I didn't even realise I'd been mourning a loss. But for years, I ping-ponged between Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief (denial - anger - bargaining – depression -acceptance), as I morphed from childless professional to mother of two.
The problem was that the puzzle of raising children and having satisfying work seemed to have no possible solution, like a Rubik's cube where the stickers had been secretly switched. It took a long time for me to realise that to solve the jigsaw, I had to let go of my old life and create something new altogether.
My conundrum was this: I'd never loved my career in the corporate insurance industry. But it ticked lots of boxes – great colleagues, interesting work, nice salary package. So although I intended to escape someday, I never developed an exit strategy. Children, however, were firmly etched into my grand plan.
Becoming a mother threw my ambivalence about my career into sharp focus. On one hand, there'd been so much I'd disliked about working in the high rises of Sydney's CBD. The drudgery of the daily commute. The punishment of pantyhose. The lack of sunshine in over air-conditioned offices.
On the other hand, exhausted by the relentless demands of small children, I found myself pining for my old life as a salaried office worker. At my desk, I could drink entire cups of tea uninterrupted. I could have conversations with adults. I even got paid to indulge in these luxuries! From the vantage point of my overflowing laundry basket, work glittered attractively.
Despite my mixed feelings towards my job, I couldn't opt out of paid employment completely – work was an essential income stream. It was also my ticket out of the house, where I could reclaim my identity as an individual instead of being just 'Mum.' The obvious solution was to scale back and become a part-timer.
But part-time work turned out to be no panacea. Because no matter how hard I worked or what I achieved, wanting flexible hours meant stagnating (at best), or more likely, working below my skill level.
At the same time, in my days off with my children, I met other mothers with diverse backgrounds and interests. Like Leanne, a former nurse turned ceramicist, who taught pottery classes, napped in the day if she was exhausted (even if her kids weren't with her!) and talked about books like Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. Off the corporate treadmill – at least a few days a week – I began to see that there were possibilities other than the 8.30 - 5.00 grind.
Finally, after a disastrous short-term insurance role, I decided I was done with the industry for good and found myself a writing mentor.
"I feel like I'm at the foot of a very tall mountain," I told my mentor early on. But although writing was hard, I loved the frequent sensation of being in 'flow'. It almost made up for the isolation of working from home, without the camaraderie of co-workers. Still, my pitches to editors regularly went unanswered. And with our household budget often in deficit, I started wondering whether I'd made a huge mistake.
I was also stumped when I had to fill in my occupation on official forms. What was my occupation these days? No longer an insurance executive, not yet a writer, not just on home duties. I was suspended between two worlds, as if in a cocoon: neither caterpillar nor butterfly. All I could do was surrender to the unknown and continue to write.
The changes were imperceptible at first. But slowly, my universe began shifting. My writing began getting published. I learned about content marketing. I met like-minded women who'd opted out of the legal profession and started their own businesses, after finding the work-kids-husband in demanding job- juggle impossible.
It was just recently that I realised I'd finally come full circle. A former insurance colleague phoned to see if I might be interested in an opening in his team. Not wanting to close off options, I emailed my CV and made it to the final round of interviews. As we chatted about the details of the role, I knew that although I could do the job, I didn't want to do it anymore. It was wonderfully liberating to explain that returning to the industry wasn't right for me; like running into an old boyfriend who'd broken your heart, and realising you finally don't want him back anymore.
I never dreamed I'd become a freelance writer. Yet, that's exactly where I find myself these days. I'm hardly the first woman to reinvent myself and forge a new path post-motherhood. Because sadly, the corporate world has failed many females who want to be around for their kids and use their talents. But big business' loss can be an individual's gain.
Becoming a mother can be a convenient, socially acceptable way of scaling back from – or opting out of – an unsatisfying career. The desire to combine motherhood and career can also provide us with a springboard to finally say goodbye to jobs we never loved, in order to pursue work which truly engages us. Such a brave and daring move is never easy. But ironically, faced with no other palatable options, taking the leap of faith to start something new can sometimes feel like the only logical choice.