Just after I got my PhD, I took a year off to go travelling.
A few people advised me that it was a bad move. People would be publishing and getting jobs, and generally getting ahead of me and I would have trouble getting a job when I got back. I didn’t, but I guess the message stayed with me. A few years later, I have another gap on my CV, ostensibly, because I have had kids, and it worries me.
Originally, I designed my life so that I would have no gap! I would have kids and a career, after all I had had a job since I was 16 years old and I defined myself by working. So, a couple of years into marriage, before starting a family, I set myself up to have it all.
I did a postgraduate diploma in journalism to get into writing, I began lecturing part-time (instead of full-time) and started freelance consulting, so that once the kids came along, I would have choice and flexibility. This plan was so brilliant, only unexplained infertility could wipe the smile off my face – which it did. I spent a couple of years feeling blue.
Finally, my longed for baby was born with 1% kidney function. She went onto dialysis on day 11 of her life and when she could finally leave hospital, the dialysis machine came home with us. I did one lecture when she was still in hospital and spent the whole time wondering about her blood pressure and how much she had vomited. So, I came home from that lecture to become a full time mother and dialysis nurse.
Three months later, I fell pregnant again. One lovely nurse congratulated us for fitting it on top of dialysis which makes me laugh even now. My healthy second child allowed me to experience normal baby stuff, like carrying your baby around in your arms and not having it attached to a machine all night. And when I pushed my beautiful babies around in their double buggy, people would shout, ‘Oh you’ve got your hands full,’ and I would say, ‘You don’t know the half of it.’
Then came transplant, I ran between hospitals to see how donor (daddy) and recipient (daughter) were doing, with a four month old under one arm, and remember breastfeeding her in the ICU next to my sedated toddler, who had always been too ill to toddle. A few months (and emergency surgeries) later, daddy went back to work (I was completely jealous – but he earns more than me) and we moved house as we needed more space and a fresh start. I remember thinking, ‘Yes now life can start.’
Instead,we got burgled and I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I found it completely exhausting to be responsible for two kids under three whilst on chemotherapy and radiotherapy and recovering from surgery. For the first time in my life, I was just so grateful that I didn’t have to work.
We had just finished two lots of surgery when my mum nearly died and then three months later, my dad did die. So, our first holiday as a little family away from hospitals was spent going through all my parents possessions and dismantling what had been their life. My two small girls wandered around like Wall-E collecting up treasures to bring home. I was still sore from surgery and weak from grief and guilt. For a long while afterwards I had recurring nightmares of my mum turning back into her old self and asking: ‘Where are all my things?’ Sometimes, I hopelessly wished she would.
Fast forward through a couple more surgeries and three years, externally the dust has settled, the kids are at school and I am completely lost because my job has been to look after them, but they are looked after by someone else 38 weeks of the year from 9am to 3.30pm and I miss them.
I have done some freelance website design, some writing, and some volunteering (Treasurer of the PTA to be exact. I tried to do some hospital stuff but kept crying on people) and when people ask me what I do, I have no idea how to reply. I no longer know how to define myself. But more importantly now I am free to have a job, I no longer seem to know what I want to do.
I went to some networking/women back into work events, just to get some idea of what I could do, where kindly people said, ‘Oh with all that experience you can get a job no problem.’ But they mean work experience and the stuff I used to do. They don’t mean the life changing experiences in that gap, which I am not supposed to mention at all, as it makes people run a mile! I am supposed to behave like it never happened, and it cannot go on my CV.
One woman who was leading the back to work event depressingly said, ‘Don’t expect a job to change your life. It is just a job!’ Aaargh! And the worst bit of (unsolicited) advice I ever got was: ‘Just put that cancer behind you and get a job doing data entry’.
Data entry, I ask you. I used to get upset doing the washing, as I would think: I can’t believe I have lived through all that and I still have to wash everyones’ knickers. But, then I got a tumble dryer and washing became infinitely more bearable.
I wish I could put my CV gap in the tumble dryer and then perhaps I would know exactly how to do what is going to make me happiest.
Lately, my favourite quote for the day is:
‘There is hope in being.’
I don’t know who said it, but it makes me feel better about my not doing.
I am so infinitely grateful for modern medicine and for our brilliant NHS which saved my daughter’s life, my life, my mum’s life, and prolonged my dad’s life, so we got some extra time with him. But, I think, part of modern medicine and technology involves learning to live through things that were not possible 20 years ago which can be difficult yet amazing, both mentally and physically.
And, perhaps here is where I may have something to offer. Who knows? I mind about the gap on my CV, but really, perhaps I should let it go and watch this space instead. I might end up doing something really exciting.