I used to fumble my words when someone asked me what I do for a living. Having a baby and being laid off while on maternity leave will do that to you.
My self worth bailed right along with my sanity. I was set to return to work 12 weeks postpartum as a counselor working with patients and families dealing with a terminal illness. I loved my job. As depressing as the population I worked with sounds, it was one of the most humbling and gratifying jobs I have ever held. Then, about four weeks into my maternity leave, I received notice that the company I worked for was restructuring and I was out.
The true story is that they tried to get me to quit so that I would not be eligible for unemployment. I held my own and finally got a statement from the new COO (who I never met as she started while I was out), conceding to the fact that they were indeed laying me off. I could have been over the moon to be laid off while on maternity leave, approved for unemployment, but instead I found myself deflated and defeated.
I knew how to do my job and I knew how to do it well. This gig as a new mother made me feel inadequacy I didn’t know existed. My world was turned upside down after giving birth, and now I had no job. No title. And after two masters degrees, my student loans were the only thing I had to show for it. The mixed emotions I felt left me confused. I was wildly happy that I had this beautiful, healthy baby and at the same time I found myself grieving the loss of the job and purpose I once had.
I found myself saying things like, “Oh, I’m just doing the mom thing for now,” or, “I’m just a mom.” I didn’t realize how much my self identity was embedded in having a paying job until it was gone. It didn’t help that it seemed like everyone was only interested in asking me if the baby was sleeping through the night and did I know what I was going to do about a job. The answers were no and no.
I can’t remember when it finally clicked but it must have been during a 3 a.m. wake up call with a teething infant. Somewhere between the crying, the nursing, the rocking, the walking, and more crying, it dawned on me: I’m working way harder than I ever did at a paying gig. I’m doing a 24/7 job with no pay and no benefits. Not to mention there is no one telling me “good job” and no six-month review ending in a nice raise or bonus.
As many stay-at-home mothers will tell you, it is the hardest job in the world. It also becomes the most rewarding. My baby laughing for the first time is the ultimate bonus. My ability to calm my upset child is better than any employee of the month award. And no review could ever be as glowing as the confidence I feel nursing in public. I have never felt more empowered and comfortable in my skin since becoming a mother. It just took some time for me to own it.
I now work very part time as a marriage and family therapist but if someone asks me what I do for a living, I proudly state, “I am a mother,” and that is more than enough.