Friday, December 10, 2010

Why SAHM is a Four-Letter Word

I would like to stay home for three, maybe even six or nine, more months. I would, however, not love to. I want to be the primary caregiver to Jackson for as long as possible, to be there for every milestone and every smile and every tear, but there are reasons why it just won't work. Why I am not actively trying to make it work.

First of all, but not most importantly because after the past two years we know the meaning of sacrifice, we are set up as a two-income home. It is possible for us to function with KB's income alone, but it would require a lot of financial juggling and plate-spinning and probably create plenty of stress along the way. After the economic mindfuck that infertility treatment was -- we just received another adjusted insurance claim/soon-to-be-bill this week; will we ever be done with the RE clinic? Or, more to the point, will they ever be done with us? -- we do not need any more money woes. Together, we make a very comfortable living that affords a nice vacation or two every year, and the ability to provide for our family and take care of our home without worrying about giving up necessities for the niceties. And we like it that way. Money isn't everything, but it does buy a lot of important things. Things we need, things we enjoy, and things that help make a happy home.

It's sort of a moot point from a job perspective, because my position cannot be reduced to part-time and cannot be held for even a few more months of unpaid leave. I'd have to develop a seizure disorder or lop off a limb to stay out of work on disability any longer than the 14 weeks I've had (a combo of FMLA and short-term disability plus the remainder of paid time off that I banked for the holidays). I am not so enamored of my current job that I couldn't bear the thought of quitting (indeed, I ponder it often and with zeal), but it wouldn't be waiting for me when I wanted to return. And though I am very marketable with my particular skillset and experience, the economy is still on life support and I can't trust that I'd be able to find a job when the time comes. Freelancing is always an option (contract medical writers are often in demand for one-off jobs or short-term pharmaceutical industry support to develop manuscripts, advisory board presentations, or get caught up on clinical study reports) but it's not guaranteed steady work. I also know from friends who do it that it can be stressful to find an equilibrium between accepting enough freelance work to make a living, but not saying "yes" (in order to keep the clients) to the point that you're basically working full-time or worse. It's an option I keep in my back pocket in case my career goes nuclear for one reason or another.

All logistics aside, the most compelling reason for me to go back to work rather than stay home is that being a full-time stay-at-home mom is hard fucking work. Grueling. Sometimes discouraging. At times, even depressing. I love being with my son. I love him to pieces. But my days at home with him can be very, very stressful. Don't get me wrong -- some days are better than others. Some days he naps well, eats well, fusses a little but settles down, and lets me put him down long enough to go the bathroom or eat lunch or finish the laundry. If every day was one of those days, I would be writing a very different post about how KB and I are going to make it work with one working parent for the next year or so. But not every day is like that. In fact, those kind of days are in the clear minority right now, although things are looking up all the time. As Jackson gets older and develops, he grows more independent and creates eating and sleeping patterns I can work with. But I still spend my days, even the good ones, on pins on needles, rushing to complete whatever menial tasks I can as fast as I can, counting down the minutes until the next feeding or watching for signs that he's about to wake up. If I take him with me to run errands, I rush in fear of him screaming in a public place or having to nurse him somewhere terribly inconvenient. And if I'm not working, we can't really justify the added expense of hired help, even part-time. And that leaves me...alone. I'm not cut out for that, no matter how hard I try. The Mommy and Me groups aren't for me, either, since I'm basically a social outcast with a carefully selected inner circle who does not mingle well or desire to make new Mommy friends (the few I already have are enough -- plus, I like my non-parent friends, too).

I also think I need to work for my own intellectual satisfaction and the adult interaction. It's funny to add that last part, because I work remotely from a home office, but I do meet up with nearby coworkers and friends for lunch every now and again while working, and I have telephone or web meetings almost every day with colleagues and clients. Basically, I don't think I'm ready to trade The New England Journal of Medicine for Mother Goose.

I roll this over and over in my mind, because part of me feels like I should want to stay home, after everything we had to do and how hard we fought to bring Jackson into our lives. But then I remind myself: I am not held to a higher standard of motherhood just because we're infertile and Jackson is an IVF baby.

I wish being a working mom was an easy, clean choice. But it's not, so I am choosing what seems to be, on balance, best for our family. In my head, I give returning to work around 3-6 months, tops. If I hate it, I can quit and start freelancing, and keep Jackson home with me a couple of days each week. And if I don't hate it, I'll just feel good about my original choice. Here's hoping it's a win-win.


Lisa said...

In the beginning, I think my career job was definitely easier than the SAHM gig. The first 4-6 months were HARD. Now though, the boy is more predictable, more interactive, and way easier. I would quit my job in a heartbeat to stay home every day (although for me that also has to do with my current unhappiness at work as well as wanting to be with Noah), but financially there is absolutely no way. You're lucky that you have some options down the road, because I wonder if you won't change your mind. Good luck with all of it!

'Murgdan' said...

I love working. And I work hard. But for me, it's still a break.

On the same token, my heart breaks when my baby screams bloody murder in my arms when my husband (who is currently a SAHD) leaves the room, or quiets instantly for him (but not me). I have a time with myself on that one, and I'm not saying he doesn't love me or glow when I walk through the door at night...but sometimes I wonder if I'm the worlds worst mother.

kdactyl said...

I found out very fast that SAHM was not for me. After putting off parenthood until I was 40...I had completed my education, got a higher degree, worked my way up in my career and was very fulfilled there. To just give it all up was very stressful for me. We could have managed on one income, but I really needed that additional stimulation and more of a balance. I got it, luckily, in the form of a 30 hour week for the first year I was back at work....and then eased into full time and it seems to work for us. It does take 100% from both parents though. I know some women who work full time and don't get a lot of support at home from Hubby with the kids...I could not have done it without having the best partner in the world...but don't feel guilty...I feel I am a better mother because I have this balance in my life....and son was an IVF baby and my daughter was from a donated embryo, so here I have these two miracles that I worked so hard for....Shouldn't I just give up everything to stay home with them full time? I think not...I think I should do what any other woman would do (regardless of her form of conception)....find the balance that works for YOUR family and as long as everyone is healthy and happy....don't worry about what other people do. I like that you are keeping your options open .... you will be a better mommy for it.

bunny said...

It seems like both options kinda suck, but I'm glad that at least you're not battling with yourself over this. You don't want to stay home, and you're choosing not too. GOOD. And you're keeping your options open. SMART. I approve, and if I approve, you're golden.