The night after my husband called an end to our marriage, I lie sprawled across the width of the bed. Asleep in the adjacent room, my two-and-a-half year old daughter was blissfully unaware that I was having a hard time breathing.
Earlier in the day, someone had e-mailed me that divorce is the leading cause of poverty among women and children.
Having always followed my heart, I have never been good at raking in the dough. After college, I worked as a contract archaeologist, then as a tribal consultant. But by the time I reached the $30,000 a year mark, the Bush administration was meddling with the country’s environmental laws in such a way that I felt compelled to pursue environmental journalism.
And despite taking an $8,000 a year pay cut, I loved my new career. I loved it with a passion approaching giddiness, actually.
It is my job, after all, to ask government officials questions they’d rather avoid, to listen while scientists explain how something works and to hope that citizens trust me enough to confide their fears. And it is my responsibility to present complex information in a way that anyone might understand.
But when my daughter was born, it became obvious that as the lower-paid parent, I would be leaving my job. By the time she was a few weeks old, I was freelancing—hustling for magazine work, e-mailing editors and hauling an infant around to political rallies and ribbon-cutting ceremonies. Now, almost three years into a “freelance career” I know it’s all well and good to follow your heart when you aren’t responsible for the well-being of someone else. But lying in bed worrying about how to provide for a child?
It was then that the idea started to creep in: I could work in public relations.
I thought of all the journalist-turned-public information officers I’d met over the past few years, and of the friends I know in that business. They all drive nice cars, live in comfortable homes and have things like health care plans, 401Ks and sick time.
But then I thought about the work they must do. They defend uranium mines opposed by local communities, plant doubt over scientific research and pass off as harmless facilities that have sickened workers and been leaching contamination for decades.
Then I start to breath again. I just can’t do it. I can’t leave the career I love.
At a time when many reporters and editors are being forced to move on – in every city it seems, newspapers are cutting jobs like mad — I simply can’t do it. I can’t pursue a career that might guarantee my daughter and me a more secure safety net.
I can already hear the chorus of chastising voices. But I have to dig in my heels; I have to keep telling the stories I believe must be told. For this I believe, is the right thing to do – for my own heart, for my community and especially, for my daughter.
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