It was one of those nights when my husband rolled over to my side of the bed. Usually this is the first step toward the grand maintenance of our fairly normal marriage. But this night was different. On this night I said, “I can't. It'll ruin my career.”
“Huh?” He was baffled and not quite stopped in his tracks.
“What about me hosting that TV show?” I said. “I can't be pregnant.”
And herein lies the reason that every girl should bring her career to bed with her: Pregnancy is not good for a career. A large belly is limiting; a kid even more so. But society's own perception of a mom vs. a career girl are the most limiting constraints of all.
I know because I planned my first pregnancy around my high-powered career. Everyone told me, “Don't rush. You have plenty of time.” So I didn't rush. I waited until I had made my way through two of my own companies, working long very parent-unfriendly hours. I waited until I could relocate my career across country to be in the same city as my husband. And then, just as my perfect plan reached its apex, the World Trade Center fell two blocks from my company, putting me out of a job. And all the work I did to build an impressive resume was undone when I showed up pregnant for job interviews.
I would like to tell you that employers don't care about pregnancy, but I would be lying. And I can’t fault them for having a negative viewpoint of pregnant job applicants: If two people are equally qualified for the same opening — a common occurrence in this market —the best hire is the one who isn’t five months pregnant- at least in the short term. It’s easy to be philosophical about the long term — how corporate America will only benefit from the systematic accommodation of pregnant women. But the long term is a hard sell to a hiring manager whose bonus isn’t tied to revolutionizing the workplace.
So back to the TV show. Officials with a production company had called to say they like my column and ask me whether I wanted to host a TV show about finance. Of course I was thrilled.
My husband, who’s always skeptical when skepticism isn’t warranted, said, “How can you host a TV show on finance when a company you started went bankrupt?”
“People learn from their mistakes,” I said. Then I said, “Shut up.”
The TV people wanted to interview me so I flew to LA. My husband, Mr. Pessimism, is also Mr. Hollywood (graduated from film school, dated an MTV producer, blah blah). He said, “You need someone to do hair and makeup,”
“They just want to talk to me,” I said.
He said, “They want to see how good you would look on TV.”
So I had someone do my hair and makeup, and I looked great that day. The executives told me they loved my column. They thought my wit and sensibility would come across well on TV. They talked about how the TV show would be structured and the training I would receive in on-air technique. Then they said, “Okay, we'll get back to you.”
My husband said, “That means you'll never hear from them. It's over.”
But if I listened to all my husband's pessimism, I'd have killed myself by now. So I’m still hoping.
Which brings me back to the bed. There we were, talking. We had planned another pregnancy for around this time. But I don't think I’d be hired as a TV host if I were pregnant. By the time we began taping, I'd be very pregnant. It's one thing for Catherine Zeta-Jones to show up really pregnant at the Oscars because the whole world knows she’s hot and she still looks a little hot, belly and all. But my TV audience wouldn’t know if the non-pregnant me was hot. There’s no way I could be pregnant for my TV debut (come to think of it, has anyone been pregnant for their debut as a TV show host?)
And I knew something else: You can't control everything, and there’s no perfect time to have a baby. But one time is better for women than others, and that’s sooner. When I learned the risks of waiting to have a baby, I was shocked. When a woman gets pregnant at 35, her baby has a 1 in 224 chance of being born with Down’s syndrome. There’s a 1 in 200 chance the test for Down’s syndrome will kill the baby. And the odds increase with every passing day. I didn’t hear this when I started a company at 32. Instead I heard, “You have time.”
So now I know I don't have time. And I know that if I put my next pregnancy on hold until I hear from the production company, something else is likely to come up to foil my plan of harmoniously integrating my pregnancy and my career.
We had sex that night. And we hoped for a baby. Because as a seasoned career girl, I know that even if postponing pregnancy would eventually have boosted my career, in the short term, the delay made it too high risk for my liking.