Finding my middle ground

A mother of three struggles to find a balance between family and work.
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Dec 01, 2009


The Heath family (photo courtesy of Dr. Melody Heath)
This place is a wreck. The phone is ringing and the dogs are barking. My toddler is screaming because I won't let him hold a knife. My 4-year-old son is in time-out for pinching, and his victim, my 6-year-old daughter, is wailing as if her arm were broken. My head is starting to throb, and it's only 7 a.m. In other words, it's a perfectly normal day at the Heath house. Except today is different because I've finally decided that if I hear one more scream, I'm going to accept that dream job that's been knocking at my door.

My life hasn't always been this way—answering to "Mommy" a million times a day, battling ever-growing loads of dirty dishes and laundry, and never enjoying a moment of peace or privacy. In fact, this was never in my plans. I've always had a passion for helping animals, and I knew early on that I wanted to be a veterinarian. I never considered any other profession. I landed my first job as a kennel technician when I was 17; I worked in veterinary clinics through high school, college, and postgraduate school. After graduating from veterinary school 15 years ago, I accepted my first full-time position as an associate veterinarian in a private practice. The position turned out to be full-time, overtime, all the time. I worked days, nights, weekends, and holidays—and I loved it. Work was exciting, interesting, and challenging, not to mention just plain fun. I enjoyed my job, along with the satisfaction and rewards that came with it.

After seven years as an associate, I was confident enough in my medical, surgical, and business skills to begin contemplating practice ownership. So I read and filed every piece of information I could get my hands on regarding management. I started flipping through the "practice for sale" advertisements in my veterinary journals. I was excited about the future, about becoming an owner.

The following year, I was blessed with a child. At the time I figured maternity might delay my entrance into practice ownership by a year or so. With a helpful husband and reliable daycare, I eagerly returned to work when my maternity leave expired. I quickly grew accustomed to balancing my career and family life. Life was good. So I was surprised one day to find myself feeling envious of a client who was a stay-at-home mother. It would be nice to sleep late, have time to cook a hot breakfast, keep a tidy house, or relax and read a good book. Or so I thought.

Then, nine years into my career, the unexpected happened. As a result of poor practice management, a sagging economy, and me being the newest associate at the practice, I was laid off. At first I panicked. What would I do? How would we pay our bills? I was determined to find another associate job immediately. After several weeks of frantic searching, I resigned myself to the fact there were no comparable job openings within driving distance. My husband and I considered whether this was the right time to move and purchase a practice, but in the end we decided it was too risky for him to leave his job.