by MIA FREEDMAN
This week, someone referred to me as ambitious and I bristled. It was said neutrally and without rancour but it made me uncomfortable. Later, drilling down into why, I realised that whenever I hear that word used there’s a negative subtext to it. Wait, whenever I hear that word used about a woman. In a man, ambition is a virtue but “She’s so ambitious” always piggy backs an implicit slur. It means she’s ruthless. She’s competitive. She’s calculating. She neglects her family.
Often, it’s simply code for ‘she’s a bitch’.
Ok yes, I’ve used it that way myself.
So am I ambitious? Yes, I guess I am. I love my work. I strive to succeed at it and I’ve always wanted to kick big career goals ever since I dreamed of being an editor aged 12.
But there have been blips.
For about 12 months after I have a baby, I lose my ambition entirely. Out it pops, along with the placenta. “I just want to spend the rest of my life at home folding teeny tiny socks” I once cooed to a girlfriend while lying on the floor gazing at my newborn daughter. “Can you believe how minuscule these things are? The size of thumbs! How do you even MAKE socks this small? Would there be a special machine?”
At the time, this issue seemed fascinating to me.In those early days when I’m flooded with relief to be safely holding a healthy baby in my arms and before sleep deprivation turns me into a poltergeist, I am very mellow if slightly dull. Calm and dreamy. Totally focussed on my baby. Blissfully disinterested in the outside world. Endlessly grateful to my husband for providing his seed. In other words, totally unlike my normal self.
The first time it happened, after giving birth to my first child, I was taken by surprise as my career care factor plummeted to zero. Job? What job? Having sworn blind to my bemused boss that I’d need only a few weeks maternity leave, I was initially skeptical when she insisted I take four months. Really? But how would I survive without my job? How would my job survive about me?
And then I gave birth and fell madly in love. Game over. For a while anyway. Having worked full-time since I was 19, I delighted in the novelty of being home during the week and focussing on nothing more mentally taxing than trying to remember which boob I’d last fed on. Fortunately my mother – who’s always strived to combine work and family -reminded me there’s a big difference between being at home for a fixed period on maternity leave and being at home full stop, The End. “Don’t quit your job just yet, she urged me and thank heavens she did.
It’s like those people who holiday in Byron Bay and after a week start thinking about moving there permanently to open an organic juice bar. Holidays are different to real life. And so is maternity leave. Wait, can I please delete that analogy because maternity leave is NOT like a holiday. Apart from all that lying around the pool reading books while hot cabin boys bring you cocktails, maternity leave and holidays really have nothing else in common. Fact.
Look, for those who don’t wish to work after babies, I salute you but it was never my dream.
I love my work and even during pregnancy, I can never imagine being at home full-time. Then I hold a newborn in my arms and I become fixated with teeny tiny socks.
After experiencing this three time now, I’ve accepted it’s stupid for me to make any big decisions about work (or life) until my baby is around one.
The problem with this of course is that almost as soon as you announce your pregnancy, people start asking “what are you going to do about work?”
Hello, impossible question. Because who knows really. It’s impossible to predict how you’ll feel in those early months. Some women are surprised by the gravitational pull of a baby while others discover they’re not cut out to be home alone with an infant day after month after year. Then there are those whose babies have unexpected health needs or whose lives suffer other types of unexpected turmoil, throwing their careful plans to the wind.
In just one generation, there’s been a social revolution around when women return to work after having kids.
In the 80s, most mothers waited five years after having a baby before going back to work. In the nineties, this dropped to three years. And this decade it’s been one year. According to a recent report in The Australian: “Almost half of all mothers in two-parent families are back at work before their youngest child turns one, completing a social revolution than has seen the dividing line between home and career disappear in less than a generation.”
Social researchers point to two main reasons for the change: higher real estate prices mean two incomes are required to support a household. And more women are better educated and actually WANT to work.
I guess you might call them…..ambitious.
When did you or do you intend to return to work after giving birth? Would you call yourself ambitious?