One night a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting around a cheese-laden table with eight girlfriends from law school. The evening was intended to be a light-hearted affair, time spent together before we go our separate ways after graduation next year. But the conversation resulted in a collective breakdown as we all discussed the idea that we cannot “have it all.”
Some of us are working for law firms next year, others are continuing on to study, while the rest take each day as it comes. Despite our different plans, we comprise a group of driven, talented women. But when everyone started to openly despair about their looming failure of maintaining a family life/work balance, I realised I hadn’t considered these issues that were causing minor levels of hysteria in my friends.
Fertility is a subject that my teachers discuss, too. My company law professor dedicated half a lecture to talking about the depressing statistics of women in business leadership (she totally had a Sheryl Sandberg moment), and my political science lecturer told us about Silicon Valley offering to freeze women’s eggs as a part of their employment package. Everyone is desperately searching for a solution. The problem is the solution will not be the same for every woman.
I am 23, and a few of my friends are married and have kids. I, on the other hand, have yet to meet a guy I would consider sharing a dessert with, let alone co-parent with. So the thought of when I will have children hasn’t crossed my mind. I have been too busy—passing uni, occasionally going out for a burger (the extent of my social life) and trying to work out what I want my life to look like after tertiary education—to even contemplate my pending family.
But listening to my friends worry about this issue that I thought only people like Lena Dunham talked about was a huge reality check. These questions that society and my friends were asking were ones that I needed to answer for myself.
How much does my career matter to me? How much do I want children? How will I achieve a balance in life? Will I meet someone I want to have kids with before I am 30? If not, will I need to freeze my eggs, adopt, or have a surrogate?
These questions are simply too big to answer at 23. I haven’t even entered that illusive “real world” working adults like to lord over me. But I need to start brainstorming answers, nevertheless, due to the recent synchronised start of my career and biological clock. I need to learn how I want to reconcile both my personal life and career, because society still makes this line difficult for women to walk. This is because professional jobs require long hours, the possibility of further study, and ladders to climb. Fitting a personal life and children into the mix is an unnatural fit. I do not want to be crazy and career-obsessed—I want to have time to be a loving and committed mother, but I also want to be fulfilled professionally.
I have realised that part of the solution, at least for me, is having the confidence to say I am determined to have it all. Doesn’t that sound entitled and selfish? A young woman saying, “Yes, please, let me have everything.” But I am going to say it because more of us need to.
Throughout history there have been women who have sacrificed either their career or their family in order to pursue the other. One of the most iconic and powerful women in history, Queen Elizabeth I, wasn’t prepared to balance the two. She chose to become completely dedicated to her reign, and avoid becoming vulnerable through a marriage alliance, even if it meant never producing an heir. Even humble heroines such as Nurse Florence Nightingale and Jean Batton, a New Zealand aviatrix, chose their profession, and consequently, sacrificed family life.
As a society, we have not developed to a point where this discussion has become historical context. While many modern women have been able to find a balance, the default position, as evidenced by the reaction of my friends, is that you cannot have both.
But I shall say it again. I want to have it all. If Marie Curie could win two Nobel prizes, and discover two new elements while having children at the end of the 19th century, then obviously a balance is possible. I have witnessed many professional women find this balance. We now live in a world where that it is common and possible. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is a hard balance to find and maintain. The terror we were all experiencing at the dinner party was that we, individually, would not successfully find that balance. However, we were all sleep deprived and exhausted from five years of study. It is hardly a recipe for rational thinking.
Right now kids aren’t an option for me; developing a career is. So I am going to take that step first, and worry about the next as I am making it. If situations, like work meetings vs. kids soccer games, having children later in life, or taking time off work to take care of a sick child occur, I will be in a great position if I still have friends I can talk to about it. That is half the problem dealt with: knowing I am not alone. While the dinner party took a distressing turn for some, I left feeling optimistic. I discovered true solidarity in talking to other young women about this. Everyone wants to find this balance, no one put their hands in the air in surrender. That alone shows we are standing on the shoulders of women that have gone before us, who fought to make this balance attainable. And maybe by boldly claiming “I want to have it all” I may discover I am one of many staking my claim that this will be my future.
So here’s to adult decisions, here’s to fertility, and here’s to having it all.