“So what do you think about your wife working?” This was my first question.
His response, “Well, I guess it would be fine before we had children, but then I would want her to remain at home with them.”
I continued. “How many children do you want to have?”
“I don’t know. I love kids. Do you have a number in mind?” He pushed the question back to me.
This wasn’t a conversation that I had planned. It just developed as Jeff and I were considering a “what if we got married” scenario. Nor were the questions ones that I had ever formulated, but I found them evolving into my screening questions. Wow, we were a bit far into the relationship for me to be figuring out where he stood on these issues! I loved this man! We had been dating and courting for 2 ½ years. What would I do if his answers didn’t match up with my future plans?
When I was growing up, I had two dreams: one was to be a wife and a mother, and the other was to be a cardiac surgeon. That sounds a little nonchalant. When I do something, I tend to go all out. Think Prince Charming, knight in shining armor, happily ever after! Imagine me at the center of a home with a dozen kids! Now watch me in the middle of open heart surgery as I save the world one life at a time! Got the picture?
In my pursuit of marriage and family, I found there wasn’t a checklist of requirements to tick off or an application process. I desired a family, but it took two to make this dream happen. Chasing men was a foreign sport to me, and not many seemed interested in dating me. I think I might have been a bit intimidating. Now, I did keep my eyes open and explore possible candidates when the opportunity presented itself. Otherwise, I was left to building a better me and hoping for a dream to come true.
A process did exist to become a doctor, so I enthusiastically devoted my efforts to achieving this dream. My passion for science and my keen intellect, plus many long nights of study, gave me the grades that I needed. Involvement in other activities plus volunteer hours rounded out my school experience. MCAT scores, an application, interviews and voila! I received an acceptance letter to the University of Oklahoma Medical School. A dream was about to come true!
So, why was I having such an internal struggle? Instead of celebrating, I was lying on my parents couch crying. I had devoted years of intense, deliberate hard work to secure the opportunity now within my grasp, but, for some reason, I agonized about accepting the offer. Why?
The problem was that I had never put my two dreams together. They had always existed side by side. On one hand, I would be making life and death decisions and performing surgeries so hearts continued beating. On the other hand sat my knight in shining armor and the dozen kids whom we were raising in utter bliss. When I tried putting my hands together, they didn’t seem to fit.
The coveted letter and what it offered was mine. Many women were putting off family until later in their lives, after they had an opportunity for a career. It’s not like there was anyone in the picture with whom I was going to spend the rest of my life. Medical school was four years, and an internship and residency added several more. An army scholarship had paid for my degree, so I owed them four years. I’d have them pay for medical school, which would add more commitment. When I added it all up, I was forty years old before I was free and clear. This was not an option. By then I would be too old to begin, and my heart ached now for a family.
The world was calling for me to do both. Plenty of women manage both a career and a family. The life of a surgeon combined with being the mother of a dozen kids, how would I perform both responsibilities? I couldn’t envision living in these two worlds at the same time. I’m the person who goes all out with anything she does. How could I fully devote myself to each role? In my mind, it wasn’t possible. My family and patients would both suffer, and the stakes were too high.
My heart and soul would be torn to pieces if I tried to live a double life. It was either medicine or a family. A choice had to be made. Mine for the taking was the reality of a career in medicine – helping people, saving lives. A happily ever after family was still nothing more than a dream, with no guarantees of it ever coming true.
I put an end to the agony and told the University of Oklahoma thanks, but no thanks. My parents were supportive of me. Others were stunned but respected me. Some individual on the medical school alternate list was doing the happy dance. Now I found myself not a doctor, but a second lieutenant in the United States Army. My choice was made, and an uncharted course was beginning.
It was six more years before I met Prince Charming and another two years before our little what if conversation. Fortunately, I never had to ask those screening questions again. Jeff provided the answers that I was looking for, that I required.
I told him that if he put a ring on my finger, then he could have every dime that I had – and I had a lot of dimes at the time – but I would never earn another penny. Living solely on his income would be fine, no complaints. He agreed.
We discussed children, read some articles published by our church, and decided that we would just allow them to come without interference. However many the Lord sent us would be welcomed.
It was years before I realized how profound these questions were. They were clearly inspiration from God to direct my path and to provide a sure foundation as my dream of a family unfolded. I didn’t know at the time that some men expected or forced their wives to work. Large families were unique, but eight children in nine years! We raised a lot of eyebrows, and caring for our family brought some extreme challenges.
Do I have any regrets about my decision to not be a doctor? Not a one. In fact, the Lord has provided plenty of medical experiences within my family for me to develop and practice my knowledge and skills. Some have been extremely painful, but all have drawn upon my love for science and my passion to help mankind. I’ve always thought I should be given an honorary medical degree.
As for the happily ever after, it’s been nearly twenty eight years since Jeff put a ring on my finger. I wake up every morning next to the love of my life. Jeff says I took a little poetic license with that statement. He is actually out of bed at least an hour before I even begin to stir J. We’re down to only one daughter at home, and her joyful spirit makes her perfect for the role of our last child. Even though our seven other children are out in the world finding their own way, I am still their stay-at-home mom. This was the kind of home that I grew up in, and the one I wanted for my children. My dream happened because of choices, large and small. Some would say that I made a great sacrifice, but I don’t see that I missed out on anything. I’m living my dream.
What are your dreams?