Four Women Discuss Motherhood, Careers and The Truth About Sacrifice

19.09.19

I’d argue that no one knows sacrifice quite like a mother does.

They sacrifice sleep. Alone time. Showering in peace. Peeing in peace. Eating in peace. Autonomy over their breasts. Drinking their coffee before it gets cold. And for a lot of mothers, there’s the sacrifice of career. When it comes to the decision to leave your job and be a stay-at-home-mother, or to undertake the financial burden of childcare in order to return to the job you love, there is no road that comes without giving up something. For mother of two and former nurse Emma, sacrifice has been a close companion, but not one that has come with regret: “My husband and I struggled to conceive and went down the road of IVF, through which we fell pregnant within the year. At the time, I was a senior nurse on my floor (a unit for open-heart and cardio-thoracic patients) and felt great pride and fulfilment in my job. I had worked for over a year to have the experience required to earn my place there and was also educating student nurses and attending courses to further my knowledge around patient care.” Emma was seven months pregnant when her and her physician husband found out they were leaving Ohio so that he could do an additional year of training, and Emma was realistic about what that meant for her family, “It was unlikely that I’d find a new nursing job so close to the end of my pregnancy and it was unrealistic to think we could both maintain our jobs (I did 12-hour shifts, so we would have needed nannies to work mornings and evenings in addition to daycare). Put simply: my husband had the higher paying job.” Emma was also candid about the challenges that arose after her first child was born, “I have no family here in the States. This was particularly challenging when I became sick with a post C-section infection and was readmitted to hospital to treat a uterine abscess. I was failing at breast feeding, I felt isolated, and I desperately missed the social aspects of my job that allowed me to grab a coffee with a co-worker. All of that was gone and replaced with the 24/7 constant hum of my new normal, with a husband who was at work over 90 hours a week.” But there isn’t a day that goes by that Emma regrets her decision to be a stay-at-home mother (SAHM), “The joy I feel seeing my children’s ‘firsts’, ‘seconds’ and ‘thirds’ makes my heart explode. When one of my children get sick I never have to think, “Are they sick enough for me to take the day off work?”. Our two-year old son is in a Montessori-style daycare because he has a significant speech delay and we’re exploring the possibility that he may be diagnosed on the autism spectrum. If he is, then I think two children will be it for us and we can focus all our love, support and attention on them.”

Mother of one, Saraya, also gave up her career to stay home and care for her son and often wakes in the morning wondering what stage her career would be at or how much money she’d be earning if she’d never fallen pregnant. “I was only three months into my role as the executive assistant to the CEO of a digital recruitment agency, it was my dream job and there was promise for me to move into a leadership-style role quickly. So to discover I was pregnant was a really hard moment; I still felt so much ambition and saw so much potential ahead of me, but I was also incredibly maternal and had always wanted a family.” Saraya admits that the most challenging aspect of her new role as a SAHM is the toll on her mental health, “And I believe a big part of that is because when I fell pregnant I had only just started to see what “success” could look like for me. And now I watch my partner get up and go to work each day and sometimes dream about doing the same thing. I’m still torn between wanting to return to work and not wanting to miss a single moment of my son’s life, but I’m learning to redefine success in a way that has my son at the centre.”

Georgia Currie, CEO, Creative Director and Designer of Georgia Alice, has also redefined what success means to her, as the mother to a happy and healthy eight-month old baby boy: “My son changed me. During my pregnancy I learnt hypnobirthing and how to meditate properly – I really worked on myself because I knew I wanted to raise a conscious, thoughtful, spiritual and kind son, and in order to do that I needed to focus on my own wellbeing. When I gave birth I had a spiritual experience; it was as if all the baggage, negative energy and awful thoughts were released when he came out. I felt immediately lighter and I’ve really tried to hold onto that feeling. I’m someone who can take the stresses of work home with me and I didn’t want to worry about how this would impact Earl. I’m also now much better at recognizing toxic energy or manipulation and am quicker to action the removal of it.” Georgia and her partner are also a beautiful example of a modern parenting dynamic, with Lew making the decision to give up his career to focus on looking after Earl so that Georgia could return to work six weeks after giving birth to keep running Georgia Alice. “Lew is a wonderful, supportive and modern man, and I’ve been so lucky with the support from him and his family (his mother in particular), as well as my incredible team at Georgia Alice who have made the transition to parenthood a much easier one. I know I’ve sacrificed the opportunity to be with my son full time (I’m back at work four days a week now), but it also means that the time I do spend with Earl is even more special and our bond is so strong. I like to think that because of all the family members helping to raise him, he is getting a true sense of community and will have reliable branches beyond his mum and dad to lean on while growing up. Earl will grow into an independent man who respects women and their right to further careers if they choose, and I believe he will love me more because if it.”

Mother of one, Amanda, thought she wanted to return to her job in fashion PR after the birth of her daughter, “I remember feeling like I was ‘on leave’ and that I still had unfinished business”, but ultimately decided it wasn’t the right decision for her family: “We enrolled our daughter in daycare and I loved being back in the mix with work, but ultimately we weren’t coping at home. My husband has an amazing career as a trainee surgeon and I vowed to be there every step of the way, so I recently made the decision to stay home full-time.” Amanda also admitted that self-inflicted pressure and some unsolicited advice from peers (and complete strangers) greatly impacted her feelings towards being a SAHM, While I was pregnant I definitely felt pressure to be as “normal” as possible. Through all the sickness, headaches, fatigue and joint pain, I took very few days off. Women are still fighting an uphill battle regarding equal opportunities in the workplace so I was determined to show that pregnancy wasn’t going to affect my contribution to the world. From the moment I started telling people I was pregnant I found myself explaining our situation and answering questions about my return to work. I was initially proud to tell people that I wanted to be a SAHM and yet it was often met with comments about how “bored” I would get. This led to a lack in confidence about my decision and made me wonder: was it un-ambitious of me to want to be a full-time mum?”.

It’s increasingly clear to me that so many of the choices mothers are required to make will not always feel like choices. The word “choice” implies that you have the luxury of options, and that one option is arguably better than the other. But what happens when both options  – the option to return to work after the birth of your child or to leave your career and be a stay-at-home mother – feel unbearable? When the thought of leaving your child in the care of someone else so you can continue attending the job you love is just as anxiety-inducing as the thought of leaving your beloved job to raise your child? There simply isn’t an option that doesn’t include extraordinary sacrifice. It’s also impossible to discuss these paths as “choices” when the factors that determine which direction you go in are often beyond your control: the financial burden of childcare, relocating cities for your spouse, a job that’s no longer available at the end of your maternity leave, a sick child that requires full-time care, a pro-longed recovery from a complicated delivery, or simply that innate feeling that there is, in fact, only one choice that is right for you.
The common theme among the mothers I spoke with, when asked about the qualities that motherhood has strengthened in them, was their resolve to treat other mothers with more kindness and less judgement. As Amanda said, “I’ve been the recipient of so much love from mums who have been through the season I’m in now, and I love paying it forward to other new mums. I’ve also been the recipient of a lot of judgement and unhelpful advice which has ultimately motivated me to be as generous as possible. If you’re reading this and you want to hang out, let’s do it.”

Header image by Marta Bevacqua