I like to joke that when I’m ready for a change, I change everything at once. Really, I don’t change everything at once, but I do have a tendency to make my transitions into grand events.
Three years ago, I was feeling stuck. I no longer enjoyed the work I was doing, and felt I had learned everything from it that I could, but I didn’t know what was next. After several rounds of job applications that resulted in very few call-backs, I decided to try another tactic. So I applied to graduate school. Then, within a three-week period, I got an interview for a new job, received my acceptance into a master’s program, and then received an offer following that job interview. So in January of 2016, I left behind that feeling of stuck-ness to both start a graduate program and a new digital marketing position. It felt like a year of big changes for me.
This year, it feels as though everything is changing again. That marketing position I had taken in 2016 is already long gone, having secured a graduate fellowship just more than a year later. That fellowship ends in a couple weeks. I graduated from that master’s program in early May. And while most of my classmates were excitedly talking about new job prospects or taking on their doctoral studies, I looked down at my expanding belly and declared I would not be looking for a new job, but rather preparing for a different role altogether. I was probably the only person that day conferred a degree at 28 weeks pregnant.
A lot of transitions are coming, not the least of which is taking on a new title and identity as “mother,” something I’ve never really been convinced that I want.
In 2016, when I gained a new job and status as a student, I rolled with the changes. I was excited to begin something new and different, to take life by the reins and direct my path, to step forward out of my stagnation. I handled it well. This time feels completely different.
I relished being back in school. I thrive in academia. I love reading new ideas and constructing a research paper. I enjoy being challenged, diving deeper, and discussing the nuances of communication and media in today’s world. But when this final semester began in the midst of my morning sickness, it felt different. Because although we’d planned to have this baby, we’d made the decision after years and years of wondering whether it was right for us or not. And when I became pregnant, all those doubts about my desire to be a parent didn’t just disappear. So I found myself in 2018, wading through an identity crisis and depression that few people could understand. And all the while, I was slogging through my last semester of graduate school and my fellowship position.
I’ve been struggling with this transition. That career I had been working on advancing, that degree that would help me take the steps, they are getting lost in baby registries and midwives appointments. At some point I realized that my graduation, which I had worked so hard to reach, had become just another thing to check off the list and get out of the way, because there are other things coming down the pike. I barely even celebrated the event at all.
Moreover, graduation was complicated by the Mother’s Day weekend that followed days later. I had but a few hours to celebrate my accomplishment before being bombarded with so many messages about motherhood being the most fulfilling, self-sacrificing, and noble of all things. I saw so many women thanked for putting themselves last, for giving up their own dreams and desires for their children, for cheering from the sidelines while they championed their children. And I didn’t want to celebrate that. Instead, I joined the crowd of women on the other side who didn’t want to acknowledge that day, that were scared to go to church lest there be a “special Mother’s Day service” to face, that wanted to forget about this Hallmark holiday because it feels too complicated to face. And I’m barely a mother at all yet.
Where my previous transitions have always felt like the right next steps, this time around I feel like I’m swirling in doubts, that I don’t know where I’m going, that I don’t know who I will be when I get there, that it won’t be the person I’ve been working on becoming for these past many years. I’m afraid I won’t recognize her at all. This summer I will go from being a graduate student and project manager for a multi-million dollar STEM initiative to an unemployed mom? How did I get here?
And I know nothing is permanent. I know that I will stay home for some time with this new little one, but that I will eventually go back to work, too. I will get back to that career. But I acutely feel my loss of momentum, the turns in the road that I didn’t expect to take.
Transitions are often the needed, next right steps. They can feel natural and exciting and they can take you where you want to be. But sometimes transitions are painful and taxing and they take a toll on your sense of self, your sense of direction. As I wrote back in 2016, this transition is going to be full of days that are too much, days that make me think, what the hell was I thinking?, days of tears and exhaustion and mistakes. But like all transitions too, it will have moments of surprises and accomplishments and milestones that I can’t even begin to imagine right now. The key to it all will be giving myself grace, reminding myself that I’m learning, and remembering that there will be ups for all the downs. And then before I know it, there will be another transition, another bend in the road, another part of the journey to take.