The day I gave birth to our son my desire for a doctorate vanished. The urge to be with Hanan trumped everyone and everything. In the first six months, I stayed home with Hanan full time, his caretaker from morning till night and loved it. I had purpose and a love so deep it fueled me through a year of sleep deprivation.
A few years before Hanan was born I changed careers. Towards the end of my schooling I became pregnant and took my boards one week before delivery. The timing was perfect. I got licensed, gave birth, and had the luxury of full time motherhood with no pressure from a job awaiting my return. But while immersed in the hazy, dream-like state of infant care, I had thoughts of launching my career as an adult nurse practitioner. What was the point of my training I thought, if I never practiced? If I waited too long, I would be a stale candidate, not as likely to get hired. But motherhood seemed to be the greatest position I could ever assume, so I pushed off these nagging thoughts and sunk deeply into its embrace. My days began with nursing and ended with nursing. My identity as mother centered me more than anything else ever had and I was grateful for the opportunity to be close to my child.
Every woman has her opinion about how the mother-baby dyad ought to be. And typically these opinions are framed with the assumption that there is but one mother who must choose between child and career. But my son has two mothers who have chosen both roads. For me and my wife, the dynamics between career, childcare, and motherhood turn on a different axis. The questions that arise for us are centered around the definition of motherhood and the ways that each of us can claim our own unique role as Hanan’s mother. When I chose to start working outside of the home, I left Hanan in the arms of his Ema. My own personal convictions were strongly in favor of caring for our son on our own. I had the support of my wife who would have to restructure her career obligations in order to make our scenario doable. As long as Hanan was being cared for by one of us I felt free to give of myself outside the home. So at six months, I began working as a nurse practitioner in a practice ten blocks away; on lunch breaks I met my wife and son on the periphery of Central Park and quickly switched roles, latching him to my breast. It was not an easy transition physically or emotionally but each of my roles demanded that I move swiftly between them. Financially we were able to afford two part time jobs that allowed both of us to be with him on a rotating schedule. While I was working, my wife cared for Hanan. On her days at the office, I took over childcare. At seventeen months postpartum, the arrangement has kept up, tiring to the bone and yet a gift.
When I’m at work I give patients my all. I return phone calls at night, write lab letters on the weekends, and read up on diagnoses and treatment protocol to stay informed. I am fully committed to my job while wanting to be more committed at home. I don’t feel I can have it all because there is no such thing. I am learning to accept this, but the nature of giving to two separate spheres makes me frustrated and annoyed at times. Many, many hours have been spent, wishing I did not have to focus on my job obligations while my son plays happily on our living room floor. He is happy to have my unbroken engagement, but also able to play on his own. There have been many moments when I have wanted to return to being a full-time “stay at home mother.” For me, it is the only perfect fit in the world. Being wrapped up in Hanan, in the day-to- day labyrinth of work, play, and sleep gives me the greatest joy and meaning.
And yet, this is simply one approach, one voice in this never-ending conversation. Who am I to judge other women and their choices? There are endless permutations of obligations, preferences, abilities, and finances that shape a family’s decision on childcare. These factors are ours and ours alone. No two women have the same scenario and if they did we would all be less likely to judge our fellow mothers. If you trade in a million dollar paycheck for afternoon walks in the park and playgrounds, or opt for the boardroom instead, I salute you (granted this is a simplified version of a real life calculus). I implore women to find their desire and to go after it. I believe it is a joyous, life affirming lot to be wrapped up in my role as Hanan’s mother, but it is my belief. Mothers ought to listen to their beliefs and desires and do their best to construct a life that provides meaning and happiness.
Read more on Motherhood in the “Lean-In” Era here.