Monday, October 18, 2010

When Mollie Went Back to the Job Market

Mollie writes:

I was a SAHM during the 80's and early 90's.  I entered motherhood with a "wait and see" attitude when it came to working outside the home.  It was my plan to spend as much time with our kids as possible, but also not to put my husband in the stressful condition of being the sole breadwinner during tough times.  But a premature baby, an infant with seizures and other maternal challenges narrowed my perspective.  As long as John was gainfully employed as an engineer, I thought it was my responsibility to make our lives work on his earnings alone.

Once the kids started school, I started to notice my own situation, the onset of MS.  When the boys were 10 and 12, I returned to the workplace.  I had multiple reasons for doing so; in my case it seemed like a no brainer.

I was worried about the boys seeing their mother as a 'victim' rather than a person with particular challenges.  It seemed to me that having me stay home with MS was a cop-out in that arena.  A person often wonders how much a child learns by example, and I wanted my children to see that "life goes on" is a norm.

I had other issues that I had to deal with as well.  After staying home with children for 12 years, I'd lost my Social Security disability eligibility.  Forecasting for myself was a doozy.  At the onset of MS, most of us get the sense that we need to start seeing our lives as a finite exercise.  None of us knows where health issues will take us, but in my case, I had a good hint.  So I chose my immediate future with the big picture in mind.

MS is an individual experience.  Some people can go years without a recurrence of their symptoms, some of us get frequent exacerbations.  In my case, I had multiple exacerbations.  In addition, I also found that I had a proclivity to kidney stones, extremely high liver enzyme counts when under certain drug therapies, a nasty response to steroid use and transient global ischemic attacks.  I had no guarantee that when I was disabled that I would be in any shape to contribute to our families welfare, be it income OR child-rearing.  So I thought it was best to return to the work force to earn back my eligibility.

As it was, I was able to remain in the work force for six years, more than enough to earn back my disability eligibility.  During this period, I worked continuously, at first full-time, then cutting back my hours to accommodate my progressing disease.  When I ultimately left the work force, it was after having a TGA at work and knowing that my MS continued to progress.  It seemed, again, like a no brainer.

I don't receive much in disability benefits, but that's not the point.  My monthly allowance couldn't even pay rent on a one bedroom apartment, let alone food, utilities and health care.  But it was the principle involved.  I had worked for years paying into the program, I would accept the benefits when I was eligible.

I take a lot of inspiration from the story about Michelle Obama's father.  He had MS throughout his adult life and managed to support a family.  I have no idea where, in the big picture, MS took over his life, but he was certainly able to postpone it for as long as possible.  That took a lot of courage.

It takes courage to stay home with your children.  It takes courage to return to work when the family's needs supersede your own.  It takes courage to deal with waking up in the morning, blind, and it takes courage to quit working when the onus of accommodating a disabled worker conflicts with a very patient employer who needs to see your job done in your absence.  I was fortunate to have this employer in my life, but at some point, accommodation is no longer reasonable.

Once I quite working, MS continued to be a problem in my life, with the addition of kidney and liver complications.  I often wonder if the different drugs (interferon and steroids and muscle relaxants, Oh My!) sped up my decline.  But since quitting the work force, I feel comfortable no longer using steroids for a quicker recovery during exacerbations.  I don't have to consider "return to work" as motivation for      disease management.  That's a load off my mind.

 I still have problems with my liver and kidneys, but it's manageable now that I don't have parenting and job conflicts.

I'm writing this today since I want to emphasize the fact that each parent faces their own challenges.  The question of when to work outside the home and when not to work outside the home is painfully personal.  We each face our own devils.  But I'm glad that I went back to work, when it was reasonable.

So, to Millies and Mollies everywhere, good luck.  Whether or not you're a new mom, a mom weighing childcare vs. stay-at-home-parenting, a mom with teenagers, or a mom with disabled children, you have my support.  Never forget that your minor children are your #1 priority, but also don't forget that you have to make sense of your own life.  And making sense of your own life hinges on your family's welfare.

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