle is thought to be no higher than 25% (Ref: Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, MPH). Men are always fertile but for women, there are only a few days in each cycle. The key is timing. I suggest getting the book referenced above, understand your body and cycle. Know when you are fertile so that you can try to conceive at that time.

        Although it’s a known fact that fertility declines as we age, the marked decline for women is usually after 35. And even then, there are women who are able to conceive. I highly doubt that the poster will have difficulty conceiving at 31. Infertility affects people on all ends of the spectrum but that is most likely not a large part of the population. I would say if you are yet to meet someone, don’t despair. Also take care of yourself, eat healthy, exercise etc. Sometimes our own habits can sabotage our health.

    • As someone who is 31, hates her current job and is actively and desperately looking for and interviewing for a “dream” job (or really just a different job), and pregnant but not showing yet (this baby was definitely a surprise and not at all a part of the “find a new job” plan), I am a little heartened to hear that a new job won’t necessarily hold it against you if you show up pregnant. But still very stressed that I am going to be stuck here forever because if no one wanted to hire me before baby, there’s a fat chance they’ll want to hire me once I’m a mommy.

      • I started a new job when I was 7 months pregnant. I interviewed for the job when I was 4 months pregnant and I fully disclosed it to everyone. I thought it might be a problem but everyone was great – especially since the VP has 8 kids and a wife that is a nurse.

  6. anonforthisone :

    1. No, not consciously. I went to a top 5 law school and then biglaw. But I did choose a specialty (estate planning) that is typically no-emergency and in which the hours can be controlled, and which is generally considered more “family friendly” than other specialties.

    2. Yes. I was actually fired from biglaw when I was 8 months pregnant with #1. The partner made some terrible statements to the effect that “moms don’t want to work so hard”, “you will want to be home for your kids,” etc. (despite the fact that there were 2 other people in the dept with small kids, who were both PT, one of them a man!!!). I got a settlement from the firm so that they paid me through maternity leave (3.5 months), plus an additional 3 months’ pay, plus I was listed on the web site through that whole period, so that I could look for another job but still be employed there. I switched over to another job that is 80%, but 80% of fewer hours than the big firm required. Note, I wanted to go PT at the big firm after maternity leave, but obvs didn’t ever get to that conversation!!!

    3. Don’t make changes until you have to. A lot of times, the big firms and companies are the ones with good health insurance and long paid maternity leave. At my small firm job, I could only take a 3 month maternity leave with child #2, and that was a stretch for them to cover (it was 2 months paid and 1 month of accrued vacation). After that, I have found the best thing to be working PT – I have that one day a week (during which I absolutely do not work) to do laundry, get the house looking less like a pigsty, etc., which you can’t do if you’re working 5 days a week or more. A close second is working from home one day a week – saving on the commute time and not having to get dressed up is AWESOME.

    • Ballerina girl :

      Isn’t firing you for being pregnant illegal? Is that why you got a settlement or was it just severance? That’s horribly sexist! Good luck to you.

      • anonforthisone :

        Yes, that is why I got the settlement. I got an employment lawyer to negotiate with the firm on my behalf. It ended up being fine that I left the job, but boy was I PO’d at them!!! I blame them for baby arriving early.

  7. I think this is my first comment! Anywho, I am definitely planning for a family, but not because I’m selling myself short, but because I know what I value and want out of life. Yes being a high powered corporate attorney has it’s allure, but I remember one day when I was a young girl at a family barbecue, and I saw my great grandmother sitting in the center of the barbecue, as almost a guest of honor, looking out over all that she had (in a sense) created, and I thought–I want that to be me. I want to see myself in generations of people, I want to be surrounded by love and community in my old age, and if that means less money, power, or prestige, I think I’ll be happier in the long run in my last days with the former.

    Also, as driven as I am as a person, I also value my personal time, opportunities to volunteer, and time spent with friends and family. As a result, a high-powered career is not in the cards for me.

    This is not a judgment to other women who make different choices–in fact this has been a difficult decision for me to come to considering my ambition. But it’s my basic perspective. The goal for me now is to do my time in biglaw for as long as I don’t want kids, and transition to a less demanding job in the public service or as a teacher after I’ve made enough money to feel comfortable doing so. Of course, this isn’t a huge amount for me, just enough for a downpayment on a nice house in a good school district. Writing it out makes me feel terribly un-feminist, but it’s honestly the path that I think will make me happiest.

    • You go girl! I remember thinking the same thing when I saw a matriarch at a family gathering–how rich she is!

    • Ab, you are far from alone in your beliefs and ambitions. Love your story. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Two cents :

      Your story about your great grandma got me teary. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ballerina girl :

      Sounds great–I share similar goals and it’s not because I’m not a feminist (meaning I don’t think you sound like a non-feminist for wanting this either) but because that’s something that’s important to me. Doesn’t have to be important to others and yes there are risks involved with banking on being able to make it financially, but it seems great. So many people around me would be shocked to know feel that way.

      • I’m with ya Ballerina girl. People think that just because I became a lawyer that I don’t want to take time to be a mom someday, which I do. And I’m ok with the reality that my career will be set back a bit (or even a lot) for that.

        My question to others is their view on having a baby early on in your career. I have heard it commented here before that you are penalized less if you take time off early on in your career than when you have reached more senior ranks. The flip side would be the idea that it’s easier once you have worked a lot and ‘proven yourself’. Any thoughts on this?

        • I’m staying tuned for answers to this. More because I’m curious (and looking for hope?), since that’s water under the bridge now that I had a baby (oops!) 1 year into my career. Will I ever be able to think clearly again? Will I ever be able to kick butt and take names at this job, or will I always be sneaking out at 5 to pick up baby before the daycare closes?

    • Confessions :

      This.

    • I respect your views, though I don’t share them. Thanks for sharing.

    • First-time commenter (longtime lurker) here! Bur I had to respond to your story about your great-grandma…so lovely. And FWIW, i think true feminism is the ability and desire to choose the path you want and that works for you. Nothing unfeminist at all about what you wrote!

    • I feel similarly to AB as far as feeling the wealth of family and love around you–I come from a large family, and my grandma starts most sentences these days by reiterating how lucky she is to have 16 grandchildren.

      I didn’t plan my career with a “family juggle” in mind, but I did plan it with a “life/enjoyment juggle.” Which ends up working out for family. I knew I’d want to travel, run outside (in daylight, at least in the warmer months), cook dinner on weekdays, get some errands done on a weekday, and other things that are incongruent with working 14 hour days.

      I was married during law school, and I’ve known before I got married that I want to have children one day (unlike some law school friends who are confident that they do not). But I still think the path I *chose* (do we really choose when the economy sucks? Maybe “fell into by dumb luck” is more appropriate?) is obviously better for family and other out-of-office activities that I find essential to a happy life.

      I knew I didn’t want to work work work now and travel and learn to roast a chicken or knit a hat or use Photoshop *later*. Life doesn’t last forever (my mother has been a breast cancer survivor since her early 40s). I want to work hard at my job (and LIKE my job) but also enjoy my life outside of it, as much as possible.

  8. As Lawgirl mentioned, that things may not go as planned. There’s a limit to how much you can put your life on hold. Even when you “plan” for conceiving, things may not go your way. You have to find a balance between that goal and other goals (promotions, new jobs, or even whether to take a vacation, or save your vacation for that maternity leave that may or may not ever happen).

    • Tell me about it. I stayed at a job I wasn’t thrilled about for four years because I had trouble conceiving and I didn’t want to put it on hold in order to qualify for paid leave at another firm.

      Don’t do that! Keep living your life!

  9. I did not take my current position because of work-life balance thoughts. In fact, because I travel so much, I thought for the first three years of this job that I would have to find a new job in order to raise kids. I am so glad that I didn’t! Although we are now getting closer to the whole baby thing, I have no plans to leave my job. I enjoy it and I’m good at it. DH is planning to stay home once we have kids, which is a total switch from what we talked about initially.

    But as PP said, I assume that nothing will go as planned, and am trying to stay open to the possibilities.

    • I, too, have a high-travel job, and while I fell into a career more than picked it, I’m glad I didn’t (haven’t) planned with kids in mind. While I’ve thought about it, and contemplated how life would work…when I was in college, I thought getting married by 25 and kids soon after would be a great plan. And here I am, 33 and still single, definitely no kids on the near horizon! That’s a lot of working life that I could’ve planned away from for something that might not ever happen.

  10. I don’t appreciate that this is a “women’s issue.” What year is it that men don’t need to take the same calculated risks and make career decisions with family in mind? As women, we’re too easy on our men. And the men of this generation need to step up big time.

    I say all this as a second career lawyer who attended a top-5 law school with a toddler at home thanks to the support of my (previously- and since-) career driven husband who worked as a stay-at-home dad/ consultant during my law school education. Some people may have thought I had it easy, but I chose this man, this relationship, this family, and this career with these issues in mind — and my husband and I have both had to make sacrifices, not least of which was an extended period of sleep deprivation.

    I am now a public interest side litigator. Billables are not a concern, but I still have the ups and downs of litigation, so I try to make as much time for my family as I can when I’m not on a deadline and then my husband takes over when I am. But no matter how hectic things are, I make sure to keep a standing “hot chocolate date” with my daughter before school once a week, and I try to remember, whether at work or at home, that being focused and present are as important as putting in the hours.

    • I don’t think of this as a female issue, my husband and I had this conversation up front as equals. But I see where you are coming from in that most men’s magazines or blogs won’t discuss this issue, even if a lot of couples do on an individual basis. I think that’s a function of the mechanics of child rearing, because if you want to give birth, you must take some time off to do so, and if you want to breast feed, you become almost the defacto primary care giver (or at the very least you must modify your work life to accommodate the baby in a way that men don’t).

      Of course the other side is patriarchy. And we can argue against patriarchy until we are blue in the face, but int he end it’s still there, and in the end we (women) still have to deal with this issue much earlier, and with greater burden than men do. The question is how you deal with it. And it seems you and your hubby have found a good balance.

      • I don’t think it’s a women’s issue so much as it’s an issue that most men just do not think about in this way. That’s not to say all; and that’s not to say that men don’t have other concerns.

        If having a partner who is just as concerned about this as you are is very important, you just have to find those men & not have kids with those who think you’re going to bear the brunt of it. If enough women did that, it would absolutely become a men’s issue.

        All that said, I think men get a bad rep sometimes. I know plenty of guys who work 70+ hour weeks at corporate jobs they hate, in areas of law they find mind numbing, because they want to give their wives the opportunity to work a “less demanding” and lower paying job and to be there for their kids more. And, it’s not because the guys don’t want to do what they’re wives are doing; it’s because their wives made this decision & expect them to support them through it. Everyone makes their own choices I guess.

        • Agreed.

          My former husband literally didn’t realize that female fertility declines gradually with age. He thought it remained the same from puberty on, and then WHAM! menopause. So when I mentioned last year (at age 29) that we needed to start thinking about our plans in that area, it was clearly the first time that he’d *ever* thought about that particular intersection of biology and my career.

    • I started to write almost the same thing, but from the perspective of someone planning to do that, rather than someone with your actual experience. Thanks, I loved getting to see it!

      Personally, I don’t think it’s a good idea for both parents to have high pressure jobs- either both parts of a couple should be type A driven career people with no kids, or one partner should step back. I think that, by women not insisting that that decision (who steps back on their career, at least for a little while) is planned intentionally, women almost always wind up taking the step back. We need to approach this differently.

      • My husband is a stay at home dad, which we planned long before we ever had kids. I already made twice what he was making, and he did not see his job as his ideal career. He is also much better as a stay at home parent than I would be. He doesn’t feel overwhelmed taking the children with him to the store or trying to cook and clean with small children running around. He has always been much more patient than I am. He does continue to work on a contract type basis that could go back to full time whenever, which makes me feel better. That way should something happen we would not be without an income.

        • That’s really great. My fiance and I have talked about a similar arrangement when we have children (depending on our careers and income disparities). He has a job that could very easily translate to contract work.

          Do you/he get snarky “Mr. Mom” comments? And if so, how do you handle them? I think he is less concerned about those issues than I am – I know that my temper will get short if people are constantly questioning a decision of that magnitude!

          • He says he occasionally felt that people were snarky, but he genuinely got a kick out of attending “Mommy & Me” in our neighborhood! I should clarify that he went back to work full-time (but worked from home) in my last semester of law school once our daughter was in preschool, and we were able to juggle his job, my law school, and the demands of our family.

            We now both work full-time outside the home, and, because we have no family in the city where we live, we take advantage of afterschool care and a local “no school today” program (but don’t have a nanny). I’m lucky to work in a great office where it’s no big deal to leave for events at school or doctor’s appointments, and where my child’s sick days are taken as seriously as my own.

          • He does get some Mr. Mom comments and some people have said that children, especially babies should be with their mothers. But we do what works for us and I completely trust him with our children.

            He did not feel comfortable in one of the “mommy and me” classes they tried, but he does like the baby/toddler storytime at our library and a different music/gym type class.

          • Anonymous :

            My husband was a “manny” for years, and got all sorts of snark. But working mothers get snark, stay-at-homes get snark, blondes get snark, overweight people get snark, skinny people get snark… Just ignore mean people.

        • This sounds like such a great scenario, and your husband sounds like a great guy. There’s no cookie-cutter way to make it work for everyone and it’s great to hear stories of people who are carving out their own solution.

    • North Shore :

      My husband and I looked at this issue together. He was in BigLaw and I had BigLaw offers, but we both decided to take government jobs, instead. This way we both have careers that are flexible enough to cover for each other, and our combined income, while nothing like BigLaw, is pretty decent. We’re both litigators with two school-age children, and it’s worked pretty well.

      Another key factor was I proved myself before getting pregnant, and always volunteered to help others on leave with family issues. In fact, I still do, and find that helps with avoiding the co-worker resentment one might normally get for working part time and/or telecommuting.

  11. 1. I chose a career that is perhaps more family-friendly than others. If I had to do it all over again, I would choose my first choice — other people do it, you can make it work too.
    2. Nothing has changed in my career. I would advise women to think carefully before they try to plan in too much detail (e.g. “I’m going to have a child in June so I can start school in September.”). Babies cannot be planned like that, as many have learned. It might work out, but there’s no guarantee.
    3. The two things that have saved me since having a child are flex-time and the ability to work from home. During the first year, I was allowed to work from home two days per week. If I didn’t have a flexible employer, I couldn’t keep this job. I know not everybody is that lucky, and I know not everybody wants that. I do wish we had better maternity leave, but I can’t complain too much.

  12. Thanks Kat, for posting on this topic! I’m so curious as to what others have to say, as I definitely want to have children in the future but am curious as to how to have them without derailing my career aspirations as well. I’ve seen other women engineers (too few) with children and have finally made their way to the top of the chain, but it’s a twisty path. Anecdotally, over half of the female engineers here of all ages (I’m not accounting administrative/support staff) are single and childless. It’s such a curious thing to me.

  13. There are really two separate issues here:
    - how do you handle pregnancy/birth/nursing
    - how do you handle the 18+ years that come after
    They require separate considerations.

    With that having been said, what would Sheryl Sandberg have us do? Throw ourselves into that big job, have the babies, keep trying at it until eventually we realize that we are constantly stressed, chronically tired and malnourished, we’re snapping at the kids, we’re not putting our all into our demanding jobs, our marriage/partnership is hanging by a thread, the house is a mess, we haven’t had a day out with friends in six years, and we’ve developed terrible addictions to caffeine/sleep aids/alcohol?

    Most women don’t have enough support to have a challenging career and a family. Our choices are constrained by a wide variety of causes (all linked by the sexism in our society), so that what is de riguer for a man is extremely difficult for a woman.

    Sandberg is wrong. We’re not sabotaguing our own careers out of the gate. We just know that we’re running a longer race, with a heavier jockey, with strategically placed potholes on the track, and we pace ourselves accordingly.

    • Agree with this. Times a million. Because I’ve been here:

      “Throw ourselves into that big job, have the babies, keep trying at it until eventually we realize that we are constantly stressed, chronically tired and malnourished, we’re snapping at the kids, we’re not putting our all into our demanding jobs, our marriage/partnership is hanging by a thread, the house is a mess, we haven’t had a day out with friends in six years, and we’ve developed terrible addictions to caffeine/sleep aids/alcohol?”

      And it is a bad, dark, bleak place, my friends. Avoid getting to that place by any means necessary.

    • co-sign @Sarah!!!!!! (sorry for the exclamation marks!)

    • I agree. I’ve been practicing law for 8 years, in both biglaw and smaller firm settings, and to be honest I have never met a female partner in biglaw who has children and whose life I would want to emulate. Seriously. The choice for women who stay in biglaw and make partnership appears to be between (a) not having children and concentrating on career, and maybe if you are lucky having a decent relationship with your husband/SO, or (b) having children, farming them out to daycare or a nanny, never seeing them, never seeing hubby, and either having a really dysfunctional marriage or potentially divorcing. I have not seen any biglaw female partner who is respected in her field and who has managed to tread a happy medium. The trouble with biglaw is that once you are deep into a lifestyle like that, you lose perspective and don’t see things objectively anymore. If everyone around you is doing the same, you forget that things can be different – or even that you might like it better if they WERE different.

      Maybe my viewpoint is overly cynical but honestly, I have looked hard for women whom I could consider mentors from this perspective, and I have not found a single one in biglaw. The women I meet in smaller firms seem to be much happier and much more able to have quality relationships with their children and spouses. I don’t think the support networks are any different between biglaw and small law – I just think it comes down to figuring out what is important to you, focussing on that, and making the choice to stay in for the long haul rather than unnecessarily killing yourself and your relationships.

      What I think is a desirable lifestyle or way of managing family/children/relationships is not necessarily what is right for other people – but I do think it important to step back once in a while and ask yourself – is this really what I want? As career women, we get on this treadmill and because everyone around us is doing the same thing, we think it is expected and it becomes hard to stop.

      • Ditto to this. I have never seen a female partner in biglaw who is not both (a) a workaholic, and (b) has a family setup that is at least a little bit dysfunctional.

      • I’ve been lucky to have worked with two wonderful female partners in BigLaw who manage to spend a lot of time with their kids and are very well respected at work. The caveat is twofold: (1) they are appellate litigation partners, and are thus able to plan their schedules, and (2) they work on a 60 – 80% schedule. I’m lucky to work at a firm where people can actually manage to work on a reduced hours schedule without it being a huge stigma. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it can be done. Just wanted to offer that perspective, lest we all feel discouraged that it’s hopeless being a happy female partner in BigLaw.

      • reg biglaw but anon :

        Agree. I have yet to meet a professionally successful female biglaw partner whose life I want to emulate. Options seem to be: 1) have no kids, a really nice house, and really nice stuff; 2) have had kids before law school; 3) have live-in family members to raise the kids, parents never see kids; 4) husband stays home to raise kids, mother never sees kids.

        After recognizing these patterns, I suddenly realized I would have to get out of biglaw if I wanted to have a child and spend time with my husband/child. I’m not ready for kids yet, but the usual model seems to be to quit/not come back from leave after baby #2. I hope to emulate that.

      • Anon in NY :

        This. I simply don’t think its possible to work the jobs many of us do without taking a serious look at when we want kids/how many/and how we’d like to raise them. For me, living in the ‘burbs of NYC working a pretty easy 8am-6pm day means it would be necessary to have a full-time live in nanny in order for my husband and I to both get a 7am train into work and we still wouldn’t be home until 7pm. And god knows, there simply aren’t many pre-schools (or schools) that will take your kids that early, or hold them that late. And don’t even get me started on days that don’t end until much later than 6pm!
        Thank god my company allows me to work from home nearly full-time, honestly a one-hour commute to the office and the hours I mention above are pretty standard, yet the child-care hassles they result in are ridiculous!

    • Great way to break it up into the two phases. Tying this into a comment above, I think phase 1 is a women’s issue, since we are the one’s who will be pregnant and breastfeeding, and that fact will impact our careers (both because of needing some time off to feed the baby, but also because who would want to go to a job interview visibly pregnant). The second phase is very much about the couple as a whole. I would have a hard time even applying for my dream job with a new baby around if I didn’t know that my husband had switched jobs to something with better hours, and my mother-in-law would be around full time to help. And then this ties into Sandberg’s “make your partner a full partner” comment.

    • YES!!! Thank you!!!

    • “Sandberg is wrong. We’re not sabotaguing our own careers out of the gate. We just know that we’re running a longer race, with a heavier jockey, with strategically placed potholes on the track, and we pace ourselves accordingly.”

      Amen! Seriously, the Sanberg quote assumes a lot, including that the end goal for all women is to be some kind of high ranking powerful corporate monkey (which may be the audience’s end goal).

    • Anon today :

      I respectfully disagree. It’s doable, and I do have female partners I would want to emulate. I personally work in BigLaw litigation, have twin 3 year olds that I spend time with, and have a stable relationship. There are a few keys for me. One is that my husband is a true partner–maybe even slightly the primary parent. His job is more 9-5, so he does daycare pick up every day and stays home with sick kids. He’s also fabulous at handling the whole dinner/bath/bed routine if I get stuck at work. I drop the kids off at daycare in the mornings. I see them in the morning and then most nights have dinner with them, play with them, give them baths (with hubs), read them stories, put them to bed. I also spend most of the weekends with them. Yes, I have to get up early and work before they get up, and I have to work in the evenings after they go to bed, and I sometimes I have to work on the weekends; but most weekdays I spend 2-3 hours with my kids, and most weekends I spend 10-12 per day. My hours are good, I’m close to making partner, I have meaningful assignments. I’m happy, my husband is happy, my kids are happy, and my employer is happy. The house is a mess. I don’t exercise enough. I don’t have enough free time. The dog is probably feeling neglected. I’d agree you can’t have it “all,” but you can have kids and a big job.

      • Legally Brunette :

        Thank you thank you for this! You give us hope that it’s possible.

      • Loved the comment that “The house is a mess. I don’t exercise enough. I don’t have enough free time. The dog is probably feeling neglected. I’d agree you can’t have it “all,” but you can have kids and a big job.”

        I’ve been in BigLaw tax for over six years and lucky enough to have a husband that is a stay-at-home dad. Like you, I see the kids at family dinner every night, put them to bed (and usually do firm work after the kids are in bed), and do family activities during the weekend – with the occassional (usually minimal) work that pops up on the weekends.

        I, too, neglect the dog and the house. And for the past 6+ years, I neglected myself. I reversed that recently (by exercising 7 hours per week), and I feel great. All of a sudden, a happier mom, a less stressed associate, and a new slimmer me.

        • Where/how did you find the time to exercise? I’m completely sleep-deprived and need advice.

          • Elissa – mostly I find time to exercise through good time management. I go to the gym or run outside early mornings – 6:30 am to 7:30 am, 4 days during the week. Also Sat and Sun at 9:00 am. From past experience, I figured out that fewer work conflicts can arise if I work out early in the morning before work, instead of after work. It’s only calls with Europe that can interfere with my early am workouts. When those come up, I just juggle the schedule.

            I also live 15 minutes from the office, so commuting takes up basically nil time in my life – that helps tremendously. My husband and I decided to take the financial hit and live in a smaller house for me to have a dream commute. That makes the work/life balance so much better.

            I’ve also learned to figure out what tasks at home/work are TRULY important and/or time sensitive. If it’s not critical, it can wait until tomorrow. I think it helps that I’m a senior associate now, so I can set my boundaries easier than when I was a junior associate.

            Also, regular exerise helps with my energy level – I feel so much better during the day, leading to a more productive day.

            If you decide you want to do it, you can do it! I told myself for YEARS that I was too busy to exercise. When health problems crept up due to obesity, all of a sudden I found time to exercise – and have been a gym rat ever since!

          • Anon today :

            The only way it works for me is to get up at 5:00 a.m. and hit the treadmill. And yes, that is vastly easier said than done.

      • This sounds wonderful and doable — but only if you have a flexible partner, right? For Anon Today and Anon 2, do you think you could do what you do if your husbands had the same jobs you have?

        • MM – I owe everything to my husband. There is simply no way that we could function with 2 kids if both of us were BigLaw lawyers. Emergency late night? No problem – hubby is at home to do the nighttime dinner and bed routine. Have to travel? No problem, hubby is at home. Conference call that conficts with my ability to take my son to pre-school on the way to work? No prob, hubby can do it. Sick kid? No prob, hubby is at home anyway. I try my very hardest to be at home with the kids as much as possible, but when work emergencies arise, I don’t have the stresses that other working moms have.

          I also attribute a somewhat successful work/life balance (yes, it’s not always easy and there are issues) to my practice group. As I said, there are problems, but the partners in my group are genuinely trying to make life in BigLaw tolerable.

          • Anon today :

            I would agree with the good practice group too. In getting an assignment yesterday, I was actually asked by a partner if I was too busy and encouraged to tell someone if I was. No associate in my 450+ lawyer firm bills 3000 hours a year. The highest is in the 2300-2400 range. I’m in the Midwest as opposed to NYC, so I don’t know how much that impacts it.

        • Anon today :

          No. Definitely not. The only reason my life works is because of my husband. To be a truly successful lawyer, I tend to think your job has to be the most important job in the household. Not that what my husband does isn’t important and meaningful to him. It is. But there is no question that if it came to one of us staying home, it would be him. And we are both okay with that. And so it works.

      • I’m a general surgeon at a big university. My husband is a cardiologist. We have an amazing two year old. We engage in split second timing on a regular basis and have a fabulous nanny that dotes on our son, sweeps our floors, does baking and generally keeps our house afloat. We have quality marriage and manage to get a good amount of family time and a bare minimum of “self time.”

        It can be done. You have to prioritize. We are sacrificing financially (and our fortunate that we can) to afford our nanny because it would be very difficult to do it any other way. Additionally, we are looking to move to a different area in order to further improve that magical work-life balance.

        Thanks for everyone for not turning this into some degenerative anti-woman conversation, which I feel like these conversations can turn in to. It is a lovely reinforcement as to why this community is so important to me.

      • I completely agree. Nothing is more frustrating that the judgment we pass on and recieve from other parents/those without children/anyone with a different lifestyle than we have. What works for one family doesn’t always work for another. I work full time plus. So does my husband. We make it work. Our kids are happy, get good grades, participate in extracurricular activities, and the 4 of us spend good quality time together. My kids are proud of me, and I’ve worked hard to build a support system so there are others (parents and those without children) to help when necessary. Am I tired? Yes. Do I get stressed out? Yes. But I am not going to waste my time feeilng guilty or feeling like I am not a good mother. My kids are thriving. If they are happy, enjoying school, making friends, and all of that, my husband and I are okay. Should this change, we’ll reevaluate. Working mothers are not farming their kids out. We work hard, love our kids, and usually help develop contributing members of society. Those who work at home raising the kids are not sitting around watching reality TV. They are also developing contributing members of society. The mommy wars are ridiculous and a complete waste of time.

      • But you can’t discount how lucky you (and some others on this thread) are w/r your employer. At the first law firm I worked at out of LS, I had clients who demanded they be staffed 24 hours a day (meaning that, like nurses, the associates on the deal were taking 12-14 hour daily shifts) or partners that would scream at you on the phone to get back in the office at 3 am. This may not be common, but it’s also not that rare in law firms.

  14. reg but anon for this :

    I chose the firm I am with because I had no other choice due to the crappy job market. It’s a small firm, with no other female attorneys. Interestingly, when I started, the partners changed out health insurance plan so that the associates now have a $3,000 deductible. Since I am just starting out, and have tons of loans to repay and many other expenses, having a baby is financially impossible until money is saved to cover the deductible. There was never any discussion at the time of hire about what type of maternity leave I might get later on. But there was also no discussion of vacation time, sick days, etc. Those just don’t really exist here. If you are sick, you don’t come in, you get paid. If you want to take a vacation and you aren’t a partner, ask to take the vacation and see what happens. I hate this type of closed-offed-ness. I thought that taking this job would be a good move for me because it would be fewer hours than BigLaw (it is 50 – 60 hours a week) and more family friendly. I will have to wait and see, but since I am basically committed to stay here for another two and a half years in order to have this look decent on my resume, there’s really nothing to be done about it.

    • I was in a very similar situation (except with all female attorneys) until the end of November. For better or worse (I happened to be unhappy with the people I was working with), I was let go in November quite suddenly. I think my employers though that the loose policy was kind, but it drove me crazy. I felt like couldn’t ever take a vacation (and actually ended up being let go while I was on the first vacation I’d taken), and when the only other associate became pregnant (which she was very clear far in advance was her plan), it was a nightmare for her to negotiate her maternity leave time.

      I guess I don’t really have anything to offer… I just needed to vent.

      • reg but anon for this :

        I feel quite of bit of anxiety about the uncertainty. What size was your former firm? We only have three partners and three associates (myself included). I feel like by the time I have children, my workload will be high enough that it will be difficult for me to take much time off without putting a huge burden on the other attorneys in the firm. It definitely worries me, and I agree, not having a policy about stuff like this is worse than having a crappy one.

        • We had 2 partners and two associates. I was under the impression that I was hired on both because they needed a second associate, and because they would need one desperately when the other assocaite went on maternity leave (she was not yet trying when I was hired, but everyone knew she wanted to). I think that there are concerns, but most are based on personality – ie., how well the partners will handle it. The work load works itself out.

    • I don’t have anything to offer to the discussion regarding planning for a baby and balancing your career but one thing to keep in mind regarding the cost to have a baby. If you are on a high deductible plan you will need to pay a deductible for yourself and your newborn. With my plan, the cost to have a child is close to $10,000 for both our care. Definitely something to consider when in the planning stages of growing your family.

      • The deductible cost is a pittance compared to what you’ll pay for good childcare. My nanny cost me $36,000/yr, and I’m in a LCOL area. A good infant daycare center will cost $18,000 a year, give or take. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones who has a mom or mother-in-law willing to help with childcare for free or cheap, this is where the REAL cost concern comes in.

  15. 1) Did you plan your career with a family juggle in mind?
    No, not at all. I was going to be a high-powered executive and travel the world making big decisions with big people. I did not want to get married or have children. Then, I met my now-husband, and well, things changed.

    2) Have you changed your career due to babies on your brain? How so?
    Yes, absolutely. And as a result of it, I went into business for myself where I can work less-than-full-time and still have a decent income. What I do will never lead me to major success in the corporate world, but I don’t care, and here’s why. This may enrage some people, but here it is.
    I finally realized something about myself, that Sheryl Sandberg didn’t take into account in her presentation: not every working woman wants to be defined by her work, or rise to a certain level of “success.” I am a throwback to an earlier age. I am happier managing the house and being a wife and a mom than I am being a high-powered executive. All respect to Sheryl Sandberg, but I don’t want to make it to the “c-suite.” I don’t want to work 80-100 hours a week and travel all the time and rise to the top of some megacorporation and have my son prefer the nanny to me, because he only sees me about 2 hours a week. What I want is to have a nice, simple, quiet life where I can spend lots of time with my family, we have ample money for our basic needs and some fun extras, and at the end of the day I can say “I did a good job being a mom and a wife today.” Jackie Kennedy said “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.” That’s pretty much how I feel. I don’t care if a woman is the CEO of the biggest company on the planet, if her kids feel they are failures and have deficient lives, she failed. She is a failure. Period. I may fail at everything else, but I am determined to be a good mother and give my son a good life. That is really all that matters to me any more. I realize I am lucky to be able to make a choice to work part-time – but very honestly, I see a lot of women who claim they “don’t have a choice” to work less, and they do – if they would give up the new cars, large houses, designer clothes and fancy vacations they are purchasing. Those things aren’t going to make up, later, for the fact that they spent very little time with their children. Children need their parents’ time, and their love. Not their money.

    3) For those of you *with* kids — what’s your advice to those of us without kids? Plan ahead? Roll with the punches? What job benefits have you found absolutely essential to you as a mother?
    My advice is:
    -Realize that how you feel about being a working mom before your child is born may change after your child is born. If at all possible, try to set up your situation so you can take extended maternity leave, go part-time, “off-ramp” for awhile, or work flextime. Save money and live beneath your means so you have some options.
    -Figure out, for yourself, what you really want, going into having kids. Not what your partner wants or your mom wants or your boss wants or your friends will think. This is your life, you have to live it and live with your choices.
    -I do honestly believe that women can have it all. I am just not convinced women can have it all at the same time. Trying to be on the fast-track and devoting 80 hours a week to your career when you have two small children is probably a recipe for some bad outcomes all the way around. Nancy Pelosi raised five kids and stayed home while they were young, and still ended up Speaker of the House. Here is the news flash: the media image of the attractive mom of three kids who has a high-powered job, great marriage, runs five times a week and keeps a spotless and attractive home where there’s a home-cooked meal on the table every night is a fantasy. Straight up. It does not work that way for people in the real world, at least not without a lot of household help and perhaps some methamphetamine. Stop trying to make fantasy into reality in your own life. Create your own reality that you are happy with.

    • To Anon@ 3:56: All so true, and thank you for your last paragraph in particular.

    • Anonymous :

      I finally realized something about myself, that Sheryl Sandberg didn’t take into account in her presentation: not every working woman wants to be defined by her work, or rise to a certain level of “success.”

      No, but a lot of us do want this, and Sandberg was speaking to us, not to women who don’t want it.

      • Annonymous :

        Also agree with anon @ 3:56. And to the poster who said that Sandberg was speaking only to “us” (i.e., women who want to be defined by their work or rise to a certain level of success) — I didn’t hear her that way. I heard her encouraging women to WANT, even to insist upon, that level of success, and not worry about babies or family until they are “on the ground.” And while I see the value in her comments, in encouraging women to “take a seat at the table,” I agree more with those who recognize that it’s ok for us all to have different definitions of success. I spent 8 years at big law, and agree with all the posters who said that none of the “successful” women there had lives that I had the remotest interest in emulating. None.

        But where I diverge from other posters, and from anon @3:56 in particular, is that this doesn’t have to be a “throwback” perspective. In fact, it could be a forward-looking one — in which women AND men are permitted to make decisions geared to protecting their personal lives, if that’s what they want. The fact is that I wouldn’t want to emulate the successful MEN at big law, or have my husband emulate them, any more than I do the women. I would love to see more room for alternate track careers for women AND men. Relevant to Sandberg’s comments in particular — she seems to attribute all decisions by women not to take the next big project, not to force themselves into “the table” to the fact that they are already thinking about husbands and babies. But maybe those women just have a different version of success. Maybe they would rather make a little less money for a little less work. Maybe they would rather spend more time practicing yoga, reading, walking, whatever, and pass on the next promotion. If there are others who want that promotion, who want more money and more prestige and are willing to make the sacrifices necessary, why not let the marketplace play out like that? Right now, I think the “problem” is that more women than men make the decision to shift the “work life” balance towards “life”. Of course, a certain amount (pregnancy, breastfeeding) is biology, but that accounts for little time in the grand scheme of things. I think the bigger issue is not to make sure women don’t “leave before they leave” but to acknowledge collectively that there is room for different career paths for both men and women, and to not assume that a woman or man who passes up projects or promotions is “checked out” or just interested in making babies. If people do the work that they “signs up” for well, there should be no stigma attached to “signing up” for less.

    • Love this. Especially the part about meth.

  16. “Interestingly, when I started, the partners changed out health insurance plan so that the associates now have a $3,000 deductible.”

    I wouldn’t read too much into this. Health Insurance costs have risen a lot and recent years and its esp hard on small firms. My deductible doubled one year and the price of the plan still went up from the previous year.

    • reg but anon for this :

      I don’t think that the motive was to prevent me from being able to afford to have children, but I do know that taking on a female attorney of baby-making age caused their group plan to become much more expensive so they chose to change the plan completely. I was taken aback by it, because our deductible went from $500 to $3,000. And, initially, the partners told us that they were just going to up our salary to compensate for that, but then they changed their minds about it.

  17. Mrs. Marbury :

    Longtime lurker, first time poster — but this topic is close to my heart.
    I did plan my law career with family on the brain because I was pregnant and had my first child in law school (between 2L and 3L years — during my summer associate position). I did angst a bit over whether to (1) accept and then (2) actually begin (two distinctly different periods of anxiety!) my BigLaw firm job. My anxiety was over the unknown — what is life as a first-year associate like? Is it totally grueling? Would I ever see my baby? But I really didn’t know, and I was about to make a huge career decision on the unknown. This, I think, is the danger in this whole conversation and the question Kat poses: You just have NO idea until you have your baby whether you’ll be someone who weeps when you leave every day (and that’s OK if you do!) or whether you’ll get to your office, grab a Starbucks, and actually be pretty psyched to sit down at your computer and go through your emails and chat with colleagues, etc.
    I told myself I’d work at my firm for six months and quit if I had to. But I had to see for myself whether it was possible so that I’d have context and the big picture for future decisions.

    I’m now in my third year and have recently returned from maternity leave after baby #2. Is it easy? No. Do I miss my children? Of course. Desperately. But my firm — and maybe this is where you can make some choices — because it is so large, actually has a pretty flexible part-time (though I cringe at that word! I work 40+ hours a week on my part-time schedule!) policy, almost no real face time policies, 18 weeks paid maternity leave. I did consciously chose a firm that had these benefits, knowing that the tradeoff might be the BigFirm work ethic. Still, were I at a smaller firm or non profit (though my real interests might lie there…), I wouldn’t have had the great maternity leave or part-time flexibility (not to mention I’d be paid much less!)

    I can’t believe I’m actually writing all this because half the time I want to quit — but the reasons for this are not so much that I don’t spend enough time with my children, but because the majority of my fellow third-year associates do NOT have children and thus are able to stay well into the night, bill more hours, etc. And I hate feeling like a slacker. But that’s a whole different issue that working moms face (i.e., the old chestnut that you can do nothing 100%, and nothing very well…)

    My advice is: please, please don’t change your career ahead of the fact. In this economy and job market (especially if you are a lawyer), get in as much work and experience as you can before you have children. You do not know how things are going to change after you have children. You may decide to up and out quit. You may decide to look for a part time job, but you may also decide that you love it. You may find a great daycare arrangement and have a flexible spouse and decide that supporting your family and being a great working-mom role model to your children is worth some sacrifices. I also know that were my husband to lose his job or get hit by a bus or something, I could support my kids. That peace of mind can be for some people worth a few afternoons at the playground. Just consider this before you take yourself off a track that it’s very hard to get back on. (Read this article in the New Republic for a more eloquent take on what I’m trying to say!: http://www.tnr.com/article/the-read/81257/women-opt-out-economy-divorce#comments)

    • I particularly like what you said about being a working-mom role model. As a mom of two little girls and a lawyer, that concept helps keep me from feeling guilty about LIKING my job!

    • I could have written a lot of this. I had my son between semesters of my third year in law school and now am a few months into being a first year associate in BigLaw. I had 15 months between the bar exam and starting my job, and couldn’t have been more anxious to start working. I love being at the office, and while I wish I had more time with my son (who just turned 2), I don’t sit in my office and cry because I miss him all day. Sometimes the logistics are tricky…we use daycare and have a babysitter bring him home everyday…but nothing too bad. The thing that I find the hardest is the fact that many people I work with are night owls, so they expect me to work late into the night and then I wake up early with my son. Since I am brand new, I can’t really push back or set my own hours, so I just have to deal with it. But in general, being a full-time working mom is a lot more doable than I would have thought back when I was a stay-at-home mom. You just have to give yourself a chance to make it work.

  18. Thanks for posting on this topic. I spent 7 years in Biglaw corporate, including one maternity leave. I felt like I was treated pretty fairly, but most likely because I proved myself before having kids. I think building up goodwill and learning who your allies are can take you very far once you have kids and desire to have some flexibility in the hours you spend in the office. I talked to my department head before I went on leave and previewed what I *thought* I wanted – some kind of reduced schedule (80%), in exchange for working from home (with childcare) 2x a week and the understanding that I needed the 6-8 pm time slot to see my baby, barring true emergencies. I continued working on good deals, for good clients, but focused my work toward those partners who I knew would have a good attitude toward my arrangement. Not everyone gets it, and you have to be OK with that. I don’t think the “reduced hours” arrangement is a good deal financially, but I felt like it gave me the right to say no a little more often. If you work in a client service business, and you’ve spent time building those client relationships and doing good work, I think it can be done!
    Of course, I say all of the foregoing having left Biglaw for in-house while 4 months pregnant with Baby #2. Note that decision wasn’t made because of the balance, but rather because of “what I want to be when I grow up.”

  19. I worked in Biglaw for 10 years (was a junior partner) , left when I was three months pregant with my first, and returned to a government job after 5 years at home (and one more kid).

    If you are interested in continuing to practice law after having children, I would highly recommend not having a kid during your first three to five years at the firm. You simply will not get the best assignments (and best training) if you are on the mommy track that early in your career. And you will be considered to be on the mommy track if you have a kid, regardless of your true aspirations. This is not fair but it is the way law firms work.

    Second, and this is where I disagree with “don’t leave before you leave,” consider both your job and your husband’s when planning for post-baby. Someone will need to have flexibility in their schedule, or you will spend all of your weekend running errands, and will wind up shortchanging your kids. Biglaw in particular is geared towards families where one spouse (could be the woman) works Biglaw hours and the other works part/flex/or stays at home.

    My husband is a surgeon and often has to work evenings and/or weekend days with little advance notice. If I can’t finagle a p/t position (and I work a 40 hour government job now), I will return to being a SAH parent. Kids take far more time and energy than you can ever imagine before you have them.

    So, if you can find a position that is interesting and suits your needs prior to getting pregnant, you could seamlessly return to it after pregnancy and maternity leave.

    BTW, of all my women lawyer friends who started out the Biglaw route and have had children, none remain f/t at their firms (including one who made partner at a Top Ten firm and then quit when had kids). Most would love to work p/t but there are very limited opportunities to do so in law in other than a low level position, and so most are home with their kids.

    • I would love to hear more about your story. I am interested in taking a few years off when I have children (which, hopefully, will be soon — we’ll see), but I do not think I would want to SAH for the rest of my life. Having done the “opt out” for a few years and then coming back yourself, … how reasonable is this as a lawyer? I’m a fifth year BigLaw associate now, in a specialized field, and wondering what the job market will think of me if I take a chunk of time off of legal work and then come a-knocking with an out-of-date resume.

      • You can take the time off and come back as long as you are willing to take a cut in pay, and be able to be behind your peers who kept working. I have no regrets and I came back to the job market in 2009, a dismal market for lawyers, and got a job in less than six months without looking very strenously (and I only interviewed for federal gov’t positions). I do think that I could not have stayed off-ramp any longer without it becoming a much bigger issue. I left without a plan just thought I could get back in when I wanted because I felt I was a very well-trained lawyer when I left. If you are in a specialized area, that will help a lot (I am a litigator). My job now if very family friendly, almost no travel, nobody in my office works weekends, and the work is interesting. If I could work only three or four days a week it would be perfect

  20. Lawyering Mom :

    Knowing what I do now, I wouldn’t have become a lawyer. I find it very difficult to balance my family and my career. Like another commentor, when I went on maternity leave, my “replacement” was hired and now we have to compete for work. If I have a doctor’s appointment, I’m not “committed” but if a man has an appointment, he can go without notice. A mother going to her kid’s play is seen as not being available, a father doing the same thing gets brownie points. Having children means that partners will look at you with an exceptionally critical eye, searching for signs that you will check out or that you are inattentive.

    It’s also very hard to bill BIGLAW hours when you’re pregnant and exhausted, nursing, or plan to spend any time mothering. Part time is usually not a viable option – some firms portray themselves as having part time programs, but those are typically for show. Part time partners are often Supreme Court clerks and part time associates usually don’t make partner (and were among the first to go when the economy went downhill). Look at the female partners at your firm. I have yet to meet a single femal partner (with children) who has a lifestyle I would emulate. Typically they don’t see their kids, their personal lives are a mess, or they are the primary – or sole – breadwinner in the family. Also, pay attention to whether the female partners had their children as associates (usually they didn’t) and to the percentage of female partners who actually are mothers.

    • I too would not have chosen to become a lawyer if I’d understood how hard it would be to do this work after having children for many of the reasons you mention. This is why I have very mixed feelings about whether it’s a good thing for young women who know they will eventually want kids to plan, and possibly down-scale, their careers accordingly.

      No one discussed these issues with me when I was making choices about my education and goals — the message was that women could and should “have it all.” I was totally unprepared for the enormous demands of children and for the intensity of my own feelings for my kids and strong desire to be with them.

      My kids are now 7 and 10. I would not be happy as a full-time at home parent (though many of my highly educated and trained friends have eventually made that choice). I continue to work full-time as an attorney, but it’s a struggle. I wonder if I would have been happier if I’d made a more informed decision and perhaps chosen a somewhat less demanding and more “family friendly” profession? I’d hate to see young women sell themselves short . . . but there are definitely tradeoffs in life, and it’s probably best to be at least aware of them.

      • Where did this concept of selling ourselves short come from? Somehow, somewhere, someone convinced us that raising a family was not a worthy career choice. Is this feminism gone awry? I’m not criticizing you b/c I drank the cool aid too.

        I always thought it would be a waste of my intellect not to have a professional career. Well, now that I’m there, I see that the same intellect could raise some very smart, healthy and well-balanced kids and I would enjoy being home with them.

        In starting college and deciding my career path, I feel like I was misled to think I would be a failure if I weren’t “successful.” Now I see that “successful” means making money and we all know that money can’t buy happiness. I wish I could go back in time and make different decisions.

        • It’s because, although women have made huge gains, career choices associated with women (such as stay-at-home parenting) are often still less valued by society. It’s not so much feminism gone awry as feminism that hasn’t yet been fully successful.

        • “I always thought it would be a waste of my intellect not to have a professional career. Well, now that I’m there, I see that the same intellect could raise some very smart, healthy, and well-balanced kids.”

          - I respectfully disagree. It IS a waste of your intellect, specialized technical education and training because raising kids and being a professional in your field take a different set of skills and training. It takes LESS intellect to be a successful mom as to be a successful cardiologist, say.
          This is hard to say and I realize uncomfortable to hear, but is true IMO.

          • Lawyering Mom :

            I disagree. Growing up, I was always told not to “waste my intellect” and be “just” a teacher or not to “waste my intellect” and just be a Mom. I listened to that advice without questioning it and I regret it. At the end of the day, all I get from being a lawyer is $100K+ in student loan debt, a lot of stress, and minimal enjoyment. I would be much happier to have more time for my family and didn’t feel like a crappy lawyer and a crappy mother because I don’t have enough time to do both. I would also be JUST as smart with a less impressive career or as a stay at home mom. I don’t need the external validation that I’m intelligent.

          • I find it interesting to hear that it is a waste of intellect and legal training to raise kids b/c being a legal professional and a parent require different skills. The analytical skills picked-up in law school are useful in many areas of life — not just BigLaw. While I’m not writing briefs at home, having a legal education makes it a nonissue when i buy real estate, have to negotiate with the plumber, or the insurance agent, or a repairman, or whoever I need to provide services because I know how to spot issues and where to look for potential problems/pitfalls. Plus, lawyers have to learn how to pick battles strategically and manage sometimes difficult clients — lawyers are trained to understand that while it’s nice to be your client’s friend, sometimes you have to protect your client from himself albeit in a gentle/nonthreatening way. I this this translates well to parenthood. Moreover, in many ways, I find that the skills I’ve had to develop as a parent have helped me become a better lawyer. There are a lot of parallels between mediating arguments between 2 bickering children and some of my more difficult clients. Being a parent has taught me to be more compassionate, patient, how to relate to difficult clients, and how to pick my battles more effectively, and how to make hard decisions and stick with them.. these are skills that I think translate well into legal practice and the business of giving clients meaningful advice.
            If you’re not happy working and being a parent, if you don’t like practicing law, if you don’t want to work at all.. that’s one thing. It’s important to do what makes you happy, and law — and certainly practicing law while having kids — is not for everyone. But I don’t make the mistake of thinking that leaving law practice — or dialing-it-down — to raise children is a waste. While you need not be a lawyer to become a mother, both positions benefit from a good dose of wisdom, which is only gained by experience. Some of the best mothers I know are lawyers, and some of the best lawyers I know are mothers.

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