Blogging has been pretty lackluster here for a while, and I suppose I alluded to why a few weeks ago: a combination of busy season with work and feeling under the weather. And I can now clarify: by “under the weather” I mean morning sickness. And by “morning sickness” I mean all day nausea and exhaustion. (I described it to my husband as “like having a severe hangover, every day, all day, for two and half months–interrupted by occasional bouts of food poisoning.”)
Last week, I turned 38, and this little guy turned 14 weeks old:
He arrives in June, and we’re thrilled and grateful. (And mildly terrified, as we probably should be.)
Apparently, the crappier I feel, the healthier it is for him, so I remind myself of that while I sit in meetings trying not to vomit on my colleagues. I tend to over-schedule myself with projects, and thankfully I didn’t do that for Q4, even though we had no idea the baby was coming. But even so, it’s a big adjustment to find your energy levels sapped to half of what they usually are, and still try to function like a normal (much less productive) human being.
But it’s also made me very aware of the incredible privileges I enjoy that many people don’t. I work for myself essentially, so while I tend to book more than the standard 40 hours of work a week, I also control my time to a certain extent and can modify my schedule to accommodate things like doctor’s appointments, and if I’m really feeling like death warmed over, turn a meeting into a conference call. (I spend half my time at Flavorpill, and the co-founders, Mark Mangan and Sascha Lewis, have been incredibly understanding, which I really appreciate.) I also have a incredibly supportive husband, whose empathy and efforts have made all of it much easier. I am exceedingly lucky, and aware that many women are not.
So I’ve been following the case of Peggy Young (the former UPS worker whose suit against her former employer is now being argued in the Supreme Court) with a lot of personal interest. Critics of Young argue that her pregnancy was a personal decision and the company shouldn’t have to accommodate her as a result, because why should other people subsidize her desire to have children?
But if we treat the decision to have a child as some sort of recreational, entirely optional voluntary activity, we have to admit that only women are penalized for it at work. A thought experiment: My husband and I worked together at The New York Observer, and I was his boss. I made more money than he did, and if we’d been married then, and I had gotten pregnant, it would have been a mutual decision, not one that I made unilaterally.
And if biology were not a factor and we lived in an alternate sci-fi universe where men were capable of carrying children, we might have made a rational decision that he carry the child instead of me. After all, if I had to miss work, we’d take a bigger hit to our collective income than if he did. But that’s not the reality. If we decide to have a child, I am the one who absorbs the physical toll of it for nine months and there’s no getting around that, absent hiring a surrogate. If the Observer had accommodated me in that situation, they wouldn’t just be subsidizing my decision to have a child, they’d be ensuring that my husband could make the decision to be a father as well. For every woman having a child, there is usually a spouse or significant other somewhere who made the same decision but will face no negative repercussions for it professionally. And you don’t see anyone framing a man’s decision to have a child as anything less than admirable. It’s not a “voluntary decision” he made in lieu of focusing on his career.
So I feel for Peggy Young and women like her who are treated by their employers as if the normal difficulties of pregnancy–and the decision to have a child at all–are a failure of work ethic and possibly character. Life isn’t fair, but we have a moral obligation to make it as just as we can. And this isn’t something only women should be fighting for. If you’re a man and you think you want kids in the future, or you have them already, you should have a vested interest in making sure the woman who bears your children isn’t punished for it.