Slowing down a career to have kids

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Here are the great myths about pregnancy: Women can put it off until they establish themselves in their career. Women can control the reproductive system. Women can make a grand plan. Forget it. I'm pregnant now, and I know.

I'm pregnant now, and I waited until I had established myself in my career. I climbed up the Fortune 500 ladder. I started two of my own companies. I told myself the whole way up, Thank god I don't have kids, and I worked long, long hours.

I didn't get married until after my second company went under, and I could leave Los Angles and live with my husband in New York. I told myself I would get settled in a new job, and then have a baby. And just as I got settled, I got laid off. So after fifteen years of carefully planning my career and my family life I was old enough to be in the high-risk pregnancy category (35), and out of work in a recession.

To get back to where I wanted to be in my career before I had a baby, I would have to find a job (average six months) get settled (let's say six months) and get pregnant (at my age — average six months). But that would mean having my first child at age 37 — if I had average luck with pregnancy and the job hunt. If anything went wrong — 38, 39, who knows. Let me tell you about the risks of having a baby at 35: 1 in 169 chance the baby has Down's syndrome; 1 in 200 chance that the test for Down's syndrome kills the baby. And the odds get worse every day I get older. People did not tell me these odds when I started a company at age 32 in LA instead of getting married in NY. People said, “You have time, you have time.”

Now, fearing that I might wait too long to be able to carry a child, for the first time in my life, I risked my career for my family. And wouldn't you know it, blowing away all statistical odds, I got pregnant in a week. I felt lucky, I felt excited, but I also felt scared: I was laid off and pregnant, facing a six-month job hunt, where I would get a job, work three months, and then take maternity leave. Needless to say prospects are looking dim.

What I want to tell you is that my grand plan didn't work. I grew up thinking that women had everything: I had access to education, I had access to the pill, I had access to money and jobs. I felt that society easily accepted my choices to be single, to focus on my career. Everyone told me “don't worry about kids, you'll have time.” I thought I was in control, making choices, but there are so many factors that I could never have controlled. I thought I was so smart, so organized and driven for waiting. But I'm not sure if waiting got me all that much except a high-risk pregnancy.

I will have a pause in my career. I think it might take me a while to get back on the fast track after I have a child. Maybe two. I am not sure why a pause in my career now would have been any different than a pause in my career at any other, earlier point in my career. However I am sure that the pregnancy would have been easier if I had done it earlier. I am not sure what a solution is, but I am sure that the way women today meticulously plan their families and their careers means that women leave themselves open to the inherent unpredictability of volatile markets and high-risk pregnancies.

Don't get me wrong. I'm really excited to be having a baby. But as the first generation of women who had access to career planning and family planning, I'm here to tell you that nothing came out like I planned.

19 replies
  1. Jenny
    Jenny says:


    Thanks for this article. My life has gone, well pretty much not the way I had planned. I got married young at 18 and thought that was perfect! I went to college as a married woman and started my career that way as well. I had the ideal situation — however, I underestimated how much a young woman does change when she pursues a career. I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life completing a BS in Comp Sci, almost done with my MBA and already managing a large number of people, early in life (happens when you work and finish your BS at night). So, my marriage ended in divorce after 9 years because we never grew into a couple that felt comfortable bringing a baby into the world together. It’s been a year since our seperation and I am slowly entering back into the dating scene now (omg does it suck — but does have some fun elements to it as well). I think its interesting to be 28 and basically single for the first time. I own my home, have a great career and can really truly take care of myself. I thought all those things would be wonderful attributes for a single gal but I am finding that men are somewhat turned off by it. Number 1, I am a relationship kind of person, which is why I held off dating until I could really devote time and energy into a relationship/someone new and 2 I don’t really have the time to be dating multiple people due to well working and taking care of my life essentially. Men’s comment to me so far is I am very strong and a bit intimidating. All of this is so shocking to me, being where I am in life and was pretty much able to ignore other men and the dating thing until now LOL. But, I would love to have children, at least 2 and had always planned to start a family in my late twenties early thirties and have always understood that people’s comment of “you have plenty of time” was basically them telling me what they thought I wanted to hear. So now, I am single and no clocks are ticking but I am aware of what I would like to have out of life and I’ll never be able to ignore that. So, hopefully, I’ll be able to achieve my goals, still, and won’t have to worry about waiting too long to have children. But, I realize we all have a plan and a purpose and I’ll get there one day at a time.

  2. Andrea C>> Become a consultant blog
    Andrea C>> Become a consultant blog says:

    Super post. My doctor urged me to start a family just after I turned 30. “But I just finished my MBA! I just bought a home to renovate! I don’t qualify for maternity leave benefits yet! I’ve only got 8 years of work experience and I wanted to make director first! And I’m being pursued by a university’s PhD program!” No matter. My doctor showed me the numbers on fertility and risk. I set about starting a family. Now we’ve got two little ones and my career has gone places I wouldn’t have imagined. I’m still at home full-time, but I’ve figured out how to build my consulting business around my family and I’ve started another business that allows me to earn money without being present. Having kids has actually made me use my MBA, because I don’t think I would have figured out new business models without the time pressures. And I’m glad I started a family when I did, because so many friends have struggled with infertility and miscarriages and high-risk pregnancies. You can plan a lot of things, but sometimes you just have to realize that having babies can’t really be scheduled.

  3. Personalized books
    Personalized books says:

    Great post. As you have I too had to move from my long working hour job to a home business to look after my kids. However anyone says that you can continue your career with your kids it’s simply not possible. I had an extra extra hard time when I had my baby and it was such a tough time for me and my baby. Now I earn at my home and my baby is also looked after.

  4. Veterinarian
    Veterinarian says:

    Interesting article Penelope. My wife and I had a kid last year and she had to stop her career to look after him. and since it was our first baby it was a little difficult. So she quit her job and stayed back home full time. It is not quite easy to work and raise small kids.

  5. LGA Limo
    LGA Limo says:

    A really interesting article. I haven’t had any kids. Yet. but I know a lot of family members and colleagues who actually slowed down or completely stop their career to stay back home and look after there kids. Working and looking after kids is a total hectic lifestyle. And neither of it will be done fully. So might as well give up working and focus on your kids fully

  6. Home Decorating Ideas
    Home Decorating Ideas says:

    I find it really odd that women actually delay their motherhood for a good career. For me, being a mother is the most wonderful gist nature has given to a female and I would not delay it more….not even for career…

  7. Rose Felice
    Rose Felice says:

    I have worked and raised 3 children. All went to college and are pursuing successful careers. My job was they only way they could go to college with the costs today. I still work anxious for retirement, and run a home business creating personalized childrens books and gifts. I have no regrets about being a working mom.

  8. Personalized Childrens Books
    Personalized Childrens Books says:

    I have worked and raised 3 children. All went to college and are pursuing successful careers. My job was they only way they could go to college with the costs today. I still work anxious for retirement, and run a home business creating personalized childrens books and gifts. I have no regrets about being a working mom.

  9. electrical goods
    electrical goods says:

    No matter what anyone says having kids certainly does slow down your carrier. My wife stopped working after our first kid. Even though we thought we could manage working and look after our baby. But it certainly is not easy as it sounds. So many sleepless nights and working is practically impossible.

  10. Karen - KidsStoriesOnline
    Karen - KidsStoriesOnline says:

    wow, that’s a really well written story. I think many women don’t realise how risky or difficult it can be to have a child when you are much past 35. Of course,there are always exceptions to the rule but the odds do begin to stack against you once you get to 35 ish. When I was in my late 20’s early 30’s it was almost ‘not the done thing’ (in my social circle) to have a baby. We were all busy building careers. The time flies very quickly, so if you’re contemplating it now I’d say go for it now while you can!

    good luck


  11. digchild
    digchild says:

    If a couple did not want kids initially but changed their minds later,they can have kids.But if the wife is past the childbearing stage or has fertility issues that make it hard to conceive,the couple can adopt kids.In any case,whether the couple has their own kids or gets kids via adoption,both parties must now be fully committed to bringing up the kids in the best way possible and to love them unconditionally.My father’s friend was in a similar situation.He and his wife wanted to have kids from the start of their marriage and tried unsuccessfully to conceive for years,only to realise that his wife couldn’t get pregnant.As they desperately wanted kids,they eventually adopted.

  12. Madhu
    Madhu says:

    Great article. I share your sentiments from across the globe. (I am from India)
    After graduating from one of the best institutes I chose to work in the public sector rather than taking up a job in the high paying MNCs. It was a conscious choice which my friends often questioned. But now that all of us are in our “high_time_to_start_a_family years” (i.e. 28-34 years) I find that my decision to stick to a medium hike but high stability workplace has given me the opportunity to start a family without worrying about my career. I get better maternity benefits (6 months of paid leave), flexibility (additional 12 months leave without pay) and assurance of my job with the same perks whenever I decide to come back.

    My advice for young girls entering the job force will be to think beyond the pay package and evaluate the benefits offered by a prospective employer.

  13. Jael
    Jael says:

    Okay Penelope. Hate me. I did it all wrong. But I have a feeling its going to be all right. And if it isn’t, I can just slash my wrists, right? I always capitulate to fantasy. It seems to help. I was born I into a cult, therefore had a substandard education to begin with, married at 15, had a baby at 16, was divorced at 17, married to a polygamist at 17, ran away at 19, reunited with my ex at 20, pregnant again at 20, then five more kids before I was 32. Somewhere around 28, I decided to go to college because it was cheaper than therapy. I became pregnant that semester. I finally graduated a year ago, eight years after the fact. I tell myself I am hopelessly behind and then I turn around and tell myself I’m brilliant and that it is only a matter of time until the rest of the world figures it out. And also, when my kids are 20, I might be cool enough to have a drink with them, and maybe I’ll have worked up the nerve to go skydiving. That is, if I can keep them together, my own shit together and…..

    Well, at least I’ve had an interesting life!

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