My second speaking engagement this week was to the Leaders of Today and Tomorrow (LOTT) leadership conference. I was actually really looking forward to this, as I was one of a panel, and we were basically just asked to talk about ourselves (see how that fits into the raging narcissist bit?), how we got into international work, and what advice we would give to women interested in the same fields.
I was lucky enough to be on a panel with two other smart, much more experienced women, so I learned alot just by being there. Echoing my experience earlier in the week, the women asked alot about money (how did you manage to follow your dreams when the bills are knocking at the door?), juggling family and dreams, and what I've come to acknowledge as the Baby Issue.
Ah yes, the Baby Issue. One that every woman must contemplate (some longer than others), or maddeningly, is contemplated for her. My my uncle said the other day that he and our hometown pastor had talked and both agreed: I'd better "hurry up. The clock is ticking." My uncle is one thing - he actually understands these issues - but I find it more than a little creepy that my pastor is thinking - and has an opinion on - my babymaking junk!
Admittedly, this gets even trickier when you throw an international trip (or three) in there. How does one even begin to date, let alone start a family, when you have to leave for Pakistan in a week? My male (and also perpetually single) colleague and I contemplate this often. One, it's very hard to find someone who can locate Pakistan on the map and two, is cool with you running off there (where you might not come back).
The answer: it all comes down to choices. I personally don't see this as just a male/female issue, as both genders have to make -and are beholden to the consequences of - their choices. It will mean my partner and I (or just me, who knows?) making the choice to stay home and enjoy toddler hugs rather than work on a grant that brings fresh water to Iraqi widows. At some point, that flexibility of being able to stay in Sri Lanka for six weeks is gonna have to give (which is why I'm enjoying the crap out of it now). It also means supporting my female colleague who have to leave at 2:30 because their children are sick, even though you had an important meeting with them at 3. (In this case, I hope the flexibility I'm paying in comes back to me...)
One of the panelists mentioned that she had many professional female friends who were workaholics really struggled with dating, marriage and the Baby Issue. "And some of these women," she warned, "Have decided to go it alone, either biologically or through adoption, thus becoming single mothers on top of everything else!"
To which I thought to myself: Since when did becoming a (gasp) "single mother" become a pejorative term? But that's another story for another blogpost.
What I wanted to tell these women is what I mentioned at the end of my previous post: be comfortable with the grey areas. Make friends with not getting everything you want and not pleasing everyone all the time. I don't know what the answers are, only that I know much like the earlier non-baby part of my life, choices will have to be made - and lived with.
The strange - and frustrating - thing about the Baby Issue, is that everyone seems to have an opinion about it, when in actuality, I'm the only one who has to be comfortable with it.
And the part that I really, really struggle with is not the Baby Issue, it's finding the grace to just smile in the face of everyone else's opinion's about my babymaking junk. That just gets harder and harder with time.