By Brenda L. George • March 04, 2017•Writers in Residence, Law School, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job, Other Law School Issues, Issues, Balancing Private and Professional Life, Sexism, Sexual Harassment, and Other Forms of Discrimination
“So, when are you going to have another baby?” As innocent as that question often is, I honestly cringe when I hear it. I cringe because it is a very personal question. But, I cringe more because I know that it requires a response that is more involved than most people realize they are about to get. Even in the days of social media, where people know what you ate for dinner the night before, people often fail to recognize or too quickly forget that I have some major, competing aspects of my life. I have dual dreams: one of being a successful, impactful attorney; and one of being an inspirational, loving mother to my children (inclusive of being a supportive, loving wife to my husband). This is about to get a little personal...but necessarily so.
Here’s one aspect – law career:
I am slated to graduate in December. (However I have to take 21 credits between summer and fall semesters…if you’re not sure, that’s a lot!).
- The bar exam is February or July 2018.
- I need a job. (I have student loans to start paying NEXT YEAR).
- Lastly, I have worked hard doing extracurricular activities and externships to set myself up for job offers. (these things have taken away from time with my family, but I am confident that they will pay off).
Here’s another aspect – family life:
- My husband and I are in our early thirties.
- We dated for many years but have only been married for a couple.
- Our son is almost two years old.
- We always talked about having our children be close in age.
- We want another child; we want our son to have a sibling.
There’s, of course, many other things to consider: allowing our son to be an only child for a little while; the need to get a bigger house if we bring another child into the picture; consideration for the fact that we are comfortable as a family of three (with two big dogs) right now; and, finally, that there’s no “perfect” time to have another baby. My list goes on, but I will spare you the details! I have so many concerns about trying to get pregnant at any point in the next five years.
My chief concern centers around my ability to finish law school by December. I know so many women that have had rougher pregnancies than my first one was. And, my first one was no cake walk, especially during my first year of law school (see this post where I share some of those details). So, I guess what I’m saying is that I am scared that if I get pregnant I will be debilitated during the final months of law school, while I’m studying for the bar exam, or while I’m trying to establish myself in a new job. The counter to this concern is, of course, taking one more semester won't kill you (technically that's true, but I'm SO ready to be done!).
My next biggest concern is my career options. While it is true that pregnant women are protected from being discriminated during hiring against by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the fact of the matter remains that an employer would usually prefer to hire someone that is not pregnant for many reasons (having that employee out for many weeks seems a paramount reason). Under the PDA, an employer cannot fire, refuse to hire, demote, or take any other adverse action against a women if pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition was a motivating factor in the adverse employment action. Proving that motivating factor is often difficult. So, pregnant women are faced with concealing their pregnancy while interviewing for a job (and seeming deceptive to their new employer if hired) or revealing their pregnancy (and potentially losing a job offer because of “another reason”). These are two tough positions to be in. The counter to this concern is that there are many protections in place for women and employers do not want to be the employer that goes to court over this and loses. My rebuttal from February: society still expects women to give up their careers or settle for a lesser dream so that they can be mom.
Traditionally, men didn’t have to deal with this. Up until recently, the majority of men were not faced with a career set back. While the data isn’t totally reliable yet, the statistics show that stay-at-home dads are becoming more common. Go dads!
As the legal field landscape continues to change, with more women than men in the law, I can't help but wonder if this particular area of the law to change as well. The fact of the matter is that we can do a better job of creating a situation for women to “do it all” as they say. A woman should be able to enjoy the experience of pregnancy AND have a successful career that leads to the top positions in law (this is of course applicable to any career path).
Some people have suggested that pursuing a legal career with flexibility (such as opening your own practice) is the answer. I don’t disagree with that, but I will add that it doesn’t have to be that way. Mothers can, and are, pursuing careers that will lead to partner positions in law firms. Groups like the Mother Attorneys Mentoring Association focus on the professional growth of mother attorneys throughout the country and are leading the charge on that front. I am proud to be a member and to have that support.
Finally, to my friends and family that made it this far in the post and are thinking “oh great, she’s never going to have another baby,” don’t worry! I’m still as determined as ever, and inspired by the women that have blazed the trail before me, to do it all. Ultimately, the best time to have a baby is when it is right for you. This goes back to fitting law school and a law career into your life rather than fitting your life into law school or a law career.
(Photo by Destiny Bakken, 2015)