On Well-Being

Lawyers on balancing motherhood or choosing a child-free life

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Colette Vogele, a senior attorney at Microsoft in Seattle, is a single mom by choice. She had a great career at Microsoft but felt she hadn’t figured out her personal life. When she was in her late 30s, she knew she wanted to have children and began exploring the options—adoption, foster-to-adopt programs and getting pregnant herself. At 42, she pursued in vitro fertilization and was able to get pregnant.

“I couldn’t imagine not having this experience. It didn’t really matter to me that I was pregnant. But having gone through it, I’m so glad I had the experience of going through pregnancy,” she says.

Shortly after she got pregnant through IVF, she had an opportunity to pursue an overseas role with Microsoft in Belgium. “This is my opportunity to lean in, so I decided to do both,” she says.

Vogele says she would recommend that women in their late 20s or early 30s consider egg freezing. “It’s powerful to have options. I think if you think it’s something you want to do, keep those options as open as you can. I was lucky that I was able to have children and freeze embryos,” she says.


Shannon McMinimee, a partner at Cedar Law in Seattle, always wanted the possibility of having children and having her own biological children. She chose to keep the door open to motherhood by choosing to freeze her eggs, and she says she is prepared to pay for surrogacy if needed.

She spent her 20s and 30s very focused on her career. She decided in her late 30s to freeze her eggs after watching others close to her experience fertility issues and learned the statistics associated with egg viability after 35. McMinimee describes going through the egg- retrieval process as the “hormonal equivalent to being nine months pregnant and going through menopause at the same time.”

They were able to retrieve 18 viable eggs. She suggests that any women who want children consider having her eggs frozen. McMinimee was in the financial position to pay the $10,000 to freeze her eggs and thinks it was well worth doing to preserve her fertility.


Some women choose to be child-free so that they can pursue their legal careers. Chelsea Murfree, an associate attorney at Leslie Wm. Adams & Associates in Houston, decided to give up a child for adoption when she was 20 so she could become a lawyer.

She recalls being at the hospital after delivery and spending the entire night with her son, so she could know for certain that she was making the right decision.

Her son was adopted by a loving couple who has stayed active in Murfree’s life. They are very supportive of her, and they even attended her law school graduation. She has stayed active in her son’s life, and her son sees her as a very protective aunt.

The adoption was the “hard bottom” she needed to hit to motivate her to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer. The adoption experience helped her realize she doesn’t want kids.

For other lawyers in a similar situation, Murfree says it’s important to have at least “one person that is supportive of your decision.” She had a co-worker in her late 30s who also gave up a child through adoption.

Her experience has helped her be more empathetic toward people who “make stupid business or life decisions. It doesn’t make it OK, but I get it,” Murfree says.

Melinda McLellan, a partner at BakerHostetler in New York City, never wanted kids and considers BigLaw a challenging environment for new parents. “Other career paths seem better suited to motherhood, in my view,” she says.

She feels privileged to be free of parenting responsibilities and is hearing the same from more female professionals. “BigLaw clients expect and deserve our full attention as their service provider. But babies deserve their parents’ full attention, too,” she says.

She appreciates not feeling torn between being an absentee mom or a distracted lawyer. Further, she says her child-free lifestyle has facilitated the intense focus necessary to develop deep expertise in her practice area.

“I always wanted to be a dad; I never wanted to be a mom,” McLellan says. She sees the roles as very different, even today. “Men often get a pat on the back for basic parenting, for doing things that aren’t even recognized when a mom handles them,” she says.

Female lawyers are exercising their right to choose. This includes choosing to not have children, choosing to start her own practice, or choosing to change jobs. All the women I interviewed talked about overcoming obstacles and challenges when it came to entering motherhood or choosing to remain child-free.

Our profession certainly has more progress to make for creating family-friendly environments, a more inclusive workplace, and to allow each woman to choose the path that makes sense for her. n


Jeena Cho consults with Am Law 200 firms, focusing on actionable strategies for stress management, resiliency training, mindfulness and meditation. She is the co-author of The Anxious Lawyer and practices bankruptcy law with her husband at the JC Law Group in San Francisco. This article was published in the November 2018 ABA Journal magazine with the title “Family Way.”


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