Modern womanhood as it is often depicted in the media — careers before marriage, IUDs for all, the triumphant call to arms regarding female nipple exposure — has lacked any semblance to my own experience. Perhaps this is because the landscape of my transformation took place beneath the bare-bulbed glare of Corporate America. And there, women are treated as burdens.
I’d been searching for a job with health benefits for about seven months when I finally received an offer. I was on the El, swollen belly barreling through the Chicago snow, heading from my first job (selling clothes at a major chain catering to the wealthy woman who presents as Manic Pixie Elementary Art School Teacher) to my third job (ghostwriting a blog for an online boutique that outfits the Entrepreneurial Instagram Woman hoping to justify the “for booking inquiries” email in her bio) when my phone rang. I stared at the unknown number glowing through the forehead of my reflection with apprehension. At this point in my post-grad journey, voicemail acted as shared living space for reminders about unaffordable payment plans and my mother’s fear that veganism would harm her grand-fetus.
I answered and was rewarded with an offer for a job as a copywriter. So quick, so matter-of-fact, a snap of some hiring manager’s fingers and my anxiety about the cost of diapers disappeared. It was a company that made beauty products for Major American Brands and they needed someone who could translate lab talk to marketers. They wanted me because I had a strong background in science and writing. They were excited to have me on the team.
Elation flooded my body, a double glow. I called them a few days later to discuss the impending birth and the possibility of having a flexible work schedule. I spoke with the woman who offered me the position. “You’re pregnant?” She sounded surprised. “I didn’t even realize.”
I laughed a bit, incredulous. I hadn’t hidden my state during the interview — I didn’t have a large enough purse. She told me we could discuss it later and that I should be hearing from them soon.
I was on the El, in transit from my second job (selling adorably organic non-GMO baby products to the Modern Traditional Mom) to my fourth job (dismantling the integrity of American academia by writing essays for The Affluent Undergrad) when I received a formally worded email from the same woman. They would be moving forward with another candidate, it read.
Stunned, I arrived at my stop, waited for the older woman with whom I’d shared a stabilizing pole to finish a lengthy comparison of her daughter’s pregnant body to mine, stepped off the train and walked home. There, I privately experienced my first panic attack. Quiet. Alone. A pair of swollen feet eclipsed by the heaving, shuddering belly in which my daughter silently swam. Then, I felt like a woman.
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Illustration by Emily Zirimis.