Stepping Up

Sometimes, the hardest thing you ever have to do as a parent is make a decision for you.

People keep asking me why I want to join the military. What the draw is for me. “Don’t do it just for the money,” they tell me. “Don’t do it just for the travel. Don’t do it just for the adventure.”

I’m not doing it “just” for any of those things. And none of those things are the major reason for me, anyway.

If I just wanted to travel and do field dentistry, I could volunteer abroad a few times a year. If I just wanted to leave Connecticut, I could move. If I just wanted financial stability, I’d go into private practice. If I just wanted to do dental work for soldiers, I’d be in the civilian service of the military or work at the VA. If I just wanted loan repayment, I’d work for the National Health Service Corps or the Indian Health Service. If I just wanted to avoid dealing with the business aspect of dentistry or malpractice, I’d work in a community health center. If I just wanted broader experience with procedures and new technology, I’d do another residency.

I don’t “just” want any of those things. I want all of them. With the Army I can have them, and more. I can do all of those things, and move with my daughter to a brand new place and join an already-established commmunity. I can do for my patients exactly what they need, without worrying about insurance coverage and whether or not they can pay for the treatment I believe they should have. For that reason, the military is a fantastic place to train as a new dentist.

According to all the Army dentists I’ve talked to, I should assume that I will deploy at some point just to be mentally prepared, but with Iraq over and Afghanistan winding down, it’s more likely that I won’t be deployed than that I will.  If/when I am, it will be for around 4.5 months, and I will be doing the field dentistry that I love.  (I had tried to do the Air Force, because they have shorter and less frequent deployments, but they don’t have any openings for general dentists at this point.)

Obviously there are downsides and hassles and risks. I don’t think anyone would seriously consider being sent far away from their child if the overall package wasn’t something they were very interested in for many reasons. Do I think I’ll make a whole career of it? Maybe, but probably not. But for the next three years, at least, I believe that this is the best career decision I could make. It isn’t spur-of-the-moment, either– I’ve talked about doing this off and on since I was in college, eight years ago.

This is hard for me to say, but I have always been completely honest in what I write and I don’t plan on stopping now…

When you have a child years before you plan to, and your career is very important to you, you are bound to hold some degree of resentment toward the immense, sometimes overwhelming responsibility that is your child… no matter how much you love them. I love my daughter more than life itself, but there are already enough things that I have no control over because I have her, that I wish I could do or wish I did not have to do.

I can’t let this be one of them. I will always wish that I had done it and I don’t want to resent being a mother.

The last time I did something like that, I took a year off from dental school to stay at home with Caroline, and back-burnered my own career so that Tyler would not have to. I sat at home alone, feeling like I had no control over my life or anything that happened to me. And I ended up stumbling around in a haze of postpartum depression and I could barely take care of my daughter, let alone myself. Even the memories of that time are foggy to me now.

To raise your child happy, you have to be happy. That is why I got divorced. That is why I’m doing this.

If I truly believed that I would be harming her, then I would not do it. But what is the cost to her, really, in the grand scheme of things? She moves to a new place. It gets harder for her to see her father, who hasn’t been consistently involved in her life anyway. If or when I get deployed, she will miss me terribly for a few months. And I will miss her. I know it will be unimaginably hard to spend that much time away from my daughter. But a few months spent away from her, one time, will not matter that much over the course of our whole lives. She will be with people she loves, and I will talk to her every day.

She will have amazing experiences, she will be part of a close-knit community, she will have financial stability and an undergraduate education paid for under the GI bill (assuming I stay in the reserves long enough).  She will have a mother and a role model who is happy and fulfilled in her career.  And she will be proud of me and the things I have done.  I wrote not too long ago that being a single parent should never be the reason you don’t follow a dream– it should be the reason you do.  I believe in that statement, totally and completely.

And if none of those things work out the way I had hoped and we both hate it, then, well, it was only a few years of our lives and at least I followed my heart and did what I felt was right, and I will have no regrets or lingering resentment for what might have been. Sometimes… you have to take a leap of faith.

If I were the kind of person to play it safe, I would be sitting here still married to Tyler and wishing, every minute of every day, that I had a different life. If you want a certain life you can’t sit around and hope that it will come to you. You have to step up and take it for yourself.

This is me, stepping up.

Army, here we come.

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  1. by Haydee

    On February 14, 2012 at 8:15 am

    I don’t know you personally, but I’m so proud of you! You’ll hate the army, but then you’ll love it! You’ll wish you’d never sign on the line, and then you’ll be so proud that you chose this path! It’s different to live the military way, but it’s also rewarding! Good for you!! HOOAH!!

  2. by krista

    On February 14, 2012 at 8:57 am

    I too am proud of you and find you very inspiring, as I am also a single mom trying (to convince myself) to follow my dreams. It’s hard!! But I’ve heard too many other women say they’ve regretted giving up their career and/or dreams to raise a child and I can not do that to myself nor my daughter. We strive to be the best role models and mothers we can. So I just want to say thank you for sharing your story…you have no idea how much it means to me.

  3. by Emily H.

    On February 14, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    I, too, don’t know you personally but I’ve been following you since you were pregnant with Caroline and I’m excited to see where this goes! You definitely have the guts to do it — rock on!

  4. by AFB

    On February 14, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    I think you have really taken time to think this through – so I wish you the best of luck! I think you are very brave and very honest. And Caroline is very lucky to have you as her mother. Hoping you can continue to share your journey with us!

  5. by JMS

    On February 15, 2012 at 12:48 am

    I have been reading your blog for several months now, and I just have to say that you are truly inspiring. I’m not a single mom, nor a dentist, nor have I faced half the challenges you have, but your positive attitude and realistic outlook, plus your ability to see the humor in seemingly sucky life situations are so encouraging. Reading this post, I can’t help but think of how many parents have considered but turned down big, different career paths that they would have taken advantage of had they not had families. Every situation is different, and turning down those opportunities is not always a bad thing, but sometimes the harder but more rewarding path is to make the choice you have thought through and you know you won’t regret. I’m a firm believer that we often regret the things we don’t do more than the things we do. Caroline will learn to follow her dreams with confidence and conviction thanks to your example. I wish you both all the best, and hope that this experience is everything you want it to be and more!!

  6. by Julia

    On February 15, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    Thanks, ladies. You have no idea how much I appreciate the support. I’ve completely agonized over this decision and made my choice against the wishes of several very important people in my life and Caroline’s, which is a lonely and difficult spot to be in… so I can’t tell you how much it means to read your words– thank you, again.

  7. by Jill

    On February 16, 2012 at 12:30 am

    Good luck!!! You will love it! Researching ad being willing to accept the worst case scenario is all you can do! Coming from a fellow veteran, I can assure you that there is a good chance you wil LOVE it. I got out at the insistence of my husband (still active duty). There were many good reasons for one of us to get out after the birth of our first son. Some days I am glad I got out. But mostly, regardless of whether or not it was best, I grew to resent the fact that giving up the career I was passionate about was NOT my OWN decision. It should have been. WHATEVER choices you make in life, right down to what you put in your mouth at lunch, need to be made by YOU. They can be made for you and your kid, but they need to be made by you. My husband and I are currently divorcing. I ended up being isolated at home doing autism therapy. God took advantage of that and sparked a new passion in me for special needs, but I’ve always regretted that leaving the military was not a decision I made MYSELF for me and my son.

  8. by Breanne

    On February 16, 2012 at 8:34 am

    I think that you are making the right decision for your family. My father started as a general dentist in the Navy and then after a few years decided to do a residency and became an oral surgeon. We had great experiences in the Navy – he was in for over twenty years and we lived in San Diego, the Philippines, and Maryland. We moved about every three to four years. There were two times during my life that he was away for six months at a time due to being on the ship but he also said that was a great learning experience for him. When he retired from the Navy, he did open a private practice and now enjoys that side of life.

  9. by Lori

    On February 16, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    What a difficult decision to make! It can be very challenging to be a professional woman balancing your needs and those of your child. I doubt the army does this…but, could you get in writing the maximum duration and number of times the army would deploy you for the next 3 years? Then, this could potentially be renegotiated if you sign up for additional years. I’m just thinking ahead-since there will be upcoming elections in the US that could potentially change our involvement overseas. Also, it might be interesting for you to look into resiliency training …which can help build up your “emotional strength” and decrease the chance of PTSD and other related symptoms. There is quite a bit of research/literature that discusses the positive effects of emotional preparedness.

  10. by Elizabeth

    On February 16, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    I, too have been following your posts since you were pregnant. This jumped out at me: “To raise your child happy, you have to be happy. That is why I got divorced. That is why I’m doing this.” I think our generation is too hung up on personal happiness. Life isn’t an 100% happy party. As an adult, you made the decision to get married. You made the decision to have sex, and even though the pregnancy was unplanned, you made the decision to keep the pregnancy and the child. Your daughter needs you. You can still have a “happy life” when she is older and out of the house. Believe me, life has thrown me curveballs–my husband got into a crap lawschool, couldn’t find a job, started his own practice in the worst year in recent economic history,I got passed over for a super job and then I had a miscarriage. Now we have a son, and I don’t go anywhere at night because his bedtime is 7pm. Does it suck? sure! But I know its temporary. I am willing to do what my child needs and put my own needs on the back burner for awhile. I don’t know if you believe in a Higher Power like I do, but sometimes all I can do is lean on God. Best of luck in the Army.

  11. by AFB

    On February 16, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    I have to say that I agree with Elizabeth’s post, at least in part. I’m excited for you and congratulate you on your decision (I can tell you didn’t make it lightly) and wish you the very best! I’m also very excited to hear about this next chapter in your life. I don’t want to come across as trying to lecture or be too negative, but I disagree with the general premise of your post that you have to make the best career decision for yourself in order to be happy. I don’t believe that being a working parent is an issue of putting your child before your career or vice versa. Being a working parent is about blending the two and finding a work-life balance until your children are independent. In your post, you mention the numerous other opportunities that could have fulfilled part of your career desires without the drawbacks you mentioned of uprooting your child, moving her away from your support system and her father, and giving up control of where the two of you are sent and for how long. To me, it seems like truly stepping up would have been a decision that was more of a compromise between your happiness and those other issues. I know many working Moms and Dads who have made decisions like these, and I just disagree that the best decision for your career or that one that will make you happiest is necessarily the best decision for your family. But, I know that everyone’s situation is unique and I’m sure you’ve thought this through enough to believe that it is the best decision for you and Caroline personally. It sounds exciting and I wish you all the best.

  12. by Tracy

    On February 17, 2012 at 10:09 am

    If it’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that you have to live your own life. Although having a child has to be a consideration when making any decision, if you live your entire life for your children one day they will grow up and leave and you will be left with a person you hardly recognize. I think the key to anything in life is balance. As long as you make an informed decision (knowing the risks and sacrifices you may have to make) then you have to do what is right for you. Just understand that when making tough decisions you won’t get everyone’s approval. Many people will tell you what they think your path should be but they aren’t walking that path – you are. When I decided to join the Navy some people (even members of my family) didn’t approve but I did it anyway & I’ve never regretted it. When I decided to go to law school in my 40′s people thought I was too old but I did it anyway. You are going to face tough decisions & career challenges simply because you are a mom no matter what you decide. Best of Luck!

  13. by BK

    On February 17, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    I read this recently, and as a mom that made a significant career change at the beginning of the year (stay-at-home-mom to police officer!) I found this article to be so refreshing and encouraging, so I thought I’d pass it on to you:

    Best of luck and joy and fun in your new adventure! I hope you’ll allow us to continue to follow along! :)

  14. by Bachelormum

    On February 17, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Jules, I totally get you. To raise a happy child u have to be happy yourself. As mothers, the kernal of every decision we make is based on the wellbeing of our kids, I don’t think we can help it, it’s part of our DNA. Making brave decisions, big decisions that also embraces our own passions makes us question our motives. Am I being selfish, will this damage my child …? Life is an adventure, and we’ve been given the elements to make it as fulfilling and satisfying as we wish. Because the welfare of our child is at the fore, we have to take confidence in ourselves that our desires and decisions will turn out well. I recently took my child alone to the other side of the world, to Paris and the French alps for a holiday. Despite what close relatives thought, I needed to do this for me, and in tow was my lovely daughter who benefitted from the joy and time shared doing something completely indulgent together. There were risks, wld I be really lonely among the smooching couples, wld I be able to carry my luggage … What if my daughter hated it … Would i feel like a freak skiing alone while my child was in ski school? We had a ball, spent beautiful time in beautiful places together, and for a time it restored my soul and allowed my spirit to catch up with me. U go for it girl!

  15. by Amy

    On February 17, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    I AM SO INSPIRED BY THIS. I too am coming close to having to choose a path where I have to relocate for my career or not. The thing is that I want, need, and have to. For ALL of the reasons (just like you). I am in the same boat as you…weird. After reading this, you’ve helped me a little with my decision. Thank you. It’s true what you said. After all, it is your life and whether it works out of not, it’s better knowing that you gave it a shot rather than knowing you didn’t and all those questions of the “what-ifs” might never go away.

  16. by Homepage

    On February 20, 2012 at 7:28 pm

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  17. by Monica

    On February 21, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    You go girl!