Get Ask Polly delivered weekly.
The last six months or so have been a huge pile of shit. I quit my executive job at a large corporation to have more balance in my life. I was traveling a ton and felt I didn’t have enough time for certain things in my life (my husband, friends/family, exercise, cooking, reading, etc.). I joined my family’s small business and have been working with them for about eight months. Long story short, I don’t like it. I thought having more work-life balance was enough to just feel better, but it turns out that doing something you are interested in and that uniquely leverages your skill set is important to feeling fulfilled.
I guess the easy answer to this is to get out and get my corporate career path back on track. BUT, about six months ago, we decided to start trying to have a kid. I got off birth control, which has caused horrible hormonal acne (not fun and frankly depressing), and I was able to get pregnant in December but then miscarried shortly after (not fun and frankly crushing). In December, I also managed to get a multiple muscle strain in my right leg, which still has not healed and does not allow me to exercise much anymore (a great outlet that has made me feel balanced and happier in the past). We continue to try to have a kid, and it frankly sucks. It is stressful, and it’s just not happening. Given that we are trying to have a kid, trying to recalibrate my career path seems like the wrong timing.
We live in Canada, so jumping to a new job and then getting pregnant and taking my one year of maternity leave seems weird and further disorienting. I feel like I am in a bad period in my life, which I’m sure will pass but something’s got to give. With every negative thing, I try to find something to take solace in, but it seems like everywhere I turn there is a dead end or some new issue to deal with. I’m fed up and need any advice for a coping strategy that isn’t “just relax.” Thank you in advance for your help, and of course I want to recognize these are all First World problems.
Trying and Failing
Dear Trying and Failing,
First World or not, when you make a big life choice thinking it will make you happier and instead it depresses you and makes you even more stressed out? That’s a big deal. Throw in a miscarriage and a new job you dislike — where your distaste plays out AMONG FAMILY and can therefore be taken personally, internalized, and induce guilt — you’re talking major trouble. And now you’re injured so you can’t do what you normally do to feel better. And oh yeah, and you’re still trying to get pregnant, but it feels doomed.
Why is it that pregnancy-related troubles and job-related challenges FOR WOMEN are so often summed up as First World problems? I don’t hear men apologizing for falling into a funk after a big career misstep. And if men had babies, fertility issues would be discussed out in the open, over beers, mentioned by sports announcers left and right. (“LeBron’s shot is a little off but that’s understandable, he’s been trying to get pregnant for two years now!” “Man, that’s a rough road.” “Don’t I know it, Bob!”)
Women need to stop apologizing whenever they go through something difficult, as if all of our struggles amount to shameful personal failures. Trying to get pregnant can be an enormous challenge — emotionally, physically, mentally (and often financially, too). Even when you don’t have trouble, it can be difficult to make the transition from hard-charging career woman to mother. And when you care about your career, it’s a big deal to downshift or just make life changes for the sake of having a family.
It’s also frustrating that so many people assume that the answer for every woman is to downshift. Forget that most of us feel good when we’re moving forward, doing a lot, balancing different roles. Everyone says the same thing: “SLOW DOWN, BABY-MAKER!” Like you can’t get pregnant unless you turn your whole life into an around-the-clock day spa.
That’s why it’s hard for women to talk about these things. Because if you speak up about career choices or your attempts to get pregnant, the problem is never that the world doesn’t make much space for parents to balance kids with their careers. The problem is that you’re doing too much, moving too fast when instead you should be smiling sweetly and meditating and doing yoga in your feeding pen until you get knocked up. But in my experience, the more you try to be the Zen cow you’re supposed to be, the more stressed out and enraged you become. I love the Zen cows of the world, mind you, with their glowing skin and their minimalist, organic, macrobiotic lives, in which every goddamn thing sparks joy, joy, joy. But very few of us are really cut out to live that way, and even fewer have the cash to pull it off. The rest of us are still going to try, possibly because we’ve been taught to hate ourselves, hate our bulk, hate our clutter — literally taught to hate every single millimeter of extra space we take up and every single decibel of extra sound we make. So most of us fail and — big surprise! — hate ourselves for it.
I’m not saying don’t meditate or de-clutter. But you shouldn’t have to pretend that IT’S ALL GOOD under your current circumstances. Instead, I suggest you make the radical-feminist choice to take up some extra space and make some extra noise right now. Let the people around you know that you’re in crisis. Let them know that trying to get pregnant is really fucking weird and intense and it doesn’t just feel like a personal failure when you miscarry or fail to get pregnant month after month, it feels like a moral failure. Not loving your new downshifted job feels like a moral failure. Wanting to be back in the traveling, exciting, corporate world feels like a moral failure. Why can’t you just be happy in your pen? You’re a selfish First World bitch, that’s why! And yet what are you supposed to be doing? Sweetly complying with a job you don’t like while learning to relax?
From the tone of your letter, that’s not you. And when you say so out loud, you make more room for other women who don’t want to do sun salutations instead of participating in the working world. Standing up for who you are: That’s feminism. And it’ll be good for your kids, when you have them, to have a mother who knows who she is and what she wants, even if she’s not right there gasping in awe over every poop. Kids whose mothers value themselves grow up to value women, too.
So next time someone tells you to relax, tell that person that they don’t seem to understand: You’re having a crisis. You’re at a crossroads. You’re struggling. And if they won’t drop it, if they won’t accept that you want the things you want, if they won’t make space for you to be who you are, that’s when you tell them (in the words of J. Cole), “Get the fuck off my dick.”
Trying to get pregnant: I know it sucks. But you haven’t been trying that long. You got pregnant once. That’s a good sign. Every single woman I know who’s had a kid also had a miscarriage at some point. You should also consider the possibility that you ovulate very, very early. By early, I mean two days after the last day of your period. Doctors and online forums often act like most people ovulate exactly 15 days into any cycle, but that’s not remotely true. That said, I don’t recommend using an ovulation kit every month unless you want to murder yourself and everyone you know. Use it once or twice, make an estimate based on when you have cramps and other ovulation symptoms, and adjust your schedule accordingly. I know that’s a lot of detail, but this is the kind of bullshit we would know if men got pregnant and therefore talked about their ovulation cycles at sporting events and congressional hearings and so forth.
Honestly, I think it’s a mistake to delay or change your life drastically in order to get pregnant. I’ve seen a lot of women grow more and more frustrated with their infertility and their lives when they put themselves in that situation. It’s extremely stressful to say, “First I’m getting pregnant (ANY DAY NOW!!) and then I’m going to grad school” or “I can’t start this career until after I have a baby.” Sometimes the most relaxing things you do are things you’re ALREADY doing, e.g., working at a job you love, exercising the way you like to exercise, spending time with people you care about, eating the way you like to eat. When I tried to get pregnant with my second kid, I stopped going on 4-mile runs because I thought I had an “excuse” to slow down. (Okay, maybe I was looking for an excuse to stop exercising.) But the less I ran, the more depressed and stressed out I got. And I kept calculating due dates based on “If I get pregnant by March, then we can …” or “This way, I’ll be pregnant by July and …” Recalibrating your life plans every damn month based on whether or not you get your period is not relaxing.
You miss your old job, and you’re afraid to start a new job if you’re just going to take maternity leave soon — but I say cross that bridge when you come to it. Go for the job you want and don’t feel like you have to warn them that you’re in your childbearing years. The fact that people get pissed off at women who take jobs and then get pregnant is asinine to me. It can take years to get pregnant. Are we supposed to be unemployed in the meantime? Fuck that. Live your damn life.
Living your life also means finding new workouts that won’t exacerbate your injury. I recommend the P90x3 set of DVDs because it includes routines diverse enough that you can do, say, arms and core stuff without reinjuring your leg. Obviously, sometimes you really do have to sit on your ass. But nine times out of ten, if you have an injury, you can find other ways to exercise. Do some research and experiment. As you get older, you’re going to get injured, period. The wider the variety of workouts you have in your arsenal, the less chance you’ll (a) get hurt in the first place and (b) go to seed and promptly lose your fucking mind every time you strain a muscle. (And after you have a kid, you’re going to want to do more balance and strength workouts than you did before, in order to counteract the weird enfeebled state you can land in after lying around breastfeeding while barely sleeping for months on end.)
The broader lesson here? Don’t make important parts of your life contingent on factors that are uncertain or out of your control. When a guy says, “I need my career to take off before I get married” and he’s 35 years old and loves his partner but he’s waiting to direct his first movie? NO. Don’t neglect everything else while you try to win some career lottery. Or when a woman says, “I need to find a husband first, then I’ll buy an apartment”? Bad idea. If you want to buy an apartment and you can afford it, for fuck’s sake, pull the trigger now. You’ll build equity and you might feel less anxious about the husband thing once you feel more settled.
Life events don’t always happen in the exact order you expect them to. Be flexible. And don’t make big assumptions about what you’ll want once you start a new job or get pregnant or have a kid. Maybe you’ll look for jobs right now and find the perfect job and love it, and you’ll be grateful that you didn’t wait. Maybe you’ll look for a new job and just looking will help you to realize that you’re happier not working as much. Maybe you’ll take a new job you don’t love but then you’ll be thrilled to go on maternity leave. Maybe you’ll discover that you don’t want to stay at home with your baby. Maybe you’ll like staying home with a baby more than you imagined you would. Keep an open mind and forgive yourself for reacting in ways you didn’t expect.
But most of all: When things don’t go according to plan, don’t blame yourself. You’re not “wrong” for having left your job. You aren’t clairvoyant and had no way of predicting how it would feel to leave. You don’t have to be right about everything, even after the fact. You can walk around saying, “I’m having a hard time, and I’m not sure I want this job,” and your friends and family will adjust. If they don’t seem to be adjusting, give them a clear GET THE FUCK OFF MY DICK look and say nothing. This will speed up their adjustment time.
You’ve hit a rough spot. It’s okay to say that out loud, to cry about it, to give yourself some space to feel disappointed and sad and pissed off. Try not to be mad at yourself for being here. Honestly, that can be 80 percent of the pain — blaming yourself for the pain. You’re a complex person dealing with some heavy shit. Own it.
Once you admit how hard this time is and forgive yourself for struggling with it, things will get easier. You’ll be ready to exercise a little, and look into new jobs, and soon, trying to get pregnant won’t seem impossible. You’ll be ready to face whatever comes next.
Get Ask Polly delivered weekly.
All letters to email@example.com become the property of Ask Polly and New York Media LLC and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.