One of my dearest friends became a mother for the second time, shortly

before her 40th birthday. Newborns being somewhat of a roadblock to wild

festivities, we celebrated with a gorgeous afternoon tea instead.

Her little boy was just a few weeks old. She’d walked quite the road, my

friend and her husband. Crippling infertility, many heartbreaking

miscarriages. Becoming a mum not just to their eldest daughter but then also

to a healthy baby boy was a miracle we all celebrated.

As the afternoon lingered, she handed me her little man for a cuddle with his

Zia Gemma, the name her kids still use for me. I nursed him in my arms,

chatting away, delighting in that newborn scent, the perfection of his tiny

face and curious eyes.

It was a perfect moment, until it wasn’t. My eyes began to sting a little. My

throat felt tight and my tummy made itself known. I passed the little man

back to his mum and discreetly excused myself, went outside to my car and

sobbed quietly and privately until the waves of grief receded.

I don’t want your pity. Pity is a bankrupt, meaningless currency. It can

purchase nothing but emptiness. The fact I was robbed of the chance to be a

mother will probably be a bruise on my heart this side of heaven, but it

simply is what it is.

Plenty of you know what I’m talking about, but the weird thing is rarely does

anyone talk about it. I may hate myself later for sharing such tender, painful

and private memories, but I feel a sense of conviction to do so after reading a

particular line in Janet Albrechtsen’s opus last weekend on the beauty of

choosing motherhood over career.

“To demean any of these choices as false is obnoxious paternalism,” she

wrote in response to comments that called choosing motherhood over career

false and empty. And later: “It’s also deeply insulting to women who would

have loved to have had children and would have loved to have stayed home to

care for them.”

For the first time, I think, I felt seen in this space – as a woman, as a woman

in corporate life and as a woman who once pre-emptively wrestled with that

choice, but it was not to be.

For what it’s worth, I have and will continue to cheer loudly for any woman

who, if she’s fortunate enough to make the choice, chooses her kids over her

career. Or any dad, for that matter. But with women it’s different because

we’re told that choice is the lesser one and immediately makes us victims of

something. The man? The system? More like victims of other women’s


As an employer, I have encouraged so many of my team over the years that

time with their little ones goes quickly. A career will always be there, I would

say. And I’ve been right, every single time.

One year, about 10 years into the life of my firm, the three mums on my team

(all part-time permanent) all had children starting school in the same year.

That week was hard on my heart, speaking transparently. There was so much

excitement in our team, which I shared. Private pain, which stayed hidden.

But I can tell you, not one of those women lamented their juggle.

They were doing their best and, as their boss, I did my best to be flexible. Not

to tick a box, not to say, “look at our diversity quota”.

It was actually simple. I realised by then motherhood wouldn’t happen for

  1. I knew from being the (self-anointed) world’s best aunty that these first

years are gone, seemingly in the space of a single breath, and the following

years require different demands. I wanted to operate from a place of grace

and richness of spirit rather than from my own sense of having been robbed.

We always get to choose how we respond, even to the shittiest hands that are


Of course, not all women feel an instant rush of maternal connection. My

own mother laughs at the memory of my birth. She was expecting another

boy, but I arrived instead. And not just a little girl but one who looked so

much like her father that Mum exclaimed: “Oh my god, she looks like


Do the women who say “Screw my career, I’m staying home with the kids,

the job will always be there”, do they make the gender ideologues turned

joyless stern headmistresses uncomfortable? Does my own vulnerability here

challenge them in a different way? I hope it does. They don’t speak for me;

I’d have given it all up, I said tearfully to my sister-in-law a few years ago in

a moment of sadness.

The national conversation around a woman’s decision to work, or stay home,

or to attempt to do both, is so one-sided. It is myopic and assumes every

mother eventually sees her child as a speed bump or a barrier to other, more

important things.

It cheapens motherhood, assuming that childcare is an equal substitute. Just

whack up enough daycare centres and she’ll be right. Farm your kid out to


To be clear, I’m well aware that for some childcare is a literal necessity and

for others the circumstances of life have not been kind. These are not the

families I’m talking about.

The women with the loudest voices on these issues are, in my view, the least

representative. I would also suggest they live in a bubble. Additionally, the

broader government approach to this issue is betrayed by the language it


The “burden” of childcare: what have we come to when this is the dominant

lexicon? What about the privilege of childcare? What about the joy of

childcare? What have we become when we frame one of life’s greatest

privileges as a burdensome weight that needs to somehow be managed away?

If caring for a child, if being a parent, is such an unholy burden then why do

Australians spend upwards of $750m on fertility treatment every year?

If caring for a child is such an unholy life sentence why do we mourn with

and console women who miscarry? Why do we mourn the death of a child at

all? Yes, two things can exist in tension, but we are so out of whack in this

country when it comes to the values that matter, this is just another


Why do I care if I don’t have children? It’s because I don’t have children that I

care. If my job is to cheer for women who stay home with their own, then

you’ll find me in the front row with the loudest voice.