Thursday, November 8, 2007

On going back to work, Part 2 of infinity

In The Price of Motherhood, Ann Crittenden describes a group of 902 women, all graduates of Harvard's professional schools. The women were participants in a survey-based study, focused on family/career balance, conducted by the school 10 years after the women had graduated. The study found that a full 25% of the Harvard M.B.A.s interviewed had left the workforce entirely. Crittenden writes:

"The women felt "blindsided"; they hadn't expected it to be so difficult to combine motherhood with a career. Their expectations and self-esteem were high, based on their superb education and proven competence. They simply had not anticipated two things: the degree to which they would fall in love with their new baby, and the high professional price they would be forced to pay for that love...

...Most of the women couldn't accept a model of parenthood that saw a baby as a temporary blip on a career screen. Even though the great majority believed that reducing their hours of work would be detrimental to their career, fully 70 percent cut back anyway after the birth of their first child. The feelings this aroused were complex. The 52 women interviewed in depth expressed a tangled mixture of satisfaction, frustration, anger, and a wistful sense of loss over what they viewed as a totally unnecessary conflict between caring for their child and pursuing professional goals they had spent their whole lives, and a great deal of money, preparing for."

I couldn't possibly have written it better myself. I was/am completely unprepared for the emotional turmoil over my career that I've faced since the birth of my daughter.

Sometimes I feel angry. I feel that I was lied to (though don't ask me who exactly was doing the lying). I feel like I've been told my whole life that I could have any career I wanted, as long as I worked hard for it. That I could have it all, do it all. But now that I'm here, I see that the situation on the ground is quite different from the one presented to me.

I was under the mistaken impression that if I could educate myself and succeed, that I would be given a fair opportunity to participate in my chosen field. But no one talks about how limited your choices become if you decide to have a family. And while I might be able to accept that choices become limited for anyone that chooses to have a family, the reality is that it's women specifically who are paying the price.

Was I naive? Almost certainly. But I never realized that it would literally raze my soul to leave my child. And I never realized how high a toll it would take on my career to step off the treadmill for even a second. If I decide to leave the bench for a few years after our next child, who will hire me back? Magic 8-ball says outlook not so good.

I feel angry at myself for being so naive. And angry at the women around me for not talking about this out loud. I think we're so focused on talking about equal opportunity, that we're avoiding the real discussion: The reality is that the workplace is designed for men. And if you need accommodations like maternity leave or a place to pump, or to take care of a sick child, that's milking the system.

"...the problem with women was that they just weren't men."


ScienceGirl said...

THANK YOU for being so (painfully) honest about this!

The bean-mom said...

Ohhh, Sciencemama, I understand the anger you feel. The sense of betrayal--at a faceless system, at "them", even at other women for not talking about how hard it is.

I wish there were answers. And I love reading your posts.

Jennie said...

I just finished reading that book. I left the book feeling that there is no way to fix the system, which depresses me.
Just yesterday I heard a story on NPR about how America isn't producing enough scientist, and how we have to hire from outside our country. The show acknowledged that many people are getting advanced degrees in science they are just choosing to use them for other careers. It angered me that they never talked about how we should have more flexible science positions and that they focused only on improving science education in high school. I would have called the show had I not came in the middle of it. What about the fact that half of qualified, experienced scientist are leaving their jobs for motherhood, not because they "want" to but because there is no option to be a part time mother and part time scientist-both require a full time commitment.

The "price of motherhood" also talks about how mother's don't have a group lobbying for them, since most people feel that having a child is a choice and special circumstances aren't required since you are making a choice. What about forced choice!
I want to move to Sweden.