But the guilt didn't go away.
In my professional life as a labor and employment lawyer, I represent workers. I represent all protected classes, including working mothers. I champion the rights of women to work during pregnancy, take adequate leave, and return to work. I fight against employers who deny women opportunities based on outdated stereotypes regarding motherhood and child-rearing.
I love the work I do, but after having my first child, I found myself wanting to step back from the workforce a bit. I had all the support in the world, and yet the work of being away from my son was too much for me sometimes.
I had (and continue to have) an incredibly supportive employer. I had received an adequate maternity leave paid at my full salary. I returned to my job with a flexible schedule that allowed me to work from home a couple days each week.
My boss was invested and interested in my role as an employee and in my status as a mother. She never made me feel guilty if I needed to work from home an extra day. She never questioned my dedication as a worker when I said I missed my son. She listened to my thoughts and concerns not just as an employer, but as a friend.
At home, I also felt supported by my partner and our families. As far as villages go, I certainly had mine. I had a supportive, egalitarian partner; an extended family unit always willing to help; and a gracious, accommodating employer.
My shift from work-outside-the-home mom to work-from-home mom was a gradual one. Schedules changed. Needs changed. I changed. Certainly, there were logistical issues that came into play. For instance, when my son started part-time daycare after a year of being in the care of our family during the day, I struggled at times with the changes that came with that.
I worried about safety. I worried about whether he felt loved. I worried about the things all parents worry about.
At some point, I began to realize it wasn't just affecting my heart. It was affecting my mind, too.
I pondered whether I was bringing value to my son's life being away from him. My worries grew. My anxieties grew. Over time, I realized I was no longer happy with our arrangement with me working outside the home. While I had seen friends flourish under similar circumstances, I realized that I needed to step back more. Just over two years after my son was born, I decided to switch status with my firm and drop down from full-time. My family and employer were incredibly supportive.
My partner, a physician who was still in training at the time, willingly absorbed the financial impact of my decision. My employer graciously extended to me a new role with the firm. I felt affirmed, and I knew my choice was the right one for me.
And yet, I still felt plagued with guilt.
I thought about all the working mothers I had represented—women who had lost their jobs because of their pregnancies. Women who wanted nothing more than to return to the workplaces that shunned them.
I thought of the generations of women who came before me who had fought for the right of women to participate in the workforce.
I thought of my lawyer mom friends who worked. I thought of the Working Parents Committee I co-chaired.
I thought about my future, wondering exactly where I would go from here once the dust of early parenthood settled.
I thought of all the employers who possess an anti-mom bias, and I blamed myself. "I'm the reason employers discriminate against working mothers: me, reducing my time in the workforce to be home with my son." I felt a lot of guilt in the months before and after my decision to reduce my work hours and stay home.
That was two years ago.
Since changing my work life, I've had twins and launched a writing career. I am still a member of my law firm. My partner recently completed his training and no longer must work double the hours to make up for my income. Life feels good. However, I still don't have all the answers.
Reconciling motherhood with career goals is a work of the heart.
Though I've worried that I've become the stereotype I and so many women have worked so hard to combat, I continue to follow my instincts and ignore the internal voices that insist I'm a professional failure. As a result, I've started to develop an entirely new professional identity—that of a mother who is a voice for all mothers. Through writing, I've found new opportunities to sharpen my advocacy skills and reach a wider audience with my message as a workplace civil rights attorney.
At the same time, I am the mother that I want to be to my children and that's what matters to me. We all have a different path we're intended to follow, and I truly believe I've found mine.
The work of finding your calling is no easy feat. It requires constant effort and is a true labor of love. Despite this, I will continue putting in the work to stay on the path meant for me—one that incorporates career and motherhood.
This story originally appeared on Apparently.