Family Over Fame: Why I’m on Ellen’s Side

Waiting in line at the grocery store, as mundane and ordinary as that is, I had an epiphany. Sometimes it’s the more ordinary moments which bring to light the most profound thoughts.

The headline was hard to miss. Ellen DeGeneres Chooses Family Over Fame.Good for her, I thought. And then…what does that even mean? Why do I care? It’s not like that was a choice I would need to make in this lifetime.

Then it hit me. I already had.

My name might as well have been in her place, screaming to the world my professinal decisions for the sake of my own family (Maybe us ordinary folk aren’t so different from those superstars as we are made to believe?).

Unlike Ellen, our every move is not documented, photographed and scrutinized for the world to see (you put it that way, why would you choose fame???). But our choices are foundationally the same. How we balance our home lives with our careers, what priority we place making money over our relationships, influences the trajectory of our lives and our happiness within it.

I had been happily going about my career as a labor nurse, taking advantage of the twelve weeks of maternity leave. It was October; the sun was shining, the leaves were changing, and I was grateful beyond belief to have all that I needed to care for my family. I had no plans to climb any professional ladders. I was going to go back to work (albeit reluctantly) to continue on.

Within days of returning, I was faced with an enormous professional decision. My director had stepped down, and I was from day one of my return been courted and elevated to a new level. I was the obvious choice to lead our unit, they said. My experience, personality, professionalism and ability to form lasting relationships was exactly what was needed to repair our broken state. It was up to me to pick up the pieces, holding together the people I had come to love and admire over the previous years.

Wow. I had no idea I had so much power. How humbling it is to be told you posess the gifts that will repair old wounds.

How convincing.

So I did it. To this day I’m not sure if I so much agreed or was guided into it by those above me. The stroking of the ego and the flash of money made it difficult to refuse. That would certainly take care of my family, which really was my top priority. There was no harm in trying right? I mean, what was the worst that could happen?

ENTER STAGE RIGHT: The reality of Corporate America.

WOAH.

It was a whilwind. People trapped in a state of ego. High heels, fancy cars, bigger houses, name brand clothes. Every morning the leaders of the hospital grouped together for a “safety huddle”, reporting safety concerns for their prospective units. This gathering left me with such anxiety and distaste. Yes on the surface it was about safety, but the undercurrent of this gathering was about showing off and showing up one another.

And then there was the expectations. I had told my supervisior in the beginning, I had one very defined boundary. My time with my family was important…no it was imperitive. Conditional even. I had a newborn and two other children at home. I would be there. I would be present for my children. For choir concerts and kindergarten presentations, to put my baby to sleep at night and take the kids to school every morning. I would be there.

Sure. No problem. They said.

Except it was a problem. For months I had to explain myself. Why I wasn’t in the office at 7:00 am like everyone else, why I couldn’t stay until 8:00 pm every night. I did my best to balance. I knew it was important to be present for both shifts, which required some early mornings and late nights. What I couldn’t get accross was why I wouldn’t put in 15 hour days. And when I did, why I wanted to work a 4 hour day later in the week. You have to be here, they said.

So…I did everything I could to be there. Compromising my boundary without even knowing I was doing it. Being pulled into the hypnosis of a rat race I never really signed up for. Money being the proffered pocketwatch pendulum, swinging back and forth, ever convincing of my need to continue. To give in a little more. To make this one other sacrifice.

My body began to show signs of my suffering. I was exausted beyond any measure I had been before. My phone had been possessed by everything work related. I got multiple texts throughout the day AND night. From the staff, from my supervisor, from the automated system updating us to the hospital census. There was no break. Saturday and Sunday rolled into the work week. Even when I was home I was not home. Not present. Not emotionally or mentally there. Even with my physical boundaries I discovered it didn’t matter. The constant e-mails and demands of this job kept me away from my family for an entire year.

It took a mistake for me to see the truth. I sent a text to my friend, my angel really, for she listened to my struggle on a daily basis. Only when I pressed send did I realize the receiver of my message, my complaint about my boss’s negativity and my struggle to remain present and positive, was in fact…my boss. My heart sank to my feet as I realized my folly, sure to get me fired.

Being a Friday event, I left work almost immediately, wanting to escape persecution for what I had done. I had the weekend to think about it all before facing her Monday morning. I spent hours and many tears agonizing over what to do, realizing in the end it was a very simple decision.

Actually, it was suddenly clear the universe had played its hand in making this decision for me.

Sitting accross from her that day, watching the anger eminating from her body, I told her the truth. What I said was not wrong, and how I managed my days was the best I could do. I stood firm in my ground that I would not sacrifice my precious time with my family. She stood firm in her ground that this factor was the expectation of this job. We could not reconcile our personal beliefs with what was necessary for me to continue.

I was released. I was relieved. And best of all, I could go back to being me. I returned to where I started, taking care of patients and shoulder to shoulder with my best friends. With those like me, committed to choosing family over fame. Commited to choosing to honor themselves over what money could bring.

That time among those seeking more, those motivated to acheive in this corporate world, was a time of great struggle and great learning for me. There are those who are made for the fame of it all, who are able to balance and be who they really are in such a cutthroat environment. I applaud them. I am grateful to have leaders willing to put it all on the line and am in awe of those who are able to be themselves and be present. It is a rare bird indeed who can keep their wits about them, not losing their true Selves when their selves are striving for attention and status.

I, for one, am grateful I was able to experience and bear witness to my own ego in the midst of so much evidence of its power. It brought me back to myself, validating my true pupose in this life. My true power, despite a smaller paycheck.

I am a nurse. I am a writer. I am a mother. I am a wife. I am present.

I am.

Find out who you are and be that person. That’s what your soul is put on this Earth to be. Find that truth, live that truth, and everything else will come. -Ellen DeGeneres

Well said Ms. DeGeneres. And well done.

Confounded by Co-Sleeping? What No One Wants to Say.

Flashback to 2008. The baby’s crib is perfect in the gender neutral hues of green and yellow. It had a bumper which of course was only for cute. The little one would never sleep in a crib with the bumper. Everyone knew that was not safe. My husband and I had moved to the downstairs bedroom from the much larger master upstairs. We were going to be close enough to the baby to hear any cries for help, yet separate enough to maintain our private space. That way we could all get the sleep we needed and the baby would be trained to sleep properly. Self-soothing was the way to go. I was even willing to let the little one “cry it out” like the books said. It was worth it. Soon we would all be harmonious in our slumber. Peaceful. In our seperate beds. As it should be.

In the Beginning

The first little guy arrives, all squeals and squalor. He is cute as a button and breast feeding like a champ. I’m exhausted. But I’m still the happy kind of exhausted where I will gladly drag myself out of bed to pick him up from the pack-n-play set up in our smaller version of a master bedroom. We had painted the “baby’s room” next door a cheerful yellow and the crib had the perfectly fitted sheets so he wouldn’t inadvertently tangle himself when he started sleeping there. Oh we were going to use it. We had even tried it for a couple of naptimes but right now the baby was just too little to sleep alone. Soon enough he would be sleeping longer and we could go to back to “plan A”. You know. Harmonious slumber. Peace. That was coming any day now.

But right now I was squeezing my heavy, leaking, bleeding body between the temporary crib and the bed…two, three, wait…what time is it??? Ok maybe seven times since we went to bed. No matter. It’s only been a few weeks. Soon I wouldn’t need to do this and he would be sleeping next door. In his crib. But for right now I would just lay down. Didn’t the lactation consultant say something about side lying? That sounded good. I would stay awake…I promise. He could just nurse and I would put him back to bed. Right after. I promise.

Enter: A ton of bricks. Directly on my head.

I awaken several hours later mortified. My husband and I had slept uninterrupted, and with my sweet, precious tiny baby right smack in between us. OMG. It was the horror of all horrors. I had allowed for my baby to co-sleep. IN MY BED. I was officially the worst mother in the world and I should be put to death. I didn’t deserve this child. I was destined to roll over him in my sleep, or my husband would, and it would all be over. The universe would take my precious baby away from me and I would be devastated and all alone.

Ok. So I needed to calm down. It would NEVER happen again. I mean, he was ok. No harm no foul. And I was more rested now. Obviously I was delerious when I fell asleep. Now I knew better. Everything was for his safety and I would never do THAT again.

Except that it did happen again.

So here’s the thing. I had heard all the horror stories. I was a nurse, and I sent my patients home with the very good and evidence-based education that they needed to keep the baby in the same room but in seperate beds. The theory behind this practice was to minimize the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) while also avoiding the increased risk of suffocation that placing a newborn in bed with you afforded. There was also the possibility that babies could roll off the bed (it happened to me) causing serious injury or death (fortunuately did NOT happen to me). There were co-sleeping cribs especially designed to allow direct access to the baby while remaining in your own bed. There was mountains of literature, expert opinions, studies and surveys that all pointed the same way. Do NOT sleep with your baby in your bed.

And yet…I did. And I continued to do so despite all this expert advice and opinion. And not only did I continue this practice with my first born, but it carried over to my second and third kids. In fact my now two-year old rarely climbs into his crib at night. He still sleeps between mom and dad and honestly that is okay with me. It is okay with us both. But it is not always okay with every parent. And it certainly…and I can’t stress this enough…NOT recommended.

So here’s why I did it anyway.

So I tried. I really did. I kept setting deadlines. At two months. Then three. Okay six. But it never felt like the right thing to do. Eventually I gave up the fight and my husband and I moved back upstairs. We brought the crib with us but really, it was kind of for show. He hardly ever slept in his crib.

Determined not to let my toddler win.

By the time he was two I was on a mission. He may be in our marital room but he was GOING to sleep in his crib… come hell or high-water. I read books that taught me how to lay him down and stay next to him but ignore his cries for comfort. You had to sit there and slowly work your way out of the room. First one foot. Then two. Then outside the door with it open. Finally you could close the door. This was supposed to transition my little guy to self-soothe, since I failed when he was a newborn to allow him the opportunity to learn. Now I was paying the price by spending ninety minutes a night slowly exiting his sleeping space (Wait…wasn’t it my sleeping space???). And that was if I was lucky. Most of the time I layed down in my own bed and without realizing it fell asleep with him next to me. Day number 53 a failure. Tomorrow was a new day.

Then I became pregnant with my second son. My husband started to get irritated with my exit the room strategy. He said I needed to take care of myself and just let him cry it out for goodness sake. A few rough nights was all it would take and we would finally have some peace. I thought I knew better, and I am stubborn by nature so I kept at it. Right up until the night I went into labor. Literally. I had held him and rocked him around the room for almost an hour, laid him down and then declared myself ready for bed. I laid my head on my fluffy cool pillow and…pop! My water broke.

Exactly 1 hour and 37 minutes later my second son was born. Thank you boy #1 for inducing my labor.

Accepting who we are…

As these things go, adding another child in the mix forced us all to change. I no longer had the time or patience to walk my now 28 month old around the room before bed. And you know what? He transitioned just fine. Now we had a bassinet for the baby, the crib on the other side of our bed and the two of us were alone at last (In the actual bed that is).

At least until the side-lying nursing method became a thing again. Sigh.

So again, I had to do what was best for myself and my kids. I found that I actually liked having my baby next to me. I felt safer that way and it worked for us. I knew that co-sleeping wasn’t the recomended way to habitat with your children, but so what? My husband grew up on a ranch in deep Mexico. They ALL shared a bed. All 12 of them.

It could always be worse.