"We need to move back to England," I told my husband, Patrick, a few short hours after we found out we were pregnant and decided that, yes, we could do this thing. "I don't want to raise a kid in America right now." I wasn't surprised to learn that he felt exactly the same way I did about uprooting our lives for a baby. For our family.
Given the cultural climate in the States at the moment — our potential president, who's expressed xenophobic, racist, and sexist language for years on end, the racial inequality that feels so inescapable in our justice system, and the mass shooting narrative we've all grown frighteningly accustomed to — as well as the cost of living in or near New York City where we were, as well as our lack of a strong support network, two stable incomes, or family healthcare, raising our half-Colombian daughter in Paddy's homeland (somewhere we both so deeply love) seemed like the obvious choice for us.
I expected my family to struggle with our decisions. I expected my colleagues to be disappointed. I figured our friends would have a hard time saying goodbye. What I didn't expect was the flood of misconceptions that'd cloud our choices. Because it turns out that — even if both you and your partner are self-identified feminists with a track record of career commitment, independence, and generally progressive thinking — making drastic changes to your life when you find out you're expecting can sit a little uncomfortably with some.
In the 12 weeks since we've known about our baby, we've moved countries, my job title has changed, and we left the "city of dreams" for a more rural existence in the countryside. And here are the problematic comments both Patrick and I have received because of all that.
"How Can Patrick Be So Selfish?"
When my younger brother relayed the news of our pregnancy and upcoming move to the hairdresser who used to cut both his and Patrick's hair, her first reaction was, "Wow, he sounds pretty selfish."
It's a thought we'd encounter a few times that week, and in the upcoming ones. Since first hearing it, I've struggled to deduce whether this remark is more offensive to Paddy (the assumed misogynist who must be forcing ~his woman~ to have a baby, leave her job, move to his home country, and totally change her life for his benefit) or me (the victim who mustn't have any autonomy or say in her own future and who allows the guy in the relationship to call all the shots).
My conclusion is that it's terribly offensive to both parties.
I wanted to leave the States for all of the aforementioned reasons about the country's current sociocultural climate. But in a more micro sense, New York City, which had once felt like potential and opportunity incarnate, had grown stifling and disheartening. Every loud noise and cat-caller and rude stranger on the street became a trigger for my anxiety, and Patrick's as well. We just weren't happy. And we knew that we'd be of little use to a kid if we didn't start prioritizing our own mental health. For us, that meant leaving an environment that had become toxic in exchange for one we knew would be freeing.
Prioritizing my kid means getting myself to a place where I will be happy and with-it enough to be present and active in their life. Plus, two things can be true: I can prioritize motherhood and my work without devaluing or neglecting either along the way.
The decision was entirely mutual. But one of my most vivid memories from the moments following our pregnancy reveal was the sudden need for drastic lifestyle changes — none of which were inflicted upon me by a controlling force.
"I Can't Believe You're Giving Up Your Career."
The truth is that the main reason Patrick and I left England for NYC in the first place two years ago was because I got a full-time job offer at a publication I adored. He uprooted himself first just so that I could prioritize building my career in a city I'd once loved, even if doing so meant putting his own career on hiatus for a while.
What we found, however, was a lot of unhappiness. Although I loved my job and the people I worked with, I missed being a freelance writer. I used to adore the flexibility that role allotted me and the ability to work from home. I also discovered the simple truth that most writers turned editors will always have a preference for one or the other, and my preferences erred on the side of the former.
Even though a lot of folks have been "disappointment" in my choice to eschew a Manhattan journalism job in exchange for freelancing from the British countryside, a lot have implied that I haven't taken my choice far enough.
Although making another transatlantic move (this time from NYC to England) meant leaving behind an editing role, both the publication I was with and other publications thereafter were totally cool with me working from abroad. That's the beauty of being a writer in the digital age, I suppose. You can do it from anywhere, so long as you have decent wifi service and the motivation to do so. My motivation was never lost, nor were any of the goals I had for my work.
A bonus of the career shift is also that I will be able to work from home. And thus, I'll be able to spend more time with my baby. For me, it's a win, win, TBH. But I also can't help but feel some resentment on behalf of the many badass, feminist moms (and parents of any gender) who decide to leave careers in exchange for stay-at-home parenthood. It's a deeply personal decision, and one that (when made by one's own volition) arguably holds no bearing on that person's independence or potential for success.
"Isn't The Baby Your Priority Now?"
Even though a lot of folks have been "disappointment" in my choice to eschew a Manhattan journalism job in exchange for freelancing from the British countryside, a lot have implied that I haven't taken my choice far enough. As in, that I shouldn't be focused on my writing at all. Especially now that we're back and Patrick will be working two jobs.
For these people, it's as though the changes I've made are more selfish than selfless. I'm placing career happiness and the excitement of an international move above whatever it is they feel my baby needs. The argument is an antiquated one: One that suggests that to be a good mother, you must give up on every other dream you've ever cultivated. If the lifestyle changes you're making in preparation of giving forth new life still place value on your work or your interpretation of self-care, then you're clearly not prioritizing your kid.
In truth, prioritizing my kid means getting myself to a place where I will be happy and with-it enough to be present and active in their life. Plus, two things can be true: I can prioritize motherhood and my work without devaluing or neglecting either along the way. Moms have been doing this for quite some time now, after all.
"This Is All Just So Old Fashioned."
According to Global Investment Research reported by Goldman Sachs, millennials are both putting off marriage and waiting longer to have children than generations past, with more women than ever conceiving for the first time in their 30s and 40s. By this standard, I guess you could say that deciding to have a kid at 25 and 23 (my age and Patrick's age, respectively) is somewhat old-fashioned. But the thing about calling someone "old-fashioned" is that doing so implies that said person is kind of backwards and definitely not a progressive thinker.
In actuality, both Patrick and I consider ourselves pretty open-minded people. Having a baby right now wasn't planned, per se. But the decision to become parents doesn't mean we're no longer decidedly liberal human beings. It doesn't mean we're suddenly going to assume traditional and problematic gender roles, nor will we be teaching our kid, who'll be assigned female at birth, that it's her duty as a young woman to bear children while at her "prime."
Not only does it question our decisions as parents-to-be, casting doubt on a choice simply because somebody doesn't understand it, but the level of blind patriotism exhibited through these words suggests that no other country or culture could ever compare to 'Merica.
Having a kid as a 20-something might feel like a rarity among millennials who are both metropolitan and Democratic, but there is no hidden meaning regarding our politics or ideologies behind our decision to move forward with the pregnancy or shift our lifestyles around to better suit impending parenthood.
"Why Wouldn't You Want To Raise Your Kid In The U.S.?"
I'm not saying the United States is, like, the worst place in the world. Nor am I questioning the motives of the millions of parents who decide to raise their kids there. There are many wonderful, progressive things to be found throughout the nation, and I admire so many people born and bred within it.
This comment, however, makes me uncomfortable for several reasons. Not only does it question our decisions as parents-to-be, casting doubt on a choice simply because somebody doesn't understand it, but the level of blind patriotism exhibited through these words suggests that no other country or culture could ever compare to 'Merica.
The U.S. is but one out of 195 countries in this world, though. That's approximately 194 other places to explore. And to be honest, I'd never want my kid to think that there exists a "best nation" for fear of discouraging her from trying to see all the rest. But I'd be lying if I said that I felt America was the "safest" place in the world. Gun violence and institutionalized racism are only two components of a system failing thousands every day.
Assuming that having a baby and making lifestyle changes as a result equates to "leaving everything behind" downplays all the wonderful sh*t I have going for me right now.
My kid is going to be Latina, and I just don't want her growing up somewhere where, at least at the moment, a man who is a candidate for presidency can get away with spewing words like "bad hombres" or suggesting that Latino immigrants are "criminals" and "rapists."
England isn't perfect, by any means. Brexit has proven that. But somehow it feels like a more tolerant place circa 2016 than a country that's legitimately divided about whether or not to elect a dude who uses an argument like, "Look at her [...] I don’t think so," as a defense to sexual assault allegations.
Plus, there's free healthcare here. Which, IMO, should be a basic human right.
"You're Leaving Everything Behind."
When I think of the people who've most thrown this one my way, it strikes me to consider that most of them are quite forward-thinkers. Their views largely align with my own, and yet they somehow believe that a fulfilled life can only be achieved in New York City, working the most elite position you can get your hands on.
During my time as an undergrad at NYU, I felt very much the same. And it's precisely why I eventually tried this scenario. Although many aspects of it were rewarding AF, I cannot say that either NYC or a fancy job ever made me feel like I had "everything." Perhaps I'm too socially anxious and reclusive a person for all that.
Although uprooting my life meant distancing myself from one friend group, it meant re-acquainting myself with one I'd left behind. It does pain me that I'm an ocean away from most of my relatives (many of whom I grew close to in the two years I was back home), but I also know that more budget airlines exist now than ever before and technology will allow me to see their visages each day. As a bonus, I get to spend time with my husband's family for a while, and they're all pretty fabulous.
As for my career, I want to reiterate that I don't feel like I've left it behind. My job title has changed, yes, but I still get to work with people I adore, doing something that makes me feel fulfilled whenever I wake up. Assuming that having a baby and making lifestyle changes as a result equates to "leaving everything behind" downplays all the wonderful sh*t I have going for me right now — all of which I feel pretty grateful for — and that's simply a shame.
"What Will Your Readers Think?
I'm not entirely certain how much time people who follow my work actually dedicate to thinking about my life. I assume most of them have cool lives of their own to prioritize. But if any do dedicate some brain power to contemplating my choices, I hope they can rest assured knowing that nothing I'm doing has been forced upon me.
When we found out about our pregnancy, I wasn't so far along that I didn't feel like I had a choice. When I decided to leave my editing role, it was 100 percent my decision. When I started packing my bag for England, no one was pulling any strings. And when I think about the kind of parent I'll be, I don't believe any of the things I've set into motion will prevent me from instilling feminist values in my own kid's life.
I can understand why a lot of folks have been skeptical. For so long, women were expected to assume very specific roles: wife, mother, homemaker. This was so socioculturally dictated, and for so long, that nowadays it can feel like a woman "must" be trapped if she chooses to participate in any of those roles. I'm not trapped. My partner is certainly not trapping me. And I don't feel like parenthood must inherently be a trap, either. I fully intend on continuing to live my best life. I'm just going to do it with a little baby in tow.