“So, what do you do?”
A profound silence passes before I eek out, “Nothing."
This is my first day not working since I chose indefinite maternity leave. And little did that woman know, that her innocent question just threw me head-first into reflection, self-judgement and panic.
For so many years, my identity has revolved around my career. A career for which I have worked long hours, taken every (unpaid) opportunity, and managed to cultivate an Excel spreadsheet about a mile wide full of pertinent contacts. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, it's also a career in the spotlight. From feature reporting on TV, to my most recent stint as a morning radio host, I got used to finally being somebody. And now, at my prime, where my face is on a gosh-darn bus, I am walking away.
The woman seems to notice my sudden silence and consternated look.
"Um...well, what did you do before you got pregnant?" she fumbles.
My fight-or-flight eases up a bit as I recall the time - three or so months ago - when I made the decision to quit. Amid a gaggle of reasons, I just had this feeling that there was no other (better) choice. So, without much reluctance, I bid one of my favorite jobs "adieu" and as of today, have embarked on a journey to figure out how I'll be, think and feel as a new mom, and how working will fit into family life.
So what were the reasons? Why leave a 10-year career of winning awards and ladder-climbing in the media, when that call from L.A. could be just around the corner?
- I don't want to be forced back to work.“There's nothing worse than being forced back to work on day 90, kicking and screaming,” says one of my husband's friends, who recounts his wife's traumatic experience of being thrown back into the sizzling pan of the workplace – its demands bringing her to a boiling point days later when she quit. Not only did she, like many women, say it's devastating to leave their babies, but just going from zero to 60 – and by that I mean the full performance most employers expect from new moms – is just rough. In my case, the radio station told me that after maternity leave (which I shouldn't take too much of, because “people forget about you after three months,” as one consultant informed me), I needed to return on a full-time basis. I personally know SO many strong women who can handle full-time, full-steam-ahead work – using what little power they have left after all the sleep deprivation and breast-pumping in the supply closet. But just knowing how hard pregnancy has been on me, I feel like I would need some flexibility upon return; some definite compassion. Not to mention, in a country that has literally the worst maternity leave in the world, don't you think some empathy, some flexibility, is the very least an employer could offer upon your return? So, leaving work was the only way I figured I can return on my terms; when I'm ready to give 100 percent.
- I'm in a good place.
Who knows where my career will go after motherhood?
- A baby marks not only the transition into motherhood, but into the rest of your life.Who knows what doors will open for me, or how my passions will change after becoming a mom? I have already started a business, and have been teaching yoga pretty regularly from my magical at-home studio. I love it! I love working from home and also, having the freedom to move at my own pace for once in my life. I'm also excited about the possibilities in a media career after I've had some precious time to myself and with my family. I'll be a new person with new priorities and a renewed ambition.
Especially today, where I'm making my husband pancakes and cleaning the house like a mad woman, I've noticed that I'm one of those people (Virgo? Tiger?) whose worth is largely defined by what I'm doing. And as stark as the transition may be from doing career work to doing what's best for my family, I am grateful for this time to finally define my worth based on who I am. And that, I now realize, is not nothing, after all.