The most dreaded question that someone can ask me is, “What do you do for work?”
I usually start my answer with, “Well, I went to Massachusetts Maritime Academy…” Somehow, feeling almost penitent and owing them an explanation for my choice of work.
I also have to mentally prepare myself for their reactions when I tell them that I work on a drilling rig, offshore. It is definitely not the answer I know they are expecting when they look at me.
I remember having this exact conversation with a complete stranger, on a cruise to Bermuda with my husband, a few years back. The man’s response was priceless! Having told him what I did for a living, he even felt it was necessary to explain his big-eyed, jaw-on-the-floor-type reaction with, “Wow! I figured you were going to say a designer or a hair dresser…” That is when I threw in an awkward smile and giggle, instead of releasing my true emotions. I understand that my job is a very different profession for a woman to have. However, why not give a reaction of being impressed, rather than pity?
Now that I am a mom, people’s reactions are only worsening.
It all started when I got pregnant. The question on everyone’s mind was, “Are you going to go back to work once the baby comes?” In my opinion, a fair question to ask a new mom, concerning her work-related plans after having given birth to their child. Be that as it may, it was yet again, another very loaded question for me.
I knew I wasn’t the type of woman to give up on my career because I was having a baby. I wanted both – a family and a career.
I wanted it so bad that I tested and passed all 9 exam modules for my USCG Chief Mate license when I was 7 months pregnant. Many thought I was a crazy person for tackling this goal during pregnancy. Nevertheless, I knew I could do it. I wanted it. I worked hard for it. And, I got it.
What if I can’t do it?
Due to outdated socioeconomic and cultural values, it’s a big deal for a mom to go back to the working world. Yet, no one seems to bat an eye when a new dad goes back to work. Once my son was born, I wasn’t so sure I would be able to stick by my words any longer. During my four-month maternity leave my emotions were running rampant – commonplace for any new mom. There were days I couldn’t wait to get away from this baby who wouldn’t stop crying, unless he was attached to my chest, nursing (which, is a story for another day: ‘The joys of being a nursing-working mother’) or, to the days when just the thought of leaving him, left me in inconsolable tears.
One evening, I had the waterworks going, full force. I looked at my husband and asked, “What if I can’t do it? What if I can’t do this anymore?”
My husband, without skipping a beat said, “Then we will figure something else out.” It was more than the going back to work. It meant leaving my four-month-old baby behind for three weeks and, effectively turning my husband into a single parent for that length of time.
My husband never made me feel like I was abandoning him with our child or making a bad decision to come back offshore. He supported my career choice, 100%.
My husband and I are also very lucky to have our families close by, willing to help out while I am away. This made coming back to work a little bit easier for me; knowing my son would be in good hands while my husband and I were working.
Before I got the call about my new rig assignment, I spent a long time contemplating other options.
Absolutely no other alternatives appealed to me. If I got a ‘normal’, 9-5, Monday – Friday job, then I would only see my son for, maybe, 3 hours a day. Or, I could continue to work offshore and have 3 full weeks with him 24/7. The offshore option just appealed to me more.
I knew that if I didn’t at least try, I would always regret it. I had to try.
What’s weird is that the lack of support that some of my friends and family gave me, motivated me to come back more. The comments that I got the most were accurate and true, but they still cut through me like a knife:
“That is going to be so hard.”
“There is no way I could ever do that.”
Oh, and the facetiously-toned, “Good luck..!”
These comments made my skin crawl.
I knew it was going to be hard – thanks for stating the obvious. But you want to know something? Those comments made me come back: I had to prove them wrong. I knew, deep down, that I was much stronger than that.
I was venting on this topic one day to my dear friend and she just looked at me and said, “You tell them, ‘Well yeah, obviously, it is going to be hard and you probably couldn’t do it. But I can.'”
Here I am, three hitches down and going strong.
With tough goodbyes come even bigger smiles when I return. I think I am a better mom and wife for having to be away so long for work. I really appreciate every moment I get back to my loved ones. I have learned the petty arguments are just not worth it.
I may miss my son’s first steps or his first Christmas, but I know I am doing the right thing for my family and me. And let’s be real, my son won’t remember if I’m home for the holidays at this age!
So, when people respond to what I do for a living with, “Oh, that’s got to be so hard.” I just smile and nod in agreement. It is hard, but I can do it. I am doing it.
This, coming from a woman who used to cry every single time I left my two dogs. Trust me – you can do it.
Amanda Locke is a Dynamic Positioning Operator on offshore drilling rigs and was recently featured on Women Offshore, here.