Life’s work and motherhood

Okay, so I’ve been waylaid recently by my daughter’s diagnosis of selective mutism and SPD. A LOT of the posts of late have been revolving around that topic. I’d like to get back on the goals I have for this blog and that is to speak of the impact and changes that motherhood has brought to my life.

I stumbled across this post from a Sarah Cady about Authenticity and Humility in mothering. It seems that this seemingly talented mother may have come to the realization that her life has unfolded very differently than she envisioned. I hope she knows that her post really struck a chord with me. I also hope she knows that sometimes making a difference in the world does happen, maybe not on the grand scale of our childhood dreams, but one life at a time.

Her post really got me thinking about the way my life has unfolded. About who I was and who I am now.

I still identify who I am by what I do. I was a clinical laboratory scientist – which means that while I didn’t invent anything new, or add to the collective pool of scientific knowledge, I did have something to contribute to the greater good.

Once upon a time I tested food products with microbiological assays to make sure food production plants made foods safe for consumption. We had a few cases of true food poisoning outbreaks, like in the instance of E. Coli 0157:H7 – the virulent strain of E. Coli responsible for severe sickness and in some cases death. However, most foodstuffs we tested were just fine with no microbial growth detected. I felt like we were ensuring the safety of others.

Following that, I was a real life crime fighter. I don’t like to talk about this much. It was a stressful job – not nearly as glamorous as TV likes to portray it. Yes, my lab work did put a few bad guys away. But more than anything else, I was glad to help bring justice to victims and their families.

It wasn’t long before I realized I needed to get out of that area (testifying in court was not my favorite thing to do), so I moved on to medical genetics. In that field I did similar DNA analysis as I did in the crime lab, but it was to determine the cause of illness. I supervised the small laboratory. Until I had two children, that was the ultimate dream job for me. My lab worked on rare diseases, and we got samples from all over the nation. Many samples were from children and even prenatal samples, as the parents were needing to know what was really causing symptoms in their child, and what the prognosis was for their unborn babies if there was a family history of a disease. I had just enough responsibility to challenge me, and enough different tasks to keep it interesting. But after two children came in 18 months, it became very clear it was all too much.

But looking at my formal career, I felt like for 12 years, I did some really good work. The work I did made a little difference in the world. Maybe not on a grand scale, but that was okay. My career path unfolded in ways I never predicted in high school and college. At the time, I just thought I needed a decent career to support myself so I didn’t have to rely on my parents (I was really having problems relating with them-seems they didn’t like my challenging their authority much). I didn’t predict how one job choice became a springboard for others. It seemed like doors of opportunities were opening up (sometimes it took longer than I wanted to, but they did open up) as a direct result from what choices I had made. Looking back, I’m in awe that I took a chance and believed in myself, when really, I had little faith that I could do some of the things that I did.

And then…then I had kids. And everything changed from there. Not necessarily for the worse, I must say up front. But…different. And again, I had little faith that I could do this particular job. So during the first year of my firstborn daughter’s life, I didn’t do a great job. I often times hid at work. I dreaded coming home after a fulfilling day at the lab to care for an infant that I hardly knew.

Did I just say that out loud? Yes, I hardly knew my firstborn during the first two years of life. Yes, I nursed her for 4 months (and pumped for 2 more). Yes, she was beautiful, having red hair and blue eyes. Yes, I did have an elaborate night time routine where I bathed her (though I usually tried to stay late enough that my husband or mother-in-law would), fed her, and sang songs to her until she fell asleep in my arms (that was about 6-8 songs worth). But we had a very rocky start. I couldn’t make enough milk so she was never satisfied with nursing. I was alternately angry that my body couldn’t make milk and terrified that I was starving her. Giving her formula was a symbol of defeat for me. I couldn’t force my body to do what it wouldn’t (and yes, I scoured the internet for information on how to fix what was wrong and saw IBCLCs, and a suck-swallow specialist). Even my body confirmed I had no business having a baby that I didn’t know how to take care of. During the daytime, I knew nothing on how to really care for her during her waking hours. I knew nothing on how to entertain her (isn’t 10 minutes of playtime with her enough – when do I get to do what I need to do?). She was very active and alert and hardly napped. Quite frankly, I grew tired of playing baby games and she had separation anxiety (even showers were as short as possible because she cried in her bouncy chair while I grabbed a quick shower). I could handle nighttime routines with her, because she would be sleepy enough to tolerate being rocked and sung to. I didn’t have to find safe activities for her to do at night time. But when I had a sick day, or a holiday or the weekends, I never knew how to keep her busy enough. Work seemed like a cake walk in comparison to taking care of an infant. And even though I missed my baby when I was gone, I was at a loss of what to do when I had to be with her. It was very conflicting. I probably suffered from ppd in the early months too (just ask my husband how many crazy rants I went on).

Fast forward 6 years. My oldest just finished kindergarten. How vastly different life is now with her. While I was not able to get the first two years right, I was able to get to know my oldest when I quit my job when she was just 2.5 and my second born daughter was 9 months old. I was able to make up for some lost time, but I’ll never get those first few years back.

And now…after having three children, and no career with no immediate plan of action to re-enter the workforce, I have discovered something about myself. While my circle of influence has gotten quite small, I still continue to impact others around me, in more profound ways than I ever thought possible. My “expertise” now is now in child development and child psychology. I give to society by being an educator to my children. Not homeschooling (that’s too big of a challenge to me) but by supplementing their education with things I have for them at home (my other blog shows what we have done). I give to society by becoming a mentor of sorts to other mothers, both here on the internet and in real life. I don’t foist my opinions on others, but I do offer a different perspective.

Right now, at this moment, my life’s work IS mothering. It is as important and fulfilling as all my jobs were combined (and in some ways so much more challenging). Yes, it’s invisible work to most of society, but it’s work I’m very proud of. Even if it took me 6 years to come to that deep peace about it.

I came out of the haze of having 3 children in 3.5 years when my youngest was 2, that I had a deeply unsettling feeling. At that point, I was away from my last job for 3 years, and I was finally seeing clearly enough to see that my personal future looked bleak. I used to worry if I was ever going to get a job as important and fulfilling as the career I had created for myself. I used to be consumed with the idea that I no longer have tangible proof that I did something important.

Now as I have come into my own as a mother in the past year (and admittedly things are easier knowing there will be no more infants 24/7 in my care), I wonder I’m ever going to get a job as important and fulfilling as the career I have now as a mother.

Who I will become will reveal itself to me when the time is right. I believe it hasn’t yet, not for lack of trying but because it is not the right time. And when it does, I’ll be ready.

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