I was set to fly to Sierra Leone, Senegal and Kenya for work when I discovered I was pregnant. When I told my boss, he said, “Well, then you can’t go to Sierra Leone. My brother had to be HVAC-ed out of there twice.” We considered switching my trip to the Philippines, but learned that the required vaccinations were too risky in my first trimester. I was grounded.
Before having children, I loved my work, especially the travel. Traveling to impoverished areas to start programs was my chance to work with and listen to people from where they were. The trips were invigorating and exhausting at the same time, because in-country I tried to squeeze out every minute I could with the locals, living, learning, and listening—but sometimes burning out.
My work demanded everything out of me—my time, my talents, and my passions. I was certainly driven—driven by my faith that I felt called me to work with those who need help, driven by my love for the countries and the people I visited, and driven by the satisfaction of seeing ideas for programs come to life in ways that I thought truly helped people.
Motherhood put a screeching halt to that drive. As a first time mother, my identity shifted dramatically, and it was jarring. Instead of being out there saving the world, I was at home keeping one tiny human alive, a tiny human that astounded me by how fiercely I loved him. In those first few months, I felt grateful to have that time just to bond with him, establish nursing and read him stories. Still, restlessness plagued me, and soon enough I felt the itch to work again, to use the parts of my self that had laid dormant for those few months adjusting to my new and seemingly all-encompassing role.
First, I tried jumping back into my jet-setting line of work. I flew to Jordan with my mother and my still nursing nine-month old in tow. I delivered training in the conference room, then ran to nurse my son on breaks in the hotel room. It was a memorable experience, but impossible to repeat when I had my second and third child. Traveling for vacation with children is hard enough; traveling overseas with an infant for work can be even more stressful—and costly.
I stepped away from work that required travel. In fact, for a short time I stepped away from work altogether.
And that was the best thing to happen to my career.
Privileged enough to be able to rely (with some budgeting) on my husband’s full time work and health insurance coverage, being home with my children and away from the overtime demands of my career gave me time to reflect. Instead of more demanding jobs, I began to work on short-term consultancies, mostly from home, until the opportunity arose to teach academic writing at a nearby community college.
This new challenge excited me, and I jumped into it with the same fervor I did my international development work. I then continued to adjunct work at four-year college, also teaching writing. As I balanced this with my consultancies, I also started to see a new identity emerge, an aspect of my personal interests that my whirlwind career had hidden—I started to see myself as a writer.
For years my writing had been limited to grant proposals, handbooks, training manuals, and case studies. Only occasionally did I delve out into essays and journal articles. With the time to step back from the relentless needs and priorities of my previous career, I could now come back to writing, something I always enjoyed doing.
Not only did I rediscover my love for writing, the young motherhood stage of my life allowed me to find my writing niche. I started blogging, trying out different themes and topics until a purpose to my writing emerged: helping people restore and build personal connections and relationships with one another. That purpose put together all the pieces of my life together thus far—the work with people in communities all over the world, the isolation I felt staying home with my children, the advocacy training I did with human rights advocates around the world, the conversations I was having on social media, the service I was doing at my local church—I could write about this with passion, authenticity, and credibility. And I would not have found this voice if not for my children.
My time with my young children is busy, and like it is for most mothers, physically and emotionally draining. Yet somehow this time also gave me the mental space my prior full-time career did not. As I reflected on what my kids were doing, saying, or teaching me, I thought about how my inner world connected to the outside world, and realized how much I had to share.
I have also increased my writing for my international work, consulting regularly for different organizations, glad to use my writing to make a difference in people’s lives. The passion I threw into my career before children paid dividends in my being able to construct my own consulting, teaching and writing career now. I’ve even been able to do some travel again, but on my own terms.
The stress of trying to balance attention to my family, work, and writing remains. Yet this transition has already bred new and exciting ideas about where I might go from here, as my children get older and I get more time to pursue my writing, my work and my interests. I have ideas bubbling in my head, a book slated for publication, and other projects simmering. These, along with my children’s chubby faces, are what drive me now.
Despite the prevailing narrative that motherhood can stall or even ruin careers, I know I am not the only mom who has seen motherhood enhance her career. I know many mothers whose transition to parenthood also led them away from soul-crushing jobs to exciting entrepreneurial endeavors or new and more meaningful career paths. Children are not a challenge to overcome as we advance in our careers. My story proves they can be the best thing to happen to our careers—and our lives.