Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Registering Alternate Realities

It surprises me how little paperwork is involved in bringing a new person into the world.

One day you are pregnant, and the next that bump has suddenly become a citizen, a consumer, a tax rebate (or liability), a future voter, a Medicare number.... considering how much paperwork is involved in opening a bank account for this new person, the forms required to acknowledge their arrival on the planet is relatively bereft.

The forms themselves are relatively simple. Name, date of birth, gender. That’s pretty much it. What stumped me this time round was when I got the bit that said 'Mother's Occupation' on the birth registration form.

Five years ago, after the Blonde Bombshell was born I reverted to my occupation at the time - I was working in clinical drug trials - and I think I put 'Health Researcher'. I had every intention of returning to work in the area. I was full of good intentions first time round.

Two years ago, after the birth of the Curly Mop, paid work was a distant, vaguely blurry memory. I cannot remember what I listed as my occupation on the birth registration form. Maybe something helpful like 'Domestic Goddess' or ‘Trophy Wife’. The concept of returning to paid work was an unpleasant thought. If I ignored it, maybe it would go away.

Now, with the very real possibility of my being out of the workforce for a decade (if I wait until Baldy Baby is in full time school before returning to full time work) the label I give myself has suddenly become very important.  Partly because it is the label the rest of the world gives me.  Perhaps because I am also very afraid that once I am out, I will find it too hard to get back in.
Sidenote: a few years back when working in Canberra we were researching working Mums and Dads, and looking at the impact of their work on their health.  I interviewed a wonderful mother of three, in her early forties, who was working on the registers at a department store.  Turns out, she had two university degrees but after taking almost ten years out of the paid workforce to raise her kids to school age, she found herself practically unemployable.

That scares me.

So there I was sitting in my hospital bed, staring at the forms.  Mother’s Occupation. What was I when I hadn’t worked (for money) in years? Is Stay-At-Home-Mum an occupation?  Am I a Health Researcher if I haven’t done it in years? Should I just leave it blank?

So I put Writer.  Why not, I thought?  I write, therefore I am a writer. You don’t need a degree (though I am working on that), or an income (though I have earned a few dollars with my reviews) to claim an identity. 

In all honesty, it probably makes little difference what I wrote on the form, unless one day distant descendants look me up on ancestry.com. Surely it doesn’t make any difference to the sudden legality and existence of my former-bump.  I wonder why they even bother asking, except to remind poor, exhausted, floppy, bleeding new mums that they have lost one of their former identities.

But even though it felt a little bit naughty, claiming this new identity on such a formal and enduring document, it also felt right.  Now I just need to back it up with some formal and enduring publications.


  1. Today's post nearly made me cry. I'm an engineer and now about 4 yrs out of paid work because I followed DH to Africa and came home with a swelling.... Then had another very quickly. I wonder how employable I am and who'd want to take me on without thinking me as a liability.... Well done my writer friend.... Keep writing, I love your blog xxxxx

  2. There is a brilliant website called Ask A Manager (askamanager.org) which has everything to do with hiring, firing, resumes, cover letters, interviews, management etc. It's a really well-written and interesting read (I started reading it out of curiosity when my husband was job-hunting last September and have been hooked ever since... and I'm planning on being a SAHM for a long time to come yet!) Anyway she often answers questions about the best way to get past gaps in your resume (esp for SAHMs) and how to keep your skills relevant in the meantime (doing some volunteer work, taking short courses to update your skills etc). Worth a look if you're interested :)

    1. That sounds like an excellent website, thanks Pamela.

      I am very happy being a SAHM right now (who dabbles in writing between breastfeeds). A former colleague just contacted me the other week asking if I would be interested in doing some trials work and I had to tell him I was close to useless at the moment, due to the normal demands of having a new baby.

      But I don't plan on being useless forever. Babies grow up and head to school. And at some point I will want and need to return to work. Or at least earn an income... And it would be fantastic if we -mums- could enjoy our time at home with our kids, without needing to stress about how we will need to explain 'gaps' on our resumes in coming years.

      Baldy Baby is four weeks old! I shouldn't even be thinking about this right now, should I?

      Or should I?

  3. I think it's fantastic that you put "writer" as your occupation. And re your last comment in the comments (it's just above here!) then really I'm impressed that you have the mental capacity to think about such things with a four-week-old (and how did four weeks go so quickly?!). Things have a way of working out though and maybe you'll end up freelancing like me and be a WAHM instead of a SAHM. For me it's the ideal balance. And it's something that writers can do!

  4. Such an interesting post.
    I think my 'definition' of myself has changed a thousand times in three and a half years of motherhood.
    I have returned to teaching part-time and that both confused and comforted the 'professional' in me.
    One thing that did/does scare me as I prepare to step out again is the huge changes in education (& techology in education) I've seen in the last five years.

    This topic is a minefield, isn't it?!
    :-) x


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