Maria was an ambitious and successful attorney determined to keep her career going through every PCS. Currently a stay-at-home mom, she shares the sense of failure she felt when she was unable to sit for her third bar exam. Ultimately, she says she had to forgive herself and move on, but is critical of the roadblocks military life imposes on professional military spouses.
I was a domestic violence prosecutor in Puerto Rico, and I had a lot of prestige because I was prosecutor. But because I was in love, and my husband was an American military guy, I had to leave everything behind, my family, my friends, my career and move to Biloxi, Mississippi. It was a sweet and sour experience because I was a newlywed. I was so much in love. But it was tough leaving everything behind. And I had to focus on perfecting my English, so I started taking English classes on base. It was stressful.
It was a tough decision. All my family were like, “Are you sure about this? You’re going to get married and leave everything behind?” But I was in love. And I said, “You know what, I’ll find another job. I’ll pass the bar in the United States. I’ll do whatever it takes. This doesn’t mean the end of my career.” Or so I thought.
I didn’t understand what it means to be a military wife at all. I didn’t understand that I had to move all the time.
The first couple of months, because I was a newlywed, everything was like an adventure. But it was very difficult for me to accept the fact that I depend on my husband. Like I was making my own money and I was buying fancy clothing or nice stuff because I could afford it. And now I felt so guilty that I had to use my husband’s money.
My mom worked all her life so my example was a working mother.
My mom has her own business, a very powerful lady. So I felt like, “What’s wrong with me? I live off of my husband.” So I was focusing on perfecting my English and being (fully) bilingual because I wanted to go back to work as soon as possible. I was afraid I was going to be discriminated against with a Puerto Rican diploma. So I went back to school for my LLM in health law.
So then we moved to Florida. And it was a lot of sacrifice once again, but I passed my bar (exam) the first time. I was very proud of myself. A lot of people didn’t pass the bar and English is their first language, and I was able to pass the bar and I did very good. My dad was so proud of me.
I tried to find a job in my line of work, in health law. And I kept applying, applying and I couldn’t find a job. And after months and months I found a job in a field that I never even considered, in insurance defense. But I didn’t like it because insurance defense has nothing to do with family or people.
I wasn’t enjoying my job. I was miserable.
And my husband said, “Maria, this is not worth it.” I was working seven days a week. So I quit. My husband supported me a hundred percent. But it’s tough because I was making my own money again.
(I decided) I’m going to go back to my roots. I’m going to go back to family law and domestic violence because I think that’s my calling. So I started working as a volunteer (for a legal services agency). And very quickly they were very happy with me. So the first time they had open a paying job, it was a temporary attorney job, substituting for this lady that needed breast cancer surgery. So she trained me and I did her job. It was helping people represent themselves in court. And it was with the public coming, walk-ins and I loved it. I loved it. It was a very good job. And they were very pleased with me.
Right after that, they had an opening for a family law attorney…yes! And they wanted a bilingual person. The problem was my husband had to PCS. We were hoping to stay in Florida. But unfortunately it didn’t work out, so we had to go to San Antonio. So that was bad news. I cried so much.
I was devastated because I was so happy with my job.
They said, “It’s too bad you have to leave, but we don’t care. You give us whatever time you can give us and we’ll have you. And then when you’re leaving then we’ll put out an advertisement to look for somebody else.” So I loved it. I was so happy. I would be singing in the morning going to work. It’s so hard for a person to find a job that you look forward to go to every morning.
When it was time to say goodbye I cried a lot. When I arrived in San Antonio I was so depressed. I stayed a whole week in bed. I didn’t want to get out. I said, “No, I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t want to see San Antonio. I don’t want to be here.” I felt bad for my husband, but it really hurt me so much leaving my job. And I had to say goodbye and start all over again.
You know the thing is, every time you PCS your life is in pieces and you have to start all over again.
It is very hard to be a military wife. People don’t understand that but it’s a lot of sacrifice. That’s why when you see people criticizing benefits to military people I say, “They don’t understand. This is a lot of sacrifice. It’s not only the soldiers but also the families.” Oh, my God. I’m sorry… (Maria is crying)
I felt so miserable. I wanted to be an attorney. But I didn’t have the bar (in Texas) so I couldn’t work as an attorney. So I decided to take the bar for the third time. Then I found out I was pregnant. It was a very tough pregnancy. Two weeks before the bar I started getting very, very, very sick. I started having contractions. And I feared that I was going to lose my baby. So something told me inside, “Maria, if you keep pushing yourself, and if you keep doing this you’re going to lose your baby. You’re harming your baby with all this stress.” So I told my husband, “I’m not going to do this.” So I postponed it. I said, “I’m not going to take the bar. I’m dedicating myself to my baby.”
But it was hard. I got depressed. I felt like I failed.
I felt like I couldn’t do it. It was important for me to have another bar like ooh, I will feel prestigious. I got really depressed, to the point that I was in bed crying. And my mom said, “Maria, you have to forgive yourself for not doing this or you’re going to harm your baby, you’re crying so much.” But I felt defeated. It took me a while to accept that I didn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. But it’s okay. I’m a human.
I felt like I was like a school drop-out. I was ashamed of myself. And you always have the fear that if you take a pause in your career then nobody will want to hire you. I set myself a goal and I didn’t do it. I had never dealt with failure before in my life, never. I’ve always been so successful. I was also worried about other people’s opinion. I know it’s silly but they’re going to think less of me because I didn’t do the bar.
It took me a while to accept, because I never thought of myself as a stay-at-home mom.
I always looked at myself in the view as a professional. Every time I saw a lady with children, staying at home, “No. That’s not going to be me. I’m going to be the professional.” So it was hard to accept my fate that I’m going to be a stay at home mom. It was hard. It took almost two months to forgive myself and not feel guilty anymore.
All my memories are of my mom working and being dressed up to go to work, with her makeup and her high heels. I always looked at her and admired her so much. That was the kind of example that I had. So that’s my role model, my mother. And that’s what I wanted to be.
Maybe it’s silly of me for thinking like this, but sometimes I’m afraid.
My husband has such a very nice prestigious job. He does something really, extremely important, saving people’s lives every day. And he can come home and talk about work and he feels so good about himself. I can see it in his eyes. That passion, he loves his job. He loves it and I cannot share. I don’t have any input. And sometimes I’m afraid my husband is not going to find me interesting anymore. What do I have? What can I talk about, what I saw on TV or what I talk about with the girls out in coffee?
I never thought it was going to be this hard to the point that I tell girls, “Oh, are you dating a military guy? End it now before you fall in love.” I’m sorry, but as I said it’s hard. If you really love your job and your career you have to think twice. You have to sacrifice a lot for love, for the love of your husband. You have to sacrifice practically who you are.