Sunrise, Georgia O'Keefe

As Courtney prepares to have her baby, she confides in her closest friend about her professional goals and the short-term sacrafices she has made in order to build her family.  


From: Courtney

To: —

Date: October 24, 2017

Subject: Update and Love


Dear –,

This morning is shrouded in gray and the streets and buildings are shiny and wet. It’s the kind of weather that triggers my internal rhythms, marking the end of summer’s leisure and the beginning of school and harvest and a desire on my part to be hyper-productive. Or to wear a sweater and drink tea and read on my couch, depending on the day. Fall is such an in-between-time. Coincidentally or not, so many other of my major life events started this moody time of year: Peace Corps, law school, a baby, and all of my big moves took place in the fall months. It is fitting that this year has not been different, with our move to Detroit and baby girl on the way in November.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my career lately. You’ve reminded me so many times to give myself a break and I know I need to do that. But it’s been a year almost to the day that I decided to begin an immigration law practice. It was right before last year’s election (when we thought immigration policy might actually give people coming to the US or wanting to stay here more opportunities under a Clinton administration — ugh) and just a few months after my clerkship ended. At that point, I felt like a professional just taking a few months to explore what was next and to spend some quality time with Mimi.

And of course, I got things going. (Motivated by my own ambition and by the Trump administration’s racist, xenophobic, and, I believe, illegal executive orders).   By February I had put Myra in daycare, formed the business entity, partnered with a local immigration clinic to represent a pro bono client, and began talking with other immigration lawyers.

But then we decided to move to Detroit and have a baby. These were active choices, but also ones I knew would push my professional timeline back.

I remember in the early spring having lunch with a friend, another lawyer and mom who was updating me on her upcoming professional shift. She told me that she wasn’t going to take a break between positions because it’s so hard to get back in, as my own experience had demonstrated. While that was hard to hear (and didn’t necessarily reflect my own experience, since I was working on building a business and not job-searching), I knew exactly how she felt – I had had a conversation a year earlier about the same issue – taking time off of work and therefore professional growth – with a group of female attorneys and we all acknowledged how difficult it was to reenter the workforce, sharing anecdotes of various people who had taken themselves off of the law firm partner track as soon as they’d gotten on it as they were building their families.

From one perspective, I have made some really traditional choices (and some question whether they are choices at all, given how many women, but not men, fall into the same pattern at this juncture in their lives). I was at the beginning of a professional project that I put on hold so I could parent, plan and execute a large part of our move across the country, and support our family while Sheikh traveled for work and advanced his career (though he certainly works hard to be an equal partner in family-related tasks and all things). As someone who values a strong family life, I am happy to give of my body and mind in an effort to build a strong foundation. As a feminist and someone who has invested a lot of time and energy (and SO much money!) into her education and career, I am not comfortable being only a mom or someone’s partner but need purpose beyond those roles, which I find, in part, in my profession.

Thankfully, that contract attorney position came along this past May, just as I was beginning to feel really frustrated about my professional life (I remember having a conversation with Sheikh soon after we found out I was pregnant where I emphatically told him that our family would have to refocus on my own career… in 9 months). The position got me back in the workplace until we arrived in Detroit. And now, after nearly two months, I want to engage professionally but find it difficult because, well, I look and feel eight-and-a-half months pregnant and have a mind full of all of the things (professional and other) I need to do before the baby arrives.

I am confident that I’m going to start an immigration practice here, that I am well-suited for it, and that I will work really hard to make it successful. I also know that once I do, in ten years it won’t matter that I’ll have practiced for only nine of them. But for a while I’m going to have to wear my parenting-hat above any other because our baby-on-the-way needs that from me.

Sometimes life requires us to take a deep breath and remember that we are on a path.  As someone that wants everything at once, sometimes focusing on one thing at a time is good for me.  And, of course, I recognize that it is a profound privilege to be able to choose to focus on family or work and not both.  Here’s to breathing deeply. 

Love you. Thanks for being an amazing support to me in all things work and baby and life.



Featured artwork:  Sunrise by Georgia O’Keefe

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