I leaned against the spitting rain, the biting wind, forcing the double stroller ahead of me. George, six weeks old, and Gladys, almost 2 yrs snuggled beneath cozy blankets. Andrew, 4 yrs, held firmly to the side of the stroller, half running, feeling his mother’s tension veiled in her words.
“You’re doing great, Honey! Hold on tight . . . we’re just a few minutes late . . . I’m SO excited you are finally going to meet Mommy’s friends!”
My mind wandered from the details of the next hour, and back to how that particularly unlikely hour came to be.
In June 2002, seven months pregnant with my first-born, I decided to join the NE Ohio Chapter of MIT Alumni. I still knew fewer than a half dozen souls in the Cleveland area. The past year had changed me, as other years had I suppose, but in a much more personal way.
Only one year earlier, I had quit everything I had built up since graduating college. My last day of work in May 2001, I was confirmed pregnant. That was the plan – I had decided to take on the adventure of a lifetime (most people just call it motherhood, I suppose, but for me it was a very big decision). I decided to stay home: full-time. I would do it at least until the children were “old enough,” whatever that meant. I didn’t know. I felt blind, but excited, even adventurous.
At 11 weeks we lost the baby.
The event, dramatic as it unfolded, paled in comparison to the emotional turmoil. I recall the two days of recovery in a cheaply paneled motel room near Whitefish, Montana. But, I digress.
The following months were spent on relocation, fertility treatments, and various applications (Would I ever be a mom?). And, of course, rebuilding myself, reminding myself daily that even the most valid decisions, the best plans . . . some things, I learned, were just out of my control.
I wasn’t sure exactly who I was. Was I an ex-engineer? A mommy wanna-be? I settled on the term “lady of leisure,” which I would say with a half-smile, and a wink of confidence, followed by tears after I returned to my car.
So, in June 2002, seven months pregnant with my first-born, I attended my first meeting of the NE Ohio Chapter of MIT Alumni. I spent three days deciding what to wear, three hours brushing my hair, and 30 minutes looking in my mirror practicing how to say “I’m a stay at home mom” in the most convincingly proud manner.
I wasn’t even sure I was considered a ‘mom’ yet. The word stuck to me uncomfortably, like the sticky syrup in my hair would a few years later. I walked in, belly first, full of confidence. I fully expected no one would understand my decision to stay home. I steeled myself against the anticipated sideways looks. But, if I met only one person that day, I would consider it a success. If I found some way to contribute, to be part of the community, then I would celebrate all the way home.
The meeting was just a meeting, uneventful in a normal sort of way. I went home vaguely proud of myself; sheepishly realizing that my harshest critic looked back at me in the mirror every single morning.
(That “critical old lady” in the grocery store reflected the evil witch of my own conscience.)
Those successful men and women at the MIT meeting, comfortable in their own skin, never questioned the validity of my decisions. They accepted my successful life in MY definition of success.
Eventually, I met more than a few great people, and I had the honor of participating on a terrific committee.
At one particular meeting, I walked out of the restaurant with a gentleman with a cane. I felt honored to meet him, even more honored to know him as a fellow alumni. On our way out, we enjoyed a few minutes of private conversation. He leaned towards me.
“You know,” he said, “you are very sharp and ambitious. I am sure when you feel like it, you will have no problem enjoying any career you choose. But,” he continued, “you are doing the most important work right now. You are the most successful person.”
So, with the spitting rain drenching my hastily brushed hair, my three children and I entered one of the nicer restaurants in the Cleveland area. Still panting more than I prefer to admit, I answered the hostess.
“I’m with the MIT Alumni Club.”
She looked at me. She looked down at her list quizzically. Just then, I saw one of my friends waving me over from the table in the corner.
“You brought them! You finally brought them all. Oh, we are so delighted to see your new baby.”
A chair was pulled up, and I joined the group with honor, leaving my harshest critic back in the car, at least for now.