It was September 2002. I was sitting in my one-bedroom apartment which bordered the Long Island Railroad tracks, holding the positive pregnancy test in my hand. I was a top-selling salesperson, early in my career at twenty-five years old. I also knew that my marriage was in deep trouble and that, more likely than not, I would be having this baby on my own.
I took a breath and weighed my options, thought about the impact of having a child on my career and my life, and went for it. Charlotte was born in May 2003. I took six weeks of maternity leave. I leaned in, experienced success in my career, and loved being a mother—but boy, was it challenging.
It was December 2006. I was newly remarried and had just left my full-time sales management job to start a consulting gig which would one day turn intoLikeable Media. Feeling on top of my game, I was thrilled to see another positive test. Kate was born in July 2007. I took a year off, consulting clients from home, watching The View, and slowing down, allowing my husband to step up and run my consulting business, which he then grew at light speed. Call it leaning out or taking a breather—whatever it was, it was pretty awesome. Then I came back to help take us over the finish line.
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Now, here I sit in November 2014. After many failed attempts to get and stay pregnant, we got the great news that a baby boy will be coming in April 2015. I’m currently the CEO of Likeable Media (Dave has moved on to launch a tech startup) and Likeable is bigger than ever.
In some ways, it’s easier this time around, since I have the talent in-house to help when I’m out. In other ways, as a leader, I feel tremendous pressure to jump right back in—to push forward like I never have before. I love my company, but I also feel like I’ve earned the right to spend some extra time snuggling my last baby if I so choose. For the first time in my life, I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do!
One of the benefits of entrepreneurship is flexibility; you don’t have to answer to anyone if you want to take time away. But of course, the beauty of not having a boss is contradicted by being entirely in control of your income; if you slow down, often enough, so does your bank account. And for most women who aren’t entrepreneurs, the choice about the “right” time to have a baby (or whether or not to have a baby at all!) is one that can weigh quite heavily on them.
It you want to depress yourself, take a look at the data. The data shows that men make more money after having children, and women actually make less. This is especially true for women who are low-income. In fact, when looking at a report from think tank Third Way, while high-income men get the biggest pay bump for having a family, low-income women suffer the most. And check this out: While never-married women have almost closed the wage gap at 96%, the stats were far different for married women and particularly those with children, with stats ranging from 77-83% of their male counterparts’ pay. A Stanford study that sent out resumes with the exact same credentials but added PTA Association for a control group, found that mothers were about half as likely to be called back.
Are you depressed yet? Now, just search for some advice on this topic, and you’ll find that there’s no shortage. The Princeton Mom will tell us to find a man in college and to get procreating. Sheryl Sandberg will tell you to lean in to get a seat at the table first. Sheryl Sandberg haters will tell you that it’s all bull and that you will hate yourself when you lean in—you must recline! And then there’s Arianna Huffington, who after selling Huffington Post for over 315 million dollars, wants to teach women not to work so hard—they should meditate and thrive! We are absolutely inundated with people telling us what to do. There’s no consensus, and we’re left feeling utterly confused.
A while back, I jumped into the advice party when I wrote an article titled, “Women, Watch Out For Your Number One Enemy.” In it, I talked about how an author criticized the maternity leave choice of Marissa Mayer, calling her piece, “Why I Feel Sorry For Marissa Mayer’s Baby.” I urged women to adopt the concept of “You Do You,” making the choices that resonate with you and for you—and no one else. The advice was basically: Stop taking advice and learn to listen to yourself.
There is no magic bullet answer to the right time to have a child. There are many factors of course, including your partner, your career, and your finances. In speaking from experience, I can tell you that having babies was the best, and the hardest, thing I ever did. It wasn’t always rational (many disagreed with my choices), and it wasn’t always best for my career, but for me personally, it was always worth it.
But ultimately, there is no right time or wrong time. There is only your time. Whether you are Rachel Sklar, founder of the Li.st, who is single and having a baby at 41, whether you are Melanie Notkin, who has embraced and become a champion for finding a new kind of happiness with Otherhood, or whether you are Carrie Kerpen, having a baby at each and every life stage of her career and simply going with her gut. Whoever you are, you need to simply identify what you want and turn off the noise. You. Do. You.
Forbes.com | November 4, 2014 | Carrie Kerpen