Like most journalists, I work best under a deadline. But when I said I didn’t want kids until I was 30, I never imagined I would take it all the way down to the wire. My son was born at 12:31 am the day after I turned 30.
Parenthood rarely goes as planned — my son's birthday notwithstanding — and I've had to make a lot of adjustments as I've returned to work. I’m a field producer for 48 Hours on CBS, and I also work on Texas stories that hit the national radar for the network’s evening and morning news shows.
I intended to take three months off, but it didn’t work out that way. There was a breaking news story that occurred about two months into my leave, and I jumped at the chance to get back in on the action. While the baby napped, I made calls from my home office and sent in updates to my bosses in New York.
When my husband got home, he could tell something was different. “You seem really happy. What happened today?” Giddy with that breaking-news feeling, I told him I had worked on a story for the first time since our son was born. And I couldn’t wait to do it again.
As a first-generation working mom, I had no road map to follow. My husband also comes from a stay-at-home-mom household, but we never considered that option for our family. The idea that I would retire at 29, or take an extended absence from my career while I was still building it, seemed counterproductive for our family’s future.
Thankfully, we had no shortage of childcare options. I pass a handful of daycares on the way to my son’s. Of course leaving him that first time was difficult. But now his eyes light up when he sees his teacher, and he giggles with delight when I appear to take him home at the end of the day.
At my son’s 6-month checkup, his pediatrician gave us a list of recommended activities. My husband and I were amused at the suggestion to take our baby places where “he could see other children” and to read him books with pictures of different people’s faces, so he wouldn’t think everyone looked like his family.
Daycare serves those purposes beautifully, allowing our son to meet a diverse group of babies and adults. He can’t talk yet, but one of his favorite activities seems to be sitting in “conversation” circles with his peers. The babies stare interestedly at each other as they coo and smile, speaking a language only they can understand.
Truth be told, I think my son would be happy at home or at daycare, but the options aren’t equal for me. Not only do I get fulfillment out of working now, but I also am investing in a career that will continue well beyond my son’s childhood.
Five years ago, when I was covering my first big trial, a well-meaning male mentor of mine made a comment he probably didn’t think twice about. He said that I was lucky to have found this story before I had kids, because it was so time-consuming.
Even then, I knew a baby wasn’t going to dictate my career choices. I was taken aback by the assumption that I couldn’t be as productive of an employee once I started a family, and I can’t help but think he wouldn’t have made the same remark to a young male journalist. After all, working mom is a description we expect mothers to apply to themselves when they are employed. “Working dad,” meanwhile, is not in our lexicon.
What an unburdened frame of mind that would be, if I didn’t have to explicitly state that I work and am also a parent. After my maternity leave, I was frequently the recipient of unwanted sympathy, mostly from other working women. At the dentist’s office or the bank, they would purse their lips and say, “But you aren’t working now, are you?” upon finding out that I had an infant.
“Actually, I am, and I love being back,” I would reply. They’d look at me with either confusion or, more commonly, judgment. I must be a bad mother if I don’t want to spend 24/7 with the fruit of my womb.
My husband, however, was the object of no such public derision. No one wondered why he went back to work after the birth of our child and didn’t devote himself entirely to domesticity for the next 18 years. He doesn’t have to explain that he works both to make money and to stimulate his mind.
I hope one day all parents will be given that measure of understanding.