Saturday, 10 March 2012

A career of one's own

Radio 4's Woman's Hour recently asked its listeners to tell them whether they felt their career defined them. The implicit question was -  is motherhood enough, or do you need a career to make you feel happy?

I was reflecting recently how stressed I used to be in my job in London. My commute was horrendous, my colleagues occasionally bullying or bitchy, my shifts anti-social. I wasn't conceiving. When we moved out to the Gulf, I looked at it as a blessing in disguise. I realised that not working gave my body a break from the rat race, and would probably make fertility treatment more successful; and so it proved to be. I was pregnant within five months of arriving in my new home.

What I hadn't prepared myself for was the shock of losing my career. I felt like I'd lost my identity. I realised I'd worked for so many years to reach the position I had (in a career that many people aspire to) that I coudn't just let it go.

I don't talk about my career on here as I want to keep that side of life separate from this blog, but let's say, for argument's sake, that I'm a doctor. I've trained for many years to get this far, and obviously people are interested in what I do. When we go out, people are equally as interested in my career as they are in my husband's. When I go somewhere for work, I'm treated as a professional, someone who's worked hard to get where they are.

Once I became a Mum and remained unemployed, all conversation turned to our baby. Social gatherings always involved talking about sleeping patterns and my difficulties breast feeding. No-one ever asked what "I did" anymore, although they continued to ask my husband about his flying career.

Not only this, but my self-esteem began to plummet. I hadn't realised just how much of  buzz I got from my job, from working hard and seeing a concrete result at the end of it. Not to mention the self-worth you feel when you're making at least some of the money you're spending. Motherhood had no deadlines, just long, long, bleary eyed shifts. I told my husband more than once that I envied his work. He looked at me like I was mad, as he was wishing (logically enough) that he could spend more time at home with our little boy. Meanwhile I craved a few hours away from home, dressed to impress, doing the job I loved and getting paid for it. I was as surprised to feel that way as many of you will be reading this.

I also noticed a subtle shift in the way my husband behaved towards me. Call me paranoid, but I felt that he looked at me differently now I wasn't working and achieving in the workplace. I felt, to be honest, that he wasn't as proud of me as he had been. That's probably the post-natal depression that was talking, but it certainly added to the desperation I felt to get back to work.

Fast forward nearly two years, and our son is at nursery three days a week. I have miraculously managed to find a part-time job which means I can balance time with my family with the work I love to do. There are still challenges (the battle to fit decent family time into my husband's roster is never ending) but I'm overjoyed to have my career back.

I love being a mother, but I refuse to give up my career as a result. No-one ever asks men to do that, do they? No-one ever asks a Dad why he's going back to work so soon, or why he's letting someone else look after his child when he could resign and stay at home and look after his child. Well, do they?

Big fat nope.



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