Thursday, March 26, 2009

My Journey Home

This is such a personal topic, and I am having difficulty deciding how far back to go in writing. I don’t want to bore you to death, but yet I don’t want to leave anything important out, either! So bear with me, you may get more than you bargained for but is that necessarily a bad thing?

Growing up, my sister (not quite 3 years younger) and I stayed with my grandma part time, while mom worked part time, when we weren’t in school. I don’t remember the pre-school days, so Mom will have to fill in that part if she wants. Eventually, Mom started working full time, which I remember most clearly due to having to spend long hours at school after hours to be picked up, especially after high school on days when I didn’t have sports practice. I went to a private Christian school from preK-8th grade, and then a private Christian high school. In the summers when we were old enough we either stayed home by ourselves, or with the other set of grandparents who lived across the road. I spent a lot of time showing my horses in 4H and rated shows, and decided I wanted to work with horses “when I grew up.”

I then went to college, with a goal of learning what I needed to run a horse farm. Well, I learned that I didn’t have what I needed: a big name reputation in horses, and plenty of money! I met my soon-to-be husband my freshman year. We dated while at school, and then after he graduated we made the long-distance relationship work – we knew we had a special thing together and decided it was worth it. Soon we started talking of marriage, and I worked out how I could finish the necessary credits to finish my Animal Agribusiness degree in 3 years at the main campus. We got married in 2005, and I commuted to the local college to finish up my degree. I walked in the graduation ceremony in May 2006.

After we were married in 2005, I started working part time at a very large egg farm. This company was #3 in the nation for egg production, and one of the bigger animal agribusinesses in the area for me to intern at while I finished my degree. I was on track to become a manager in some capacity at this firm, working a while at different locations to learn all aspects of the company before deciding where the best fit was for me. I started full-time at this company immediately after graduation. It wasn’t a perfect fit for me, but probably about as good as I was going to find here locally. I spent some time interviewing at other places, but found no other options, so I stayed, and eventually earned some seniority, got a raise, and was doing well.

We started feeling the itch to grow our family. I say “we” even though Matt has always had it in his mind that he was going to one day get married, and have children (one or two). Me, I was neutral on marriage (until I met Matt, then I was definitely interested!) and I certainly didn’t want children! In my naïve thought – all you did as a parent was take care of your children, work all day, come home and make dinner and crash – you were too tired to do anything else because your kids (through having to provide for their various needs/wants) took up all your time. Somehow, I managed to forget my thoughts on child-rearing, after seeing many of our friends having babies (so cute!) and I finally came around and thought this would be a good idea for Matt and I, too. Matt had always wanted at least one child, and being very practical, gave it some thought, and while we may not have been perfectly financially ready, he had been given the advice by some of the guys at work that “you’ll never be ready for kids until you start having them” so he decided that we might as well start trying.

So at my next GYN appointment, I mentioned this notion to the doctor, who pretty straightforwardly said that we’ll just need to stop taking the Pill, and start trying! I had wanted to wait a few months (use other form of birth control) to make sure all of the remnants of having taken the Pill for quite some time were out of my system, but the Doctor assured me that it was just fine to go ahead and try, since we didn’t know how fertile we would be, that it may take some fertility treatments. Well, 2 periods later, I was getting pretty late, and wouldn’t you know – I was pregnant! (and on a side note, I don’t ever intend to use the Pill as a form of birth control ever again – after stopping it’s use, I found my moods to be much better, my weight to be more easily controlled, and I have also found out more about how it actually works, and that it actually prevents implantation of a fertilized embryo, rather than preventing ovulation in the first place, as I originally thought…that’s a lot like early abortion. Besides, no form of birth control is 100% effective, so I’m having difficulty justifying it’s use at all – doesn’t God know what’s best for us, anyway? This could be a big topic, perhaps a separate post on it some other time.)

So, anyway, we found out we were expecting. I kept working it turns out until the forecasted due date (December 7, 2008). All along we kept talking about what to do after my FMLA time ran out. We both liked the idea of me staying home with our child, but weren’t exactly sure we could swing it financially. Some pros: no one would take better care of our baby than it’s own mother, I could save money by making more from-scratch meals, we could have a cleaner home, I would have more time to do things at home and we could just relax and enjoy family time when Matt got home from work, I wouldn’t have to try to figure out how to handle breastfeeding while away from baby, and other myriad small things (of course, it turns out we were DREAMING when it came to some of the supposed new realities of having a stay at home mom at home, but maybe someday, when there aren’t such small babies in the house). Some cons: less income, I might end up going crazy by having to stay home, I might drive Matt crazy by talking his ears off when he got home. There weren’t as many cons, but yet they were some pretty powerful ones. Hard to imagine bringing a baby home and not being able to support it, or going nuts trying to make things work.

So, after some evaluation (and not as much prayerful consideration as there should have been) I decided to take the company granted 6 weeks off, plus the rest of the Family Medical Leave Act allowed time off, for a total of 12 weeks off, and see how it went. I could not imagine leaving this 12 week old tiny baby who was dependant on my wholly for nutrition, and who I was just starting to get to know. I applied for an additional 6 weeks of personal leave time at work, which I could have kept applying for every 6 weeks, for up to a year. At the end of this 6 weeks, I chose to allow my leave to expire, thereby quitting my job. I wasn’t exactly (at all) put together, I was struggling to find my feet with a newborn and a new career that I had essentially ZERO training for as a stay at home mom, but it was so fulfilling and in my heart I (and Matt) knew it was the best for not only our daughter but our family.

A couple of weeks later I got a call from the office manager of my former employer. They had had a few people either quit or get fired, and were in a bind and was hoping I could come in and fill in for a few weeks at any number of hours I was willing. At the same pay rate as when I had left. I told him I would talk it over with my husband and let him know. We decided to go ahead and do it, I’d work 2 days a week, find a sitter from church for Cora, I had talked to the manager about how I was committed to continuing breastfeeding and would need to be allowed time and a private, clean place (not a bathroom) to pump milk. Things were falling into place. The first person I called was willing to stay with Cora, so I called the office and had my first day back scheduled.

Then just a few days before I was to start, she called and said it wasn’t going to work any more for her to keep Cora, due to an upcoming surgery. I let the office know I was having trouble finding a sitter, but I was still trying. I called another person, it wouldn’t work for her to watch my baby. Called someone else, the last person I was going to try. She said she would be happy to do it, but asked me a couple of questions: What was I going to miss on those 2 days/week – her first words, her first steps?, and Did we really really need the extra money? The extra money would have been nice. The uncertainty of what milestones would have been missed was hard to wrap my mind around – I wanted to be the one to be with my child as she experienced childhood – not someone else. I wanted to provide for her security, not the turmoil of being one place 2 days a week, then back at home sometimes, here and there other days. I felt the security of knowing she was going to be with Mommy was important. I felt that it was important to be able to continue nursing her, which has been proven to be the best for babies.

I just couldn’t see leaving my tiny baby girl with someone else (even someone I trusted well) even just two days each week. God had given us this responsibility, and as such we had the job to raise her to our best ability. Intentionally choosing to leave her with someone else when we didn’t have to didn’t seem to be in her best interest. So, I called the office manager the very day before I was to start back, and told him that while I had found a sitter, I could not justify leaving our girl. I apologized for flaking out, and thanked him for the opportunity, but told him that ultimately I felt that being a Mom was the more important job that I was given right now.

It turned out that having to go through that process of actively deciding that being a stay at home mom was the best for our family was a great experience to go through. It gave me conviction that though it was not the easiest thing to stay home, it was the best for our family. But, as much as I wanted to and was convinced that this was to be my career, I had never HELD a newborn before, let alone been the sole caretaker for one. Never washed diapers, never done a great job of having a clean house, never actively pursued the various activities involved in keeping home. It was definite, head first, on-the-job training. I didn’t really have an example to work from, either. My mom had either worked part time or full time, and Matt’s mom worked full time since he was a baby. I don’t have too many close friends whose husbands farm part time in addition to working full time, who garden, can, freeze, breastfeed, are involved at church, are learning to sew, do cloth diapers, who keep the home, who cook for their husbands, who raise goats, who ride horses as a hobby, and are actually sane. Actually, I don’t know ANYONE who does or even attempts to do ALL those things well, myself included!

While I pretty much feel inadequate in most of the areas of my current job description, at least I have been able to work through in my heart that it is a valuable job that is definitely worth doing. I don’t think that anyone besides the mother and wife would strive to do as good of a job as I aim for in the same tasks. I am proud to be a stay at home mom and keeper of our home. I’m not always proud of the amount of things I’m able to accomplish (some days NOTHING gets crossed off on the to-do list) but I can always be proud of the choice our family has made. By making sacrifices to make sure I can stay home and raise our daughter, we are making sure she will have as good a foundation of faith as she can, that she will KNOW she is loved, and that there will be someone always there for her if she needs something.

For me, I cannot imagine myself being successful working and being a mother and a wife. At least one of my duties would suffer. Would it be my family who’s mother is exhausted from working all day, coming home and trying to put supper on the table while keeping up with laundry and cleaning house on the weekends? Or would it be my job performance, because of having to stay home with a sick child unexpectedly? Either way, I would not be able to do my best in any realm, and how could I be happy by not succeeding in ANYTHING?

Later, I will share what I view as the “ideal” job description that I have as a stay at home mom and keeper of our home and wife to my husband. Let me tell you, it’s enough to fill 8 days a week, and I rarely get it all together, especially now that Cora’s little. As much as I want to, I am not able to do everything I would like, the house isn’t really all that clean, we eat out sometimes, we run out of milk or eggs occasionally. But, for me, it is so worth it for my husband and daughter to know by my presence at home and my actions that they are important to me. If you’d have asked me even 5 years ago if I would be a stay at home mom and wife, I never in a million years would have guessed myself to be convinced of these things, but now I can’t imagine life any other way.

Today, it’s really not the norm for a college-educated woman to “give up” her career to do what I’m doing. A lot of people seem to think I’m “wasting” my education. A lot of people expect me to go back to work once Cora’s in school. Even I assumed I would go to school, find a job, and work – motherhood and family was never really something on my radar. But, I will argue that I have certainly NOT wasted my education, nor even “given up” anything at all – rather, I am so fully blessed by the opportunity to be able to do what I am doing, that those women who have never considered staying at home are the ones who are missing out on something very special. My only hope in posting about this is that someone else who is on the fence as I was at one point will be able to read the story of our journey, and make their decision with a little less of a struggle than we did. Sometimes the right thing isn’t the easiest, but it’s certainly the most rewarding. Do what God says do, and he will take care of the rest. I pray that God will make His will clear to those who might be reading this and wondering about their vocation and calling.