I was afraid. Really, I was more anxious. This wasn’t any of the typical new mother fears I had been warned about. If fact, I didn’t even see this one coming. I knew that it would be tough going back to work 3 months after my first daughter was born. I knew I would miss her terribly. I knew I had to figure out a pumping schedule with my colleagues to allow for my incredibly healthy, ED honed antibodies to protect her little system. I knew I’d be sleep deprived, and have an emotional roller coaster of a time. People had told me that. It came with the territory. I felt that would be difficult, but fine- I would weather the challenges. I was not ambivalent about returning to work; my husband and I had made a carefully thought out decision. I was leaving her in the best hands possible- the hands of the man I love.
So why was I anxious? I had worked my whole life from 16 on. But it was always to support myself. No one else had ever been dependent on me actually having a job to provide for their food or a roof or healthcare! Until January of 1998. When maternity leave was over and I was leaving home to go to work while Juan stayed home I was sideswiped by this fear of being “the provider”. The fear was that the financial health of my new family sat squarely upon my shoulders. It detracted from my already limited ability to sleep. I haven’t seen anyone else address this concern in the nearly 20 years since I went through it. I was no stranger to being responsible for my own finances. But this was different. I left our home and went to work with an anxiety that I needed to care for all of us. I guess men must have gone through this process for years, but it was unfamiliar to me as a concern. There were no articles in the “Working Mom” magazines about it. I have since seen articles about at-home-dads, who as per the 2010 census make of 3.5% of stay at home parents. (1) somehow, however, I have missed references to the new mom taking on the financial responsibility for the family and any resulting anxiety at a time when many women already feel very vulnerable. It affected how I thought about taking time off, it made me more anxious about the possibility of losing my job (through no fault of my own, just that the job would be gone).
So what helped soothe my anxiety? What did I learn that I can share to help you who are considering a similar choice? I think the most important decision that helped us, was that post residency, we essentially did not change any major financial moves for the first year (except beginning to pay back my required student loans). We lived in the same place, we didn’t make any major purchases (i.e. new cars, home, etc) and we got our financial feet under us while I adjusted to my new role at work. This allowed us more freedom in our decision making. During that first year, with the baby coming in November of my second year out, we stated to look for homes (i.e. BIG financial change). When looking for homes, another fact that allowed us flexibility in our future lives was that though Juan was still employed outside the home, we only included my income when discussing home prices with real estate agents. Of course, ironically, all the real estate agents thought it was my husband’s income we were discussing, and in discussing my current (pre-delivery) employment, when I told them that I worked in the Emergency Department they all assumed I was a nurse. This was one of the first times I realized one can make sexism work to your favor! It was assumed I would stop working after the baby was born and that my income would not be counted in calculating what mortgage we could afford.
There were a host of other factors and choices that helped us. Juan was incredibly supportive and conscious when spending money (even frugal), which took pressure off of me. The joint decision that the biggest “treat” we could give ourselves as a family was to have him home with the kids made it easier to deal with the daily challenges involved in working outside the home. Him being home also allowed my career to flourish, as the schedule demands, which are difficult in our field, became less of a concern with him home full-time. Juan faced additional challenges, as there was no “stay-at-home” dad movement at the time, and he was often the sole adult male at the playground. I think the assumption of the mantle of “providing” was made vastly better by the fairly wise financial decisions we made.