Four weeks after the birth of my son I was laid off from the non-profit where I had been working for almost four years. This role had fulfilled my existence for a very long time; it was the job my college aged self-dreamed of having. It involved long hours, frequent travel and stressful days and sometimes nights.
The timing of the lay-off could not have been more absurd. I had given birth via c-section after a long and arduous labor and was having serious issues with breast milk supply, I was hanging on to my sanity by a thread. My mind and body were not prepared to absorb the shock of this event and I was in a daze after it happened. On the upside, I knew that every ending is also a new beginning.
Aside from the financial concerns, this lay-off also meant that for the first time since high school I would be unemployed and that for the first time in a long time I would no longer have a career to help define the narrative of my existence. I had a new role to define me -- mother. Yikes. I had no idea how to do that one.
In my silly naiveté, I had felt ready to take on motherhood and my career. I was excited to “lean in,” instead life decided it was time for me to “lean out.” I had been working non-stop for a very long time and the change of pace still feels foreign to me. Motherhood is definitely the hardest work I have ever done but it is very different from the professional world. Being a caregiver to an infant is at times repetitive and monotonous (didn’t I just change his diaper?) but it is soon followed by moments of sheer elation (look he smiled at me!)
Ultimately, being laid off helped me stop and enjoy the scenery. It gave this domestic skeptic time to fully appreciate the gift of motherhood. It forced me to enjoy the quiet moments. I had not had those moments since childhood. I was definitely a type A, wannabe overachiever. I was the first person in my family to graduate college, and I did it with honors. I rarely took time off. I worked on a presidential campaign in the Mid-West that involved 16 hour days for a few months and after a devastating loss I returned to my regular desk job at a public affairs firm the following Monday. I took some kind of pride in never stopping.
Don’t get me wrong, motherhood is definitely not a vacation. But there is a lot of appreciating to do and that appreciating can’t happen if you cannot be fully present. There’s that moment when your baby recognizes you, that moment of sheer delight when they discover something new, and see a new place for the first time. Parenting a newborn is very intense but those quiet moments are what keeps you going.
Being laid-off allowed me to settle into my new role. I had never been a domestic person but as anyone with new children can tell you, babies create a ton of chores. It gave my relationship time to settle from the tornado a baby brings to every aspect of your life. Being out of work gave my neurotic self a chance to absorb all of these changes.
More significantly, this lay-off and subsequent unemployment forced me to practice the art of being happy and finding happiness even in the darkest moments. Because after all happiness isn’t about being happy when everything is going your way but about being happy regardless of what is happening outside of you. As someone who has navigated the dark waters of depression, I knew that I was capable of being unhappy even when everything seemed to be going well on the outside. My son gave me strength to push through even in the darkest moments. I took it upon myself to find happiness in small doses every day. I had spent the majority of my pregnancy wondering if I could really do this; if I could provide for him, if I could continue to be myself even when I became a mother, if I would raise him properly. Ironically, removing myself from the daily grind silenced the many voices of doubt that constantly ran through my mind and allowed me to just enjoy the moments.
A few months ago, someone asked me if I was a stay at home mom. It hit me that technically, yes, I was. But as women we are all wearing many hats at once; we still have our goals and ambitions that extend beyond our role as mothers. In homes like mine, working isn’t necessarily a feminist statement or about making statements about what type of parents we want to be, but rather decisions that are made based on economic realities. I have a new found appreciation for my career and for my ability to find fulfillment in my home life and professional life.
Being laid-off has made a more relaxed individual. When one of your worst case-scenarios becomes real, you realize that you are much more capable than you think you are, and that you probably spend far too much time worrying about things that won’t matter in a year or in ten years. I know I did. Yes, there are days where everything is overwhelming --as I type this I am getting ready for two big interviews that could determine the financial future of my young family. I am looking forward to resuming my professional life with my new found wisdom and motivation. I am also planning my son’s first birthday because his first year of life and our journey as parents is worth celebrating. On the difficult days, I look at my very healthy son who is the most amazing human I have ever met and I know that I have to pull through for him and for my amazing partner who has given our little family 100 percent, even on the days when I could only give 80.
My life isn’t better because I’m not working but I am a better person because I was faced with the unthinkable and chose to see the positive side. When I was pregnant, I read all the books, took all the classes with my partner, and treated parenthood like a test I was going to ace and then follow up with a celebratory beer. From the moment I went into labor everything has gone greatly off course. Motherhood has humbled me because life with a baby is all about not having control of things, even simple things like showering and eating. Losing a job seems minimal in comparison. In motherhood just like in our careers anything can happen. All you can do is be ready to cope with the cards that life deals you and love yourself even on the days when you don’t feel lovable at all.
(photo: Khoroshunova Olga/ Shutterstock)