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Opinion: On Working and Having Babies

By:  Jory Des Jardins Dec 5, 2012
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Jory Des Jardins


Bless you Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo, for taking on new motherhood while in the throes of rebuilding a corporate juggernaut. I'm not joking!

While you are hardly the first CEO/Mama to exist, you took the job at the height of your career, which just happened to coincide with those years when mothers/gynecologists/childbearing friends start to needle with good intentions about the approach of the "cliff" — you know the one; when good ovarian eggs suddenly become less easy to come by. You were in a position of power, and already pregnant, when the Yahoo board concluded that they needed your talents. You didn't need to be apologetic or cryptic about your intentions to have a baby when things were less hectic, or when the time was "right." You know the cosmic joke: The time is never right.

Like you, I had my first baby in my later 30s and had my second daughter three months ago, at age 40. I must confess, while I was in the "thinking about" stages of building a family (something I hadn't even contemplated until age 36, as I was quite busy starting a company and not thinking about making babies), I wondered if others might think I wasn't serious about my career now that I was having kids. I was also uncomfortable — having done many things professionally at a relatively young age — being in the position of the newbie and asking 25-year-old moms how to get a kid to latch properly.

During my pregnancies, I was aware that some people had judgments. I went to an executive function during the last trimester of my last pregnancy, and one male exec said to me, "Aren't you a bit old to have kids now?" I wasn't sure if he meant biologically old, or too far in my career to have to now manage babies at the height of their neediness. Women who were sitting near me insisted that the question was nonsense — women are having babies later now, they said, after they've established their careers. But when I asked them when they had their children they said that their kids were older or even grown up. They got the baby-making phase of their lives "out of the way" early in their careers.

When I learned I was pregnant with my first child, I agonized about whom to tell and when. I reasoned that raising children was my right, a right that plenty of male executives exercised. But to actually BEAR those children — well, it's a different commitment than a man's, at least in the pre- and early post-natal term. During both pregnancies I made plans to work at full speed — including travel — up to the very last possible moment. I pushed myself harder than usual in order to prove I wasn't less committed to my career now that I was going to be a parent. I took mental note of all the powerful women execs who were parents and wondered when they managed to fit the kids in. You see, there isn't a lot of how-to out there about having babies and high-powered careers. You can read a lot about preparing for little sleep and negotiating a maternity leave, but so many of the women executives I talked to confided that they winged it, often kept their Mommy status on the down-low, and even paid out-of-pocket to take their nannies and babies with them on international trips to make the transition unnoticeable to colleagues and bosses.

But even with an air-tight system of nannies, assistants and various professionals there to help, there remains the inevitable identity shift that occurs when you become someone's Mama. I recall being on a flight back from New York to San Francisco (one of many I took the first year of my older daughter's life) and realizing that, you know what? I'd rather be home tucking her in. You'll be able to rationalize these bouts of momminess and get back to the email at hand, but you can't turn it off indefinitely.

Marissa, I read the articles about the various camps of judgment over your move to Yahoo. Some praised your decision of taking a high-profile position while pregnant, and some condemned it. Some argued that with your considerable compensation package you could hire all the help you needed to nurture your baby while you handled business. I suppose all this is true. But even with resources that many non-CEO working moms could only dream about, there's the biological tug that you may feel being a mom that makes a demanding job even more demanding. It sometimes feels like a sacrifice, even when you are lucky enough to afford help. Even knowing that you don't want to be a part- or full-time stay-at-home Mom, you may still wonder what it's like to spend more time with your child.

I don't mean to say you should feel guilty about your choice. Frankly, I would have made the same choice to step up the career if I'd been offered. I'm only saying that as a Mom and CEO, life won't be painless. You may get pangs in the least-appropriate situations —in boardrooms, in TV interviews. You may feel a little lessened when you perceive that your kid laughs a bit more with his caregiver than he does with you. You might sense that you are not as bonded to him as you were when he was just born. And you may not take yourself so seriously when you remember that earlier that day, you were wiping someone's butt.

But I congratulate you on your choice to step it up. And I hope that, while you don't owe anyone details on how you are managing this choice, you will be open to talking about it and sharing your experiences with other working moms, even if, as you said in a recent interview, raising a kid is "easy." I can't speak for everyone, but I won't judge.

This article was originally posted on Jory Des Jardins’s blog From Here to Autonomy on July 25, 2012 and was updated for this post. 


Jory Des Jardins is the co-founder and president of strategic alliances for BlogHer, Inc., the largest community of women who blog, with 50 million unique visitors per month.