Saturday, February 16, 2013

Working, Moms: Part 1

I’ve been thinking a lot about my life as a woman, a surgeon, and a Mormon as you can tell from my recent postings. I happened upon a blog which was discussing a similar thread, women working outside of the home, and particularly, Mormon women working outside of the home.

As I mentioned before, a large number of LDS families continue to follow the model of dad going to work and mom staying home with the children. I think this is wonderful. I have friends who are both LDS and not LDS who do this. Some have given up lucrative or impressive careers to do so. Growing up I always planned to do this myself.

But as life often goes, things don’t always end up as expected. This has the potential to be a really long post so I’ll keep you in suspense and break it into multiple postings.

We’ll start with a picture of me from the time shortly after this first installment. I can’t seem to find any of my college pictures so I guess you get this one instead. I gave up on the idea of marine biology but decided to live in Honduras after graduation to become a SCUBA Dive Master. Can you pick me out on the boat? I’m wearing the red bandana.

Snails and Such

During my time at BYU, I was studying biology with an emphasis in marine biology. I spent a summer in Monterey, CA taking classes with a BYU professor at the Hopkins Marine Station (run by Stanford University). Our building was right on the water. We had baby octopi in our classroom, caught from the ocean by our SCUBA diving TAs. We watched starfish babies under the microscope daily as they showed the different stages of cellular growth. During lectures I would look out at the beautiful ocean with the sea lions teasing me in the bay and watch the Stanford scientists emerge from the water: the first hint of their presence a mass of bubbles at the surface, next a black hooded head with that eerie mask peering over the top of the water, until finally I’d see them walking out onto the shore in heavy black wetsuits looking very much like the sea lions that seemed to be following them, just out of arms’ reach.

I wanted to do that. I wanted to be the one in the deep sea submersible catching the images of never seen before specimens with no eyes or glowing bodies. I wanted to spend my days diving into the ocean collecting specimens before class. But I also spent a lot of time in the library researching the feeding habits of the gumboot chiton. And watching snails in our aquarium to see if there was any relation to the chiton. I came home from California depressed. I felt like I had a slim chance of getting to be one of the few in the deep see ROVs at Woods Hole, MA (a marine biology hub) and would probably end up in a lab and I had a sneaking suspicion that snails weren’t the key to my happiness. It just felt too lonely. And even though I knew I would be a stay at home mom, I felt like I needed to have a clear career path until then.

That’s when my sister and my dad encouraged me to look into dentistry. I laughed it off. I had never met a female dentist. The suggestion was akin to being told I should be a machinist or a urologist. These were things I knew a woman could do, but just not something I had ever thought to do. As I started looking into dentistry I actually became more interested. Shortly thereafter, I officially declared myself pre-dent. I was afraid of the whole process—the applications and certainly the school. I secretly hoped I would get married (I still had about 1.5 years left at BYU so I thought this was totally do-able) so I wouldn’t have to go through with it.

As I neared graduation, marriage wasn’t in the books. By then I was committed to the idea of dental school and feeling pretty good about it. I joined the pre-dental club and had the prestigious position of “Women in Dentistry Club President.” I had been interviewing and getting positive feedback at the schools I was visiting. I got a lot of interviews and I got a number of acceptances. And no proposals.

Being pre-dental at BYU as a woman was hard at times. I received a lot of unsupportive comments. Dates would ask how I could possibly be a dentist if I was going to have kids. A dentist I met asked if I was “just applying to see it I would get in.” Yes, I spent thousands of dollars on applications and had to move home so I could afford to live to satisfy my pride! There were hundreds of men who were applying to dental school but I only found a few other women (strangely enough, I later learned one was actually Abe’s cousin, Ashley Sheffield). Some of the men would make snarky comments to me about how they wouldn’t be studying if they were me because as a woman I would get in for sure regardless of my grades (they must have had no idea that about 50% of applicants at that time were women). They implied that I would be taking away a spot from men who deserved to get in because they would be caring for their families. I was being selfish for not only choosing a career over family but for taking away a spot from a man who was choosing this career for the right reasons.

Needless to say, I left BYU with a little chip on my shoulder. Certainly not everyone was this way. There were supportive people who weren’t threatened or confused by my choices, but I left feeling quite defensive.

The religion teacher incident sure didn’t help with that.

Next time: How I got into dental school: my pact with the devil


Colt said...

Awesome post!

Suz said...

Can't wait to hear the rest of the story.

Diana said...

Wish we lived closer to commiserate. Do you know if you'll do the working mom thing when you have kids? I have loved my part-time schedule these last couple of years. It's hard to be divided, but I also feel like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. I have felt judged by some LDS individuals, but I have also had some of the strongest supporters be LDS individuals.

Erin said...

I'm hoping to get to more of that, Diana! I appreciate having you as an example of someone doing the balance work.

Cristi said...

sooooo I am guessing it would be wrong of me to say this is why I hated Utah lol. You know what I say? Good for you for doing what you wanted!!!!!

Tawnya said...

I would love to see you as a deep sea marine biologist! You are so ambitious I am envious of that!