I held off on having kids because I thought it would force me to end a career I loved. But after having my first child, I instead became more productive than I had ever been.

Kimberly Zapata

Growing up, I received conflicting messages about what it meant to be a “modern day woman.” I was taught I should be polite yet firm, coy yet strong, and I learned that getting an education was imperative. Like most 80s babes, I was told I could do anything—and be anything—with a college degree. And I felt it was true so I invested a lot in my future. I moved out when I was 18, securing an apartment of my own. I worked countless hours as a receptionist, a phlebotomist, and a sales associate at Blockbuster to pay for my food, clothes, and education. (Well, I am still paying for my education. Thanks, student loans.)

I did so because I wanted to be a journalist. I yearned to have a “successful” career. But motherhood? While I wanted to be a parent too, I felt the two roles were incompatible. Plus, society is not set up to support working parents. With the wage gap, lack of paid parental leave, and missed growth opportunities, it's no secret working mothers face dozens of obstacles. So, I put off having a kid.

But when I lost my job as a web content writer in the fall of 2012, I reanalyzed my life and my goals—and I decided this was a sign. It was time to start a family, and I did. I welcomed my daughter less than a year later. Yet a strange thing happened after I gave birth; motherhood didn't make me lose myself (as I once feared) it helped me discover myself. Parenthood inspired me to do better and be better.

That said, the transition was tough. While motherhood gave me a renewed sense of purpose, it also drained me. I was emotional, exhausted, and in a sense lost because I didn't know who I was—at least not initially. I mean, I was (and am) a wife and mother, but as the days and weeks began to blend together, it became apparent something was missing. My voice seemed silenced. Instead of writing elaborate tales, I was cleaning sheets, changing diapers, and logging both feedings and bowel movements. But as I emerged from a sleep deprived haze, something changed, and I found myself more ambitious and driven than ever before.

I began pitching stories when my daughter napped. I applied for jobs after her bath time, and when my house was silent, I wrote—about health, pregnancy, and parenthood—because my new role gave me new ideas. I learned motherhood didn't stifle my creativity, it ignited it. I also became more focused. Time constraints made me mindful of what I could take on and what I couldn’t, and I became more productive.

However, the thing that really motivated me to rediscover myself was my child's assigned sex. Having a daughter forced me to reexamine the silly gender lessons I was once taught, the negative influence beauty standards had on me, and the role of women in America. What did I want to teach her? Who did I want her to be? And I realized the answer was quite simple: I want her to confident, happy, and healthy but I couldn't instill these traits if I didn't embody them. I needed to pursue my dreams, for myself and my daughter.

I became an activist and used my work (and words) to help others. I've published stories about sexism, feminism, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, and postpartum depression. I often talk about the difficulties women face. I formed my own nonprofit—Greater Than: Illness—to assist children and young adults living with mental health issues. And I do this not because I have to but because I want to. Because it fulfills my heart, mind, and soul.

Make no mistake: There is nothing wrong with being a stay-at-home parent. My mother spent the first several years of my life at home, and she loved it. To this day, those memories are some of her favorite ones. We cooked, colored, sang, and put on plays. But I personally want a career and family. Having an outlet makes me a better person and mom. It helps me inspire my daughter to be her best and most authentic self.

Of course, it's hard. I work most evenings and early every morning. I take my laptop on day trips and—yes—even family vacations, and I still struggle to get things done. I’ve also learned the superwoman mentality is a myth. It is impossible to "have it all." I just need to do it on my own terms. I was working a great, full-time job in the city when I gave birth to my second child, but the commute was unbearable. The cost of daycare and after-school care exceeded my income. So, I left. I thought I was abandoning my career. But I kept going, I kept fighting, and I paved a new path. I found a new, more flexible job.

And while your life changes when you have a baby, it doesn't end. My dreams didn't end, and they won't. I just write in sweatpants these days and not power suits because, like me, they are flexible, forgiving, and resilient. They are the uniform of this mom (and career woman) on-the-go.