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As International Women’s Day rolled around this year, I found myself seeing it in a very different light for once.

Women around me were posting messages encouraging strength, courage, and tenacity. Women cheering on women, never giving up, breaking the glass ceiling, letting nothing get in our way.

I had previously posted these exact types of messages on International Women’s Day, so why suddenly was it bothering me?

I mustered all the courage I could and posted a video discussing my concerns around the narrative that is out there. Here is what I had to say:

We are part of a generation that grew up being told that ‘women can be anything, do anything, and achieve anything we put our minds to’. We were told the ‘world is our oyster’, and the ‘sky is the limit!’

Certainly, these are important messages to have grown up with and it is an important message for us to continue to perpetuate with the future generation. What I think it is doing, however, is planting seeds that may grow into issues later in life – that I have started to experience.

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There is a point in time where you get hit with the realisation that you can’t have it all – or at the very least you can’t have it all at once. I am specifically talking about having a family and having a career.

I am pregnant, with my baby expected to arrive next month. I had always dreamed of being a mother, but this has been a tough adjustment for me. Not just from a physical perspective but also from a mental perspective.

Some of that difficulty has come from the realisation that having a child will impact my work and my career. It was a realisation that having a child will ultimately set me back years in my career, or at least it has the potential to do so.

Some people will say: “What does it matter if you lose a few years when your career spans 30 years?”

I understand that, but it matters to me, and it matters to a lot of women. Just because it is a small drop in the ocean in the span of your career doesn’t mean that those concerns aren’t important – and it doesn’t mean that those years lost do not matter to us.

I went through a period early in my second trimester where I was struggling in a big way to come to terms with this issue. I was experiencing a great deal of anger and sadness over this situation.

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I found myself saying things like: “This is my fault for wanting to have children and wanting to have a career, so I shouldn’t complain. I put myself in this situation.”

People around me pointed out how toxic that thinking was. I was reminded that my feelings were valid. Yes, I am allowed to feel happy that I am having a baby, but I’m also allowed to feel upset and grieve the impact that this will potentially have on my career. I was reminded that I don’t have to feel guilty about these feelings.

Ironically, I am still going to teach my daughter that she can be anything she wants, and she can achieve anything she wants, because I do feel that this messaging helped shape who I became.

I am fortunate that I was able to grow into the person I am and the professional that I am without any thought whatsoever as to my gender. Never did it occur to me that my gender may hold me back from my aspirations in any way.

For this reason, I feel we need to continue to teach this same messaging to our children. I want that for my daughter. I want her to have the courage and strength to pursue whatever path she chooses without worrying about her gender holding her back. However, I do think there is a deeper issue at hand.

After posting my video, I felt vulnerable and exposed. How might I be viewed or judged by other women out there? Will women judge me harshly for my opinion?

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And then… slowly… messages began flooding in, messages that shared the sentiment of:

I always feel like half a lawyer, half a mother, half a wife. I never feel as though I am excelling at all my roles.

This has been my story too and a very real journey for mums who love their jobs.

I have thought about this for such a long time. I am glad someone is speaking about this.

I am not a mother yet, but the fear of the barriers between being a career woman versus my ability to parent has lingered in my mind regularly.

There is absolutely no denying that becoming a mother impacts your career. It is not talked about nearly enough.

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I remember how angry I felt about not being happy constantly like I should have been. No grand solution fell out of this experience, but the realisation that I was not alone in my conflicting emotions helped me more than I can ever describe.

So, I want to use this opportunity to open comments – have you been through this? How did you find a way through? Let’s start a conversation – it may just help validate the feelings of a woman who is struggling in silence.

Rachel Last is a Senior Associate at Travis Schultz & Partners.

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