I was having lunch with some friends recently (all of us female university students) and we ended up talking about how difficult it must be to go to uni when you have a child, particularly young kids. I know some people who are doing this and balancing it brilliantly, and I'm sure that there are other people who find it too tough and take time out or leave altogether. I mentioned that I would probably be a gibbering wreck if I had to do all of the fourteen-hour days in the library and balancing multiple assignments and trying to talk to lecturers whilst also caring for a small living thing that needed me for food and safety. We were all in reverent agreement: it must be hard. Conversation turned to the inevitable what-if-you-got-pregnant-now, and I told them that there's no way I could have a child at this age because I'm just too young, I'm not responsible or financially stable enough, and I'm really invested in the career that I'm working towards. They all took the complete opposite stance on this, that they would have the child no matter who disagreed, and asserted that I would too, if it happened to me. As if I simply hadn't thought it through enough.
Here's the thing: I am working hard towards a career that I am jump-up-and-down, piss-your-pants excited about. I really want this. I think that I maybe would like to end up with a family some day and I have plenty of other interests, but being successful in the field I love is what my life is leading towards now, not settling down with a husband and kids (not that there's anything wrong with that). I went on to tell my friends that I'm prioritising getting qualified, which will likely take ten years plus, above settling down and that if and when I do have children I want to carry on working as much as possible. That in a perfect world, I would not have kids until I have a partner who can take equal time off and split the childcare so that we can both continue to work (yes, I have definitely been inspired by Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In). My friends were shocked. They all immediately took the stance of "haha, that'll change when you're older" and literally could not conceive of why I would prioritise a career over children. One of them outright asked what I'll be doing if I don't have kids, "just you and your cats". She wasn't joking.
I'm not saying that my feelings won't ever change, and I'm absolutely not belittling the choices of women who do prioritise children over a career, but it really surprised me that my friends couldn't believe or even try to understand my stance. We are practically still children ourselves but this is something that we have obviously all thought about, to some extent, and it was pretty weird to feel like they thought I was cold or naive for being more motivated to end up in the perfect job than in the perfect family. It's possible that I will end up with a bunch of babies and working in a job that's very different to the one I currently want, or that I won't be working at all, but it's daunting to think about how they might see me if I do continue down this road; not as someone who is considering the "wrong" choice but as someone who is living their life in a way that is fundamentally wrong.