The Naked Truth: Roberta’s Story

The Naked Truth: Real Military Spouses Share Their Career Challenges - Roberta's Story

Roberta was a midwife for 10 years when she married her Air Force husband. Unable to work in Germany, she is enjoying a break but also feeling “irrelevant.” She has been surprised that other spouses don’t ask about her career, and that her friends and family back home expected her to stop working. As a new military spouse, she is just beginning to make sense of her situation. The following are excerpts from my interview with Roberta, which is not her real name.

It was definitely fulfilling to do birth and patient care, and be with women and families. But the hours were definitely long and (I was) up a lot of nights. I think I spent more time complaining about how tired I was than enjoying the job. But I can honestly say looking back on it now that I enjoyed being a midwife. And I liked the family and birth parts of it. I felt like midwifery is a profession, not just an occupation. It’s something I studied a long time for, and at the 10-year mark I felt like I was finally doing it, and feeling like a professional midwife.

It felt like I was making a difference.

I was using my (Masters in Nursing) degree. I was finally at a point where half my loans were paid off. So I wasn’t struggling to just pay for my education, but rather feeling like I was also making a good salary, and just feeling like I was an accomplished single person. And then I was thinking about how to apply that further, education-wise and so forth.

I’m a very goal-oriented person, and how I feel about myself as a person is wrapped up in the accomplishments that I have made through school and work.

So when (my husband and I) met I definitely felt like my job was very important. If I were to put it on a linear scale, I would say it was probably an 8 or a 9 out of 10, you know, because it just sort of defined me. And like I said, with midwifery people see you as that profession, instead of just your job.

I saw it as a stepping-stone to the next thing, however. I want to continue to do birth throughout my life. But I definitely saw it as a jumping off point to the next thing, whether that was going to school or doing something else in healthcare. That was going to be sort of the ground work and then from there it would be the jumping off point. So I felt good about it. I felt very strong in my role. I felt like it was a good lead up to the next big jump, the career change (to) health policy, public health. I’m actually starting a program in the fall for my Masters in Public Health to be more of a policy analyst and seeing the big picture instead of just doing clinical care. Although I still want to do clinical care.

(At first), I think I was very excited about getting married and the process of us being together and moving. So that excitement I think overshadowed my ability to think through it. So I don’t think I had a concept of what it was really going to be like, to have to leave a job and say goodbye to people you’ve been working with for a long time. I can remember doing my last birth and being like, “I don’t know if I’m going to do this again. You know, this may never happen again. I don’t know.” And I think I was really sad when I had that moment, that realization.

I think I just wanted to continue to have that important role. It’s one of the most important events in people’s lives, and I get to be right there, doing it. I get to be a helper in the process of it and it’s really amazing. It can be a magical experience, a very spiritual experience, it’s just a strong life defining experience. I get to, even on my worst days, have this amazing experience. So, yeah, it was sad.

It felt like giving up something I really worked for.

I don’t think I fully understood it, and then I had to start thinking, “Okay, where is my next job going to come from?” (Then) it occurred to me that my possibilities in that field would be limited. Because I’m limited to whatever military hospital we are near, if you are near one that has midwives. So, when that occurred to me, it was like, “Oh, you know, I think I’ll be okay, and this will be rough but I think I can still do this.” It wasn’t until getting to Germany that I realized that it’s quite a competitive process. It’s one hospital with three midwives. You know, they need a person or they don’t. I think that was sort of a humbling experience. Because until that point I had pretty much gotten every job I had applied for. I wouldn’t say things have been easy. It’s always been hard work, but suddenly I was in a position where, it just felt like you’re not really that needed.

So here was my sort of naïve thought. I thought I would take a month off in September, and then in October I would start looking, sending out résumés, getting online and going through the process, making contacts and finding other people that worked at the hospital, that sort of thing. So that’s what I did, and it immediately began to be a very hard job hunt. And then it’s sort of weird, once you realize also how it’s sort of a blessing to also be able to not have to work. To be presented with this opportunity to do other things, whether it’s school or travel or have a baby or those sorts of things. Once I realized that it was an amazing opportunity, after a few months I stopped being so stressed about it. I just sort of accepted that it’s going to be hard to find a job, that I would keep looking but I wouldn’t be so stressed about it. So it’s been five or six months. (There’s) all this stuff I could have been doing and enjoying, (but) in the back of my mind I’m constantly thinking “I need a job right now, I need to pay my student loans, I need to do this…”

I felt sort of stressed. I felt like other people at home didn’t really understand, because they’re like “Well, yeah, you moved to Germany and now you’re following (your husband) around the world. Isn’t this what you thought it was going to be?” Their idea of what they thought I should be thinking was totally different than what I was thinking. And then it occurred to me, “Wow, they totally got it.” They knew that I will leave my job and now I’m with my husband and basically I’m on his career path. I didn’t get that until people were reflecting this back to me. I was like, “Oh, okay.” It just felt like they weren’t quite understanding my need to feel relevant. I wanted to feel like my job was still important, that my goals were still important, and I could do it. I could have this life as a military spouse but simultaneously have my career. Which I still think is possible. I just think it means changing certain concepts around in my head.

It was actually shocking to me when I first got here. And this sounds terrible, because it makes it sound like I always need to be validated, or I need to have people ask about my job, which is not how I feel. But, I did immediately notice (when) meeting with other spouses, people always asking “What does your husband do? What does your husband fly?” Never, “What do you do?” And that’s okay, but is it because the assumption is I don’t have (a job)? Or is the assumption because I don’t want to (work) or I’m not supposed to (work)? I don’t know.

I just felt sad. It just felt like I wasn’t important, like I just didn’t matter.

Like I said before, I don’t think it’s all bad, because I think it’s an amazing opportunity to find other things you’re interested in, a jumping off point for education. Had I not done this, I probably would not be in a Master’s program in the fall. And hopefully, when we leave here I’ll be prepared for the next career move, if it’s in the States or wherever we go. So I wouldn’t have had that, had I not quit my job. So it can go either way.

I don’t know if I can really pinpoint exactly what it was that made me have a change in mindset. I realized there were other things I could do. I just recently started (dog walking). It’s funny, my dad makes fun of me. I have a Master’s degree and I’m doing dog walking for people. I just decided to do other things with my time and also to feel like I’m contributing to the household. My husband doesn’t have a problem with me not working, and we’re fine on income and there’s no issue there. But I feel like I want to contribute to our household, or to paying my student loans, or whatever it is.

I feel like my self-esteem is such that I don’t feel like lesser of a person. I don’t feel any depression about myself as a person. But I definitely feel a little bit lost, like there’s no set structure to the day. I think I understand now what people say when they go into retirement, “Oh I really looked forward to it.” And then you get to it and you’re a little isolated. I don’t feel lesser of a person, but I definitely am experiencing emotions that I didn’t have before when I had a job and a structured life.

So that lends to a feeling of a little bit of laziness. I think the more you isolate yourself the more you tend to want to isolate. So if I’m having a day where I feel blah, I think I’m more inclined then to curl up and watch a movie on Lifetime. Also feeling sort of like a child that’s been locked in the house all day. And then your spouse comes home and has a completely different emotion, which is “I just got off of work and I want to sit here and do what you have been doing all day long.” So it’s just sort of this up and down rollercoaster of emotion. Mostly I think for me it’s coming from lack of structure, really wanting to contribute to our household and contribute to the world, and be relevant. I think as a person, you find other ways to do that. So for instance, volunteering at a hospital, I’ll be starting in a couple of months in that role. I never thought I’d do midwifery for free, but at least (I’d be) doing that same job. The salary I’ve found is not as important. I mean it would be nice, like I said, to contribute to our household, but I need to be doing what I’ve been trained to do, what my vocation is. To keep my brain stimulated and have a structure, and so I’ll be doing that and going to school. So you find other ways to feel like you’re continuing on the path you’re supposed to be on.

The way I see it, it will probably be a rough seven or eight years if I am working as a midwife, because I’ll be a new person wherever it is that we go to…You never get to gain a sense of seniority in one place.

I think you have to be flexible.

You have to take what you get and mold it to what your goals are, and be able to bend them a little bit…So to me it means flexibility. It also means you have to be motivated too. Which sometimes, given you’re circumstances in life, may not be easy. You can sort of think ahead, about having a baby, and that becomes your priority, and then you might be less motivated to find this job that’s already incredibly hard to find. So, yeah, it means being flexible, motivated, finding other opportunities. If it’s not something that’s exactly what you want, to look for something similar and being open to those opportunities that hopefully can lead to something good.

Yeah, like I said, I don’t feel less about myself. I just feel like I’m sort of floating out there, not really doing a whole lot. What’s the right word I’m looking for? Lazy comes to mind, but lazy is something you can control. This is something that’s sort of out of your control, so I guess I’m not exactly sure what the word would be for that. I just feel irrelevant in the professional world, not irrelevant in my life or other people’s lives, or anything like that. Just professionally. Like, I don’t really matter that much. This is my first experience. I’m only nine or ten months into it, so I’m sure that that could change as the years go by. But it is what you make of it too.

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