The Working Mama

Going back to work was hard. So. Very. Hard. But with the mounting costs of cystic fibrosis, I didn't have a choice. The decision had been made for me.

| 4 min read
Mary Sullivan

After attempting to manage the mounting costs of cystic fibrosis, the stress began to put a heavy toll on our family. My husband's income should have been plenty to support a family of five. But despite having -- what I considered -- two solid health insurance policies, we were paying tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket for Betsy's care. Maxed out credit cards and calls from collection agencies had me jumping every time the phone or doorbell rang. Something needed to change. I knew it. So with a shaky hand, I called the one person who has always been the strongest voice of wisdom for me.

Hearing the anxiety in my voice, my dad came right over. He sat down next to me on the sofa and I curled into his arms and wept. Rather than assure me that everything would be okay, through his own tears, he started to talk about his mother. I was very close to my grandmother and already knew much about her. As a single mom, she worked hard to provide for her two sons and her own mother. But what I didn't know is that she often juggled three jobs to do so. She trembled when the electric company came to collect, meeting the collector outside as my father listened to her plea for a payment arrangement. My father always spoke of his mother with great admiration. But this day, he spoke more of her strength and sacrifices. Then he said the words that shook me to my core, “You're a lot like her.” This simple sentence was a tremendous compliment, but it also carried a heavy burden.

I realized that I didn't have a choice. The decision had been made for me.

Going back to work was hard. So. Very. Hard. Everything from the simple task of getting dressed every morning to the complicated job of meeting the needs of my family was more difficult than I had ever imagined. I knew that this was one of those times that would require me to call in reinforcements. My girls were still small, and I made sure to set up play dates rather than babysitters. This was about the time that caller ID became widespread and I'm pretty sure people like me were the reason it was invented.

Every day, I made a menu of breakfast, lunch and snack options that my girls would check off. Dinner was non-negotiable. My father would call me every morning and ask, “What can I do for you today?” I learned a lot from that simple gesture. Those morning calls meant the world to me. I now remind myself to do the same when someone else is in need.

These are notes my girls wrote to me on my first business trip. I cried like a baby (and still do) when I read them!

I have also been fortunate enough to fall into a career that not only helps me feed my family, but also feeds my soul. I have always felt that you should love what you do and never forget why you're doing it. I love what I do and I am doing it for my girls. I don't know how they'll look back on their working mama. I often feel like they resent the time that it takes away from them. But I pray that one day when they look back, as my father did, they will see that this really was for them. I hope that they are never forced to work a job that they don't love, and I simply want them to know that they are empowered to change the direction of many aspects of their lives.

This site contains general information about cystic fibrosis, as well as personal insight from the CF community. Opinions and experiences shared by members of our community, including but not limited to people with CF and their families, belong solely to the blog post author and do not represent those of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, unless explicitly stated. In addition, the site is not intended as a substitute for treatment advice from a medical professional. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your treatment.

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Mary is a mother to three teenage girls. She is on the Board of Directors for her local CF Foundation chapter. Mary has advocated through all media outlets on the local, regional and national levels for the Foundation and several other charities that are close to her heart. She also currently serves on the Parent Teacher Organization Board at her girls' high school and is employed as a CF Client Advocate for Cystic Fibrosis Services Inc., a Walgreens Alliance Pharmacy. Mary and her family reside in South Texas.

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