The Struggle is Real: Confessions of a Working Mom


By Paula Cabrera

I went through law school, thinking, “Wow, they didn’t lie when they said the struggle is real.”

I took the bar exams and said to myself, “Four years squeezed into six months of review. The struggle is real.”

I started working, and with all the demands of the profession, I began to learn that the struggle of being a lawyer continues to be real.

And then, I got married, and before I knew it, at 34 weeks pregnant, I gave birth to my beautiful daughter.

I became a mom.

I had no idea how to calm my baby, who was the loudest crier in the NICU. I was always afraid of moving too much while she was in my arms (she was so tiny and her face was smaller than my palm!). I felt like big or sudden movements would disrupt her peaceful sleep, rattle her brain, or somehow stir her to the realization that she was born to a mom who could not keep things together. I was so paranoid that she would just stop breathing. And really, I just missed sleeping.

My husband and I would look at each other with questions written all over our faces, desperate to determine the best way to pass her around. We were afraid we would drop her tiny, fragile body. Eventually, experience taught us that the best way was just to lay her on the bed, so that she could be picked up with more ease, and less panic. These were our daily stresses and struggles.

I remember that one early morning, I was trying to transfer a bottle of newly pumped liquid gold (breastmilk!) into a storage bag, but because I was so sleepy, I didn’t notice right away that I wasn’t pouring it in the bag but unto the floor. I wasted most of the bottle. I didn’t know whether I wanted to laugh at myself or to cry because I felt so stupid. Anyway, I was too sleepy to decide. It was then when it hit me. I realized that the four long years of law school and the excruciating period of bar review were absolutely nothing compared to the demands of mothering a child.

I suddenly carried the responsibility of a little human being who literally depended on me for everything! This reality weighed heavily on my shoulders.

The struggle could not be more real… until my over extended maternity leave came to an end and I had to put on my corporate attire (blazer and heels – no, flats, actually, as the thought of being in heels was too tiring). Suddenly, I was not just a lawyer.

I became a working mother.

On my first day back, it didn’t take a lot of time for me to wish I were back home, cuddling with my precious little one. As the meetings and hearings wore on, I started to feel more and more torn between wanting to be with my baby 24/7 and loving my career.

I cried to my husband one night, asking him how I was supposed to do this, really expecting that he’d be able to solve the mystery, really expecting that he would have the answers I needed.

He didn’t, nor did he have a detailed plan…but he reminded me that we were in this together and that we would figure it out. And in that moment, that was enough. So, I clung to his words and the love and comfort of my mini family.

I’ve been a working mom for a year and three months now. I can’t decide if time has gone by fast or slow. I look at my baby (toddler, actually… little monster, sometimes – just kidding – no, really.) who is so full of life, so curious, and oh so talkative and think, “Wow, you’re growing up so fast. Too fast.” Then, I deal with the daily demands, challenges, and (mis)adventures of both motherhood and my career and wonder how the hours can go so slow. Fast or slow, there’s no denying that time is not going to stop for me. That is as inevitable as the fact that both my career and motherhood are big struggles comprised of tiny unpredictable ones.

I have learned to accept the truth that it’s always going to be a struggle, but I also realized that I am not alone in this struggle.

To all moms, stay home or working, know that you are not alone.

We are not always in the same situation but we can understand each other’s pain. We can understand the divide and the conflict we feel within ourselves when we love our work as much as we love our little ones.

We all face the struggles of motherhood, and we must remind ourselves whom we are doing it all for.

The struggle is real. Embrace it. How?

By focusing on the truth that the joys and fulfillment of motherhood and work or are much greater than the challenges we encounter. It may not get easier; in fact, juggling motherhood and career may become even more difficult as the years go by (this is me thinking that work will keep piling up and my adorable little one will one day become a difficult and stubborn teenager). But the fact remains that we must overcome our self-doubt, frustrations, this thing called “mom guilt,” and whatever fears we may have, and embrace our struggle as a celebration of our unbelievable yet undeniable power and duty as women and as mothers.

Focus on the smiles and hugs from our forever babies, the “i love yous,” the sound of their laughter. Focus on the pats on our backs, the checks on our never-ending to-do lists, the meals we don’t burn, the deadlines we meet, the “thank yous” from our colleagues/bosses/clients/customers/guests/strangers, the jobs well done, the words of encouragement we get from our husbands, partners, parents, and families, and the sense of fulfillment we experience from doing what we love to do.

Focus on the priceless gift of being able to mother these little ones into their own persons into individuals who will one day be teachers, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, writers, lawmakers, policemen, and stay home parents.

Focus on that indescribable feeling we all had when we held our babies for the first time. Focus on knowing that we can and we should take breaks, go on that dream vacation even if it’s just one glorious hour in the mall, feel the warmth of the sun, and lie down and do absolutely nothing even for just one precious minute.

Focus on the fact that we are not alone in this struggle.

This is our struggle, and this struggle is our gift.

Paula Cabrera is a working mom and a devoted wife. She and her husband are both lawyers who are continuously learning to embrace the joys and pains of both work and parenting. Reading and writing have always been some of her hobbies, and so, despite being busy, she finds time to do both even for just a few minutes everyday. She hopes to be able to be able to reach out to other parents through her short pieces and remind them that they are not alone in the crazy yet fulfilling world of parenting.


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