On Career & Motherhood: Part 3

I’ve written about career & motherhood a few times already. Once right after I had my first baby and once during my pregnancy with my second baby. Part three of me writing about career and motherhood has been a long time coming. If you’ve stuck around over the past couple years, thank you. My firstborn, Caleb, just turned two last month and it completely blows my mind how wildly different my life looks now than it did two short years ago.

Before Cal was born, I was working 40-60 hours a week between this blog, the private practice and the part time work I was doing as an NP on a inpatient eating disorder unit in Boston.

After Cal was born, I did some per diem weekend work at the hospital, saw clients in the mornings before Nick went to work and then did writing and all the other work stuff that comes along with a blog and private practice during nap time. Because with one baby, most days I had a good chunk of nap time.

When Cal was 11 months old, in November of 2019, we moved from Boston to Charlottesville and I started a job working two days a week at a family practice here in town where I focused on women’s health. And 6 months later, I wrote a post reflecting on those months and how I was feeling working a couple days a week. Here’s a little excerpt that I think sums up a lot of what I was feeling.

Since Cal’s birth 16 months ago, I’ve been in this funky space of figuring out what motherhood + career looks like. But even more than that, in a space of discerning what my heart is leading me towards versus what the world is telling me to do. And discerning that has been really hard. I’m an emotional decision maker, which can make navigating these murky waters even more difficult. I really enjoy clinical work – collaborating with the providers I work alongside, being challenged intellectually and the overall non-creative nature of clinical work. I love research, physical exam, interpreting labs/tests and patient education. But if I’m honest, it kills me to be away from Cal those 2 days I’m in clinic. I’ve been surprised with how much I genuinely enjoy motherhood and being at home. I know I sit in the minority here as many women are mentally & emotionally healthier and their families/marriages are healthier when they work out of the home to some extent. So I share this solely as my experience as I know motherhood & career is such tender territory.

I am an impulsive, emotional decision maker which does not often serve me well lol. Thankfully, my husband is the opposite of that and so I’m learning to be a bit slower and more thoughtful. Part of this learning was sticking wit my job for a while despite really missing Cal on days I was at work. I needed more time to discern. More time to give myself the opportunity to see how traditional clinical work felt for me and for my family. I voluntarily furloughed from work due to COVID-19 leading up to Teddy’s birth which I wrote about here, and that furlough rolled into maternity leave. That pause, while unexpected, really allowed me to get honest with myself. By the time Teddy was born, I felt deep in my heart what was the best decision, but I white knuckled it and took my leave with plans to return in September because I was scared. Scared of what would happen to my career and my identity if I didn’t return. I had never been just straight up unemployed as an NP, in a traditional clinical setting at least. So I did some trainings with work (we switched to a new EMR while I was on leave) and had everything set up to return. And then, for a myriad of reasons that are beyond this post, together Nick and I decided I would not return in any capacity and I would not be looking for another position. For the foreseeable future, I closed the door on my traditional NP career in order to be home and raise my babies.

Before I keep writing, I want to note a few things. First, I recognize this is a privilege to be able to choose. I have four brothers and the five of us were raised by only my mom who worked as a teacher. Now as a mama myself, I literally cannot fathom what that was like to raise five babies alone while working full time. My dad was/is completely absent. I respect my mom immensely and she sacrificed in ways that are hard to comprehend. The fact that I have a very involved husband to raise these boys with and a choice to be home will never be something I take lightly. Second, I’m writing from my experience only. I have learned that the choices we make as moms are so vulnerable. So personal. So unique to our individual and family values and needs. I’m sharing what feels best for me and for my family, which could be vastly different than what is best for you and your family. Given that, I’m sharing because I feel like nobody really talks about what it’s like to leave your career in exchange for being a full time mom – full time mom in the sense that this is what I now do for a living per say, not who I am as a person. And I especially found it really, really hard to find other moms who left their career as a health care provider in order to be home.

This decision feels like such a long time coming. I went back to school to become an NP in 2014. I was 25, happily single and had zero thoughts around marriage or kids, except for the desire to have a family one day. I was always someone who thought I’d marry in my 30s. But I didn’t. I finished NP school in December 2016 and was married 4 months later. I married right after I turned 28 and got pregnant 10 months later, still at 28, and had Cal at 29. And then Teddy came along 19 months later. I went from not even being engaged to being a wife & mom of two in less than four years. Now at 31, I wouldn’t change a thing and I feel grateful to tears about the life I have. What I’m saying is, my life looked A LOT different in the few short years coming out of NP school than I ever imagined it would when I entered school. And with that, came a major shift in what my heart desired and what I valued. Motherhood completely rocked my world.

My mom working full time to raise all of us was all I knew growing up. I was in my early twenties and semi-irresponsible so I never actually thought about how motherhood could potentially change my career trajectory. That is, until my first baby was laid on my chest and everything in me shifted. There was now a Before and After. The past two years have been littered with lots of off and on journal entries processing through thoughts and struggles about my career. Lots of prayers. Lots of tears. Lots of conversations with Nick. Lots of trial and error with jobs and schedules and childcare and the logistics. Heck, we freaking moved for this last job. Not entirely, but the job was the catalyst. Now looking back, I’m so glad we trusted God and took the leap because this place feels so, so right for us (although I miss Boston a whole lot) and I don’t think we would have ever moved if it wasn’t for the job that finally nudged us here.

Looking back, I think God was pretty clear from the start. I just white knuckled it and struggled through it for a good two years before deciding to finally do what I’ve been feeling for a long time. In my mind I needed a big neon orange sign from God that said, BE HOME AND RAISE THESE BABIES and like, that’s not how God works.

So in November, I made the decision to quit working clinically for the foreseeable future. Many, many factors contributed to this decision, but for me/us the big ones were:

  • I truly enjoy being home and desire to be the one caring for the boys day in and day out
  • Our home and marriage are healthier when I’m not working outside the home – everything just jives better
  • Lifestyle flexibility – Nicks already works remote and so between that and me not working in a traditional setting that allows us to travel and do things we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do which is really important to us
  • I never felt like I could do either thing well when I was working – motherhood felt lukewarm and my NP career felt lukewarm and I felt torn all the time – that felt really crappy to me
  • It does make more financial sense for me to work for myself and while that was/is the least important factor, it was a hard one to ignore when being away from the boys isn’t my preference

After I hung up the phone with my boss in November, I wept. It was really, really emotional for me. I had a good cry with Nick. I had worked so hard to put myself through school, we had paid all these loans, and here I was….not working. To the outside world, it doesn’t make sense. I have three degrees, invested lots of money and worked my hiney off to get into an Ivy League school. None of that makes sense to a world that values success and recognition. I grieved the reality that I couldn’t have both. I couldn’t have a booming career and also be the mother I desired to be. Those two things don’t both happen for me. I was frustrated that I felt these strong convictions around motherhood that made a thriving NP career out of the question right now. I feared (and still do) what would happen to my career. What does this mean for my future when my kids are older and maybe I want to work again? And if I’m super honest, although I wouldn’t trade being able to be there for all the little and big moments with my babies, I envied the fact that Nick didn’t have to make this choice. That while yes, we’ve had conversations around him staying home and me working full time, that wasn’t at all what either of us wanted for our family or what I wanted personally. It was and still is hard for me to have values and beliefs around motherhood that aren’t in line with where culture, as whole, is going. It can feel like I’m swimming upstream. I was frustrated that what I deeply desired for motherhood and my home was not conducive to also having a traditional career. Why did God wire me like this? Why can’t I be a mom who enjoys working full or part time outside the home?WHY CAN’T I HAVE MY CAKE AND EAT IT TOO GOD?!

But at the same time, this huge burden I’ve been carrying for the past two years, this heavy indecision, was lifted. And as I’ve moved through the hard emotions, what has emerged is a peace and a lightness that I haven’t felt before. It’s been so incredibly freeing to walk confidently towards where I feel called in this chapter of my life. And that means being home with the boys 90% of the time right now. Where I went to school, how long I went to school, how much money was spent, how hard I worked…none of that matters to me. Working to justify all that just kept me in a place of cognitive dissonance. Life takes us down paths we never expect sometimes. And this path I’m on, I could never have predicted 6 1/2 years ago when I went back to school. But I wouldn’t want to be walking any other path right now. I’m not sure what my career looks like beyond these young motherhood years, but I’m learning to trust the process even when that feels really hard.

So what does that other 10% of my time look like? Nick thankfully, has six weeks of paternity leave. Originally he was going to be home with the boys while I worked at the family practice. But after I decided not to go back, we decided we’d use the 5 weeks he has left (he took a week after Teddy was born and then my mom and in-laws were a great help and Nick was working from home if I needed him) for him to be with the boys on Wednesday and Friday mornings while I work from 8am to 12pm from our home office. So I’m working 8 hrs/week for myself while Nick cares for the babies. I can nurse Teddy instead of pumping and that’s a big win for me. My time is my own to manage and these small chunks of time to be intellectual and have quiet space to work feels like a good balance right now. His paternity leave will last us until Teddy is one in since it’s just one cumulative day per week he’s using and then we will re-evaluate come July and go from there. Being able to just have Nick care for the boys instead of having to find and adjust to childcare has made this possible because for me, that’s such an anxiety producing and stressful process.

I’m only a few weeks into this new thing, but this is what those 8 hours look like and what I plan for them to look like:

  • meeting with Real Life Women’s Health clients – I’m capping it at two new clients a month and that feels good right now
  • writing blog posts
  • researching & learning
  • eventually I’d love to start putting together smaller courses/webinars on different women’s health topics that are in the $40-$50 range vs the more spendy courses I now have that might not be accessible to everyone
  • seeing patients through Maven 
  • popping onto IG stories to provide useful women’s health content on Wednesdays and Fridays

So about Maven. I’ve been employed through Maven since right after Cal was born, but haven’t really explored it since I was more focused on a traditional NP career. I am so excited to open up hours working for them – you can make yourself available pretty much anytime that works for you. Essentially, it’s a virtual women’s healthcare clinic that aims to provide more accessible and affordable care to women and families. It’s pretty incredible I think. They employ a slew of clinicians – OBGYNs, NPs, midwives, reproductive endocrinologists, physical therapists, psychologists, pediatricians, lactation consultants, and more. So while it may not be a traditional clinical setting, the telehealth setting just fits for this season of life for me and I’m thankful to have this as an option. My hope is that it will compliment the work I do through RLWH well. With Maven, I see patients for short time slots (10 min vs 45-60 minutes) and can prescribe meds and do all those things if you live in a state I’m licensed in (MA, VA or NY) so I’m hopeful that will help me keep up with the more clinical side of things (aside from physical exam and procedures which of course you aren’t doing via telehealth) and I can still do the more in depth NP/RD work I do through my own practice. I’m also excited to stay connected to a larger practice vs just working solo since I really, really enjoy the collaboration and being a part of a bigger organization.

It’s been a long and winding two years trying to figure out what being a mom and being a clinician looks like for me. And while my dream is to one day get a post-master’s certificate and tack a midwifery license onto my FNP license, that isn’t happening anytime soon. It’s not the right time. So during this in-between time, what I’ve landed on feels really good. Not only for me, but for my family and for my two boys that make this all so very worth it.

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