From ER to At-Home: PA Puts Family First
Judy completed ROTC in college and worked for four years in the Army before receiving training to become a Physician Assistant. In the 11 years between getting married and having her daughter, she and her husband taught English in China, ran races, and pursued educational goals. Judy worked in the emergency room for three years in California before her daughter’s birth and then took a six-month paid leave before returning to work. When Judy moved across the country for school, she decided to take some time to be at home with her daughter while she waited for her medical license to transfer. In our conversation, we discuss how state-funded family leave made her decisions around her daughter’s first months of life “easy.” We also discuss the relative invisibility of being a stay-at-home parent and how governmental policies could encourage society to build a better balance between work and home.
Editing credential to Bethany Bartholomew.
What did your life look like before having children?
I had done ROTC in college, so after college I had a four-year commitment with the Army. And I went in and did that [and] met my husband in the Army while we were stationed in Germany. We were married pretty quickly after we met—we met and got married within a year. So [I] left the Army after four years, [and] lived in China for a bit, teaching English, learning Chinese. And then I started to pursue becoming a PA, pursuing the medical field. And we actually were married 11 years before we had our daughter, so that’s a very long time. So, we had a lot of time as a couple . . . we did what we wanted to do. We wanted to move somewhere; we moved. We wanted to pursue another career; we did that. We wanted to go to graduate school; we did that. So, I ended up getting my master’s as a PA, and my husband, in the meantime, got a master’s in anthropology. So, there was a lot of freedom, I would say, doing the things that we wanted to do as far as fitness and traveling and running races and stuff like that.
Transitioning to motherhood was definitely a big change. I mean, I think we’ve definitely still tried to incorporate a lot of things. This year is kind of not the norm. But I think even [after] my daughter was born, we’ve tried to still incorporate doing things we enjoy with her but just kind of a different version of it.
What made you want to have kids?
I think I always wanted to have children. I grew up as an only child, and my parents worked a lot. We did have some family friends that had a lot of kids, and I always thought that, “Wow, that’s so wonderful to have such a big family and to have other children running around.” So, I’ve always thought kids were adorable, and I’ve always been fascinated with watching them learn. And I think, for me, I just really kind of always wanted that for myself. Just having a family is wonderful.
What are some things you love about being a mom?
I really, really love just watching my daughter grow. It’s really fascinating just seeing the wheels turn. Like lately, she’s been just saying all these random little phrases. She started saying “Happy New Year, Mom. Happy New Year, Dad.” I have no idea where she got that from. It’s really fascinating how she just picks up on things. . . It’s just really cool, watching her develop and figure things out. I mean they’re little humans. It’s really fascinating. I think watching her grow is the coolest thing.
What are some things that are hard about being a mom?
I think it’s really hard, especially with Covid, not having help. It’s really exhausting. You imagine this little person who’s just so passionate about everything and just repeats things over and over and over again and thinks it’s hilarious to poke you in the eye, like 50 times. Those [times] where you don’t get a break, I think that’s the biggest challenge. Having perspective and realizing that they’re growing so fast, and this phase passes. . . it’s really frustrating right now, but they’re learning and they’re going to grow out of this stage before you know it.
I honestly feel bad for thinking this in the past, but I used to think, ”Oh, what do stay-at-home moms do all day? It must be so nice.” Oh my God [laughs]. I take that back now so much; I have so much respect for women who stay at home. I think it’s hard [being a] working [mom too]. Whatever challenge you choose, it’s challenging, right? But oh my goodness, I have so much respect for stay-at-home moms, especially if you want quality time [with your child], like you’re not just passively watching television . . . if you want to engage your child and making sure they’re eating healthy meals and everything. I think it’s definitely very difficult.
And you’ve recently moved for your husband to complete his PA training. When you were considering your move, what was your hope for work-life balance?
Initially, when I was working as a PA in emergency medicine, we were close to my family. So, it was a huge help being able to have them watch her while I was working, in conjunction with my husband watching her as well. So, we had a lot of help. But since we moved out here for my husband’s graduate program, it’s been really challenging. . . . We don’t know anybody out here, so I [didn’t] really feel comfortable just throwing my daughter into a daycare where I don’t know anybody. . . . So, I was like, “Okay, I will drop down; we’ll move out here, and I’ll apply for my license,” and the initial plan was to go back and maybe work part time to per diem in the ER.
I got my license approved in March, and that’s when Covid hit. And I was like, “Oh, hmm, I don’t really want to go work in the ER right now because of all the risk.” And there was a lot of risk with sending her to child care as well. So I was like, “Okay, I think I’m just not going to pursue this at this time,” and so that’s why we made the decision to just have me stay at home permanently with her at the moment, until this passes. . . . And we’re thankful that we have the ability to do that, financially. I think a lot of people wouldn’t be able to do that.
So, of course, Covid has thrown a wrench into finding that work-life balance for many people. Ideally, what do you see as the balance you want to strike between work and home?
As long as we’re away from family, I think the maximum I would be willing to do would be part-time work, just because I think I do have some internal conflict as far as [thinking], “Oh, is somebody else raising my child?” . . . [But during] this pandemic, I’ve realized I do miss some of the aspects of working and interacting with patients and being able to help people in some way. And I also feel like my knowledge base has kind of diminished. I think that’s kind of a lingering fear about staying away from the workforce too long. So, ideally, once the pandemic passes, I think part-time work might be a reasonable option. But I don’t want to miss out completely on [my daughter’s] preschool years.
Have you felt supported on a government-wide level—be it state or federal—in your decision to be at home with your daughter?
I don’t think I necessarily feel that there’s much government support [laughs]. I think it’s just kind of us doing our own thing. I don’t really feel like there’s any external support. Going back to when I was taking maternity leave, I do feel like it was nice to have the state’s paid maternity leave, which I think was very generous. But now [that I’m at home] I don’t think I’m interacting much with the state or federal government.
For you, personally, how do state and federal policies factor into your decision to work or to stay home?
I think this probably pertains to more when I was taking my maternity leave. At least in California, I was able to take six full months off for maternity leave. And I think most people aren’t able to do that. I have a lot of friends who only took three months off during that time. And I was like, ”Are you kidding me? Your last month of pregnancy and then you’re only spending two months with your newborn?” I thought that that was bizarre. So, I was very thankful [that I could take 6 months].
. . .Having that availability of support really made it very easy for me to decide to take as much time as possible. . . . Why would I not take time to spend with my child? I think having that support there makes the decision a lot easier to choose what matters to me, which was being able to be there and bonding with my newborn. So, I think, yeah, that factored into the decision a lot because if we hadn’t had that financial support from the state, I [probably would’ve had to say], “Maybe I should go back to work sooner because we can’t afford for me to stay home at this time.” It’s really kind of sad, right?
If you could change our country’s policies regarding motherhood, what policies would you implement?
I think there’s very little value placed on the well-being of families. We have friends that work at these tech jobs, and they’re both working just to afford child care. So, you’re essentially working so many hours a week just so you can send your child to somebody else so that they can raise them for you. But you have to do that job also so that you can afford the house that you want to live in. It’s just bizarre, right? And at the same time, you’re missing out on the quality time that you wish you could be having with your child. I just think that state and federal governments could really . . . We really have to re-prioritize, right?
I just feel like there’s kind of a strange perspective of children and families and what’s more important. I’m thinking that if you invest more in families and in children, they’ll have more stability; they’ll be raised up in a way where it allows them to succeed. I feel like the US specifically is a very workaholic culture. And I think we put children and their well-being and the well-being of parents on the back-burner in the name of profitability and economy, and we forget all the while that if we were to invest just a little bit back there that that would allow for maybe some families that are struggling to be more successful, in a way. In a different way. Not in a profitable kind of way, but in being able to foster better members of society or have children have better health as opposed to rampant obesity amongst kids and all those things.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
[About] the policies reshaping culture . . . I did feel pressure, working in the ER. It’s ironic, right? You worked shifts and you [could] just kind of leave your work there, but I knew people who had the workaholic mentality. They would go chart at home, or they would always want to work more shifts. It’s interesting. I think there was kind of [a question] like, “Oh, you’re really going to take six months [leave]?” So, I think having more awareness as a society [could] kind of change that general work culture and mentality.
[Also, maternity leave is] not a vacation. I had a friend who just had a baby a couple months ago . . . and her manager at her work—she works at a tech company—was essentially like, “Oh, yeah, it’s gonna be like vacation, right?” No, she has a toddler and she’s gonna have a newborn—that’s not vacation. . . . No, you’re waking up four times a night. The longest duration of sleep you have is two hours. You’re exhausted. If you’re lucky enough, you get some energy to cook or do some laundry, but usually, everything is in disarray. . . . It’s a lot of work to keep a little human alive and well.
What advice do you have for young moms trying to figure out these types of decisions?
As far as how young moms can balance work and home life, I think as a mom you just need to figure what you want personally. If career is really important and fulfilling to you, then pursue that to the best of your ability. If being at home is more important, then also do that whole-heartedly. Maybe you want something in the middle, and that is perfectly ok! There really is no right answer. You just need to figure out what works the best for your circumstances and what is most rewarding and feasible for you and your family.