After five years and six miscarriages, I am the mother of a very beautiful and very alive little girl. A little girl who is nearly six months old. I love it. I love her. And in some difficult to articulate way, motherhood completes me, fills me unlike anything I've ever experienced. After all of this time of wanting, it has become part of who I am. I never thought I would be able to say it, but I am a mom.
I am also a professional. I went to school for a long time - eight additional years after my four-year college degree - and earned a PhD in clinical psychology. I completed a two year post-doctoral fellowship. And ultimately I was awarded a faculty position at a medical school as a research scientist. When faced with what career path to take during our long journey with infertility, I have always chosen the more ambitious route. Partially because I love what I do and want to do it well. And partially to distract myself from my profound sadness over our seemingly terminal infertility and multiple losses. My work is full. It is fulfilling. I spend my days seeing patients, conducting clinical research, writing grants and research articles, giving talks, and supervising trainees.
Or rather I used to, before I went out on maternity leave.
Since my beloved daughter arrived, I've been showering her with kisses and eking out as much time away from work as is humanly possible. In fact, I somehow managed to get permission to take off up until this very week. Much of it unpaid leave, but still. In America, 5.5 months off is an almost unheard of length of maternity leave. (Canadians and Europeans, I know that 5.5 months off is no big shakes, but sadly many in the U.S. get only 6-8 weeks).
But now the university wants me back. And I am filled with ambivalence.
I am crazy in love with my daughter. And I want to be an integral part of her day to day life. I'm also deeply aware of - and humbled by - the fact that my husband Will and I are currently my daughter's whole world. What she knows of trust, of security, of happiness, comes from whatever amount of warmth and consistency and touch we are able to give her. To go back to work (and thereby be away from her) feels on some level instinctually and primally wrong.
On the other hand, I am also aware of the fact that she will grow up, and not need me so much, and that if I step away from my academic career now, it will not be waiting for me when I may want to return to it in five or so years. I also worked long and hard to have the role I do now (see above about 12 years of education post high school).
So being kind of a science-y sort, I decided to look to the data. What do other people think about moms working or staying home or doing something in-between?
It turns out that the Pew Research Center has just completed a survey on this very topic.
And here are a few key findings, in graphical form:
So the majority of people overall vote for part-time employment. Sounds great!!! But this is not compatible with being on the faculty of a medical school, now or ever again (one of those 'once you've stepped off of the merry-go-round you are off' types of situations...)
What about working mothers? What do they think? This should be helpful, I thought. Maybe other moms like me can help me think through what feels most right in this situation...
Part-time wins again! Although it looks like significantly more moms are voting for full-time in 2012 versus in 2007.
From a purely financial perspective, I am lucky that I am not the primary breadwinner in our family. I realize it is a luxury that I even get to grapple with the notion of how much I want to work. My husband Will is on the faculty at the same medical school that I am, but is much better compensated (he is on a clinical track; I am on a research track). I make a decent salary, but if I chose my work based purely on finances, I could make more money in fewer hours if I left academics and entered private practice.
What do I think I want in an ideal world? If you asked me today, I think I agree with the majority, that part-time work really fits the bill the best. I'd like to have my cake and eat it too. To have my daughter see her mom working as a professional, and see herself by extension as capable of anything she puts her mind to. But I also want to spend as much time with her as I can and strongly desire her to feel that she and not mom's work, is most important.
The trouble is, I cannot remain on the faculty at my institution on a part-time basis, or I would do that in a heartbeat. And so, for now, I am returning to my current position. I am going to test the waters and see if I can work in the new way that I want to (home earlier in the evening, not working nights and weekends). I've negotiated one day at home to work remotely. Of course, as a new mom, I have a whole new perspective on what's important, and I'm hoping to be able to translate that into a changed approach to my work.
So right now I'm going through my own version of separation anxiety. My daughter seems completely unfazed, but I am a bit of a wreck.
For the next few months, I will take each day as it comes, taking my emotional temperature from time to time about working as a mom. I'll be posting as I feel my way through this return-to-work transition, I'll figure out exactly what kind and amount of work makes sense for me and my family now and for the future.
As always, I welcome your thoughts. I would love to hear from other working moms about how you navigated your own back-to-work transitions.
Read more about the data from the Pew Research Center report on Modern Parenthood here.
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