The stories of “glass-ceiling breakers” that are so prevalent in 2017 are no doubt inspiring — but so, too, are the stories of those women who make a different kind of life choice, one outside the world of 9-to-5. We put a call out to our networks: “Looking for a stay-at-home-mom to discuss what it’s like. We want to know the highs, the lows, the realities, the joys.” The woman I spoke with is someone who, after 12 years of focusing her life around her kids, husband and home, wants to charge after her career. She was candid and honest about the joys and the challenges of her experience, one that is worthy of being heard and celebrated. Below, her story.
I moved to the midwest from New York about 12 years ago at the height of a 10-year-long career in PR. My husband’s job brought us here; it was between this or London. Then we found out we were having twins.
At first, right before I had the twins, I held on to my career as though my life depended on it. I worked as close to the due date as possible. Colleagues said to me, “Watch out, you don’t want to stop working, because once you do, it’s hard to jump back in.” I didn’t believe them. 12 years later and it’s been in and out [of working]. I’m fortunate that I have the opportunity to spend more time with my family, to be a mom, to fill in the gaps while my husband travels. He gives us a life where I don’t have to work. I love working, though. It had formed my whole identity.
When I had the twins, I had an identity crisis. I was lost in space. Who am I? I used to be so good at something, but now I’m doing this other thing that I have no idea how to do. My husband loves kids. He wanted a whole bunch of children. I was trying to figure out how to breastfeed two newborn twins with this new reality hitting me. I wanted to go back to what I used to know how to do, what I loved to do.
I’m lucky. I have four children now, who are very nurturing. My daughter was born ready to take care of her twin brother. She’s so naturally maternal. My third is that way, too, she’s unbelievable. She’s a rockstar, but she’s the one who gave me all the gray hair and wrinkles. The doctors called her “an eggshell baby” — she was born blue and no one knew why. We bonded over her survival. It wasn’t until my fourth child, my son, that I had that natural maternal feeling. I love all my children, I’ve bonded with all of them individually, but with him, I didn’t have to pretend [at the beginning]. It was just there. Life is funny like that. You don’t have any say in how this plays out.
After my youngest child, the one who is always by my side, was getting ready to go to kindergarten — he’s been the hardest one for me to leave — I thought, Okay, I want to get back into work again. I ended up seeing a life coach. I met this guy at a coffee shop, and I could hardly talk to him, I was so full of tears, like, “I don’t know what I have to offer, it’s been too long.” I wanted to step back into this part of myself.
My family was supportive. My children were proud. They didn’t know anything about who I was or what I did before they came about.
Meeting with a life coach was awesome because he helped me get ready and feel powerful. Part of meeting with him was literally a pep talk, simply, “You can do this.” He made me believe that I could go after what I really wanted. I started to ask, “Why not me?” It became my mantra.
I worked on getting back to my career. I ended up with a dream opportunity that fell into my lap. And yet, when I went and interviewed, they said to me, “We know you have four children. How do you think you’re going to do this job and be a mother to four children?”
I made it through the interview and left with a little bit of dignity, but felt defeated. I didn’t think it was going to happen. To get away, I took the children on a trip back east to see their grandparents. We stayed at a place with poor wifi, so I wasn’t checking email. Apparently, I got an offer for the job. When I finally got in touch, they said they didn’t hear from me right away and assumed something was wrong. Why didn’t they try to call me?
My dad said I dodged a bullet.
Life happened again after that. My husband had a health issue. My daughter, my third kid, needed a hearing aid. I was dealing with vertigo, which I’ve never had before. I felt like everything was falling through the cracks, including me. How could I have been working full-time with that going on?
That’s what’s challenging. Anytime I am involved in a project, whether paid or as a volunteer, something’s neglected. I’ll rock something, and then three kids get strep. Something always suffers while you’re kicking butt. There’s no way everyone is getting everything done at same time.
I’m still riding out this whole mentality of: How do I [restart my career and] juggle this busy family? I refuse to believe it’s never going to happen. There is a bias when you have taken this road trip, this detour, the family thing. You really have to own your choice. You have to be ready to say, I’m going to go back into this with gusto. It’s not easy, I’ll just say that.
I volunteer to help people who move here from Syria and Somalia to find their way. These women have more children than I have, no partner, no financial security whatsoever, and they figure it out. They inspire me.
Motherhood makes you feel like a superhero. You look back at things in your past that seemed hard, that you were afraid to try, and think, Why didn’t I say yes to that? You want to take risks for your own self-worth and because you have these people, these children, looking up to you as role models. I want them to be up there killing it when they’re older. I watched my husband teach my daughter to ride her bike the other day, and the look of pure grit and determination on her face — I was so proud of her. I was like, That’s who I need to be right now.
Illustrations by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.