Category Archives: Balancing career and motherhood

Blog Carnival: Stories About Breastfeeding in Public

Check out the guest post Amy Romano, MSN, CNM penned for the Carnival of Nursing in Public on Nursing Freedom.org, along with my comment to follow.

The title of her post?  From Bedroom to the Boardroom:  How I Learned to Nurse in Public.

(You can read my own nursing in public debacles and successes in my book, A Dozen Invisible Pieces and Other Confessions of Motherhood)

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Filed under Balancing career and motherhood, breastfeeding, From One Mother to Another, Mommy and Motherhood

Confessions from a Medical World Drop-Out

When you make a major life choice, and do so with the hopes of not looking back, chances are, you’ll look back–a lot.

Once upon a time, I was young and enthusiastic, and thought I could change the world.

Wait–doesn’t everyone feel that way, at some point?

For me, that enthusiasm turned toward the world of medicine:  as an inherently compassionate, intelligent person, I thought I could bring some sweet, albeit well-informed, spirit into an industry that has, in many cases, lost its bedside manner altogether.

I was twenty-four years old when I enrolled in PA school, and didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Fast forward six years, and I found myself reeling from the ambush of experiences I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to handle.

In my short tenure working in the world of medicine, I experienced what I realize now were some very traumatic scenarios–scenes that a majority of human beings just couldn’t handle being witness to without some sort of long-lasting repercussions.

While working in the surgical world and less than a year after finishing PA school (mind you, I was now just twenty-six-years-old) I found myself in the operating room, harvesting veins out of people’s legs for cardiovascular surgeons to use in bypass surgeries.  Harvesting veins is tricky business with fragile specimens.  If you offer up a harvested vein with any nicks or holes in it, the implanted vein could leak, and the person could potentially bleed to death–in a matter of minutes.  That’s hefty responsibility for a new grad.

While working in orthopedics, I functioned under a womanizing, industry demigod who required me to satisfy the requests of his narcotic-seeking patients…despite my better judgment and the risk to my own license.  I handled the paper work for worker’s compensation patients–for those who didn’t want to go back to work and did everything they could to avoid it, and those that did want to go back to work, but were too injured to be able.  I witnessed accidents in the operating room that rendered people permanently injured–and a lack of honesty during those post-op visits about what actually transpired while the patient was asleep.

While moonlighting in the ER–working a few extra hours in hopes of paying off my student loans a bit faster–I saw women miscarrying the fetuses that would’ve been the babies they so desperately wanted.  I performed chest compressions on a seventeen-year-old kid who’d been shot by his best friend with the hand gun the two boys had snuck out of the friend’s dad’s gun safe (or bedside table drawer?)  I performed chest compressions on that kid–his lifeless chest heaving under my efforts with me winded so easily, five months pregnant with our first child at the time.  The bullet exit wound on his upper abdomen (bullets have a strange way of ricocheting around, once they’ve entered the body) was only finger breadths away from my compressing hands–so innocuous looking.  So Hollywood make-up like.

I was thirty-years-old.

I surgically assisted in not one, but three of the most graphic, horrendous surgeries known to (wo)man: hemipelvectomies:  a procedure in which a person’s entire leg, and half of their pelvis are surgically removed…a hopefully life-saving procedure (with a low percentage for success) for an aggressive form of metastatic cancer.  While in the OR, the joke usually went around–whomever was the least senior person in the room (by years of tenure, not by professional rank) had to be the one to carry the leg away from the table.  Guess who was usually the least senior one in the room?  Can you imagine the weight of an adult man or woman’s leg and half pelvis?

I was less than thirty-years-old during those surgeries.

At what point does a person become emotionally mature enough to handle these types of things and avoid being permanently scarred?  Would I have had a better shot at succeeding in the career I thought I wanted, had it not been for these early on experiences?  Do other twenty-something-year-olds who pursue a career in medicine experience the same types of things and not become permanently  scarred by them?  If so, what does that say about those people?

Every time I find myself talking with someone in the medical industry–a former colleague, a friend, an acquaintance, a health care provider for our family–I can put on my old hat again.  I can talk the talk, share in the lingo, operate intelligibly.  I go away from the conversation missing that part of my life a little–being apart of a club, a fraternity, a society in which not just anyone can belong.

And then I remember how I felt for all those years when I struggled to decide:  do I belong in the world of medicine?  Do I, really? Or is there another place for me…a place in which I can have an effect in the well-being of people who consume our medical industry, but from a drastically different vantage point?

I am now in the process of researching grad school options for myself–again. I have thoughts to communicate, things to do and changes to create.  I feel it in my bones.  But those thoughts, things and changes will enter the world through a different avenue this time.  For me, I am sure, a more successful avenue.

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Filed under Balancing career and motherhood, General Health, Uncategorized, Writing and Publishing

San Francisco Writer’s Conference-Lessons Learned, Inspiration Gleaned

Our five-year-old son flung the front door open as I energetically range the dilapidated doorbell of our Belmont rental house.
“Mommy’s home!”
A flying leap landed him in my arms, with a whoop that summoned the other kids and my husband.

Gone for the better part of four days at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, our three kids were more than ready to have Mom back.  Not that Andrew didn’t do an awesome job with them in the preceding days.  Oh, to be a kid again and have him for a daddy.  (Yesterday, they were out back making hose water rainbows in bathing suits in mid-February.)

On the train ride back down from the city, I felt the transformation happening.  In my knee-high black leather boots, sheek leggings and stain-free white eyelet top with a red bamboo wrap flung around my shoulders just-so, I morphed from cosmopolitan, charismatic conference attendee to stay-at-home housewife/mom with each passing mile.  (As I write, I am simultaneously teaching my three-year-old how to play preschool games on the internet on another laptop.)

To attempt to do justice to the conference in a single blog post would be futile.  And, because reality is echoing loudly in my subconsciousness (do I really have time to devote a week’s worth of daily posts to capture the full essence of the conference experience, or should I apply my stolen moments of writing time to something like…polishing my manuscript?) I will choose to summarize my conference experience here, and then get going on the hard work of revising and polishing:

Over the course of four days, while hanging with a crowd of three hundred other writers, I had the opportunity to meet dozens of high caliber presenters including best-selling authors, large and small imprint editors and twenty-seven literary agents.  I selected nineteen out of the eighty lectures offered and absorbed guidance on topics such as:
-Branding Yourself
-Creating Literary Fiction That Keeps Readers Turning Pages
-Opportunities in Publishing: Past, Present and Future
-The Business of Publishing: What Every Writer Needs to Know
-Writing For Change:  Creating Books that Matter
-Why Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions:  How to Start or Join a [Writer's] Critique Group
-a smokin’ full-day, ” How to Write the Break-Out Novel” workshop with famed literary agent Donald Maass of Donald Maass Literary Agency
Amid Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel-catered breakfasts and lunches, I networked with loads of other established and amateur writers, swapping business cards like Olympic pins.  I met two other women with whom I am potentially starting a writer’s critique group.

Having initially rejected the idea of participating in the Speed Dating with Literary Agents event (yes, it’s exactly as it sounds) I bought a spot from another conference attendee who’d decided she didn’t need to participate after all, and actually enjoyed the opportunity to talk one-on-one with five agents and receive requests to submit my work to three of them.  Lesson learned:  speed dating (in the writers conference setting) isn’t NEARLY as scary or stressful as I’d imagine it would be.

On several occasions, I had in-depth discussions with other attendees about the future of the publishing industry and the role self publishing companies are playing.  At each conference I’ve attended, (four in all) this has been a hot topic.  I have my own thoughts on the topic, having self-published my first book:

1.  There are more and more companies cropping up on what seems like a daily basis, offering a wide range of “self publishing” options:
– strict POD (print on demand) companies that do little more than provide you a digital printing press through which to have your book printed.  No assistance with cover art design, interior formatting, ISBN number assignment, etc.  This option is cheep (as low as $37 through Amazon’s Create Space) but may not deliver very high royalties for authors (around 50-60% vs. 80% with vanity PODs) and certainly does not guarantee a high quality product.
– boutique, vanity or otherwise self-named companies that offer varying levels of “printing packages” that help you polish, print and promote your book project to varying degrees.  Editing, cover art, formatting, etc. may all be included–depending on how much $$ you want to fork over.  Be prepared to pay anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars for this option.
-e-formatting companies that help you take your word document or PDF file and turn it into an e-book for downloading readership.

The folks who support/promote the idea of authors publishing themselves of course believe it’s all the rage and the only way to go.  “Why not skip all the angst-causing circus tricks of trying to land an agent, hoping that agent can sell your manuscript to one of the six main publishing houses (or one of numerous university or small independent publishers) and then hope your said publisher will actually choose a title for your book that you like, apply a cover design that you adore and apply a few budgetary dollars toward promoting your book upon its release?  Why not, instead, keep yourself in the driver’s seat the entire time?

There is much to be said about remaining in the driver’s seat.  There’s A LOT to be learned from it.  But when it comes to gleaning book reviews from voices that still have clout in the industry and distribution and (good) placement in nation-wide bookstores that might collectively sell enough of your books to send a few royalty bucks your way, the trade publishing industry still has a lock-hold on these issues.

Book reviewers (I’m talking professional, paid book reviewers– not friends & family and occasional strangers who upload reviews on Amazon, B&N, etc.) don’t want to review self-published books.  Many of them flat-out refuse.  The stigma is still out there: many (close minded and occasionally justified) people assume self published books are poor quality products from untalented writers.

When my book came out in March of ’08, I sent out 25 media kits to book reviewers all over the country.  After sinking a couple grand into the production of my (extraordinarily professional looking and sounding) book, I spent several hundred dollars more in promotion activities.  At the end of the day: not a single main stream review came my way.

I don’t begrudge having self published at all.  I learned a ton of valuable information from the experience.  Yes, the trade publishing houses are heading down a dicey road of uncertainty.  If they don’t change their ways, and do it quickly, they are going to be in worse trouble than they are now.  Like any other business, if they’re not building their pipeline now, they’ll find themselves amidst talent drought later.  But the jury isn’t quite out.  Still steeped in practices of old, it is and will continue to be the rare self publishing author who actually “makes it” and sells tens of thousands of copies of her book–a mark of success by the traditional industry.

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Filed under Balancing career and motherhood, book promotion, family, From One Mother to Another, Kids, Mommy and Motherhood, Writing and Publishing

Starting Anew: Life in San Francisco

Three weeks after arriving here in the San Francisco Bay area, I am struggling to re-emerge and return to some semblance of a writing life.  Boxes unpacked and an odd approximation of a daily schedule materializing, I have high hopes for whatever opportunities this area may provide me in relation to my various loves (writing, childbirth education, supporting mothers, writing about the challenges of motherhood, friendships, family life in a new place).

But with two of our three kids back home with me full time, and the absence of the network of friends and childbirth ed/doula colleagues that fueled so much of my desire-driven work in the past, I find myself asking the self-pitying questions:  did I ever actually have a writing life?  How did I combine stay-at-home parenting with increasingly satisfying career pursuits?

Friends from conferences I attended of late, (and friends in general) write occasionally to ask how I’m coming on my (new) manuscript, how my agent queries are going and whether or not I’m working on anything new.  This is the kind of support, I’m coming to understand, that writers need to keep each other going.  It’s called:  accountability.

That’s what, among other things, I’ve used this blog for.

Last night I watched Julia and Julie, the book-based movie about Julie Powell, an  inner-New York-city woman who blogs her way through a year of cooking Julia Child’s recipes in the famed Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Protagonist Julie starts out using the blog as a witty documentation of her lofty goal but, ultimately, witnesses her own emotional and career-momentum-transformation through her on-line writing, and the public act of posting her way through this transformation.

Now lacking babysitters, preschool for our boys, familiar coffee shops in which to write (although the Starbucks I’m currently sitting in seems to be doing the job) and seratonin-sustaining get-togethers with girlfriends, I find myself wondering, can I really recreate what I had only recently established for myself at home?  Can I arrange an (affordable) schedule that will allow me to: 1) continue caring for my children in the way my priorities dictate and 2) glean enough “me time” during the week to further my career pursuits and therefore enable me to be the better mom I think I had only recently become?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lacking for things to do here.  In the past three weeks since landing here we have:

-visited the San Francisco Zoo

-visited the Pacific Ocean beach

-visited The infamous downtown SF Pier 39 (and ate Nutella-stuffed crepes…yum!) (and visited the public restrooms fifteen times because our three kids can’t seem to coordinate the timing of their excretory needs)

-visited the California Academy of the Sciences

-(twice) visited Coyote Point Park and museum (we love watching the river otters, and two of the three kids have become brave enough to pet the boa constrictor)

-visited the San Jose Children’s Discovery Museum

-found a church to attend

- I have found and joined the California Writer’s Club-Sf/peninsula

-walked around famed downtown shopping areas of Palo Alto and Burlingame

-found, visited and purchased from the local IKEA (believe me, having lived in Montana for the past seven years, this is a notable event)

-signed the kids up for art and gymnastics classes

-had a tea party for our daughter and two new classmates

-had two playdates with the neighbor boys…


And yet, here I am, living in a city ripe with possibilities and suddenly, feeling awfully alone.

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Filed under Balancing career and motherhood, Childbirth Issues, family, friendship, From One Mother to Another, Kids, Living, Mommy and Motherhood, travelling with kids, Writing and Publishing

Why I Do What I Do

Inevitably, upon making a new acquaintance, I face that age-old ritual: plugging each other with the question, “What do you do?”

I’ve addressed this issue before regarding what it takes to be willing to call oneself  “a writer.”  But, interestingly enough, I still stumble through a decent amount of hemming and hawing when I’m asked the ‘what do you do’ question.  My response tends to go something like this:

     “What do I do?  That’s a good question.  ‘What don’t I do’ might be even more appropriate. 
     “I’m a stay-at-home-mom, mostly.  But I also write.  And I teach childbirth preparation classes.  I mean I run my own private childbirth education program.  And I do a lot of community volunteer and education stuff.  I write about pregnancy and motherhood and childrearing.  I’m kind of a Jack Janet of All Trades.”

God have mercy.

Poorly-defined descriptions aside, I do find that the further I delve into creating my professional life, the more certain parts of it resonate with me.  At the end of the day, whether it’s through print form, blog form or a public speaking format, I like to encourage people to think…outside their own self-made proverbial box, that is.

I suppose it’s fair to say, I enjoy commanding a room.  Not all together different from the satisfaction a surgeon might experience at maintaining responsibility for the goings in within the operating suite, I like crafting group dialog and directing a large group journey into new consideration.

While teaching my Lamaze classes, I love the moment when I offer a tidbit of advice or information and I witness neurons forming new connections.  You know the look:  a person across the room from you, corners of the mouth turned down, head cocked to the side just-so, eyebrows raised and in coordination with a contemplative nod and verbal, “mmm.”  Teaching childbirth classes and delivering keynote speaking addresses on topics like “Modern Day Motherhood” and “Challenges of Parenting in the First Year,” are all about the same thing, really:  opening peoples’ eyes and giving them permission to feel what they really feel.

This type of work certainly isn’t all altruistic.  There are elements of teaching, writing and speaking which I perform simply for my own benefit:  interacting with other adults after a day spent looking after young children; building my name as a community resource and business person; further honing my writing skills in gradual pursuit of the golden pie in the sky known as “making it.” 

And, there’s also the education part of things.  I am constantly learning from the people with whom I interact and teach.  I learn from their questions, life situations and choices made.  I learn each time a former student of mine calls with the good news of their baby’s birth–and the ensuing details of what transpired during the course of labor and delivery.  I learn about people’s religions and career challenges, marital strife and overt joys. 

Certainly, tidbits of my work and life experiences may find their way into my writing–be it in novel or nonfiction form.  But it is the inspiration of the human condition that will more likely inform my writing, my teaching and speaking.  What more could you ask for in a job?

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Filed under Balancing career and motherhood, Childbirth Issues, From One Mother to Another, Living, Mommy and Motherhood, natural childbirth, pregnancy, Writing and Publishing