I don’t know who needs to hear this, or whether this is really helpful, but I wanted to open up about my story and provide some hope during these uncertain times.
In the fall of 2018 I was at a crossroads.
We had lived in San Diego for 8 years where I had gotten my PhD and started a postdoctoral fellowship. During that time, I always saw it as temporary – we wanted to live in Seattle where we grew up. We saw ourselves raising a family there. And I knew that at the end of my fellowship, we were going to move back. November 2018 was the time I was aiming for and I was counting the days until we could make that transition. It wasn’t that I didn’t like San Diego. We had built our photography business there, we had wonderful friends, and we enjoyed life!
But there was something missing in our lives, eager to start a family, and it just didn’t feel like home. And I was looking for a way out of research. This led me to propel our business forward. I saw it as a way out, toward a lifestyle that I was craving. I was working myself into the ground with 12 hour days and hours of business-related work late into the evening. I was going to the gym in the early mornings and attending orchestra rehearsals and concerts on certain evenings and weekends. I felt like I was unstoppable, but I also knew it wasn’t sustainable or healthy. And I didn’t see how we could start a family with the lifestyle we were leading.
Well, in October of 2018 I found out I was pregnant, and I had the opportunity to extend my 2 year fellowship into a third year. On the one hand, if I stayed I could have 12 weeks paid maternity leave. Matt could keep teaching until my June due date and have the entire summer off. On the other hand, I would be stressed and miserable for the next 9 months. And we wouldn’t have any family around to support us. Do I suck it up? How would we move in the summer with a newborn baby? How would I look for and start a new job soon after? Do we stay in San Diego for even longer to make that transition more financially feasible?
We took the risk and made the leap.
Our December move date was fast approaching and I went with my heart. We took the risk and made the leap. I had a few job prospects up in Seattle, but with a background in research wanting to find a way out of research, the situation wasn’t looking promising. And Matt wouldn’t be able to find a full-time teaching job until the following fall.
So on Christmas Day 2018 we packed up our stuff and our two cats and drove back to Seattle. We were jobless, homeless, and expecting a baby. We had to figure out our healthcare quickly – my anatomy scan was right around the corner. Suddenly those crazy work hours and long days came to a screeching halt. For once in my life I had no idea what would come next. I had never slowed down that much and never felt so uncertain. People I talked to told me we would be alright. That everything would work out. But when you’re in it, feeling the stress and weight of it all, it’s hard to imagine what that would look like. I recognize that we had a safety net in our family, and to be honest without that, we might have been forced to make different decisions.
This isn’t the craziest of stories, in fact this happens a lot. Couple moves away from home for school, couple moves back to start a family. And in the meantime there might be a transition period living with parents. In this case, during our transition period we were living with my father-in-law who was starting chemotherapy. And out of respect, we haven’t talked about this publicly. But what I will say is that we count our blessings every day that we made the decision we did, because it allowed us more time to spend with him before he passed away. That being said, it was not a place to bring a baby into this world.
Through our struggle came hope and purpose.
So while I had long days binge-watching Netflix waiting for new jobs to be posted, I felt a constant pressure, a nagging in the back of my mind that I needed a job to get an apartment. I needed to get us back on our feet, and it needed to happen before I looked any more pregnant. The window of opportunity was closing and our savings were dwindling. Every day we seemed to be coming up short in looking for new avenues of work. Every day I scrolled through rental properties, feeling defeated that we weren’t able to gain our independence again.
Then in February, I heard about a potential opportunity that seemed perfect for my background and what I was looking for. The applications were closing that day, so I had to jump on it. Things moved quickly and by March I was starting a new job and we had a cute townhouse rental in the neighborhood we were hoping to live in. Wow, how the outlook shifted immediately! It was a 9-5 job and I could often work from home. I had more time to work on my business and I actually had my weekends back too. We had time to just be normal and “boring”, something that I didn’t know I needed. My spirits were lifting again with hope and purpose.
But we weren’t completely out of the woods yet. In May, my father-in-law lost his battle with cancer. Matt was still working on finding a teaching job for the fall. In June, an unplanned C-section led to mounting medical bills, while I took short-term disability and unpaid time off to recover. 2019 was the year we were knocked completely off our feet! And through it all, blossomed a happy baby boy. A family was born through all the hardships and by fall of 2019 with both of us back at work, we started navigating our new normal.
I’ve learned to be grateful for what I have.
The reason I’m telling this story now, is that we’ve just passed one year since I started that job. And it has given me the lifestyle that I was hoping for – one that allows me to balance being a mother and have a career as well as pursue side passions. We’ve been slowly rebuilding our savings, slowly rebuilding our business, and we’ve been cherishing all of the time that we get to spend with our son. While we went through some uncertain and dark times, we came out of it on the other side more whole in a way that can’t be measured. I know that choosing the path that we did is very different than what this pandemic is doing to families and businesses. My heart still aches with grief that my son never got to meet his paternal grandfather. So I can only imagine the grief and fear over losing loved ones and the stress caused by financial strain.
But we will get through this. We will come out of it on the other side. If it teaches us anything, it’s that we are resilient. It will teach us how to slow down and revel in the small moments. And it will remind us to hug our family close and tell them how much we love them.
I want you to know that you are not alone. We are all in this together. And while everything feels uncertain, please have hope that you will be alright. I recognize that when you’re in it, feeling the stress and weight of it all, it’s hard to imagine what that would look like. And maybe the outcome will be a life that’s wholly different than you had before. Maybe forcing you to slow down and re-evaluate will change you for the better. In situations like these, I’ve learned to be grateful for what I have, for what I can control, and I’ve learned to surrender to however this next experience will unfold.