And I wasn’t there.

by Janelle Hanchett

I don’t usually write about my kids and their illnesses because let’s be honest, it’s boring. But I gotta tell you about poor Georgia. Well, and I guess, me.

She’s had a fever for five days. We were told that 4 days is the longest time a virus will cause a fever, so we tried taking her in yesterday (day 4) but the urgent care was closed. We took her today and it turns out the baby girl has a urinary tract infection and possibly a kidney infection.

They found this out by inserting a catheter in her.

And I wasn’t there.

I was at school. It’s a long story. The timing was off. I couldn’t get there. My mom was with her.

As I talked to the doctor to approve the procedure, I wanted to die. I thought of my baby in that office, in pain, without her mama. I thought of the agony. I thought of the fear. I thought of her thoughts. I saw her tears and heard her cries and felt them in the depths of my soul.

And even though the “procedure” was only five seconds, and even though I raced home, and even though I held her for hours, kissed her forehead as she rested on my chest…despite all this, beyond it all, I raged.

I raged because I wasn’t there. I raged because I’ve made the choice to be in school. I raged because WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING?

Why wasn’t I there? What is more important than that?

It’s so hard, this gig. This working-while-parenting. This education-while-parenting. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel worth it. Sometimes I think maybe we should just stay poor. And I should just drop my “goals.”

But then again, I’m not sure I can.

I wonder sometimes if it were easier to be a mother back in the 19th century when things were simpler. When a woman had babies and worked in the home and made a home. When she knew what her life was and it was all there was, and there wasn’t such a pull of “I could be more” and “I need to achieve” and “I must make something of myself.” Being a mother and building a home was making something of oneself. And indeed it is.

Yes, I realize there were women who had all that drive, way back then, just like I do. And I realize women couldn’t vote and that ain’t right…and duh. There were problems – not trying to glorify anything.

But society was different. Society didn’t sell the particular lie that we’ve been sold: THAT WE CAN DO IT ALL.

Because we cannot. We cannot do it all. There is always a cost. There is always a sacrifice. We cannot be working mothers and fulltime mothers …fulltime mothers and high-achieving career women…without a cost.

And the cost is today.

The cost is a toddler on a table in a doctor’s office, enduring horrifying pain without the arms and breast and whispers of her mother.

That is my cost.

And it hurts.

Fuck all that feminist stuff. Screw the politics. You know I’m so left I’ve almost come around to the right. That ain’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about what it’s like to attempt to do it all. The on-the-ground experience of trying to have a career and raise a family at the same damn time.

And realizing that it just isn’t working.

Why do I keep going? Why don’t I quit? Why don’t I drop grad school and be with my kids?

Because there’s a part of me that wants more. There’s a part of me that has always wanted a career in teaching. Because it’s the “me” separate and apart from my kids. It’s a “me” I love. It’s a “me” I can’t just abandon, either.

But it’s a “me” I resent. It’s a “me” I want to destroy sometimes. Shut her up. Silence her. Become that woman complete in her home, content in the currents of her daily life, fulfilled by the place of her family, rooted in love, in children, in this.

And yet I am not. I am not that woman.

And so I face the costs. I endure this pain. The pain of my arms and breast and whispers falling useless, in that moment of separation, as they frantically reach for my child who needs me. Needs me when I am not there.

I would say I’m sorry, Georgie, but the words fall useless, too.

  • Quiet Monsters


  • kim

    Oh, mama.

    I’m not sure if you had a chance to meet Laura at my birthday, but she and I recently had a discussion in which she declared that women are more oppressed now than ever. And while that comment was laced with a couple beers, it struck a chord with me…just like this post. Fuck, this shit is hard.

    This comment was also laced with a couple beers. I love you.

  • Lisa

    Oh, my. I am so sorry. I have actually experienced an acute kidney infection as an adult and I know it’s no picnic. This was back in the days when my white-coat anxiety was so severe I wouldn’t go in unless I was actually dying (I have since realized the error of my ways). I had a fever up to 104 over 4+ days and chills but told myself it was “just a bad cold” until the time when the chills were shaking me out of the bed and I was getting blue in the face. So I went in and got a diagnosis and antibiotics and watched my husband shake his head the whole time and tell me to take care of myself.

    But I am an adult. I am not a small, defenseless, lovable and adorable child like your little Georgie is. I can imagine your pain, and fear, and hers in a time like this. And having a small one who needs Mom ANYTIME there is pain or fear or tiredness. . . . I understand completely your horror at not being there.

    It’s a cruel world. It is not just us, the “want” within ourselves to do it all .. .

    It is this world telling us we HAVE to or we are “less than” we should be. It is this world requiring two incomes, full-time, or else we (the working class anyways) sink into abject poverty. It is this world requiring us to prove to everyone we can do it all the time, whether the expectations are anywhere near realistic or not. It is this world requiring us as women to choose between work or mothering or to accept less than our peers if we do not make a choice (or to accept less mothering than we need to do).

    So please don’t blame yourself, hang in there, do what you can. Good luck to your beautiful baby : )

  • Tara

    I’m a new follower of your blog and sometimes the well-wishing you need at a time like this is from your friends who know and love you. But I just wanted to show some Global Mama Solidarity and send you love. And I wanted to remind you how we are showing our daughters how to be strong, consciously reflect why we are doing the things we’re doing and strive to be the best we can be (our sons too). We are constantly adapting and evolving and trying to find the balance. Think of all the times you HAVE been with her when she’s needed you. Hope she gets better rapidly.

  • Jessica

    I am grateful to be a full time stay at home mom. I love that can be there for my girls in that way. But it was very hard, and still is a little, losing a part of myself…the part of me that dreamed and had goals and wanted to work and be successful. I felt it was stripped from me when I decided to stay home. No one gets it and I don’t dare complain because what I have is indeed a dream job and a lot of mothers aren’t able to stay home.
    So, my point. What you are doing is admirable. I’m sure none of that matters when you are faced with a sick baby and you can’t be there. But think of the example you make for her. You are telling. Her that, yes, it’s hard but you can do anything you want if you want it bad enough. And you are telling her that without saying anything. She will see it.
    I do know that won’t make you feel better but that is how I see it. ( I know I don’t know you, in real life)
    I just think you are kind of badass and I don’t know if I would have the strength.
    So in a way, I’m settling.
    But you go, woman!!

    • Marisa

      The thing with being a SAHM is that yes, you are not necessarily doing something just for you. But, you can do that later. It’s not like you can’t go back to work when the kids are back in school. That’s my plan anyways.

      • Jessica

        So true….this isn’t about me, it for them!

  • Marisa

    Times like this, makes you wonder if you are making the right decision. If you were a SAHM, you would be questioning that too. You’re almost done with school right? Can you take a break and spend some time just being a mom? Maybe that would motivate you to keep going. 🙂

  • anne

    This actually made my tears spill over (COK = crying on keyboard?). Thanks for putting words to the struggle so many of us are having. At best it is graceful, but never effortless or painless.

    • Mary

      I can compare both…..SAHM until my 3rd little angel…..retired past 4 years and my baby is 21. Miss my job….so fulfilling,rewarding……and too stressful…..and now I’m a SAHM, wife and grandma with what sensibilities I have left…at 54.

  • shauna

    Mama Bear, I am crying!! But I’m pregnant so that’s what I do these days.
    The best news there is is that my son(s)and Georgia’s have their own higher power. And it’s not us. And somehow that makes my crazy scared brain a little less crazy and scared. It will somehow all work out. And she won’t be scarred for life. I was a nanny for years before I finally had my kid and held countless kids during shots, broken bones,… They knew and loved me and I adored them back, and they grew up healthy and strong. And Georgia will too. And you’ll make a great decision as to how to live and work,etc… Follow your heart, even when it’s scary to do!! Becasue you have a higher power too, Mama. XOOXOXO

  • Stephanie

    You can do it. Not it “all”. But you’ll forever regret walking away from grad school if you were to walk away. You have to do that stuff. If I didn’t write, I’d be completely miserable. I have to. It makes me better for everyone else. Good news is she will be fine pretty quickly with treatment. And so will you. Hugs, Mama.

  • Christina

    I ask myself why do I do this everyday and yet I take on more and move farther out each year! I hate it with you!

  • Carrera

    Oh Janelle! I am so sorry to hear about Georgia. I hope that she gets better and that she, you and your family are doing okay.

    It sounds like it was a horrible day for everybody. But it seems like you have a very, very strong bond with your kids, and I’m sure your little girl knew you were there with her in spirit. It’s also great that your family came together to help her. That’s a great gift.

  • Shan

    Big hugs. No answers, no suggestions. Just love and understanding.

  • Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama

    I cried for you. I cried for Georgia. As a breastfeeding mama whose child has had her fair share of painful medical “stuff” I know how heartbreaking it would be NOT to be there for her. I also totally get the “need” to do more than just, you know, have snot wiped on you all day. We do our best. You did your best. But it sucks and it hurts when we can’t be there when our littles really need us. You are a great mama and Georgia will get over it. You probably won’t. Keep doing what you are doing. You’ll get through it all. 🙂

  • Regina @ The Tampa Bay Saver

    I’m not a big crier, but this made me tear up! It’s exactly how I’ve been feeling. I had to leave my baby to go to work the other night with a 103 temperature. I wait tables at night and I run a small business and a website during the day, which is when I stick my kid in front of Sesame Street and hope he learns something. I feel like a terrible parent sometimes, but if I just was 100% mom all of the time I wouldn’t feel like ME. So I stress myself out trying to do it all. I don’t sleep, I don’t have free time, I stay up late, I get up early…. and it sucks. But it’s worth it. (Right…? Is it? I think so.) Hang in there, mama! Georgia will forgive you, I’m sure she already has.

  • not blessed mama

    oh sweetheart, my heart is breaking for you. but it’s not because you leave the house and want something more- it’s just plain old mommy guilt. trust me, being a stay at home does not excuse you from it. you’d just find other reasons to feel shitty. love ya woman. and georgia. i miss her, bad.

  • Elena

    Mia had a bladder infection in January . Almost exactly the same scenario. We waited five days and then when we went in they did a battery of blood tests and X-rays. They couldn’t get a clean urine sample so they ended up doing it twice. I was there and I still had the guilt you experienced. I think it is part of being a mom whether we are working or not. You are doing what is best for your family. Being a fulfilled mom will be so much better for the kids in the long run.

  • Beth

    I felt you on so many levels on this particular blog post. My son was born with some congential urinary tract defects. So when he was Georgia’s age, he had his fair share of urinary caths and other Frankenstein like tests. Bestowed upon him by university hospitals, on children who have rare conditions with unpredictable outcomes. You may not have been there with Georgia that day, but I was with my son, and at times I had to walk out of the room and leave him with only his father for support. What does that say about me? I have a medical background, so sometimes I don’t sit in on his ultrasounds because I know just enough to fuel my paranoia. And I study the doctors reactions to their findings way too hard, because I know the poker face I put on when I have to tell a client bad news. Sorry to get off on a rant here, but don’t beat yourself up, because for whatever our reasons, sometimes it’s a compromise and we can’t always be right there. I’m SAHM during the day and working part time at night. We’re poor, but at least I bring in something. I’m home with my son all day, but feel I’ve lost the respect of my colleagues who work full time. So many expectations…. I agree the above poster about women being more oppressed now in some ways, than ever.

  • Tanya

    It’s regrets like these, the one’s that haunt and taunt us because we feel we have let our babies down, that prove we are good mothers. Not the other way ’round. I would hazard a guess to say that most of us would agree that Georgia won’t remember anything about the event, or future ones that may even be worse. She’ll also forget most (maybe all!) of the proudest and most fulfilling mothering-moments, none of that will mean jack to her. But what she will remember, what will give her strength throughout her life, what will keep her warm when the world is cold and cruel, what will be your legacy to her, is how you made her feel. Not just at the mum-perceived-critical-moments, but what she believes you feel about her. That is what will endure. I was (am!) a child of some questionable parenting and I can recall but a few actual events, what I can remember distinctly is how I felt my mother felt about me, how I felt her love for me. That’s what stays with us from child to adult. That’s what’s most important. You’re doing a sensational job, evidenced by the fact that you question yourself.

  • Ken

    Yo Woman
    Yer doin’ what yer doin’ because yer you. And from where I stand you are looking real good compared to what you’ve overcome, sister. Left on your old trail you wouldn’t even have Georgie or anyone else. Look behind you, Mamma—-there is one hell of a mess. Look ahead of you, young lady—-there is anything you want. I think you and Mac et al are the greatest! Grab ahold of that shield of sobriety that you have been using for the last few years and deflect what you don’t want and scoop-up what you do want.

    I got a sneaking suspicion one day I’ll be watching you guys at the Finish Line (MBA, PhD, Georgie graduated and married, Mac watching Buckaroo Bonsai re-runs, on a ranch some where with your goats, and a smile on your faces—-WINNERS!

    Remember, it’s the completion of the process that makes a champion, not the championship.

    Toughen-up Champ, the race has just begun.

  • Calamity Jane

    Mama. Where the fuck have you been? I have been writing a salty mom blog (including the word renegade in my descrip!) for three years. Now that I’ve sworn it off, for awhile anyway, I find you? In all your foul mouthed glory? Raging against a culture that promised you could have it all! Are you kidding me? Here’s my post, from the other end, titled (no shit) Having It All
    Not sure that’s the best intro post to offer, but it was so pertinent I couldn’t help myself. Check my sidebar for a more regular introduction to my postiliciousness.
    I found you, get this, searching for Waldorf circle time ideas. Which is a laugh because I am not normally That Kind, and obviously neither are you. As soon as I saw your title, well, I was hooked. Gray Area. Hilarious, wow.. And so true. I will be breaking my Internet diet for you baby. Over the next few days.

  • CR

    Nothing in the whole world is more worthless and anti-feminist than this stupid fucked up bullshit lie that we should have to have fucking jobs and fucking careers and fucking recognition to be worthwhile!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It gets pounded into our heads from the fucking start and you just cant escape it and you can never be happy doing what you were meant to do, taking care of your damn babies- the goddamn most important job in the entire universe, no, thats not good enough. you arent a real woman without a fucking career.
    Damn the very moment those bra burning bitches were concieved

  • KD

    Can I tell you how validating it was to read this? I am only pregnant with my first so I don’t KNOW know the struggle, but having completed my doctorate at 27 and knowing I have so much more that I’m going to have to balance once we do have kids, I have tried to talk to so many people about this – especially women in my field. And they seem to still hold the illusion that they can and, in fact, ARE doing it all. It’s impossible to give 200%. I wish more women would see this reality so we could have a real conversation about it. Thank you!