11: Having It All
SEASON 1: EPISODE 11
For the woman who will never have a tidy, peaceful life — there is still happiness — as long as she asks herself the right questions.
On this episode, professor and author, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, redefines what it means to “have it all.”
Childless by choice: Marie has always had a plan for her life and for a large portion of the time, children were not a part of it. After graduating from Brown University, she started her career at Goldman Sachs and focused on following the steps needed to land her dream job as a writer. Then her mother-in-law fell ill. Seeing how her husband and his family rallied around the matriarch of their family inspired Marie to start a family of her own.
Finding out: After years of believing she would never have a child, Marie decided that she was ready. But a series of miscarriages left her and her husband anxiously cautious about confirmation that a baby boy was on his way.
Labor Day: After going to term, Marie started feeling symptoms of labor and went to the hospitable where she was in the care of a midwife she’d never met before, Ginny, who appeared disheveled and “cranky.” Ginny sent Marie home where she realized she was in fact, in labor, only now with no one to guide her through the process. Marie revisits the experience in the book, Labor Day:
“Ginny had come in with her hair even more disheveled, that grim, annoyed look on her face, concurring with the nurse that indeed I had to get ready to push. I thought we would do one of the baby-friendly positions, maybe a squat to be aided by gravity, but she had me in the old OB’s lithotomy position, flat on my back, while she attached a fetal monitor, stuck a hand up my vagina, and scratched the poor baby’s head to see if it elicited a pain reaction.
Speaking of which, I had reached that threshold of pain where I realized if I had a gun, I would have shot myself just to make it stop.”
As the pain continued, Marie overheard the doctors and nurses express concern over the amount of blood pouring from her. She realized something had gone very, very wrong — her baby was born, purple, and whisked away.
After birth: Marie’s recovery was difficult and so was the aftermath. The doctors noticed a semi cancerous tumor on her son’s spinal cord which resulted in a series of invasive surgeries. After the operations, his entire personality changed. When he was 3, he was diagnosed with autism and a list of other cognitive delays. They are not sure if he’ll ever become independent and Marie has learned to find peace in the new unknown.
Redefining “Having it all:” Marie follows Anne Marie Slaughter's famous piece in the Atlantic, “Can Women Have it All,” with her own: “What My Son's Disabilities Taught Me About 'Having It All.'” The piece was initially rejected by every publication but now resonates with women all around the world.
Because of her child's health challenges, Marie will never have a tidy, peaceful life. But this does not keep her from being happy — as long as she asks herself the right questions. So she asks: “How do I remain present for each moment, one at a time?” The answer is less about the quantity of experiences she will have and much more about the quality.
Marie Myung-Ok Lee
Marie Myung-Ok Lee's novel, The Evening Hero, is forthcoming with Simon & Schuster. Her stories and essays have been published in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Slate, Salon, Guernica, The Paris Review, The Guardian, and forthcoming in Smithsonian Magazine and the New York Times Book Review. She was the first Fulbright Scholar to Korea in creative writing and has received many honors for her work, and is a current New York Foundation for the Arts fellow in fiction. Lee is a founder and former board president of the Asian American Writers' Workshop and and is the Writer in Residence at Columbia.Find her at:
Twitter & Instagram: @MarieMyungOkLee
What my son’s disabilities taught me about having it all. The Atlantic, Marie Myung-Ok Lee. Jul 30, 2012.
Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today's Best Women Writers (pp. 48-49). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.
Why women still can’t have it all. Anne Marie Slaughter, 2012 The Atlantic.
Produced by: Kai-Saun Anderson
Music by: Podington Bear
Photo by: Pawel Czerwinski
Headshot: Adrianne Mathiowetz