Career Woman to Stay-at-Home Mom: A Six Month Update

Six months ago, this week, I celebrated my first day as a stay-at-home mom, coincidentally on Thanksgiving Day. After working my entire adult life, as a student, a minimum wage movie theater employee, a minimum wage city employee, a substitute teacher, a circulation clerk, a librarian, a manager, and finally a teen librarian (some of these concurrently)… I quit.

I suppose that, like most first world workers, I had my grievances with my library system and the field at large, but overall, I adored my job. I worked with great people to serve a community I loved. I made teens feel safe and accepted. I helped curate a varied, current, and unbiased collection. After 10 years with the company, having worked at eight different branches, I had friends across our 19 library system. I was fulfilled… until Covid-19 hit.

I’ve said several times that if it weren’t for the pandemic, I’d likely be the kickass working mom I always intended. Even as a child, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I answered a pilot, a veterinarian, a lawyer, a nurse, a teacher, but never a mom. Of course I assumed I’d have a family, but Mom was not a career. My mother worked full time. Her mother worked full time. My dad’s mother worked full time. The little awareness I had of stay-at-home moms was primarily through a handful of distant relatives who my parents would mock for not working. Being a stay-at-home mom was for the wealthy and the devout. It truly never appealed to me, even after my girls were born… at least until they were about eight weeks old.

I’ve previously chronicled my decision to leave my career, three weeks after I returned to work, and again on my last day five weeks later. The abbreviated version was that I spent the worst part of an unprecedented global pandemic imagining my life without children. After a childhood which grew increasingly lonely, an isolating and terrifying first relationship, my solo twenties, I finally felt like I had the life I wanted. I was the person I wanted to be, someone who belonged. I was ready to start a family of my own, to create the house full of chaos, fun, and love that I’d yearned for as a child. I’d spend my 30s growing a large family that would expand to grandchildren and perhaps even great grandchildren. Yet, on February 13th, 2020, Jake came home from the urologist with devastating news. IVF was our only option. It would cost tens of thousands of dollars. It might not work. My future, as I pictured it, seem to go up in smoke.

I’ve published my infertility blog and won’t recap the heartache Jake and I went through to get pregnant, but it was indeed worthy of its own blog. As many survivors of infertility will tell you, that positive pregnancy test wasn’t the end. For the next seven months, I lived in fear that I would lose my babies, that we’d go in for an ultrasound, excited to see our growing girls, and the heartbeats would be gone. All the while, life went on as much as it could during some of the worst days of the pandemic. It was just three weeks after hearing those two little heartbeats that I was forced to put my 13-year-old beagle down, within days of my mother being put on a ventilator with Covid-19. The day after Mother’s Day she died of a heart attack. Six weeks later, my girls were born and I nearly died of pneumonia and heart complications, myself. It was just too much.

I tried, y’all. I tried to get excited about work, about seeing my coworkers/friends, but pandemic precautions had left me with nothing to enjoy about my job. I spent the better part of every day with nothing to do… so I looked at Instagram photos of my babies, read updates from the daycare about how they were doing, and looked up articles about how to determine if being a working mom just isn’t right for you. I cried almost every time I had to leave my girls and at the end of the day, when Jake and I pulled up to that daycare, I had my door open before the car stopped. I felt like a completely different person, no longer caring that the pandemic would eventually pass and the job I once loved would return to normal. I still didn’t even like other people’s kids, but I wanted to be with my girls.

Leaving my career was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made. I went through so much to be a librarian… but I went through a whole lot more to be a mom. Jake and I both hated that we were always in a rush, that every weekend was eaten away by basic errands and chores we couldn’t do during the week. We hated paying 2/3 of my paycheck to daycare, even when they were closed or the girls had to stay home because they were sick. We gave it time. Everyone said it would get better… but it never did.

One of my biggest fears when I left my job was that I’d regret my decision once my hormones leveled off. Every article I’d read suggested giving it six months, but the idea of waiting until my girls were nine months old just broke my already weakened heart. I talked to my stepmom about my dilemma and she shared the same concerns. She worked when her kids were small and felt it made her a better mother, just as I always thought I’d feel. Knowing how much I loved my job, she feared the same for me. No one seemed to think my quitting was a good idea. There comes a time though, when the devil you know is worse the devil you don’t and I was just so miserable working full time. So, I took a leap of faith and six months later…

… this former career woman, who used to quote “What you do is who you are,” has never been happier. I love being a stay-at-home mom. I get up in the morning and let my babies take as much time as they need to enjoy their breakfast. I spend my mornings doing the dishes and the laundry, making the bed, deep cleaning the kitchen and the bathrooms, all things I barely had time to do when I was working. I love laying on the floor of the playard and letting my daughters attack, as Violet pulls my hair and Scarlett climbs me and pokes me in the eye. I read Alice in Wonderland aloud or play Disney sing-alongs on YouTube from my phone, while both babies try to grab it out of my hand. I love that I can give them baths and let them play and try to climb the tub and each other, because I have the time to do so and don’t have to rush them off to bed.

That’s what it all boils down to, y’all. Even with twins, I have time I never had while working 40 hours a week. I get to take my girls for a 45 minute walk literally every day. We go to storytime, where we see other babies, play with lame library toys, and lick table legs. I can pick up groceries at 9:00 in the morning, before the stores get crowded and still have time to get my car washed. During naptime, I get to work out and stream and craft. I listen to audiobooks all day long. Best of all, literally the absolute best, I have the time and energy to take my girls to my hometown of Shetland, 45 minutes away, to spend one morning a week with my Gramma, the woman who’s given me everything.

I saw my Gramma multiple times a week when I lived in Shetland, but that changed when I married Jake and moved to Cherokee. I didn’t have much time during the week to drive to the other side of the city and weekends always seemed to get eaten up. I hated that she didn’t get to bond with the girls, especially considering Violet is named after her, as am I. Time was passing. My Gramma will be 88 years old this summer and I’m lucky she’s even still alive. I was terrified I’d blink and the years would be gone and so would she. I’d have wasted my chance to see her or let my girls know her. Now, we see her every week. My children actually reach for her and she knows their personalities. She counts down the days and though it’s still kind of a hassle, it’s so very worth it to make her so happy.

Not every woman feels this way about staying home, a fact with which I completely empathize, having always assumed I’d hate it. I don’t feel used up, as many women report. I don’t feel touched out. My girls play with each other. I don’t have to attend to them every second. Jake helps with all three meals, coming home for lunch, giving me time to talk to another adult in the middle of the day. We still have a loyal group of childless friends who come over every other weekend. I don’t feel lost in motherhood. I don’t need a career outside the home, because I’m still so intellectually curious that I’ve already told multiple people about the accordion gang violence I read about on BBC yesterday. I still have hobbies, friends, passions, and frustrations. I’m just not as stressed out all the time. I don’t need to decompress from work, while also somehow getting in some snuggles. I don’t have to stay up late to get time to myself. When Jake wants to visit his parents or go to a rodeo over the weekend, I’m not upset that I’m missing what little time I have with my babies. It’s fine, because we’ll just have fun on Monday.

I knew that I would be a working mom, just as surely as I knew that I’d loathe staying home, that I’d lose myself and no longer feel like a woman, just a mom. While I’ve been true to my word and my girls still don’t watch TV, play with our phones, sleep with us, or dictate our schedules, this is the one topic I knew would be a certain way for me as a parent, long before my girls were born, where I am officially eating crow. Just as being a stay-at-home mom is not right for many women, being a working mom just wasn’t right for me, no matter how I knew I’d feel. Maybe that will change in a few years and maybe not. I might go back to work or we might homeschool. I’m not going to try to make any predictions, because my previous one on this subject was so incredibly off the mark. This is what’s right for us, right now.

I was wrong. Everyone was wrong. I don’t regret quitting my job. I don’t feel isolated. I am happy. While I truly carry no judgment for any woman who chooses to work, I recommend both options as a topic of consideration for every family. We millennials have been told our whole lives that the two-income household was the only way to thrive, to the point that many of us have never realistically considered another option. I know it’s easier said than done for the majority. I know it’s not a financial possibility for many, especially in higher cost of living areas. I know that the career repercussions would be insurmountable for others. I respect if it’s not possible or right for a family to have a stay-at-home parent. I’m glad we considered it, though, even though we never thought we would. I’m glad we ignored all of the conventional wisdom and didn’t wait. I’m glad that we found what works for us. If what you’re doing isn’t working for you, that’s okay. That includes going back to work. You’re not less intelligent, less successful or less maternal, less nurturing. You’re not letting anyone down if you forge your own path. You’re not a disappointment if you’re a different person than you once thought.

Maybe it would be different…

Ten years ago, I’d have given anything to be a librarian. I was in graduate school, working as a half-time circulation clerk and substitute teaching and I dreamt of the day that I could call myself by that title. I wanted to work full time at one job, helping people choose a new book, file for disability, fill out job applications and build resumes, find a safe place to live after their divorce. I would have been on cloud nine to be a teen librarian, giving kids a welcoming place to learn a new skill, make friends, feel respected and valued by an adult. I prayed for this job, every night, and when I got it, it was, in many ways, exactly as I’d hoped.

Over the last eight and a half years, I’ve done all of the above and more. I’ve rushed after an escaped toddler, to keep him from getting hit by a car in the parking lot. I’ve steered a developmentally disabled woman away from online dating, so she wouldn’t get stabbed in an IHOP parking lot. I’ve convinced someone to report her stalker to the police and watched her tear up, finally having her fears validated. I’ve built a resume from scratch for an ex-offender and celebrated when he got a job. I’ve called 911 after a drug overdose and confronted people for looking at porn on the public computers. I’ve comforted teens whose parents aren’t willing or able to do so. I’ve mourned the suicide of a 16-year-old boy. I’ve even gotten one of my teen volunteers hired as a library aide. I’ve been a manager and given references and helped people grow. I’ve moved one library and helped build another from the ground up. Being a librarian has been nearly as magical as I’d always dreamed… and today is my last day.

In December of 2018, Jake and I decided to stop preventing pregnancy. By June of 2019, we were trying in earnest. By September, I was tearfully asking him to get a semen analysis. In February of 2020, we discovered IVF was our only hope for children and I’d have given anything to be a mom. I dreamt of the day that I could call myself by that title. As you might know, despite the pandemic, we were pregnant by the end of 2020 and I gave birth to two healthy girls this past June. It almost killed me, literally, but I’m not sure it made me stronger.

I always planned to work full time when I had children, following in the footsteps of my mother, her mother, and my dad’s mother. Jake knew this from the beginning and we planned our life around this model. We thrived on two incomes and bought our home just 10 minutes from our workplaces, with City Hall just up the street from the library. We took out credit cards and cashed in investments to pay for our $30,000 worth of babies, knowing that we’d make six figures and could afford to pay it off. Throughout my pregnancy, this was our plan. Even after my terrifying birth story, we never discussed an alternative. I would stay home during my recovery and then I would go back, putting our girls in a church daycare just 12 minutes away. I’d get to be the career woman and the mom. Now, I’m here and it’s exactly as I’ve always planned… and it sucks.

For eight weeks, Jake and I have been waking at 6:00 to feed our girls, before getting them ready for daycare and ourselves ready for work. We leave the house by 7:30 and drop them off at 7:45, together. We each go home for lunch, where we do chores that we don’t want to do later, then finish the day at 5:00 exactly and head to pick them up. We get home around 5:30 and try to balance daily tasks with enjoying our babies while they’re awake. By 6:00, they’re asleep and we make dinner and eat before they have their final bottle at 8:00 and we put them down. Then, we do household chores and watch a show before bed or Jake plays videogames while I read. This is every night, until the weekend, when we run ourselves ragged catching up on the errands we couldn’t do during the week, because we didn’t want to miss out on time with our children. Instead of enjoying them at home, we drag them around while we shop for groceries, get the oil changed, and return packages and store purchases. Then, we usually share them with family or friends at some get-together, before returning home to put them to bed.

As a child, I had a handful of careers I wanted when I grew up, ranging from veterinarian to lawyer to nurse to teacher. Stay at Home Mom never made the list. All my life, I’ve pictured having an impactful career, where I work full time, and then come home to my family. I went to college and then grad school and worked two jobs while carving my professional path. Finally, I got a position I love with understanding managers, where I make good money and have a predictable schedule. I have as close to zero commute as possible and a clean, safe, nearby daycare minutes away. It’s the American dream… and it’s a lie. Why didn’t anyone tell me this? For all the complaining parents do, and it is endless, why has no one simplified it to not having enough time, in a dual income family? I have never really considered myself a modern feminist, but I still thought I could do this. This is the model most people follow. Of course we would, too.

Six weeks, y’all. I made it six weeks before handing in my notice to leave my dream job, the job I can’t seem to build any enthusiasm for anymore, while simultaneously remembering how good it once made me feel. Everyone keeps telling me that it gets better, but when I ask how much time they get with their children at night, they almost always answer less than an hour. This isn’t just parents of babies, but those with school-aged children, too. After two back-to-back rounds of Pandemic IVF, an emergency C-section due to extensive pneumonia and pregnancy-induced heart complications that impact .00001% of women, three blood transfusions, four days in the ICU and three more in labor and delivery… I get an hour with my girls each night. I have a cardiologist now and $9,000 in hospital bills, but I have an hour with my babies.

In a perfect world, I could just go half-time again, doing the same job for fewer hours, but my system doesn’t hire half-time librarians anymore. The only half-time positions don’t require an MLIS and pay $5 less an hour. While I’d be thrilled to take one of these and it’s a possibility that one might open in the next few months, if I do so as an internal candidate, I’ve been informed that my retirement will be frozen. If I’m no longer full time, but I haven’t terminated employment, I won’t be able to touch my retirement, not to add to it or roll it over or continue investing in it. Since Jake and I wouldn’t plan for me to return to full time or quit, for at least 15 years, $75,000 would sit in an account and be eaten by inflation. I was told, verbatim, that I do have a choice, though: I can terminate employment… and so I did.

Leaving my job has been one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make. I worked so hard for this. I spent years praying for this exact position, a teen librarian job on the outskirts of the county, where I could make big city money and lead a small town life. I feel like I’m losing a part of myself. Unlike other people’s dream jobs, it was more or less exactly as wonderful as I’d dreamt. Sure, there were frustrations with other departments and budgeting decisions and weird niche emphases in my specialization, but my day to day? It was awesome. I made a difference. I made good money. I made friends. I had fun

… then Covid-19 hit.

Maybe things would have been different, if it weren’t for the pandemic, the way we had to get pregnant, losing my mom the day after Mother’s Day, or almost dying when my girls were born. Maybe if my job had actually been enjoyable for the last two years, instead of a terrifying effort not to get sick during IVF, while trying to simultaneously appease the conflicting feelings of staff and the public… maybe I’d have been able to make the adjustment, like all other women seem to do. I remember loving my job. I looked forward to work… but I can’t do it anymore. I keep thinking that women do this all the time, but then I talk to them and realize that it doesn’t get better. They just get used to it and those aren’t the same thing. I don’t want to get used to feeling like I don’t know my daughters, to being exhausted and irritable, to constantly rushing and never having enough hours in the day. Maybe I’m weak or the last two years have broken something inside of me, because I don’t have it in me and I never thought I would feel this way. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It doesn’t feel right, though, far more than leaving my job doesn’t feel right.

I wish I could split myself in two, like Sabrina Spellman à la The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I could send one Belle to the library, where she’d comfort a teenage boy who just came out to his mom, recommend some fitting YA books, and invite him to the next teen program. Then, I could stay home and care for my girls and my house, freeing up time to spend as a family later, never missing a milestone. That’s just it, though. Just as Sabrina sent her other self to rule Hell, I’d send my other self to work full time. Even in this fantasy, I stay home.

I’ve cried myself sick over the last few days, but it’s nothing compared to the tears I’ve cried over the last eight weeks. I want to be a librarian, but I want to be with my girls more. Maybe things would be different if it hadn’t all been so hard, but I’m not strong enough for this… literally. Jake and I would like to have another baby, transferring another embryo (singular) this summer, but it would be the kind of pregnancy that involves a team with a cardiologist on it. I can’t do that and have twins and work full time. I can’t even do this. For all I went through to get my dream job, I went through a lot more to get my girls. There’s still hope that a half-time position will open in the next six months or so, so perhaps I’ll be able to return to my role in a more manageable capacity… at least that’s what I tell myself, so I can keep it together as Grady, the teen volunteer I got hired on, thanks me for all I’ve done for him.

My heart is breaking for the career I’m giving up, but there’s a chance I can have it again later and there’s absolutely zero chance that my girls will ever be this small again. I keep thinking about my mother, what she’d have done differently. If she weren’t my age during the 90s, when it was just assumed that a woman would work, she’d have chosen to stay home or work part-time. I’m certain. I doubt that would have saved her relationship with my dad, but it might have literally saved her sanity and her relationship with her children. I don’t want to have regrets, but I seem to have no choice. As much as my heart is breaking to leave my library, it breaks more to think of missing these years. So for now, this chapter of my life has closed and I’ll just have to see what the future holds.