Tales from the Trenches: Parenthood means relinquishing control

The key responsibility of a Product Manager, which is my current job title, is to manage the road map for all the future features one plans to build for the product.  I guess, I was born to be a Product Manager, because my life has always come with a road map.  Sure, that road map has taken some sharp turns.  There was the turn it took when I fell in love with physics in college and abandoned the idea of becoming a doctor.  There was the swerve when I realized that academia was going to crush my soul and I dropped out of my Harvard PhD program with a Masters and never looked back. But those changes were ones that ultimately I myself initiated.

Motherhood, and the avalanche of changes it brought, threw me for a loop because I was in control of none of them.  Many of them were the usual things that first time mothers never expect but almost universally experience. I was rocked by the deep love and simultaneous fear I feel for my children, the depths of the ineptitude I was thrust into when trying to calm a baby's hours of crying, the expanse of guilt at largely irrational things that strikes in the wee hours of the morning.  But of course, every family's journey is also unique, and mine has had a heavy dose of the truly unexpected.

Here is just a brief list of the uncharted roads the self-driving car of motherhood has taken me on.

After nine months of working hard to prepare for a natural birth, my daughter was born by emergency C-section. All the prenatal yoga and hypno birthing classes were great at helping me cope with the pain, but did nothing to prevent her from being tangled up in her umbilical cord.   For the first 20 hours, my labor progressed normally... until it didn't.  The urgency with which the medical staff had to remove her from my body to save her life haunted my dreams in the months that followed her birth. The whole enterprise resulted in a lot of soul searching, with a side serving of PTSD.

When she was five months old, someone walked into the office building that houses her daycare with an active case of tuberculous.  This caused the Department of Public Health to mandate that all the children in the day care receive two months of prophylactic drugs. (The closest I've ever come to quitting my job and moving to a ranch with a shotgun was when we had to figure out how to procure and administer drugs not designed for babies... in the US.  Suffice it to say special pharmacies and mortars and pestles were involved.)

Finally, and most dramatically, when I was six months pregnant with my second child, my wonderful, fit, and healthy husband had a heart attack, just before his 33rd birthday.  He spent 10 days in the ICU and underwent open-heart surgery.  During the rest of my pregnancy, he went through rehab, which ended the week after my son was born.  At the time, as my belly grew, we joked darkly about him becoming more able bodied as I became more burdened with my pregnancy.  We joked because all the tears had been spent.

After all that life has thrown at me, it would be tempting, to try and and draw some grand life lesson. It's tempting to reach for reasons, rail at injustices, or search for karmic explanations. However, for better or for worse, my mind is not inclined to go in those directions for long. Sometimes shit happens and there isn't anyone to blame. Sometimes there is nothing to learn, except maybe the fact that I was not in control to begin with.

I am still the same person… and not.  I still love to work on interesting problems.  I still want to really dig into a juicy dataset that will reveal to me which feature our clients most need us to build. And I confess, that even in my personal life, I still like to make plans for the future.  But with all that has happened, those plans are fuzzy.  I’ve had to accept that there is no real road map any more.  I’ve had to learn on a very deep level that the future brings great uncertainty.  But then again, what is parenthood if not a lesson in great uncertainty, just one that some of us learn a little later than others?

Photo Credit to Victor - "A lost Couple learning the map" under the Creative Commons licence. 
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