When I left my satisfying career after the birth of my second child, my husband and I devised a plan to get me back to work as soon as our oldest began kindergarten. We had all sorts of plans. To say little Reece wasn’t the ultimate surprise pregnancy would be coloring it lightly. I really struggled to accept what his joining our family would mean for my career. Just as we settled into a new house in a new city (we moved to be closer to my husband’s work) and bought a minivan, he died.
My oldest was not yet five. My second kiddo was only 18 months old. I found myself lost. Every plan I had to meet people and make friends was halted by the fact that working at home moms usually have babies either growing in their bellies or growing on their hips. At the time, I could not be around pregnancy or infants. The thought of sending my oldest off to kindergarten and taking care of only one child instead of two was just so painful. Continuing to participate in library story time and trips to the children’s museum surrounded by happy moms and babies, I just couldn’t do it. I could sense the shadows in my house of all the “could have beens.”
My youngest son died and I just needed a new piece of life.
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I reached out to an old supervisor and asked about a job. Maybe just a little part-time gig, something to get me out of the house, meeting people, creating a corner of life that was about Arica, not just Mom. There was an opportunity waiting for me, but it was a full-time position. That was a quantum leap in routines–going from always-available stay at home mom to a full-time employee. It was a big jump, but I was ready for something new.
The first year was challenging. Before I started, I needed to tour my new building and meet my boss. In the break room, as her pop came crashing down from its spot in the machine, I casually mentioned my youngest son was dead. I knew my supervisor was someone special when tears sprang to her eyes, but she avoided all the platitudes we loss parents hear so often. She just listened and absorbed the weight of my pain as I shared a few details of his birth.
There were many days I was creating really awkward lunch situations when someone asked me how many children I had. I was learning quickly the art of how to flinch internally when someone said something painful and to cry it all out on my drive home. I cried in my car a lot that first year. I was still deep in the grip of PTSD, which kept me from sleeping well or thinking rationally.
The second year, I was finally receiving treatment for the PTSD. I was able to articulate to my team that some of the side effects of Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing would include exhaustion and short-term memory loss. I got really good at writing everything down to remember things. I got better at learning with whom to share Reece’s story, and at what point to share him in a casual interaction. His death is my greatest sorrow and sharing his immense impact on my life is only for someone worthy. That second year still included crying in my boss’s office at least a dozen times. A fellow loss mom and I would joke about how long of a streak we could go before crying at work. As time passed and the therapy continued, I reacted less often to painful triggers.
Related: Facing The Triggers
Now, in my third year with this organization, I applied for a new position that moves me between buildings and gives me a chance to mentor new hires. I really really love mentoring. I could make a career out of mentoring. I love discussing the work we are doing, I love the science of it, the research, the language pieces. I am starting to feel a satisfaction in this work I haven’t felt before. Having this little piece of life to myself that isn’t tied to motherhood or babies or pregnancies has been so vital to my recovery. Knowing I wasn’t going to have another baby was devastating. Returning to work helped me come out of hiding, even though it was really hard. Falling back in love with my work was just what needed to happen. It reminded me that there is just more to life than babies. I was so lucky to have a great team of compassionate co-workers. I was blessed with a boss that always had tissues and a safe place to cry for really hard days. Having a therapist I trusted and felt safe with was also important to my re-entry into the workforce.
My sister once asked me, “Well, wasn’t this part of your original plan anyway? To return to work when your oldest went to kindergarten? So you are kinda back on track now with your original plan, right?”
Except loss changes everything. Every interaction, every perspective, every thought. I was made new as I began to heal. I was built stronger, braver, more open to confrontation and risk. I applied for this new position because I was no longer scared of living life. I was no longer a meek observer. I am not sure what the next few years will bring me in my career, but I am open to whatever changes come my way.
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Arica Carlson is married and mothering three little boys, two on Earth, one in Heaven. When she isn’t writing or working, she can be found outside with her family.