Mid-Career Access Road

Written by Role Mommy contributor, Debra Etelson.

A recent cover article of the New York Times magazine “Mid-Career Time Out” by Judith Warner discussed the early 2000’s trend of highly educated women who left prestigious and lucrative careers in order to raise their families. Ten years later, the author discusses the challenges many of these women have faced: difficulty in work re-entry, stress on marital relationships from shifting balance of power and expectations, raising a family on a single, often reduced income due to the recession, and a change of identity and self-worth.
The article interested me because I was a full-time working mother who wanted to work less, especially after the birth my second child. Unable to reduce my hours because that would mean forfeiting our health insurance, I remained a “full-time conflicted working mother.”
My love for children had influenced my decision to become a pediatrician, and I was spending more time with my patients than with my own kids. Due to my hours, I was rarely there for pick-up or drop-off during Sam’s first year of pre-school. He was the youngest student in the school’s history to take a bus to school and back home to our babysitter. Knowing that thousands of women shared my experience didn’t make it any less painful for me. I was sad that I was missing so much of this magical time in their lives. We made a family decision that after my third child, we would bite the bullet and I cut my work week to 3 days.
Nine months into this improved schedule (which made a huge difference in my quality of life), we found ourselves in the pediatric ICU with Leo in diabetic ketoacidosis. Type 1 Diabetes in an infant requires a degree of hypervigilance that is emotionally and physically exhausting. Oct 1 2007 was my last day of work until I returned a few months ago. Relating it to the above mentioned article, I would call my experience a “Mid-Career Access Road” replete with potholes, construction zones, and broken traffic lights. For a while, it seemed liked more of an off-ramp, and I did not know when or if I could return to work.
Here is a list of experiences on the Access Road:
1. Endocrinology sabbatical (still doing it)
2. Gluten-free shopper and baker (still doing it)
3. School lunch lady volunteer (cleaning tables and buttering sandwiches which my kids can’t eat-but I got to see them socialize during lunch)
4. Soccer mom
5. Elementary school art appreciation/history teacher (a program run by parent volunteers -don’t worry-we had training sessions to make up for my lack of art history knowledge)
6. Fundraiser (not too shabby, our family’s team has raised over $150,000 for JDRF)
7. Lab courier (my least glamorous role, I brought a stool sample of my friend’s child to the hospital lab so she didn’t have to miss work)
8. Lobbyist (see MDmommy goes to Washington http://mdmommy.com/?p=447)
9. Class mom
10. Board Member (for JDRF and my children’s camp)
11. Mommy blogger
The silver lining is that I was able to be more present in my children’s lives than I initially thought I would. I am grateful for this. Make no mistake about it, I would have given up all these experiences in a heartbeat if it meant my children wouldn’t have to live with their health conditions. I have learned over time that we lack control over when and which challenges confront us. We do control how we react and what we do when they occur.
Not all women have control over their decision to opt-out of the work force. Certainly, no one can foresee all the sequelae of their decisions.
I am merging from the access road back onto the highway. Although the roadwork has followed me, I have become a better navigator. For all the times I may have asked “WHY” or said “ENOUGH”, the obstacle-ridden access road has prepared me for re-entry into my pediatrics career.

IMG_1152c rop.JPG Debra Etelson is a practicing pediatrician who lives in New Rochelle, New York with her husband and three sons, ages 7, 10, and 12. In her blog www.mdmommy.com , she shares her experiences of raising and advocating for her own children who have chronic medical conditions.