It seems like every twenty eight year old woman I know is obsessed with the B word, you know, BABY. I often hear, “I want to have a baby? Should I have a baby? I’m too busy for a baby! But my eggs are dying!” Whether we want them or not, babies are on our brains.
Honestly, I’m not thinking about babies, it’s my books, films and company that seem to be preoccupying my time. For many young women in their late twenties who are focusing on their careers there is so much pressure on us that makes us question our own ambition and personal goals. Just last week, my Aunt quizzed me on when I planning on having a baby and “settling down”. And then there was the email from my college friends, joking about our eggs dying by thirty-five. I wonder if twenty eight year old guys have similar pre-baby experiences, probably not.
Besides the biological differences between men and women, I think baby talk consumes young women too early. Women stunt their growth as future leaders, CEOs, business owners because starting family is what we are “supposed” to be doing by twenty-five. It’s as if we give up on the race before we even start. While there’s nothing wrong with starting a family in your twenties, there’s also nothing wrong with focusing on you, but I wonder if you can you do both?
In fact, I know you can because my mom did. Now at sixty years old, my mom is an accomplished senior physician in private practice in the US and Caribbean. She has both career and family but it came with a tremendous amount of sacrifice. Originally from San Juan, Trinidad, my mom came to the U.S. to attend college and medical school. She is one of fourteen children and the only doctor in her family. By age thirty-one she began her own practice with an infant (me) and my three-year old brother. I never thought about how my mom was able to make three meals a day for us, work multiple jobs, come to all of my dance recitals and tuck us into bed every night until I finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”. Sandberg encourages young women not to hold back on their careers. She says this will in fact help your children. But women need support. They can’t do it by themselves. Women need the help of their husbands, partners, friends and caretakers in raising kids. We can’t and shouldn’t think to do it alone. Women definitely don’t need to sacrifice their careers to have children. They should just adjust. But the fear of my mom having her first child at the age I am now was very overwhelming to comprehend.
This overwhelming fear got me talking to my mom about career and motherhood. My mom became pregnant with my brother at age twenty-nine in her last year of her medical residency. Working sixteen-hour days in the ICU, my mom had to leave my brother with our nanny while she worked. On her breaks, she would pump her breasts for milk in the janitor’s closet and get it back home to my brother. “It was a difficult time” she said, “Back then there were no labor laws so I had to work long hours. My maternity leave was two weeks compared to three months, what it is now. But I knew I wanted to be a doctor and I was also a mother, so I had to make it work.” By the time I came along three years later, my mom was a pro. I was strapped to her chest making hospital rounds with her. I was infamous with all the nurses until I was sixteen.
My mom made a tremendous amount of sacrifices for my brother and me to have the very best growing up. But more importantly, she never sacrificed who she was and her passions. She may have not been able to do all that she wanted in her career but her commitment to her work taught me about strong work ethic, striving for excellence and that I should follow my own passions.”
I asked her, “Didn’t you feel guilty leaving us with a babysitter, when you went to work?” and she calmly replied, “Yes”. I continued, “So you never considered quitting at being a doctor?” she replied, “No. Why would I do that?” And she’s right, why would she just stop being who she was. She couldn’t raise us alone and she knew that.
Young women can be ambitious and career driven. We shouldn’t let our friends, family or society tell us we can’t achieve our goals. We should stop pressuring ourselves to jump into motherhood to fast or even juggle everything by ourselves as mothers. Instead of watching our baby clock tick away, we should spend more time building now for our future and think of who we want to build it with. After learning my mom’s story, I’m no longer afraid of that next phase in my life. It is healthy for young women to think about their family planning options while working on their careers. But for now, I have a lot to achieve personally and when the time is right, I will adjust, just like my mom.
By Marjuan Canady
Marjuan Canady is an actress, writer, director and producer for both the stage and film. Her original plays have been supported by Harlem Stage and The DC Commission on the Arts. She is the author of the Caribbean children’s book, “Callaloo: A Jazz Folktale” and the creative director of Sepia Works. She is a graduate the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Fordham University and New York University, Tisch School of the Arts.