3 October 2010, by Tan Yi Lin
Here we go again: Career vs Motherhood. The age-old dilemma.
Except that it’s not really a dilemma that has plagued women since ages past.
Women from our parents’ generation probably didn’t expend too many brain cells agonising over this issue. My aunts and many of my mother’s female colleagues have two or more kids. Most of them had their babies when they were in their twenties. My mum, who had me at 30, my sister at 34, and my brother at 38, was probably considered a late entrant into motherhood. Life seemed pretty straightforward: get job, get married, have kids. Career probably wasn’t high on life’s To Do list. Sure, many of them had, and still have, fulfilling jobs that pay well. But having kids wasn’t an option. Heck, even painkillers during childbirth wasn’t an option. I quote my mum, “Women must go through the full experience of natural childbirth.” Children, childbirth, motherhood and all their duties and roles were accepted without question.
Judging from how my older cousins and female friends are doing, Generation X seems to have walked the path of their predecessors. My nieces and nephews, engrossed in the latest iPhone or iPad games, fill the house at family gatherings. Older colleagues regularly bring their children to the office to say hello. Yea, compared to the era of the Baby Boomers, there are probably more women in this generation who are in favour of achieving their personal or career goals first before starting a family, and thus make a conscious choice to remain single or if married, postpone or decide against being a parent. But looking at the multitude of baby photos populating their Facebook pages, these GenXers seem to be balancing the demands of work and motherhood quite effectively.
GenY: that’s us, aged between 15 and 33. Constant restlessness is said to be our trait. We are a “me” generation, putting our desire for instant gratification before all else. It certainly applies to me:
Sick of practicing law? I quit.
Lured by the idea of joining the travel trade at a quarter of my previous salary? I jumped at the opportunity.
Swept off my feet by this cool funny guy I got to know during an overseas work trip? I married him within a year.
Inspired by a book to backpack in the Americas for a year? Convinced the husband to leave it all behind and come with me.
In essence: I did what I wanted. I lived for myself.
When it comes to the jobs I hold, the shorter the term of the employment contract, the better. Sure, there’s the risk of the contract not being extended or renewed, or being offered a permanent position with the organisation. But to me, it’s a relief to know that when a contract nears its end, by default, that generates options for me to stay or leave. And if I choose the latter, it’s through no fault of mine. Because I didn’t choose to terminate it. Technically, I didn’t quit.
In January 2007, I signed a two-year contract with my current employer, who extended an offer for another two-year term when the first contract expired. Come December, this current contract will end. I have mulled over the idea of moving on to another job. Not that I dislike what I doing, but because the opportunity for change is presenting itself.
So what’s stopping me?
As much as I like my colleagues (many of whom I’ve formed deep friendships with) and the pleasant work space, I accept that changes in co-workers and the location of my office desk are beyond my control. So to cling on to a job just based on these factors does not make good sense.
What is stopping me is the possibility of conception, of pregnancy, of motherhood. Bodies run on their own schedules, which more often than not, do not coincide with people’s work schedules. Taking two long weeks of hospitalisation leave at a stretch for IVF treatment is a privilege that many workers can ill afford, much less when they start a new job. I can just imagine the displeasure of my new bosses and colleagues if I were disappear from work just a few weeks into the job. And only god knows how many attempts at IVF I’ll be making. And if I do conceive thereafter, off I go again for another four months. It’s obviously not an ideal situation to be in.
I’m in a limbo: on one hand, I’ve always believed that you should live the life you want. Only do things you enjoy. Live for yourself only. Career-wise, I’m not even talking about personal ambitions such as climbing the corporate ladder. Or finding fulfilment in serving clients or the community in the line of work. My ambitions aren’t even that noble – I’m just talking about doing a job that I like.
On the other hand, if I’m serious about motherhood, it means putting my children – even if it’s just the possibility of children – before my own flippant wants. Which could mean sticking to a job, and trying to find happiness in it, in return for job security.
And till this day, job security has never been a serious consideration for me. Ever.
It is a difficult choice to make, but I find myself leaning towards staying – for the sake of motherhood.
For the sake of my children. I’ve never imagined that I would say that at such an early stage of planning for parenthood.