I haven’t really enjoyed my job lately and I’m really sad about that. I used to love my job, my career, my friends, my company. I’m a R&D engineer at a very large multinational. About 95% of all my colleagues are men and it isn’t always easy. My job demands a lot of focus, creativity and specialised knowledge. I used to be very passionate about it, every day felt like a new adventure, every day I learned new and exciting things. However, now, it all feels so pointless, so meaningless.
After my previous losses, especially the first one, I went back to work very quickly. Too quickly, I would say in hindsight. My first loss was an ectopic pregnancy that required surgery and the removal of one of my tubes. One week later, my body was far from being physically recovered (I tend to heal very slowly), my wounds were still open and I had a bad infection. I was so bloated I couldn’t fit in any of my clothes.In spite of that, I thought I must hurry back to work and move on. I borrowed from a friend some old maternity trousers and that’s all I could wear. That was the only time, even after 4 pregnancies, that I ever needed maternity clothes. Putting those trousers on every morning was a painful memory of the loss of my baby. I wore them and went back to work, pretending nothing had happened.
I was so much worse then than I am now. Those days (and weeks and months that followed) I was sleeping an average of 3 hours a night. The rest of the time I spent crying over the past or worrying about the future. Many times at work I couldn’t hold my tears. I’d run to the toilet and cry for as long as necessary. Washing up my face and putting on a fake smile was enough to stir away any questions.
Once, I was working alone in the lab (power electronics lab, up to 1000 V) and realised I’ve just swapped some cables without turning off the power. I escaped a serious accident by a few millimetres and pure luck. I thought about how dangerous this was and that I shouldn’t be allowed working in such conditions. Since that day, I avoid working alone in the lab whenever possible. I simply feel I can’t trust myself any longer, I’m an accident waiting to happen.
Despite all of this, despite my passion for my job decaying with every loss, despite making stupid mistakes and not being able to be as efficient and as productive as I was two years ago, I still managed to accomplish a lot in my career. In this time, I’ve developed valuable new technologies, I’ve managed an important project for the first time and I’ve been chosen as chief specialist in my area for a new project, the single most significant project in my company in the last 20 years.
I’ve even been offered a promotion earlier this year. My boss was moving to another position and indicated me as his replacement. That was in May, when I was about to start my first IVF cycle. My boss knew about everything that happened to me, I’ve always been very open about my struggles because I trusted him like a friend. When he told me about it, I asked him if he was out of his mind. I couldn’t possibly manage 15 engineers while I struggle with infertility and loss. I couldn’t take on so much responsibility. What if this IVF cycle worked and I’d get pregnant and lose another baby? He told me: “You can’t know what the future holds. How long will it take before you have a baby? Maybe it’s now, maybe it’s in 5 years, maybe it’s never. You can’t let it destroy your career. You can’t live your life around it. Whatever happens, you’ll manage as it comes.”
I applied for the position and went to the interview. I couldn’t disappoint my boss, my husband and my friends, all excited for me for this great opportunity. I’ve disappointed them so much already, incapable of doing the most natural and simple thing every woman is meant to do. I failed my husband by not giving him a child, I couldn’t face failing at my career too.
I actually did extremely well in the interview. The director was very impressed and had a very hard time choosing who should take up the position. Finally he decided for another applicant, one 20 years older than me and with management experience (which I don’t have). When he told me of his decision, he made sure to mention how torn he was between us two, how positivetly impressed he was with me and how he will make sure I have other opportunities in the near future.
I was simply happy. So relieved. This was the perfect escape. I didn’t give up, but I wasn’t chosen either. I didn’t have to worry about managing 15 of my close colleagues; of fitting in with the other leaders, all of them men; of working very hard to show how I truly deserved this promotion. I wasn’t ready for it and I’m glad I didn’t get it.
I still have my old position, though. Starting Monday, I’m chief specialist in this very important project. I dreamt about this project for years. I was chosen because not only I’m very good at the technical subject, I’m not afraid to speak up my mind and get things done. I try to be nice about it, and most of the time I am, but I’m not afraid to toughen up if needed it be.
Or that’s how I was before. I have no strength to push people now, I dread the thought of fighting over concepts and ideas with other specialists from other areas. It all just seems so pointless now. It’s not like this new product will save lives or save the planet. Why should I care?
I often think about that talk with my old boss back in May. He’s so right in so many ways. Shouldn’t I try to preserve the little I have left in my life, the things I haven’t failed at yet, instead of letting everything crumble with my losses and my pain? I think I should and that’s why I’m going back to work on Monday.
Then why does it feel so hard and so meaningless?