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Karlie Hustle: [Grappling with Career, Motherhood and Identity]

I never thought I’d be a mom. When someone around me would announce their pregnancy in the past, I participated in the social pleasantries of congratulating them, but never had much invested in the idea of what that meant for their bodies, their lives and/or their understanding of themselves as individuals.  I didn’t think it through because I couldn’t relate. It’s not that I didn’t care, but I was certainly indifferent around the whole process.

I have four godchildren, and I honestly don’t know why I was chosen for such a task so many times in succession. I think, more than anything, people see me as successful and responsible. They know that if shit hits the fan, I’ll handle their child’s needs the same way I handle my career. Like a motherfucking boss. But that doesn’t make me particularly maternal. It simply means I won’t let their kids starve or fail a spelling test if, God forbid, something were to happen to them.

Then, I met somebody. We fell in love. And it all changed.

He wanted kids, and if I was going to do it, I knew he was the partner I could do it with. Plus, at 37, I needed to get the fertility show on the road. I’m no spring chicken.

So, here we are. I am in my third trimester with about two months to go.

While many women feel the pressure to paint the 10-month process as a) magical or b) beautiful, I’ve found it to be c) none of the above.  It’s a total shit show. Not literally, of course. You’re lucky if you can shit at all, thanks to the chronic constipation.

If I had to describe pregnancy in a single word, I’d say it’s humbling. From the nausea to the fatigue to a sobbing public meltdown on the A train to not being able to tie my own shoes, this process has been a doozie for a Type A control freak like myself. I have no ankles. Gone are the days of my defined jawline and cheekbones. I have to pee every time I stand up. My daughter takes great joy in putting her foot in my literal ass, from the inside of my uterus, of course. 

I’m not the first woman to go through this and I won’t be the last, but this realization doesn’t make the experience any less challenging on an individual physical or mental level.

My biggest challenge looming over impending motherhood has been the neurosis around my career. I’ve been an over-achiever since birth. A’s on my report cards. Promotions at every job. Always multi-tasking and side-hustling. I grew up in a small town with less-than-ideal circumstances and grinded my way to New York City where I have made something of myself in the concrete jungle.

Work. That’s what I do. Succeed. That’s what I do. I’ve had a job and paid taxes since age 15. I am a lifetime careerist with 15 years in the music business.  As much as I’ve tried to shirk the truth over the years, what I do is a huge part of my identity.

And I’m terrified.

I’ve Google searched stuff like “scared to take my maternity leave” and “anxiety about my career while pregnant” and haven’t found anything that succinctly hits the bullseye on how I’m feeling. I have no idea why. I’m either a social pariah, suck at Googling stuff or women simply aren’t being honest about their insecurities publicly around motherhood and career.

Up until now, my job has been my baby. I love my career. I have dumped every ounce of myself into my passion for radio for over 15 years. I’ve lived in six cities and made it to New York City, where I’m flourishing.  And now I’m about to give birth to a child.

 

What if they don’t think I can do my job anymore?

If I’m gone for three months, will I matter when I get back?

If my baby gets sick, will I be looked at as an inconvenience?

I hope they know I'll be pumping breast milk in Studio B.

What if my position gets conveniently eliminated?

 

All of these thoughts are on a continuous loop inside my head, day in and day out. I want to get off this train, but it’s hard.

While part of this I acknowledge to be my own baggage, a large portion of my fears have been substantiated by actual anecdotes I’ve witnessed firsthand or bi-proxy of friends and colleagues recounting their career nightmares as pregnant and new moms.

The stigmas around mothers carrying their weight in the workplace are real because sexism. New fathers are generally looked at as assets to a company, because now their employer knows they need the gig more than ever before. Not so much for women. There’s a notion that they won’t be as dedicated. They’ll be distracted. Their priorities will shift.

For the record, I have absolutely no reason to believe any of my fears will come to fruition in my current position. In fact, I have felt very supported by my co-workers, my bosses and my company throughout my pregnancy.

But I just can’t shake the anxiety. And I think I know why. It’s something we all must admit is an indoctrinated social norm. Internalized misogyny.

I know. Gross.

I’ve had to unpack a lot of my own bullshit throughout the course of the past seven-and-a-half months, and at the top of the pile lie several key issues. My belief systems around womanhood, feminism, career, and individuality are all in question. I’ve had to confront my previous lack of interest, empathy and compassion for pregnant and new moms in the workplace. I’ve wrangled with my own stereotypes about what women endure when they make the choice to start a family. In essence, much of my own flawed programming has flown in my face and, quite honestly, I am grateful. I needed to be checked in the most intimate way possible: by going through it myself.

I’m a Cancer, so I’m sensitive and empathetic by nature, but I don’t think I was particularly so to pregnant women and new moms until now. My dismissal of the whole idea of motherhood had a lot to do with my own refusal to want to deal with the challenges and vulnerability that inevitably comes along with carrying a human, raising a human and having no idea what will become of that human, no matter how hard you may try. Having seen my own sibling take a wrong path—and eventually die because of it—has a lot to do with my hang-ups. Add to that an absent father and several other experiences I’ll forgo discussing here, I simply wanted nothing to do with motherhood and family.

Yet here I am. It’s funny what unconditional love will bring out in a person.

My story will be different going forward, but certain tenets of it won’t change. My career was my first love. And it still will be. But it won’t be my only. I have a wonderful partner and a little girl on the way, and my heart is full because of the richness of all of these things. They are all now a part of who I am, and I work every day to create the space to accommodate for both the new additions to my life and the old faithful.

All I can hope for is that I will be a better mom, partner and career professional because of every facet of who I am inside of this this new life I am building.

Lastly, I’d like to say sorry for judging you in the past if you were pregnant and drinking coffee while inhaling an industrial-sized bag of gummi bears. I’ve had three cups of joe this week and last night I ingested 10 Oreos.

I never thought I'd be a mom.