As a new professional, I’ve worked hard over the last couple of years to establish a five-year plan that would help me reach my personal, career, and academic goals. This summer, I attended a professional meeting and met several women who, like me, were ambitious, focused, and driven to achieve their goals. They were at all stages in their career and academic endeavors, and their accomplishments and energy excited me even further. When I came home, I felt absolutely motivated to start a new academic year and forge ahead toward my goals.
Less than a week after returning home, I found myself staring at a small white stick on my bathroom counter, watching two pink lines become darker and harder to doubt. Immediately I was overcome with fear and, shortly thereafter, guilt. Although I had always imagined the day I found out I was expecting would be an overwhelmingly happy one, I had somehow found myself in a mixed state of shock, excitement and distress instead.
I thought about the two short years of marriage I had spent with my husband all to myself and mourned the loss of our “freedom.” I thought about how it would be nearly impossible to keep up the aggressive pace I had set for my doctoral program. I thought about rare weekends when the pressures of work and school weren’t so intense, when I would sleep in or spend the better part of the day reading and watching movies. And then, of course, I felt ashamed that these selfish thoughts were my reaction—particularly as my husband, while also surprised, was absolutely overjoyed.
Thankfully, I have a remarkable network of support. Although I often stumbled awkwardly through my announcement, women (and men) I look up to simply light up when I share my news. Even the biggest supporters of my career and PhD goals reacted with immediate and sincere happiness upon learning that I would be a parent.
I opened up to a few trusted mentors about my feelings of fear and uncertainty. One of my friends and role models, with whom I shared a long and honest conversation, followed up with me to make sure I knew it was OK to be scared. “I worry that I was just too excited!” she told me. “I want you to know I heard your feelings and I totally get it.” Then she made the simple but significant offer to be there to listen when I needed her. Others shared stories that, without minimizing my experience, helped put things in perspective. I know that I am blessed to have a committed and excited partner and supportive family and friends, to be financially stable, and to have been able to become and stay pregnant.
If I’m honest, as time passes, I’m not sure I feel less scared about what is in store for me this spring; but I do feel less guilty. I am thankful for friends and colleagues who assure me that my feelings of anxiety and uncertainty paired with happiness are normal. I’ve been encouraged by women I admire who have honestly shared their own stories—from those who have seemed to have it all together but confided that they had similar fears about parenthood, to women who I would have never known now wish they had made having children a priority when they were younger.
It occurs to me that what we know about most of our professional role models and colleagues is just a sliver of who they are. A few months ago, I never would have thought to ask the women I connected with at that conference or my mentors at home about the decisions they made around having a family. Today, I understand well how choices in our personal lives are intimately connected to our professional decisions. I am extraordinarily thankful for the openness of my own role models, and although I am generally a quite private person, I felt inspired by their sharing to write a very personal blog post today. As a network of women we have the precious opportunity to support, encourage, and affirm one another in all of our different endeavors.
Mary C. Jordan is the coordinator for academic residential programs at the University of Florida and a doctoral student in UF’s College of Education. Follow her on Twitter: @marycsjordan