In the previous posts about the ‘cult of expert’ and away from the cult of expert we got talking about mother’s leaving their children in child care because they either have to or choose to go out to work. I don’t judge women who have to work- been there done that. It can become a bizarre trap.
I was still a student nurse when I got married and through a rather careless approach to being healthy (I was only barely Catholic at the time) I quickly became pregnant. Josh was born and six months later I had to return to work because I had to finish my training and there was no way we could pay basic bills on just Al’s newly qualified nurse pay. So I found a child minder and left my baby behind. It was horrible.
The hospital were fairly accomoding and I was allowed for most of my third year of training to work 8 to 4 on a rehab ward. I learned a lot and think it was one of the best ways I had of picking up a lot of skills. But the child care situation was a nightmare. The childminder was one I had found from a social services approved list, but she was barely coping looking after her own kids and certainly could not cope with mine and another mother’s babies on top of that. I soon found I had to quickly find different care for him. I did so with another child minder, who had come recommended.
She was lovely. But to get Josh there I would get up every morning at 5:30 and get ready for work. Get him up and ready at just after 6 am and then walk to the child minders and drop him off at 6:30 and then rush to the train to get to work for 8am. I wouldn’t see him again until 5pm that night- presuming nothing bad happened and I could get off work on time.
Sadly this lady went down with serious depression after some awful thing happened in her family. Josh ended up registered in the hospital nursery. Again we had to get up together at about 5:30 am. I packed everrything he needed, strapped him to my back and took the train across the city to work. I would drop him off at about 7:45 and go to work. He was terribly unhappy.Every night I would get him home and he would scream and scream. The whole thing was exhausting. I soon discovered the nursery staff were not looking after the babies properly. I turned up early one day and found his nappy hadn’t been changed all day and he was filthy, thirsty and hungry. I needed a better solution but one wasn’t easy to come by. Some us complained and hoped it would improve.
Finally I qualified and the first thing I did was try to find a way to get out of full time work. I worked bank shifts, agency shifts, night shifts and twilight. You name it I did it to try and be home and still pay the bills. I even worked as an Avon lady for a while. Awful.
Then we had another baby. It was a much easier pregnancy and much easier birth. I also had a child minder who had been recommended and she would come to us, rather than me dragging the children out of bed at unholy hours. I thought we had answers and I still wanted to find a way to be home more often.
I went to college and did a Pastoral Studies course with a view to working part time for the church if possible. I could be home a lot. But I also had to work shifts to make the money to pay for child care and the other bills that were my responsibility. Fortunately a baby and a toddler don’t cost much. I had bought the cheapest pram we could find and it was just about still in one piece for Alex. We had Al’s old cot(which was lovely) and a friend gave us an old cot bed. We were sorted.
But no church job materialised. I had to go back to work and had a staff nurse job. We could tick over just about with more than half my earnings going to childcare but at least we could just about make ends meet.
Iona came along two years after that. Unfortunately things went wrong with that pregnancy and I lost earnings by being in hospital over a month and still having to pay child care. It was a nightmare. However the Lord sees and knows and we got help from unexpected places and grandad stepped in and bought a new pram- as the cheapy one I had for the boys was well and truly bust. That pram was a good’un and is still working. 🙂
After Iona was born I was more and more determined to get out of full time work. I had trained in British Sign Language and knew that interpreters and communication assistants got paid much better money for far less hours. So, I planned to get all the BSL training I could get. I got a place at University to train as an interpreter. But we still had bills to pay so I worked nights came home and got the kids ready, went to Uni all day and came home to the children. This was so so bad for my health!It wasn’t good for the children either. After a year I couldn’t take it any more (and niether could the children) and had to give up.
Meanwhile Josh had failure to thrive. I was back and forth to the peadiatrician with him and every time something bad happened I had to take time off work. When Alex went down with croup and was taken to hospital I had to lie to my boss and make out I had flu, rather than admit I was off sick because I was in hospital with my baby for a week.
All attempts at going part time seemed to have failed. We were cash strapped again and there was nothing else to do, but go back to work. I was offered promotion at this point. It seemed like I had no choice.
Strangely though I had a warning about this. I had a sort of vision. I saw myself sitting on a bank overlooking the place where my dh worked. I was, it seemed, sitting with my guardian angel. He simply said, “If you take the job you will be miserable.” That was it.
I took on a chaotic, ill managed unit and I was supposed to make it work. I was utterly miserable. Managers didn’t want changes and far too many staff thought patient care was beneath them. We were constantly short staffed and I had to work longer and longer hours. I wanted to get out. But we needed my income. By this time I was the main earner for the family and I did all the extra shifts to pay the bills and keep us above water- and keep the unit above water too. I was trapped in a horrible cycle of everybody putting pressure on me to be somewhere. Far too often I was working 48 to even 60 hrs a week. It was doing me in, quite frankly.
I got a hand from an interpreter who was willing to mentor me and take me on a bit.
I got some work interpreting and someone else spotted me and offered me work at a University teaching Sign Language. She also got me work at the FE college where she worked.
Slowly I could pull back the hours and finally I was able to jack in that most miserable of jobs. But I still had to work. I did interpreting, teaching at the college and teaching at the Uni. I was finally able to cut out loads of child care (although sadly this went down very badly indeed with our child minder who I had considered a friend; you live and learn).
I got a job as an integration assistant in a primary school. I could do those hours, teach at the Uni and do other occasional interpreting jobs and still be home with the children. We were pretty skint, but it wasn’t impossible to do. I could always pull a shift if things got impossible. Al had a bit of promotion so we had a little more to get by on. As it happened the school, college and Uni were all walking distance and so was the Hospice. This meant we could get by with one car, which was a good job because we had to rely on my little Fiesta nicknamed Puny- but I liked it.
It was working. I decided the way to go would be to become a supply teacher. At the FE we were being told unqualified teachers wouldn’t be allowed much longer, so I thought I had better get qualifed. I had done a lot of Open Uni with the hope of finding a way out of the long hour shifts at all times of the day and night. So I looked at how to get qualified. I soon saw that the teachers I worked with at the primary school where I was the integration assistant did 60 hours a week quite often and decided that wasn’t what I wanted. I was still considering FE and supply but the more I saw of the national curriculum, the more appalled I was.
Nevertheless I set off with the idea of doing my Masters and then a PGCE. I got on the MA course and earned enough money to pay for it. So life was pretty set. I worked at the Uni, some FE work, some Hospice work and the IA work and did the MA. We were doing ok and I had a plan.
You know what they say; if you want to make God laugh, make your own plans.
At this time I was also going through a conversion experience (not Paul off a horse, much more long winded) and came back to the Church fully. In a fit of being Oh-so-holy I went and told God I would do whatever He wanted. Of course I had plenty of ideas of what He wanted…I was wrong.
I found I was pregnant.
When we got over the shock, it was fine really. I continued to work and study and decided not to fret about how on earth we would manage. It was sunshiny and fine.
And then I became ill. Really, really ill. I was in increasing amounts of pain. I was shattered, sick and couldn’t string a sentence together and finally I couldn’t even walk. I was admitted to hospital– and I lost all my jobs. It also looked bleak for the MA, even though I tried to keep it up while in hospital.
Hospital was a terrifying, prison like experience. I had no idea what was going to happen to me or my baby. I cannot begin to explain what that was like. But in the end with a planned General anasthetic and c-section Ronan was born and he was a fine healthy lad. My ‘mum’ Sr Kath came down for the day and cared for the children, brought them up to the hospital afterwards and stayed with me when Al took them home. She has so often been there for me.
Afterwards it was clear that I wasn’t getting better and I couldn’t look for more work. I couldn’t afford to go back and finish the MA and I was basically housebound. Again Sr Kath came to the rescue, she and the Sisters of Mercy (her order) paid for me to finish the MA, and gave me a couple of extra £k to make sure we had all we needed for the new baby, as we were starting again, and some extra that meant I could keep my wheelchair.(I had been renting it and now could buy it).
I was just about set up. Then my SIL came along and got me through the humiliating experience of claiming Disability Living Allowance. It took months and months to come through, but finally I got it and I could get the crip-scooter and get out of the house with the bairn and the other kids.
Being able to complete the MA helped me in a couple of ways. First of all, it was just good for me, but more importantly it meant I was around people who home educated their children. I’d never come across this before in the UK. I know some American and Canadian homeschoolers, but not UK ones. At this time, because I was at home I was seeing more and more of the children and so I saw what was happening, especially to Alex.
Meetings and letters with the school about the bullying and his work going down came to nothing. But even with the advice of the staff at my Uni I still couldn’t believe I would be able to HE my son. In the end it was so bad for him I thought I couldn’t make it worse by taking him out. So, against everyone I knew, apart from those Uni people, I removed him from school. It was the very best decision I have ever made.
I never did go back to work, but I was determined my life wasn’t going to end because I was using a wheelchair. We got on with it. Two more children were born and although both times meant I spent a longer time in hospital than ‘normal’ mothers have to, I don’t regret it.
Things are very difficult financially, and sometimes I have guilt attacks because I am not earning. But God keeps an eye on us. When we had no car just before Heleyna was born a kind “Aunt” paid for one for us and still sends us money to help keep it on the road. She always pays for the diesal so we can afford to drive north for a week each year. But it’s not that so much that I am grateful for, though I am grateful for that– it’s the phone call she made to tell us and what she said and has said since; she approves of our family, of the children and of the education and life they are getting. She said it to me the first time, when to be honest, I was feeling really low and struggling with negative attitudes from people.
I know many mothers have to work (I don’t get mothers who do it when they don’t have to, I just don’t) and I know what it’s like. It’s taken me a long time to accept that I don’t have to earn money for the family to be offering the family something. Partly this came from my past and the massive struggles I faced as I started out. But I’ve learned my lesson and the children are so much better and happier for it.
They are also, I have to say, better educated. 🙂