Monday, June 15, 2009

Notions of Womanhood

I've been attending a sewing class all week. At 2:00 in the afternoon. While almost everyone else I know is at work. In fact, around noon on Monday, when most people were stepping out to take a break from his or her office, I found myself rummaging around Britex Fabrics, less than three blocks from where I used to work, looking for a pattern to use in my class. And fingering through swaths of cotton to select the appropriate texture and design for my project. And rummaging through mounds of ribbons and webbings to find the right notions (a new word I learned that day).

When I walked down the street to a nearby mall to grab a bite to eat, past mobs of people in their business attire, a part of me felt like an imposter. You know, the person who does not belong. The kid playing hooky. There I was in my strappy sandals, a coral skort, my black fleece. Like another tourist in the middle of San Francisco's Union Square. No business casual for me.

Early last year, when I was pregnant the first time around before I was fired, Jeff asked me (very gingerly) whether I wanted to keep working after we have the baby or whether we should look into alternative arrangements. I remember feeling stumped for an answer. I have no idea, I said. The thought of not returning to work scared me. What if no one hires me once I decide to return? Wouldn't I be jeopardizing my entire career by taking a break? Besides, what would I do with myself? Does the baby really need me full time? Could I become one of those women who stay at home to raise a kid?

And even if I wanted to be a full-time mom, would I dare admit it?

Even saying that maybe I wouldn't mind a period of staying at home seemed like too much of an admission. What kind of a throwback to women's lib would I be to say such a thing publicly? A lot of suffering and fighting went into giving me the option of being able to participate beyond the domestic sphere. Besides, other women manage to work and raise their children. Why couldn't I? What if people assume I'm freeloading off of my husband? Or typecast me as one of those women who have nothing else in their lives but the baby?

So the picture of pregnant me taking a sewing class when everyone else is at work strikes me as a bit much. What happened to all my concerns about living up to my professional womanhood? Wasn't there a time when I would have bragged that I simply don't have the time to sit around and sew loose buttons on a jacket?

I'm not really sure what happened, but living up to my professional womanhood no longer concerns me as much. Sure, I still have my cases that I'm handling and the writing projects I'm working on, but putting them on hold for a couple of years while I focus on the baby seems to be less of an issue. Maybe because my desire to protect my career -- or at least my big lawfirm career -- evaporated when I sent my mass email. Maybe from the other side of that career implosion, I now realize there are more choices -- and more flexibility -- than I had assumed, and choosing one role does not necessarily preclude the other, at least not forever.

For now, I'm planning to be a (mostly) full-time mom for at least the first couple of years of the kid's life (and his brothers' or sisters', if we are lucky enough to have more than one kid). And then I'll try to establish a part-time solo practice, as I'm doing now, while continuing to work on my writing.

Who says I can't be a writer/lawyer/mom who makes cute little lady bug hats? What do you guys think of my second completed project from my class? It's for the little guy. I have to admit that I'm quite proud of it. I feel like I'm making up for lost time for skipping home ec in high school. And feeling incredibly lucky now to have found the time -- and to have the choice.


  1. A beautiful post. In my humble opinion, you have some so far, and in so many ways.

    Speaking from my own experience, I think that when we are no longer afraid of how we are labelled, we allow ourselves the freedom to re-discover so much about ourselves. I will have also taken more than a couple of years off from practice by the time I get back, and sometime wonder what that will mean, BUT I know that worrying about it is pointless. And that things will work out once I send those resumes out. Who know what the future holds any way?

  2. Everyday I come to my BigLaw job and read your column. You're fabulous!

  3. Hi Shinyung...

    I continued to work as a consultant...originally I worked part time, then at home and now I'm on a flex schedule in which I go in at 6 am and return home by 3 pm. I have admittedly given my career some time on the burner...but now that the boys are more independent, I've been giving work a new focus...My only regret is that I obsessed about my actions early on...Now with hindsight I realize that I should have been just "living" each day versus worrying so much. You have the right approach. CONGRATS


  4. I have been reading your blog for a few weeks now and I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your post today. As a young associate in biglaw, I have often wondered what decision I will make when my husband and I decide to have children. Your decision to stay home for a few years is an inspiration to me. I wish you nothing but happiness.

  5. Very cute hat! I would buy it in a store. As the mother of a 17-month-old boy, a tiny piece of advice - put a little strap on the bottom and attach velcro on it so that it stays on his head. I spend half my time putting the hat back ON his head after he pulls it off. Argh.

    I returned to my BigLaw job after a 6-month maternity leave and came back at "reduced" hours. I come in at 9 and leave at 4, but if there is a deal that needs to be closed, I am here. I thought it would work, but what I really find is that I am completely stressed out and feel like I am sucking it up at both jobs - being a mommy and being a lawyer. We are starting to try for a second child now and I will not be returning to this awful situation after he/she is born. Your posts have inspired that there is no life here in BigLaw. At least not for many of us. Relationships are much more important.

  6. Hi Shinyung. I've done a lot of thinking about this, too. I think it comes down to this: Family matters most of all. The women's lib movement (and oh how it's gone awry!) has given us the liberty of having choices. To me, if one spouse is willing and would find fulfillment in the role and the family is financially able, that spouse staying at home full time is the best way to rear a child. It doesn't matter which spouse. Even better is if the other spouse has reasonable hours. Combat the feelings of guilt, because you're not betraying womankind in any way - not even the vast majority of women who weren't lucky enough to have these choices to make. You will not be wasting your education - AT ALL. We are not defined solely as "career women". Nor do we need to do everything the BigLaw way to do it well. It's easy to make yourself crazy with researching for how to make these decisions (and parent). Let yourself feel confident enough again to rely on your heart and common sense. I hope you're feeling well. And I agree with Anonymous about the velcro strap ;-).
    Jen Kreder

  7. Dear Shinyung,

    I was horrified by the manner in which you were treated by your former firm.

    I am so happy that you have found the silver lining in such a bad situation. It is lovely that you have the opportunity to discover a host of talents that you might never have discovered on your former life path. As mothers we each chose the path that is right for our families. I am the breadwinner in my family, but sometimes I secretly wish for the time with my son that I would have as a stay at home parent. Whatever you decide I know your talents will be well spent. Good luck to you.

  8. I really admire your path and hope that I, too, can find the balance between career and family, even if it's something different than I would have originally expected. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Shinyung,

    Love reading your blog! I'm a soon to be law student, father of a 2 year old, person of color, and work at a law firm, and can't tell you how many posts I've related to your writings. It's funny how similar people of all backgrounds go through life's daily dealings!

    Anyhow, my wife went back to work recently, shortly before my son turned 2, because she thought she wasn't as happy as she could be be as a full time mom and we both agreed if it wasn't healthy for her it wasn't healthy for our whole family. She often has said working part time would be the best solution.

    For comparison purposes I was raised in a typical old school mom stays home and dad works fulltime household, and after raising 5 of us my mother swears if she could do it all over again, after each of us was about a year old she would have worked full time and put us in daycare. Good daycare is so great for children's growth. Good luck.


  10. ack. I remember your ordeal at your former law prison. That was horrid. I'm also very glad you've kept on blogging. alot of good writers sort of fizzle out after a few months.

    I've linked to your blog in one of my most popular posts:

    Please keep writing!