When I was seven, I had it all figured out. By the time I was 20, I would marry a tall, handsome stranger who loved to eat mashed potatoes, like me, and read lots and lots of books. Then, after we explored all the exotic places we’d read about, we’d have a bajillion kids—enough for a traveling band. We’d call them hippie names like River or Moon and raise them on a farm, where they could make their legs long and chew on wild mint. We’d eat our dessert first and laugh with our mouths full and dance in the dining room.
That was the plan, at least. But each year I grew older, the plan seemed to slowly drift away as life got more complicated and realities sunk in. The biggest reality of all slapped me in the face during my first year in fashion. I was an unpaid editorial intern riding in the front seat of a black sedan during New York Fashion Week. Two fashion editors were sitting behind me and I overheard one of them say, “Oh, she’s pregnant? There goes her career in fashion.” I sat there in silence mulling it over, and feeling deflated because I knew deep down that there was a grain of truth in that statement. What had I gotten myself into?
As I walked deeper into the world of fashion, I became aware that being an editor wasn’t just a job I came to love, but a lifestyle choice I came to accept. Nine to five doesn’t exist. Typically in this industry, early mornings are for news stories, evenings are for events. Weekends are up for grabs and depending on where you work, you’re on call and on email at a moment’s notice. I understand now when people say time is money, but the catch is that you don’t own your time. In your teens, that’s a given. And in your twenties, it can be exhilarating. But when you start to think about expanding your life, or having children, it gets tricky.
A year or two ago, I shared a cab with a fashion editor who’s been in this business for twenty years. I picked her brain about being a mom and how she balanced her job and her family. What I was searching for was a way to make it work, but what I got was what I most feared. She told me she woke up at 4 a.m. to get articles written before her child got up for school and that, if she was lucky, she’d make it home in time to tuck her child in for bed. A hired nanny took over while she was working and a plethora of after-school activities helped occupy the child while mom and dad worked.
That’s just one story, but it’s unfortunately not an anomaly. Although it might be just fine for her, it’s not OK for my life. Nannies are the standard among New York’s fashion elite, but if I decide to have children, I don’t want another woman soothing their scraped knees and cutting off the crust on their peanut butter sandwiches. I don’t want to miss out on bath time and who pushed who down on the playground. I want to be there for it all, otherwise, what’s the point? But something would have to give, and that something would probably be my job. That’s a frightening decision I’m not yet willing to make. I’ve worked hard to be where I am. My job is my passion, my breadline and, for better or worse, where the heart of my self-identity lies.
I know many women in this industry lean in and seem to successfully do it all. One thing many of them have in common is their social and financial status. It’s no secret that fashion attracts privileged women who make their own salaries but who also either come from money, marry money or both. They can afford the nannies and private school tuition, on top of a designer wardrobe. They may even be able to afford taking off some time to raise the kids and then return to a full-time job, or scale back to three days per week and a work-from-home deal. But what about the rest of us working in this business? Is there really room for children and career ambition without dropping the ball on one or the other?
Maybe we really can have it all, just not all at once. In the meantime, I’m getting a dog.