I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a lawyer. As a child, I saw being a legal eagle through rose-colored glasses. In my Caribbean-American community, being an attorney yields a commodity worth more than money: it offered power. Attorneys were respected. Attorneys were helpers. Attorneys were agents of change. I was sold on the idea, and by middle school I began working on my biggest case ever: Vanessa Olivier (working class Black girl) vs. The Status Quo.
I knew I’d have to work hard, specifically as a Black young woman from a working class family, to make it to and through law school. For many years I was the textbook example of who was “able, willing and worthy” of becoming an attorney. I went to the best college preparatory schools, excelled academically and had the confidence and savvy demeanor necessary to schmooze with people from all walks of life. Most importantly, I was a hustler.
I worked hard to earn extra income to support myself — and even helped out my family when I could. By my mid-twenties I could see the light. I was in a dual degree program working on my law degree and a Masters in Education. My career and personal life were on a great track. I was happy, fulfilled and eager to earn the title “esquire.” I didn’t know another one would come first…”mommy.”
During my third year of law school I found out that I was pregnant. Though the timing wasn’t ideal, it was divine. My choice to become a mother was also pragmatic. I figured I could still finish up school and take the bar examination. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy. Due to health conditions I was placed on bed rest — which meant I could not attend class. Still, I didn’t want pregnancy to deter my path, so I became my own advocate. I informed my professors about my condition and negotiated a new contract. I received tapes of lectures. Classmates visited me for group projects. Proctors even administered my exams at my home while I was in bed. I literally finished law school on my back.
After school I landed a job and began to prep for the bar exam. By this time, my son was born and I found it hard to leave him to study. Not so surprisingly, I didn’t pass that bar. Undeterred, I immediately began prepping for the next licensing test, and a few months before the exam I found out that I was expecting another bundle of joy. Due to my high-risk pregnancy and the stress of taking the test (spending hours sitting up, lugging books around, etc.) the doctor suggested that I sit out of the exam. I followed her orders and took the test when my second son was a few months old. I failed it again. Sadly, this loss had dire consequences.
Since I wasn’t barred I was demoted to a paralegal. That resulted in a pay cut, which meant bringing home less money when I had more mouths to feed. Did I mention I had another baby on the way? Baby number three and no post-degree certification was a recipe for disaster. After a lot of reflection, I set a new game plan. I took time off from work to focus on the test. I contacted other attorneys who were mothers and asked for tips. I enlisted my family and friends, telling them about my need to pass the bar, the amount of study time it required, and I shared my ultimate goals.
When I finally took and passed the bar I was ecstatic. I knew I could not have done it without my mate, family and friends — and kicking mommy guilt to the curb. I had to be okay with sequestering myself in a library to study for 90% of my time. I didn’t even come home the week before the exam; I spent all of my time preparing for the test.
Today I’m balancing being a mother, partner and my position as a prosecutor. I love my children and finding the time to spend with them is currently my biggest hurdle. I know I will only have their undivided attention for the next 3-4 years, and I want to capture every moment. In order to accomplish that goal I’m looking at opportunities that will make our schedules compatible. It’s funny how your life can change. A few years ago all thought about was leaving home and starting my career as a prosecutor. Now that I’m a lawyer, and a mother, all I think about is getting back home. I guess that’s because I no longer just dream for myself, I also have three little ones to live for.