Which Way Do I Go?

So here I am, just turned 35 and wondering what I want to do when I grow up.  Ha!  For most of my life, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  As a child, I begged to stay up late so I could watch the weather broadcast on the nightly local news station. I would stand on our back porch, looking into the clouds, and make my own weather forecasts.  I was so nerdy, I even hand plotted hurricane latitude/longitude from the National Hurricane Center’s hurricane forecasts.  I once got in trouble because I’d used several rolls of film, unknowingly to my parents.  No doubt, they were expecting to find pictures of my sister and I, family events, maybe a lost roll from a family vacation.  Ha!  Were they surprised when every last picture was of clouds in the sky!

Naturally, I had decided I was going to college to study meteorology.  I didn’t want to be a television meteorologist though.  I wanted to be like Jo Harding in Twister and do research.  Live in the excitement of the field and make new discoveries, advancing weather science.  Ultimately I ended up somewhere in the middle.  I am a severe storms forecaster, examining tornado, hail and high wind potential on a daily basis across the entire nation.  I love my job.  It is meaningful and fulfilling work.  And, I get to enjoy a bit of both the research and operational worlds, doing research and outreach during spare work time.  I am grateful for my career and I worked very hard to get here.

But in the last four or five years the flame seems to have dimmed a bit.  I have many theories as to why this has occurred.  In that time, I’ve had two children.  I am tired.  I don’t have the energy I once had because I average about 5 hours of sleep a day.  That’s usually broken up by things like nighttime feedings or tending to hungry, scared, wide awake, energetic children who seem bent on making sure I never have another restful night of sleep again. I live on caffeine and shear willpower.  Besides being utterly exhausting, my kids have also changed my perspective on life.  My family is my top priority.  Working rotating shift work is not always conducive to a happy family life.  I work weekends, holidays, night shifts.  I miss events, we don’t see our extend family as often as I’d like, and fun times with friends are few and far between. I question quite often if this is the life I want for my family.  We live about 500 and 1500 miles away from our families.  It is HARD raising a family so far away from those closest to you.  Am I doing my kids a disservice by not being closer to their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins? Am I being selfish?  My husband and I are stressed to the max quite often because of issues like these.  This lifestyle we’re living undoubtedly contributes to my anxiety.

So why not just quit my job and stay at home with my kids and be a homemaker?  Lots of reasons.  Many of which I’m not sure are really “good” reasons.  Let’s tick them off (in no particular order):

  1. I worked hard in college to earn my degree.  I’m still paying off student loans for that degree.
  2. This is what I always wanted.  I DO love what I do, the people I work with and the mission of our organization.
  3. My kids will not always need me to the degree they do now.  But right now is some of the most important times in their lives.  I’m helping to shape them into the people they will become.  But, once they start school and become more independent, I’d want to do meaningful and fulfilling work outside the home again. But if I quit my job now, there is no way I’d be invited back into my organization.  It would basically be career suicide. I’m very conflicted over this because I want to be there for my kids during the most formative years of their lives.
  4. I am not a risk taker.  I make a very good salary and it would be a huge hit to our lifestyle and quality of life.  I like getting that pay check and shopping, putting money in savings, going on vacations, being able to get my kids things they want, not just things they need. Am I a terrible person for that? If I quit, would I really be helping my kids or jeopardizing their futures?
  5. I provide our health insurance, which is very good and affordable through my employer. I have other benefits as well, like life insurance, retirement, etc.
  6. What if I make a terrible stay-at-home mom?  What if I make a terrible stay-at-home wife?  Some days, when the kids are pushing all the right buttons, it’s nice to be able to come to work for a little break.

I’ve been asking myself a lot, “what would I do if I weren’t doing this?” I don’t have a very good answer because I feel like I’ve lost myself in some ways since having kids.  I don’t really know what I’m passionate about anymore other than them.  I am sure this can’t be a good thing for them or for me.  I don’t really have any answers to any of these questions.  So here I sit, feeling stagnant in my professional career and depressed over not being the kind of mom and wife I’d like to be for my family.   I feel not wholly present in either part of my life. When I’m at work, I’m wishing I were at home with my family and when I’m home with my family I’m usually exhausted from a combination of shift work and the demands of small children. I’m stressing about how I’m not a top-notch employee and I’m late to work nearly every day because I usually have a kid asking me not to leave while I’m furiously throwing frozen meals and breast pump supplies into my work bag. I’m seeing the look of longing and sadness in my husbands face as I close the door behind me.  It sucks.

All I know is I’m struggling to find happiness, or at least contentment, with where I am in life. I can’t shake the feeling that this is not how it should be.  That this is not how it could be.  But I have no idea what the answer is to get to where I want to be…

Big Emotions

I feel my phone buzzing in my pocket as I start to wash breast pump parts in the community sink at work.  It’s 7pm, bedtime.  My husband has called me so I can still be a part of my almost-4 year olds bedtime routine even though I am at work.  I immediately smile and feel so happy to see my family’s smiling faces.  Even the baby is there for bedtime stories.  We make funny faces at each other, share “I love you” and “see you in the morning.”  When we hang up, I’m profoundly sad.  Before I left for work, my son asked why I had to go and said it wasn’t fair.  No kidding.  I’ve had a difficult time adjusting being back at work since I had my daughter in June.  I’ve been back for almost two months now, and nearly every day I still drive to work with tears in my eyes.

Part of me wonders if I’m struggling so much because of the traumatic experience of my daughters birth.  She was born unexpectedly at 28 weeks and 6 days gestation.  It was a difficult pregnancy from the beginning.  I was so sick the entire time with morning (let’s be real, all day) sickness.  I never had much of an appetite and actually lost 10 pounds during my pregnancy.  At about 15 weeks pregnant, I started having excruciating back and hip pain.  We found out I had a herniated disk in my lower back and it had become symptomatic probably because of the changes occurring to my body due to the pregnancy.  I was in agony for nearly 5 weeks before weeks of physical therapy and chiropractic got me back to being able to stand and walk again.  Then, at 26 weeks pregnant I found out I had gestational diabetes.  Really?  Come on body!  I know 34 years old isn’t a spring chicken for a pregnant lady, but give me a break!  I adjusted my diet and had started to feel a little better by 28 weeks.  Then one night, I just started feeling really ill and had a racing heartbeat.  I was going to be near my OB’s office the next day for a gestational diabetes class so I called to see if I could come see a nurse because I just didn’t feel right.  It never crossed my mind that I’d be admitted to the hospital that afternoon.  But my blood pressure was high (156/101) and I had protein in my urine.  Preeclampsia was probable.

We had to rush to figure out what to do with my son because we have no family here in Oklahoma.  Luckily, our awesome neighbors stepped up and kept him overnight.  Everything just kind of went downhill from there as I was hooked up to magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures and given steroids to try to boost my baby girls lung development.  Labs showed that my liver enzymes were through the roof.  I had labs drawn every 6 hours to keep close tabs on those enzymes and luckily we were able to make it 48 hours more, long enough for those lung-enhancing steroid shots to have maximum benefit for baby girl.  I was so out of it from all the medications I was on, I didn’t really have the energy to be too nervous about the c-section.  All of my energy was focused on my girl and if she would be ok.  And making sure the doctor tied my tubes, because after two horrible pregnancies that both ended in preterm births, I was so done with having babies.

Luckily, our sweet girl is a rock star and she made it through the NICU with flying colors in only 40 days.  But I have had a harder time dealing with the experience.  The worry and anxiety I feel are consuming.  She had a minor (grade 1) brain bleed.  While the doctors do not think it will have any impact on her development, there is a tiny chance it will.  Cerebral Palsy is the main concern with this type of bleed.  She also has a heart condition where a hole that is present for every baby in-utero did not close once she was born.  She has to undergo a procedure to correct the issue.  And while I’m assured the risks are low, they are not zero.   Every four weeks she gets a shot called Synagis.  This is meant to reduce the impacts and severity of symptoms should she contract the RSV virus.  My son had RSV at 13 months of age and was in the hospital for a couple of days.  It was awful.  He now has reactive airway disease.  If she gets RSV, what havoc will it reap on her tiny lungs?  Will she continue her rockstar status and give RSV a big middle finger?  One must be 6 months of age to get the flu shot.  That means she can not get it until December.  There are a whole host of fears I have regarding illness.  Fears that for a normal person would seem preposterous.  But I know that for her, a simple cold can be dangerous.  That anxiety paralyzes me.  So much so that I’m terrified to travel with her in a week to meet her family 8 hours away because what if one of them is sick and doesn’t take my warning seriously to not come near her if they are in fact ill (even just a cold!).

First cuddles, 6 days old

Then there is the mom guilt.  My body ultimately failed her.  My son didn’t see his mom for a week while I was in the hospital. He had to stay with neighbors who, while not strangers, were not his safe place and norm.  He is resilient and did fine, but the guilt piles on.  I’m afraid to take the kids places this fall and winter because of my fears of illness.  So I feel guilty that they are missing out.  Every time I leave for work, I feel like I’m failing them.  Especially my daughter who needs extra attention to make sure she develops and thrives and catches up on her milestones.  I feel completely out of control, and for anyone who knows me well, thats huge, because I am a bit of a control freak.

Finally, I feel like failure as a wife.  I am tired, anxious, probably a little depressed.  I’m consumed by worry for my kids and my inadequacies as a mother.  And my awesome husband bears the brunt of my crabbiness, my sadness, my anger.  It’s not fair to him.  He deserves better than me.  And even though I want to be better for myself, my kids and for him, it’s a constant struggle.

At the end of the day I hope my family will always know how much I love them and care about their happiness.  And I hope I do a good enough job of hiding how afraid I am, how much self-loathing I carry, how anxious I am that I’m screwing it all up.  Fake it ’til you make it, right?