Four hands. Four feet. Two babies. Two completely shocked parents. “Do you see what I see?” the technician asks. I gulped. It’s unmistakable. My husband and I are now the parents of two of the smallest creatures I have ever seen; I am going to be a twin mom.
Twins weren’t in the plan. We thought we’d try for one and, if we were fortunate enough to conceive, would see how we managed before even discussing the possibility of a second child. Life, or from a more practical point of view, my basic biology, had a different agenda: two eggs, two sperm, and two new life forms, who would grow side-by-side for the next several months into early adulthood. We were unprepared, yes, but our surprise quickly turned into pure joy. I’d accepted our new reality. Two became four: eight hands, eight feet, and a lifetime of adventures ahead.
It wasn’t until later that a different reality began to set in for me. I was no longer responsible for just one life, but two, and everything I couldn’t control came rushing to the forefront of my mind. I saw images of school shootings, rising temperatures and increased natural disasters due to climate change, white supremacists marching in the streets, and a racist, sexist administration that separates children from their families and condones hatred. My children would one day be exposed to all of this, and it was all my fault.
The thought that lingered most — that caused me to experience panic attacks and fits of tears — didn’t have anything to do with politics or the environment, but everything to do with me. I’m utterly terrified I won’t measure up to my children’s standards, won’t provide them with the best life possible, and won’t set an example of how to be a loving, productive person. The deeper I dug into these insecurities, the more I realized how many of them stemmed from work.
I’ve always believed I’m more valuable when I’m creative. I left my full-time job in favor of a freelance career two years ago, and I feel at my best when I’m pitching, writing, and ideating different stories — everything from parenting pieces to stories about sex dolls and sexual fetishes to commentary on domestic and international affairs. And while I should have felt inspired by the two new people in my life, I found myself feeling paralyzed.
Freelancing is both a blessing and a curse. You set your hours, work from wherever there’s WiFi and, sometimes, come up with your own angles. If you’re lucky, you have a few regular clients or editors who provide you with enough work to pay the bills and allow you to dive into the bigger, riskier projects you truly love — the deep dives on fascinating topics you feel compelled to tell, the short stories that pop into your head before you go to sleep at night, and the novel you’ve been slowly chipping away at for years. I consider myself one of these fortunate few.
That’s not to say things are easy. Formulating pitches, interviewing sources, and contacting editors take hours of labor, and unless a publication wants a piece, that work is unpaid. The rejections sting, but they’re not nearly as daunting as the unpredictable and ever-changing landscape of freelance and in-house writing and journalism.
This year, major media companies such as Vice, BuzzFeed, Verizon, and Gannett laid off more than 2,200 employees. Each company had different reasons. Some were restructuring, others were permanently closing, and some voiced concerns about their budgets. Thousands of talented, hard-working media workers were forced to figure out their next steps. Writers I know and admire scrambled in the aftermath, tweeting their resumes, past bylines, and experience in hopes that anyone might have a solution. I selfishly thought, “If these journalists, some of whom helped win Pulitzer prizes for their media organizations, could lose their positions, what chances for success could I possibly have?”
Writing is competitive. Millions of people have compelling perspectives and stories to tell. To be successful, you have to be sharp, know what makes readers tick, and consistently crank out strong ideas. (Or, you have to be wealthy, which is a topic for another day.) You have to network, put yourself out there, and feed off of rejection. But all of those things require energy, the kind of energy I don’t always have during my pregnancy.
Before I got pregnant, I could easily work 12 hour days. Now, I’m happy if I can make it six hours without hitting a wall (without a doubt, everything I write after those six hours will require multiple edits). I also have to make time for appointments (one with my OB/GYN and another with my high-risk pregnancy specialist, not to mention lab work), meals (skipping lunch is no longer an option), exercise, and general prenatal research (everything from baby strollers to how to care for the kids once they arrive). These changes, while rewarding, can also be incredibly frustrating. I find myself having meltdowns because I hate feeling fatigued, slower, and generally less productive. And then, I cry because I feel guilty for ever feeling anything but grateful and blessed. The cycle can be debilitating.
If I feel this way now, I can only imagine what I’ll be feeling once the babies are born. How will I stay creative while I’m breastfeeding and pumping every two hours? How can I give my children the attention they need and deserve while also tending to my career?
My fears aren’t uncommon amongst mothers of young children. A study published in the research journal Sex Roles found that U.S. mothers experience “high levels” of “work-family guilt.” Overwhelmingly, women participants said they felt guilty for leaving their children while they worked. These moms also often experienced more anxiety or depression and tried to overcompensate by taking on more responsibilities at home. Some even left their careers entirely.
It’s easy to understand why women might feel this way. In addition to at-home guilt, mothers are paid four percent less for each child they have, according to a shocking analysis from a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. A New York Times report also found that pregnant women and mothers often miss out on promotions and raises, despite their capabilities and contributions. Many of these women need to work to help support their families, even if their significant others have jobs, as well. (This isn’t to say that mothers who don’t work aren’t contributing — they absolutely are, and their jobs are equally as important as any boardroom position.)
Of course, it’s not all about money (though, let’s be honest; money is the most dominant factor). Many women, including myself, enjoy working. Writing is cathartic and fulfilling for me. I feel like I’m a better person when I’m meeting deadlines, filing stories I care about, and helping pay the bills. I want my children to see their mom happily chasing her dreams, and to know that they, too, can maintain a work-life balance when they’re adults; that they don’t have to choose between having a family and a career if they don’t want to.
To teach them that, I’ll also have to accept that I can’t control or predict the future. I won’t get to file every story idea that comes into my head, and I’ll have to improve my time management skills and be more selective about my projects. But most importantly, I’ll have to stop worrying as much and commit to being present in the moment. These two impossibly small people are going to teach me so much about love, patience, and happiness; they’re also going to show me that I can’t do it all. I can’t protect them from every horrible attack around the world. I can’t make this president tweet less and care more. Hell, I can’t even control how many of my pieces get published. What I can do, though, is give them the best life I possibly can provide.
Undoubtedly, I’m going to make mistakes. There will be days where I feel like a failure on all fronts. But those babies — their two smiles, two hearts, and countless dreams — will make every moment worth it.
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