I had never heard of a copywriter before, let alone been inside an ad agency. So when, as a recent communications graduate, I found myself being ushered into a woman’s office for an informational interview, I was in awe. It appeared to me to be the pinnacle of success — a woman who had her own office and was paid to write. She was kind enough to field my questions and give me an office tour, introducing me to her coworkers. She also divulged that she was leaving her job to go back to school. She was going to become a professor.
Appalled, I asked why. How could she leave such a great job? Walking back into her office, she lowered her voice, looked at me directly and said, “If you end up getting into advertising, as you get older and have kids, you’ll understand.”
At the time, the statement was confounding. Years later, as a creative director and copywriter myself, I would also leave at 40, and her truth would come back to me.
There have been many moments in my life when women have lowered their voices and told me a truth within a truth. These footnotes of a woman’s life, doled out in half-truths and measured tones, are where I received the most meaningful advice on matters of love, sex, health, and career.
Having heard all of this advice, why did the complications of motherhood, one of the most formative experiences in a woman’s life, come as such a surprise to me? Thinking back on all the advice I’d been given or overheard before I became a mother, I cannot think of a time when my female friends spoke frankly about the upheaval of motherhood, and how it affects everything from gender and jobs to sex and identity. Maybe the advice was just not plain enough, or maybe I was not experienced enough to understand it. And like that woman so many years ago who told me, plainly, that I would understand someday — I didn’t then, but painfully do now.
Which is precisely why, years later, when my oldest friend called me on her 36th birthday to say that she and her partner were considering starting a family, my unexpected reaction was not to congratulate her, but to warn her. To lower my voice and give her some frank talk about motherhood. Not to deter her, but to be sure her eyes were wide open.
It’s complicated to…