Girl Talk: When careers (and stuff) get in the way of baby making - Rachel Zoe's new project

Girl Talk: When careers (and stuff) get in the way of baby making – Rachel Zoe's new project

Rachel Zoe has been contemplating motherhood a lot lately, if the current season of her show, The Rachel Zoe Project, and Jezebel's commentary on said show are any indication. But it's not really joy she's experiencing – she's terrified, anxious and unsure of herself. Her career? Clothes? Styling celebrities? She's all over it. Babies? Put her in a (designer) strait-jacket.

"It's the only thing in my life I'm afraid of," she confesses to her makeup artist BFF Joey, who reminds her that clothes, bags and shoes can't love her back. "It's one of those things where I'm like, okay, next year, next year, next year...but I'm 38 years old, like, I need to do it. And I know that. It's not having the baby that stresses me out. "

The issue is highly sensitive and manifold for Rachel, as it is for most women, including Yours Truly. There's the matter of her weight, her body's ability to carry a baby to full term, and, hello, making space for a cot in a house where clothes are allocated their own room. But besides that, there's her career.

"Time just moves really, really fast and I think when you're very into your career it's like a decade flies by and all of a sudden you're 10 years older and then, all of a sudden, it's, like, imminent... I think it's very easy in the fashion industry to become all-consumed; your whole career just moves forward and your personal life is just out the window. It's a choice I made without actually knowing I was making that choice."

To me, Rachel exemplifies the Gen-X stereotype of the woman with the great career and great wardrobe portrayed by Sex and the City who wakes up one day and thinks, "I need a new project – a baby!" (as if that's not going to be part of the Sex and the City 3 storyline), but finds her biological clock is inconveniently out of sinc with her life plan. (I said stereotype: obviously life is not so simplistic).

"I've worked really hard for 15 years of my life to, like, get to a certain place in my career and I think that I am just totally scared," Zoe tells her infinitely patient husband Rodger. "I know myself and I do everything, like, 500 per cent, and when I'm a mum that's all I'm going to want to do... I can't slow down from work, just so you understand. I have a lot of people counting on me and a lot of money at stake, just so you know... I just don't want to be in denial about that."

Of course, that's a bunch of crapola to rational Rodger, who desperately wants a baby.

"If you choose that this child – God willing we have one – and this child is your everything, well, great, then it's your everything," he reasons. "And then the other stuff; we're not going to be as hugely successful, but you know what, who cares? As long as we're happy... There's no contest; there's no competition. It's your own internal I-don't-know-what that drives you, but, you know what, it's kind of silly, at the end of the day."

Is it silly this career stuff? Lately I've been thinking that maybe it is... if it impinges on your personal life (and health) to the extent that it creates barriers between you and your partner; and between your heart's desires and what the world deems to be markers of success.

Many, many women have children and careers and cope just fine. I admire their resilience. Others have careers and would love children but no (willing) partners with whom to reproduce. My heart goes out to them. And still more have careers and want children but can't (radio presenter and blogger Emily Jade O'Keefe has been endearingly open on this front). Others just make really smart, rational decisions.

Speaking to Mia Freedman (who has three children; two while she was working in magazines) in an intimate video chat recently, former magazine editor and TV host Lisa Wilkinson, also the mother of three children, said something that really resonated with me about jumping off the corporate ladder to invest time into family rearing:

"I just thought, I've worked hard for a long time, I've saved up; if I can't be smart enough to say, It's okay to take some time out and to be a mum and to professionally jump off a cliff and not know that there's a parachute that's going to help me through wherever I land. It was a very liberating thing to just go, you know what, I'm going to put time into my personal life, put time into being a mum, put time into my family; whatever happens beyond here, I have had the best ride."

Mr and Mrs Satchel have been contemplating baby-making for a while now, too, under the watchful gaze of well-meaning friends and family who would like to see me up the duff and Mr Satchel brandishing a baby in his arms. In fact, most people in our social circle have newborns or are pregnant. Our best friends have a beautiful new baby girl. We adore her. It almost pains me to see Mr Satchel nursing her, such is his longing for one of his own. He and Rodger could relate.

Thankfully, most people are sensitive enough to realise that we have just emerged (still emerging!) from a two-year battle with an eating disorder that has put things back for us. It has been a major impediment, mentally, physically and emotionally. I feel terribly guilty about that. We've also been investing heavily into getting our marriage to a healthy place as I've gained back my weight, while also trying to get our finances ship-shape (no secret that my blogging and his ministry work alone do not pay the bills).

That's going well. Do we want a baby? Yes. Am I pregnant? No. Do we have time on our side? A little. I'm just shy of 30. Comfortingly, though a very unique proposition itself, in 2004 ACP Magazines' Deborah Thomas spoke to the ABC about having her first child aged 46:

"I was very career-obsessed. And I would obsess about things that probably there was no need to obsess about. But now it... I just have this much clearer view of what life is and what life should be, and the balance to life. Watching [baby Oscar] every day, the joy that he brings into my life, going in there in the morning, and he smiles and his face lights up, it's just extraordinary... Having a baby late in life was not something that I planned. I'm very, very glad it happened, and it's worked out very well for me, so far. And I can't believe I nearly missed out on this – it's the best thing that's ever happened in my life. I'm so glad I've done it."

High-profile career, husband and a baby? She is incredibly blessed. I have faith that we might be one day, too.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Zoe said...

Great column, Erica. This comment of Rachel's: "Time just moves really, really fast and I think when you're very into your career it's like a decade flies by and all of a sudden you're 10 years older," rung very true to me, and I feel like the older I get, the further away having babies seems.
I also want to thank you for opening up about yourself when it comes to posts like this. It takes a lot of guts to be so honest with an audience you never get to meet, and I think you do a fantastic job with Girl With a Satchel and that you should be very, very proud of what you've achieved.

Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) said...

Thank you, Zoe. That means a lot. These personal posts are actually the ones I like writing most - y'know, life beyond the gloss. :)

sonya said...

hey erica,
i have a one year old and when i found out i was pregnant babies were the last thing on my mind. i lots of things on my to-do list and i wasn't sure if a baby was ever even going to make it on the list. fortunately babies take 40 weeks to cook so even if you aren't prepared mentally, financially or logistically for a baby beforehand you have time to get organised.
the past year has been a crazy beautiful ride and much to my delight i've seen other parts of my life prosper in ways that they wouldn't have if i hadn't had a baby. deborah thomas' resonates with me word for word. i can't believe i was considering passing up this amazing experience.

Anonymous said...

Erica - wonderful column. Its great you can share these things with your readers, so that we can relate.

Laura said...

Erica, have you read a book called 'The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How it Has Undermined All Women'? I'm in a similar quandary re kids and found it while doing my own research into the kids v. career conundrum. It's a fascinating look at how the media has portrayed motherhood over the past 30 years and how that has influenced real women's feelings about child rearing.

One of the things in the book that really struck a chord with me was the authors' belief that the media tells us we can have it all - a career AND a family - but also tells us that truly enlightened women will always give up their careers for kids. They think we're being tricked into 'choosing' motherhood over career, when really we're all falling for the same old guilt trip we've been fed for decades.

I think a savvy media analyst such as yourself would find it a very interesting read!

Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) said...

Laura, I'll chase up the book. Thank you for the recommendation. The thesis appeals to me. I believe, without having read the book, that smart women will land on their feet after a period of child rearing... it just seems to be unfair that society/work culture is not particularly nurturing of women who choose to take time out; particularly those in senior executive positions. Also, food for thought, look at how many highly successful women in media are childless: Oprah, Tracy Grimshaw...

Sally said...

Hi Erica,
This is a topic that is very close to my heart. I was a few years into my career (and only just married) when I found out I had severe fertility problems. Doctors encouraged us to try for kids as soon as possible (I was only 26 at the time).
After a difficult time conceiving, I'm now a mother of two and it brings me more joy than I could have ever imagine (although by far the hardest thing I've ever done). But I do grapple with having abandoned my career before it really got the chance to get going. I do a bit of freelance work here and there, which is something, but I do miss it - the intellectual stimulation, my colleagues, the sense of fulfillment.
Having said that, I wouldn't change a thing. We hope to have another baby, God willing, and then I'll resume my career in a few years. That's the plan for now!
I think Quentin Bryce hit the nail on the head when she said you can have it all, just not at the same time.
Good luck with everything, you have achieved so much at such a young age, and you'll make a great mum whenever the time comes.
All the best :)

Anthea said...

Erica, I'm in a very similar position - five months away from turning thirty, a 34 year old husband who's dying to be a father, friends having babies left right and centre. Add into the mix the fact I have endometriosis and PCOS so I'm conscious it might not be that easy for me to conceive.

Despite this, I am not quite willing to commit myself to motherhood mainly because I'm terrified of the changes it'll bring to my life (career and finances mainly).

What's more, friends with babies admit that as much as they love their children, motherhood isn't all it's cracked up to be. This scares me.

But as the months go by, it's slowly sinking in that motherhood far outweighs the material things in life such as moving further up the career ladder, buying the latest clothes, having the perfect home etc (as an aside, as a Christian I feel slightly guilty that this feeling isn't inherent in me).

Laura - I think I'll hunt that book suggestion out. I think it would be helpful.

Erica - thanks so much for being so open about this issue.

Anonymous said...

I think everyone needs to remember that despite the 'life is short' line, it isn't really. We may well work into our 70's and beyond.
You really only get your kids for a few years...maybe 5 until they start school and start their own life. So if you work for 40-50 years of your life, what is 5 out of that?? Not nearly enough to kill a career if you are hardworking and passionate. People make out that it is a forever thing...a few years off is sometimes the best way to decide what to do next! And during those few your babies to bits before they aren't babies anymore :)

Lizzie said...

Erica -are you sure you're not reading my mind from afar? :) I have struggled with this same issue for the last two years and am right where you are now - in the middle of friends' baby booms, freaking out about the age factor, and wondering where my 'own life' will be. I think the thought that scares me the most is that there is no life after having a baby (either professionally or your own personal passions), but I have plenty of role models/examples to prove otherwise. So why can't I get my head around it? :) Thanks for bringing this issue up. So many of my girlfriends just made this decision without any sort of hesitation - I would love to have that kind of courage!

Laura said...

Erica, you're so right about work culture not being nurturing of women who choose to take time out to have a family. On the other side of the equation are women who don't necessarily want to make their whole lives about work but aren't sure if they want kids either. Another fantastic book, Kasey Edwards' '30-Something and Over It', contends that 'having a baby is the only socially acceptable way for women to opt out of the workforce'. A very interesting point of view!

adrienne said...

I really admire your honesty, especially your openness about your battle with an eating disorder. I have experienced the same thing, although not to a severe degree and I am so glad I managed to get out of it when I did, but I understand that twisted thought process that still crops up and subconsciously takes hold of my brain. And so with that in mind, I think I can grasp a little of what you're grappling with at the moment. It is a big thing, to let go of control and create something wonderful and bigger than yourself, but I think once you actually do it, you'll realise how strong you actually are.

And another thing, I'm only 22, one year off finishing a degree and I think the race to have baby is something that's kicking in big in my age group. I'm guessing it's a reaction to growing up with Gen X mothers having careers before grappling with fertility issues at a much older age. I think my age group (big generalisation) is wanting to have the dream as soon as they're able, so to avoid the heartache of waiting too long.

I do think women of all ages have this yearning and this idea of a perfect timeline that doesn't always come into fruition. I know I'm already mentally preparing for having a child in the next few years when I feel I'm financially stable.

Anyway, good luck with your decision and best wishes x

Corrie said...

good luck when you're ready to start your family and you have plenty of time. trust me I had my first at 30 and just had my 4th at 34. I have been one baby making machine! I left behind a career in investment banking and salary equal to my hubby's. Regrets...none! I have my blog, an online store and money coming in the door through these sources and know it was the best I've done!!!


I also appreciate your honesty!