A Window of Opportunity

WOMEN’S EQUALITY: (UNICEF): Women and men, and girls and boys, enjoy the same rights, resources, OPPORTUNITIES and protections. It does not require that girls and boys, or women and men, be the same, or that they be treated exactly alike.”

It was my father who first went off on my second grade teacher when she told him I was too precocious for my own good and that he should teach me how to behave “more like a lady.”

It was the very first of many confrontations in which my poor father was forced to defend me and protect my “spirit from being crushed” from those who attempted to “dull my proverbial light”, so to speak. You see I was raised from birth being told I could be and do anything I wanted in this life. Believe me when I say that it was that simple statement that in many ways defined my identity as a woman.

It is quite evident from watching the videos from my IMG_2765 (1)childhood birthday parties as I ordered all of my friends around while commanding every last detail, that I was determined to be THE BOSS, even from a very young age. My bossiness was something that embarrassed me for a long time, and I spent the greater part of a my twenties wishing I could shrink to become “less.” Less intense. Less emotional. Less…well…ME. You see, the strong, outspoken, zealous, and sometimes downright pushy parts of myself often left me feeling like I was too “difficult.”

I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”― Maya Angelou

But a lot has been said about bossy little girls since that time, and somewhere in my early thirties I came to a place of self-acceptance that it was my inner bossy girl that gave me the balls to do almost all of the things I am most proud of today.

“Well behaved women seldom make history” – Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

With all of this acknowledgment of who I am, then it is no surprise that I had only graduated college for a matter of months, when, without as much as a step into a corporate America, I announced to my father that I was starting my own company.

Me1

Most parents would tell their naïve and inexperienced daughter to learn how to be an employee before setting out on this “girl boss” adventure, but my father did as he had always done; handed me a check for 20K, co-signed a lease on a building, and let me jump right it to figure it out for myself. He’s been my fearless cheerleader of professional risks my entire life…always telling me to close my eyes and leap.

It is also no surprise that when I met husband a few years later and he offered me a ring, a house, and the opportunity to become a “kept women,” I asked him instead for the capital and backing to begin yet another business. I didn’t want roots…I wanted wings.

You see, behind all of that unbridled ambition of mine was also this acute awareness of my mother’s life and the opportunities and options she was left without. I can say without the shadow of a doubt, that windows and doors have opened for me in ways that they never opened for her. I can also acknowledge that I have had choices and advantages that have come from being a white, privileged, and educated woman that are not afforded to so many who hustle and grind every single day simply to survive. Fear of missing these opportunities is never lost on me, and the pressure of sucking every ounce of marrow from this life has been chasing me since long before I had the emotional intelligence to recognize I was even running.

I am never without an acute awareness of what these opportunities and resources mean, or without an absurd amount of self-inflicted pressure to open each and every window and walk through each and every door. I like to believe a lot of my contemporaries share this sediment and it is this exact pressure that is really the foundation of the entire discussion around having it all. How can we choose to not at least try and have it all when so many aren’t even given a chance?

“Each day, life will send you little windows of opportunity. Your destiny will ultimately be defined by how you respond to these windows of opportunity.” – Robin Sharma

Maybe it is because my mother has spent the better half of her life locked inside psychiatry wards after spending the earlier part of her life grinding out a pretty bleak and imprisoned life as a single mom to my brother and I. It could be because so many of the woman on both sides of my family (grandmothers, mother, aunts, cousins, etc.) have been beaten or abused or violated or pretended upon…and almost all of them abandoned. It is suffice to say that I have experienced firsthand what lack of opportunities means for women.

“Some women fear the fire. Some women simply become it.” – R.H. Sin

I know powerlessness. I’ve witnessed the real cage of limitations, and let me tell you, this glass ceiling is quite different than the bourgeois and elitist sentiments I’ve seen people protesting on social media. This is about the women all over the world left with ZERO options and forced to do whatever it it takes to put their children first, because lets face it, they are mother’s and survivors first; and individuals with hopes and dreams second. Those women did whatever they had to do put food on the table and pay their bills. They had no choice but to “have it all,” meaning ALL of the responsibility of both provider and caretaker, earner and mother.

But looking back, the same could not be said of the men in my life. My father, grandfather, uncles, and male cousins; they had very different opportunities which I interpreted as the byproduct of their career success. They had ideas, information, education, and more than all of that they had POWER and FREEDOM to have some element of control over their own destines. They were not stuck in small towns. They drove nice cars and lived in beautiful homes. They bounced back from failed marriages with younger and more attractive wives and traveled to exotic places. They had actualized the kind of life I deemed worth living. The kind of life I wanted for myself.

So once again, it makes complete sense that I made a formative decision from a rather early age, that if motherhood was a ball and chain and work meant wings; that I was going to become relentless in my professional pursuits. It also makes complete sense that I, like so many of those before me, have viewed women’s equality as a woman’s ability to reach the same levels of success, influence, freedom, and power as a man, with the battlefield of this pursuit taking place in the business world.

And I’ve been trying to win on that business world battlefield since that launch of my very first company at age 22.  I’ve taken huge risks and had gigantic failures. I got up when I was kicked down. Like phoenix rising from the ashes, I rose strong following all of my big losses. I have drank all the motivational Koolaid… The “Rise and Grind” the “Girl Boss” the “Nothing is Impossible, the word itself says I’m Possible.”

Which is why, when at 34 years old, after 4.5 years of infertility treatments, I had 3 successful embryos finally make it to 5 days exactly one week after I had been offered my dream job, I chose to freeze those embryos and choose my career first. I remember calling my husband and telling him that I simply couldn’t pass up on this once in a lifetime opportunity to realize my dreams.

But it was really only a matter of weeks after making that choice that I found myself extrememly conflicted. I had an incredible amount of freedom at that time, and freedom has held an extremely high value to me for as long as I can remember (my tagline in life has been #BeFree for Pete’s sake). I was blessed in that my husband’s job provided me with a great deal of financial freedom and splitting custody and work travel provided a great deal freedom from the responsibilities of domestic life. Creatively I was on fire. Physically I was in the best shape of my life. Having that time alone away from the routines of daily life connected me with myself in a way that is impossible obtain when you are covered in dogs and chores and marriage and babies. It was these freedoms and opportunities aligning that paved a path of what could have been a very exciting life of creative work, travel, personal pursuits, and passion. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the crossroads I was standing upon was paralyzing for me at the time.

There was one point in particular, in which I acknowledged the way in which this new door of work, and travel, and freedom was opening so effortlessly and seemed to be filled with so much joy and happiness while my road to pregnancy and expanding my family was paved with so much loss and disappointment.  I certainly asked myself more than once if God was trying to tell me something.

It certainly didn’t help matters that I often looked at my friends at the time, knee deep in newborns and diapers and potty training and domestic anarchy, and quietly cringed to myself at what had become of their “selves.” How had they let their dreams die? How could they spend all of that time learning and striving and creating and growing only to cash it all in for motherhood? I had a difficult time even spending time with a few of my friends since they had become new mom’s due to what I considered to be their rather unhealthy obsession with their children and their inability to have an intellectual conversation on anything of substance anymoreThese women needed something to do, and if they had a job I often thought to myself, maybe they wouldn’t be so consumed with their kids that they’d have an identity of their own.

I judged their tension filled marriages and their lack of personal pursuits. I knew I had zero interest in becoming that kind of wife and mother. God help me if I ever boss my husband around like some kind of drill sergeant. I simply didn’t see motherhood as some kind of badge of honor, I had been a MOTHER, I adopted Habi at age of 3 and in some ways that was the easiest thing I had ever done….what could possibly be so different about having babies?

I for one, liked the man’s world where ideas were created and intellectualism reigned, and more often than not I found myself empathizing with the man’s perspective when marriage was discussed. At the end of the day if you would have asked me why women were not in higher places of power and why there was still such an imbalance in women’s equality, I would have thought to myself that women in business just needed to want it more, lean in more, strive more, and not give up…especially once they had babies.

“Time management is an oxymoron. Time is beyond our control, and the clock keeps ticking regardless of how we lead our lives. Priority management is the answer to maximizing the time we have.” –  John C. Maxwell

So of course when I finally fell pregnant (with TWINS no less) I was determined more than ever to have it all. I told myself pregnancy was not going to derail me….

And then I told myself that having babies was not going to derail me….

I am pretty sure anyone who has ever had a baby can pretty much guess what happened next….

They put those babies in my arms and just like that…everything changes.

christinabirth581

I had wanted to believe that because I had been a mother for so long and because I am so extremely passionate about adoption that having these babies was going to be the same in every way. And yes, adoption changed me in ways that people who have not adopted can not quite understand. The journey, the wait, the moment you meet your child. It is the most magical and life altering experience. And pregnancy/giving birth is the same in a lot of ways, (the magic and life altering part), but it is different too, in that everything about who you are simply changes. Your hair, your skin, your sense of smell, your hands, your feet, your sleep, your eye sight, your periods, you immune system, your hormones, your brain chemistry, your scars, your belly, your breasts, your nose, your ability to think, your brain, your chemicals…..YOU. There has been a certain fear in my acknowledgment of that because of the ways I had often felt prior to giving birth that people sometimes made me feel like less than a mom because I had bypassed the birthing experience, and how desperately I wanted affirmations that we were the same.

And maybe that’s part of the problem when it comes to the discussion about women’s equality; no one wants to talk about this change that happens to women through the birth process….and the way it makes us different. Whats worst, is the simple fact that corporate America does not recognize or accommodate this change in any kind of meaningful way.

And I may have tried to convince myself 8 weeks after my babies arrived via C-section, as I tromped right back into my office with pump in hand that I could push through that transformation to get back to my old “self” and my own “dreams” and my newly found “opportunities.”  I knew I had become a sleep deprived control freak who could barely let anyone else hold the baby much less leave the babies alone in the past few weeks, but I just needed thing a good dose of work to get my head on straight. Just like I had always said.

Just lean in Christina. Just lean in.     

I juggled nurses and nannies and schedules and pumping in between feedings and meetings and work commitments. I kept reminding myself that “it takes a village” and scurried to find a “good support network” as shit continued to hit the fan at home (sick babies, sick nannies, sick kids, doctors appointments, school appointments, lost lunches, etc.) and I was forced to leave the office over and over and over again. I was only 10 weeks postpartum when I took my first work trip to Denver to kick off a new client meeting. I squeezed my scared, leaking, and cellulite covered body into new work pants and did my best to not talk about my babies while I was there doing business. I remember sneaking out of a meeting to pump and leaking milk all over my top. I am sure it the client must have thought I was a complete and utter lunatic as I held a notebook in front of my chest for the remainder of the day.

I found myself feeling so out of place as I listened to my male counterparts talk about flying to Europe and California and staying at the office until 3 am. Opportunities were flying around the company like hotcakes as new employees discussed what they had been able to accomplish in their first few months within their big opportunities while I took personal inventory of all I had not be able to. I had missed so much while I was gone on bed rest and maternity leave, and doors that were open only months prior had been filled in my absence. People were winning and even my small endeavors and half assed attempts were coming at such a cost to myself and my family.

I missed my babies. I just wanted to run home and throw off all our clothes and cover myself in their naked bodies. I could not pull myself out of my newfound truth; that these two people were inside of me and I needed them attached to me. And somewhere in the process there was this silent submission to what was…they were everything to me. And for the very first time in my life, this bossy little girl is no longer the boss in any way (okay maybe I boss my husband around now more than ever…but I’m working on that 🙂 ). Yes, two little humans have managed to come into my life to rob me of any ability to travel, eliminated virtually all of my freedom, order me around 24 hours a day, left my body in the absolute worst shape of it’s life, leave essentially zero time for creative pursuits,  waged absolute war on my marriage and sex life, leave me in a state of constant brain fog, and scream and cry at me anytime I don’t give them absolutely all of me. Yes, they are they are the boss, so much in fact, that they own me…and yet nothing has brought me more joy in my entire life. The window of opportunity to get to experience these babies being small is short, so short in fact, that I have decided I do not want to miss a single minute of it. And how blessed am I that I have that choice.

It truly is the craziest thing that you could love something so much, that while it comes at the absolute cost of all of you, the love can quite literally set you free {#BeFree}

“In the flush of love’s light we dare be brave. And suddenly we see that love costs all we are and will ever be. Yet it is only love which sets us free.” – Maya Angelou

I have swallowed the pill that my choosing to stay home for the time being may mean I never get to achieve the career success or freedom that I have taken so many shots at for so many years. I am going to continue to work towards being okay with that. With that said, if we are ever to truly have women’s equality, in its true definition, than I hope that changes and we can learn to accommodate the ways in which we are not the same; not men and women, and not before and after having a family. I also hope that we build resources to support women both in their choice to lean in, but also in their choice to step back, or step down, or step off completely for a period of time without it impacting their entire career paths or looked down upon as some kind of knock against feminism and women’s equality.

I am well abreast to the fact that generalizing is dangerous territory and that I have a great many women in my life that are killing it  (albeit seemingly killing themselves in the process) as they juggle both motherhood and career. I do believe though, if given the choice, (at least in my circle) ten out of ten of those same women would choose to take more time to be with their children if afforded, wish they were given more flexibility and ability to work part-time without major repercussions, and desire more support and resources to balance work and family life. It would do almost every working mom I know a world of good to be relieved of the pressure that is put upon us to maintain the same schedule, work load, and results that we were able produce prior to giving birth, afterwards. It’s as if the measure of “holding our own,” is how gracefully we can hide how much has changed for us. It’s as if the admission of the change is some kind of knock against feminism and women’s equality itself.

Which I suggest is why so many women in America find themselves in my situation: Step up, or get off. Stay at home moms vs. working moms. Independent women vs. dependent upon a man. And I don’t really have an answer on where the solution lies, but I do know there are a lot of women just like me that wanted to lean in and stay a part of the economic fabric of our country, but simply cant afford the kind of support it really takes to keep up with the standard of success we have set without drowning. And most (if not all) of my working mom friends with young children that are are in that fight to keep up and stay along for the ride are on some kind of medication to navigate the stress and depression that comes along with never getting your head above water. I am always a bit dumbfounded with how each and every one of them are so hard on themselves for being so exhausted (I for one read Chrissy Teigen’s article and thought to myself – of course you are tired girl – the expectations are the problem). Maybe instead of accepting that this is what is expected and required, maybe the first step of the battle towards real equality is raising our hands and simply saying, “I changed,” and “I can not do it all without more support.”

So I will start there….and I will start with me.

My name is Christina and having two babies changed me.

My body changed, my energy changed, my ability to get shit done changed. My goals changed, what I wanted changed, what I needed changed. I couldn’t “lean” my way through it as hard as I tried. I couldn’t get enough help to stay above water without spending every last dime I brought in (and then some) to help me. I couldn’t find the balance and trying to make that happen left me completely and utterly stressed (not to mention the worlds biggest bitch to my poor husband) which only made me guilty. I cant wake up at 4am to workout before the kids wake up because I actually need more than 4 hours of sleep. I cant shower and be in the office by 8am while trying to pack lunches and do carpool and fill out school forms and meal plan and answer emails and get my nails done all while being spray tanned and wanting to ravish my husband….and all at the same time. I couldn’t feel the weight of all the work that I was falling behind on without getting absolutely frustrated at the sound of my babies crying. I couldn’t help but resent my husband when I looked down at my scars and my floppy stomach and the pathetic mess that is left of my boobs, even though I told myself to be grateful for the tremendous gift that is the ability to conceive. I felt pressure every minute of every day to be grateful for finally becoming pregnant and for the blessing healthy and happy babies. I felt guilty for feeling sorry for myself on the days I couldn’t find gratitude.  I hit the bed every night and beat myself up that I didn’t do enough to appreciate everything I had. And then I would snap someone’s head off the next day and beat myself up all over again. I would finally get the two crying babies to sleep at the end of the night and then open my teenage sons door and look at him sleeping and realize that I barely spoke to him before bed…and my heart would swell and I would wonder if he feels secure enough in my love for him…every single night feeling like I had not done enough and vowing to do more tomorrow. This takes up brain space – this changes what space is left open for personal pursuits.  I couldn’t help but resent my male coworkers and their open schedules and late night work sessions. I was angry and heartbroken that I wanted something so badly and worked so hard to try and achieve all that amazing stuff Oprah tells you you can achieve once truly believe that you can. I couldn’t find time to cook and so ordered pizza or crap food way too often and then felt frustrated at myself that I didn’t have the discipline I once had to loose the baby weight. I couldn’t maintain the same mystery and elusive sex goddess status I once did in my husbands eyes when I order him around like he is a child because I am just so flipping annoyed that _____(whatever annoys me on any giving day)___ because I am so behind on ____(work, laundry, bottles, returning phone calls, etc.)____.  Sometimes I take over and need to be in complete and utter control of every last detail around this house because, lets face it, this whole ship of keeping 3 people alive and emotionally unscathed and properly attached and in the right schools and fed the right kind of formula, while doing every last thing you can to avoid SIDS, while babies are dying in car seats all over the social media feeds, and you’re trying to breast feed, because God forbid you don’t breast feed….it is…..EXHAUSTING.

“Guilt is a way of getting a group to conform; you get them to oppress themselves by making them feel guilty. In the earlier stages of feminism, women were told they could not be whatever it was they wanted to be. After women became those things anyway, then society said, ‘All right, you’re now a lawyer or a mechanic or an astronaut—but that’s only OK if you continue to do the work you did before—if you take care of the children, cook three meals a day, and are multiorgasmic until dawn.’” – Gloria Steinem

And so this is what I have to say to all of the women in my life…. You are enough. If you are forced to make a choice … whatever you choose, choose without guilt. To the mom obsessed with her children…I once judged you and then I became you, and let me tell you I sure felt like asshole once I knew exactly how you felt. Guess what? Motherhood is a badge of honor because lets face it – we literally create and/or raise little lives to maintain the human race. Creating life is truly a miracle and you don’t truly understand it until you hear the sound of your baby’s cry for the first time. It changes you…forever. To the postpartum moms…. Like REM once said, everybody hurts sometimes, and lets keep it real….this journey is one hell of a bi%^&. It’s okay if you find yourself unhappy when you think you should be happy. That’s par for the course and that shit will pass and you will feel like yourself again. To my adoptive mamas – you are a real mother and those children are YOURS. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. To the working moms… let’s stop putting so much pressure on ourselves and one another and lets demand more honesty about what we go through. To the women who are heartbroken day in and day out as they struggle to become mothers…do not give up, it is all worth it, and just because doors are closing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bust through them. Don’t confuse adversity with something not being meant for you.  To the single moms that hustle to do it all…you truly are a super hero…and you are not alone. To the women who wanted to have children but never got the opportunity – you are still a mother – to your friends, to your god children, to your co-workers…you too are enough and perfect just where you are. Please soak up every ounce of that freedom and that amazing creative space and keep pushing to the top for all of us. We need you. To all moms. Let’s all agree we can say NO: to shitty friends who don’t support us or show up for us when we need them, to “bouncing right back,” and last but not least to “having it all.” Instead may we have one simple wish for one another…that we get to do all the things we WANT to do and that we all may find a way to #BeFree.

“I think it’s insulting. What are you ‘having?’ A party? Another slice of pie? ‘All’ implies that a woman staying home with her kids is somehow living a life half-full. What we’re really talking about is doing it all. How do we help women do all the things they want to do?” – Kirsten Gillibrand

 

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