Work or kids: a woman’s choice

“Freeze your eggs now.” With this piece of advice, given to me by a female professor serving on my dissertation committee, a line had been drawn.

Those four words conveyed the notion that female academics cannot afford time for family until after a career has been established. At that point, fertile eggs may be in short supply. The larger message was that kids and careers are on opposite teams, and the wise woman makes her choice.

I broke this advice two years later when I was a postdoctoral researcher. Not only did I not freeze my eggs, but I was pregnant.

After sharing my fears about balancing career with a new baby, I was recommended by a friend to read “I Don’t Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother” by Allison Pearson. The book details the daily life of Kate, a high-powered female investor with a husband and two kids. She goes to hilarious lengths to manage her crazy life while still appearing like she’s got her act together.

One vivid scene depicts a late night with frazzled Kate adulterating store-bought pies so they will look homemade when she takes them to her daughter’s Christmas party the next day. She even hides the wrappers in the outside trashcan so that her nanny won’t see them. Her life continues to spin out of control, until it becomes clear that things must change. I couldn’t wait to read the ending. How does she do it? As an expectant mom, the answer was disconcerting. Kate quits her job. Again, a line was drawn.

Here I am, nine years of professorship and three kids later, and I think daily about the choices I make. I have come to dislike the word “balance.” As a chemist, I picture an analytical scale where you place an object on one side and add weights on the other side until balance is achieved. If I can just get everything “right,” equilibrium will ensue.

Reality rarely works this way. Sometimes I leave work early, pick up kids from school and make homemade chicken noodle soup and blueberry muffins for dinner, as I did last night. Other times, I stay late for meetings and grade tests, as I will tonight. It’s not balance, but rather a continual shifting of weights.

One of my favorite aspects of my job is to advise young people, especially women. Who will they be? Will they be like my committee member, working hard early in her career and thawing eggs later? Or will they be like Kate Reddy and reject the notion of a career all together? Or will they attempt to do both? More importantly, what does God want for them?

In Christ, we experience tremendous freedom, but we are asked to consider our choices in light of our responsibilities to others. However we decide to draw lines or shift weights, the ultimate answer to our questions is found in the words of Paul: “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”