When I was in the process of deciding on a name and tag line for my blog, one of the phrases that popped into my mind was “a life in transition.” Ultimately, I decided against it, in large part because it seemed a little too, well, dramatic, I guess. In fact, my life would certainly appear quite stable to anyone looking in, and in many (big, important) ways, it is stable. Still, there are days that the shift occurring inside the confines of my home and my heart feels downright seismic. My fortieth birthday is days away, and this milestone has shaken me in ways I never would have predicted even just two months ago. I have three children in school this year. Granted, Monkey is just in preschool three mornings per week, but in two short years, all of my boys will be full-time students. Bubba’s tenth birthday is next month, and I’ve become a reluctant witness to the slow transition between childhood and the teen years. And his growing up is causing a huge shift in the dynamic between the boys. But, perhaps, the area currently undergoing the greatest change involves deciphering what my next big calling in life will be.
For almost ten years, I had a career as a certified genetic counselor. For all but two of those years, I coordinated NIH grants to learn more about genetic causes of hearing loss. Although my day-to-day responsibilities primarily involved contact with our research participants and our lab, I, also, regularly presented for various local and national audiences and was an author on over a dozen, peer-reviewed journal articles, in addition to co-authoring two book chapters.
After Froggy was born, I made the difficult, though obvious (for me) decision to step away from my career for a while. The longer I stayed at home, the more fully I realized I was just where I needed and wanted to be. And then one day, it finally dawned on me that I wasn’t going back, and I made the (again, difficult but obvious) choice to let my genetic counseling certification lapse.
It was around this time that a book arrived in the mail. It was an author’s copy of what is widely considered to be the go-to reference for genetics and deafness. I had co-authored a chapter a couple of years before, not long after leaving my job and when I still thought I would return to genetic counseling. The book was slow getting published, so my copy was just arriving.
I opened the box, pulled out the tome, cracked it open, and peered into a world that was, at once, comfortingly familiar and oddly foreign. These authors were my people, and this was the language I spoke for so many years. But here I was, standing in my home, listening to the boys playing upstairs, wondering what I should cook for dinner, and I didn’t know what to do with the book. Should I show the boys? Should I share the news with my friends? I felt so disconnected from my work, from this writing. I remember being so excited when my former supervisor contacted me to say that, even though it had been a couple of years since I left work, she wanted to write this with me. Where did this accomplishment fit, if anywhere, in my current world of preschool and diapers and school lunches and homework and first steps and doctor’s appointments?
Was I still the same person who co-authored this book chapter?
Since that day, I have slowly begun to see that I am not formerly that person; I am that person. Still.
I may not be able to call myself a genetic counselor anymore because I’m no longer certified and no longer doing the work of a genetic counselor. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was I who earned a masters degree. It was I who passed the board certification exam. It was I who routinely threw around terms like GJB2, heterochromia, compound heterozygosity, and assortative mating. It was I who co-authored book chapters, contributed to journal articles, counseled clients in American Sign Language, and helped hundreds of people understand why they are deaf.
So I’ve made the deliberate choice to no longer look on my former career with a longing that suggests that I was more worthy then. That my value was determined by having a paycheck, being booked for speaking engagements, or actively publishing. That I’m wasting my degree. That I’ve turned my back on something at which I excelled and could again. Because that’s simply untrue. Because all of the skills and lessons I learned as a genetic counselor are beautifully and inextricably woven into the fabric of who I am today.
I am the mother who answers her children’s questions about nature and medicine and our bodies and our world. I am the friend people turn to when they have questions about prenatal testing or when they get an abnormal test result. I am the mother who easily says no to morning cartoons but has a hard time limiting access to the Discovery Channel. I am the patient who has mastered the art of providing a thirty-second history, so the doctor and I can immediately get to addressing my concerns. I am the author who channeled the skills learned from a decade of scientific writing into a blog. I am the woman whose ears perk up whenever a medical story airs on NPR. I am the person who delighted in helping families understand why they were deaf and now delights in serving families in myriad other ways.
I am the sum of my past and my present – my jobs, relationships, mistakes, experiences, and accomplishments. I embrace all of me, as who I was once is who I am still.
This week, I’ll be sharing some exciting news about what’s coming next
for me and for an organization that I love.