From the editors: MotherShould? is interested in how millennials weigh the decision whether or not to have children and/or when to have children. This interview by a 21-year-old college junior reveals how one millennial’s mother has shaped her thinking on having children. The interview also highlights the challenges of being part of the sandwich generation and the silence that shrouded miscarriage twenty years ago and tends to persist today. The interviewee and the interviewer have decided to use pseudonyms here to protect their privacy.
From the interviewer: I’m a 21 year old college student and I chose to interview my mother, Tiffany, 59 year old mom of two. She worked as a dietitian for over 25 years and chose to leave her job. I chose to interview my mother because I feel as though she was different from other moms. Instead of pushing me to find a boyfriend and raising me to be a wife and mother, she taught my sister and I that we have to figure out who we are first as individuals. My mom is one of the many people who inspired me to go after my dreams and never settle for anything less. She is a strong woman with a big heart who worked hard to get to where she is today, and to have my sister and I be the people we are now.
Hannah: You had Erica (my sister) at age 32 and me at age 37. Were the pregnancies different in any way?
Tiffany: I would say being pregnant at 32 was probably a little easier because I could sleep eight hours a night uninterrupted. I was working full time, but I could still sleep; you need extra sleep when you are pregnant. But, that was probably the only difference. See, with you I had a four-year old, I was working full time, and I was pregnant. I was five years older and sleep deprived.
Hannah: Did the doctors say you were “high risk” at age 37 to have a child?
Tiffany: Every time I went to the doctor, they made a determination whether I was high risk or not depending on my blood pressure and my blood value. Fortunately I was never considered “high risk.” But at my age, being after 35, I had a harder chance of getting pregnant. So when I was 35 years old, I went back to my doctor who delivered Erica, and I said that I wanted to have another child, but I am not sure if I want one right now. He said, “You have to get pregnant right away because you are 35. If you wait any longer your fertility rate goes down rapidly.” That was something I did not know. I think women should know that when they are planning on having a family after they’re 35 your fertility rate drops every year and markedly after age 40. So we started to get pregnant right away. Then it took a couple of years because I had a miscarriage.
Hannah: Let’s talk about that. I know you had a miscarriage before I was born. What was the experience like for you? How did you decide to have another child after that experience?
Tiffany: Well, I was 36 when I had the miscarriage. I was 35 when we started to try for another child and then 6 months later, I was pregnant. During the pregnancy, I felt like my body wasn’t reacting well to the pregnancy from the very beginning. I was only 2 months pregnant, first of all. So it wasn’t a long pregnancy. The whole time I was pregnant I didn’t feel good. I felt like there was something wrong.
What they don’t tell you is you can’t see your doctor until your 2.5 to 3 months pregnant. You don’t even see your doctor until you are almost into your second trimester. So I hadn’t even seen my doctor. But I knew I was pregnant because I took those blood tests at the hospital, I got what felt like a heavy period two months later. But it was almost like a relief for me because sometimes you just know to listen to your body; like what’s right and what’s wrong. That pregnancy felt really really wrong.
After the miscarriage, I went to work and took care of my four year old like normal. I don’t know if that is a normal response that other women have. I mean I never really talked about it with other women. So my reaction to the miscarriage was kind of like a relief I felt so much better physically. I kind of mentally prepared for it. I would say things like “I’ll be fine.” There was a lot of denial. I would be so busy that I never really sat down and thought about it. I just said “Oh I’m pregnant. I’ll be seeing the doctor in another four weeks. So I’ll just save all my questions for then.” So I just went about it like it was a normal pregnancy.
But when I look back on it, that’s when I have the wisdom that it wasn’t right from the beginning. Because it felt so different than my first pregnancy and my body felt not right. So I don’t know if that prepared me for the impending miscarriage on a subconscious level; most of this was subconscious. Because I have never really spoken out loud about this before. Not even to Derek [my dad]. I never really talked about something being wrong with my baby. But when I started bleeding after two months I was like “Oh yeah.”
When I had my miscarriage, at 8 weeks, it felt like having a really heavy period. I remember the cramps. It was not as painful as going through a birth, but they were really painful. I remember talking to my doctor on the phone and he said, “You’re fine.You don’t need to come in.” So my primary concern was: Is everything okay? My doctor said to wait to get pregnant for 30 days and then try again. That’s what we did, and I got pregnant right away.
Hannah: Where were my dad and Erica when all this happened?
Tiffany: Your father and your sister were not at home. It was interesting because it was February, and it was after we got this huge snowstorm and your father went off to California and took Erica with him because he was visiting his family. I was alone in the house.
Hannah: What do you think caused the miscarriage?
Tiffany: It wasn’t my fault. When I look back at it I realized that there was something wrong with the pregnancy from the FIRST DAY I was pregnant. It felt like it wasn’t going to work. I don’t know if other women have that kind of “internal wisdom” but I tried to push those feelings away. Of course because you don’t want to think that. So for 8 weeks, I tried not to think about it. I tried to tell myself, “Oh it’s just a different pregnancy. You could be having a boy.” Like I said I hadn’t even been to the doctors, so I didn’t really talk about it much to anybody.
I feel like since it was my first experience having a miscarriage, and I already had a child, my feelings are different from the vast majority of women who have this experience. It would be very different for a woman to go through this if they had been trying to get pregnant for so long or they found out they were having troubles with their fertility. It would have made the miscarriage so much worse.
When I got pregnant with you the difference between the pregnancies were that with you I felt queasy, and my sense of smell was heightened. This pregnancy felt similar to when I was pregnant with Erica. But with the miscarriage pregnancy, it didn’t feel this way.
Hannah: What was it like to work and take care of an infant?
Tiffany: I had three-month maternity leave. I had to use my vacation time and sick time. So I had to save them. Most of the time I got a paycheck, which really helped. We really needed two paychecks to get by. Erica was in daycare since she was 3 months old. Same as I did with you. Going back to work was difficult because I was really tired. Erica wasn’t sleeping through the night, and I was breastfeeding. I tried to breastfeed and work but I couldn’t do both. I don’t know if other women can, but I could not. Breastfeeding took a lot of energy out of me. The fact that I wasn’t sleeping all the way through the night, and I was working full time, I came to the decision that something had to give. So what I did was I gave up the breastfeeding, and I wish I didn’t have to do that.
When I had you it was really different. Erica was now a toddler. I had to keep her life as predictable and stable as possible. So she went to the same daycare, went for the exact same hours; her life had to stay the same. We kept my husband’s schedule the same. Then I had you at home with me for three months. It was just the two of us. I breastfed you then for three months and just remember it being a very happy time. I was very very happy being at home with you. That was the first time I thought that I didn’t want to go back to work. But I had to go back to work because we needed one and a half incomes to pay the mortgage.
Hannah: You finally decided to leave your career when Erica was 17 and I was 12. Why did you decide to leave your career?
Tiffany: Well my mom got sick, and she didn’t want to go into a nursing home. She didn’t want to go into an assisted living. She also was a widower and lived on her own. I started helping her. I am in what is called “the sandwich generation.” That is when you have kids to take care of and then you are taking care of your sick parent as well. But the thing is, you can’t do everything. I had a senior in high school, I had a 7th grader, I had a sick mom. Derek’s mom had just passed. He was, you know, grieving. It was all just too much. I don’t know how other women deal with that kind of stress, but for me, personally, it was my point where I just needed to take a step back.
So I started to drop back hours. I was doing a consulting job and working a full time job so I was working more than full time. So I cut the consulting job back, and then I cut some of the days back. So I did it gradually. I felt as though I had responsibility for taking care of my mother because she took care of me. So my mom was one of the reasons I left my career.
Another reason was because of you. Erica was going off to college. So I knew the stress I was feeling about Erica was going to be temporary because senior year is a very stressful time. She was applying to colleges, and we had to visit all the colleges she was applying to. So she was going to leave for school soon. That was also my regret because I knew I wasn’t home for Jenna much after school. With you growing out of the YMCA after school program in middle school, I knew it wasn’t working for you anymore [I was bullied by the mean girls a lot.] I wanted to give you more attention. I wanted to be home for you because my mom always worked when I was growing up. There are two roads you can take: One being the happy road to college and being taught your full potential. The other road you can take is not achieving your dreams. I needed to keep you on the right path. I started to feel like this when you were in elementary school. But I couldn’t figure out how to do it because we still needed the money. Whether you are male or female, we still have the financial responsibility to our children. I felt that financial responsibility 100%. My husband and I are the same when it comes to that sort of thing. We both contribute to the family financially as equals. I wanted to do the right thing by you, and I wanted to do the right thing for my mom.
Hannah: When you were at home, did you ever have a moment where you regretted your decision to leave your career?
Tiffany: Now, I know I complain about having a black hole in my resume, however I do not regret leaving my career. It was the best decision I ever made. I know it was the right thing to do.
Hannah: You always told Erica and me to never marry your highschool sweetheart and to wait until we were in our 30s to have children; to follow our career goals and make a name for ourselves first. Why did you teach us that?
Tiffany: That was the wisdom my mom taught me. So I pass it down because it was very helpful to me. I think that when you are 18 you don’t know who you really want to be with. You don’t really know who a good partner would be because you don’t really know yourself. In your 30s, if you worked in your career and are earning good money, you have the confidence to pick the right partner. You also change so much from 20 to 30. What you want and need are different. Marrying the right person is one of the most important choices in your life.You really have to marry the right person for you. It takes maturity to know what that looks like, what that feels like. In your 20s is a great time to date other people and build a career for yourself that you actually love/like.
Hannah: What are you doing now that your children are all grownup and out of the house?
Tiffany: Well I am working on my business and I’m doing a lot of things art related.
Hannah: If Erica and I eventually do get married and have children, what advice would you give us about balancing our careers and spending time with our children?
Tiffany: Everybody is different. You have to have an “internal dialogue” with yourself every day. Make sure you’re happy. Don’t sacrifice your own happiness because there is always a way to figure it out. You can change things. It’s like having two full time jobs. You have a full time job at work and the stresses of getting up early everyday to go to work everyday working 8 hours everyday. Another full time job is taking care of the baby. So it is basically like working two full time jobs. So it’s tough. You are going to have many sleepless nights. But just try to be as happy as you can doing that. Know that every stage that you go through with the children changes. It’s never the same. First they are teething and crying and then it changes. They start walking and talking. It always changes. If you also are with the right person you’ll always be 100%. Your kid will have two 100% parents being there for them. You can’t be 50/50 with your partner parenting. You both have to be 100%. So if one of you gets sick, your child still has a parent that is there for them. Derek is such a great partner because he was taught from his mom to view his partner as his equal. I am his equal, and he can pass that onto you guys as well.
At the end of the day when you are trying to balance your career and raising children, there should be no regrets. Usually people don’t regret working more, but they regret not spending enough time with the people they love.