I was born the second of seven children to low-income, high-love parents. They raised me with wonderful principles and the gift of a large family. My mother stayed home, and our family was far from rich. Many times I recall having our heat or phone turned off, and my mother selling her plasma for grocery money. Women in my family cherished their ability to give and nurture life and were discouraged from having careers outside the home during those childrearing years. Naturally my own expectations leaned in the direction of living a life similar to the Life Givers around me.
A New Direction
However, as a young adult in need of a job, I was introduced to dentistry. Because I found dentistry fascinating, I soaked up as much as I could as fast as I could. Somewhere along the line, I confessed to the dentist (a man) that I was contemplating dental school as the direction for my life. He was not supportive and commented that dental school was “awfully hard.”
A Twist in the Road
Happily, in my next assisting job, I worked for two female dentists and they were much more encouraging. At this stage in my life, however, the opportunity to be a mother had finally presented itself to me. So I elected to do as I had been taught and be a stay-at-home mother instead of pursuing dentistry. I had never finished college, but I dove into rearing my babies.
Interestingly, my desire to be a dentist reawakened when as a young mother of two preschoolers. I needed a part-time job to help my husband get through his schooling. We were dirt poor, counting every penny, surviving on less than $1000/month. I landed another job in dentistry! Once again, I was enamored with it.
At work, as I leaned against the belly bar in a dental office, holding the suction for the dentist, I experienced a soul-encompassing epiphany. I could do what he was doing. That night I went home and changed my life direction again.
College, Here I Come!
I switched my part-time community college registration to full-time science and math. I recruited my little sister to babysit for me nights and weekends. Twenty months later, after scraping and crawling my way through all that math, chemistry, and physics; I was seated with the rest of my D1 class at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry. The kids were at home in my sister’s care.
My dental school decision was not without its challenges. Our extended family questioned the direction I was going. Why pursue professional training while leaving my children at home?
Besides that, I was the only mother of very small children in my class that year. Full of doubts about my choice to be away from my two small children, I did what any woman would do. Needing to prove (to whom?) that motherhood was still my first priority, I grew another baby in my belly! Imagine being pregnant while you dissect a cadaver in gross anatomy. That was me!
My youngest child was born the first week of my sophomore year. My classmates have memories of me wearing that precious baby to class, always sitting in the front row where I could pay the best attention and ask questions. After all, sister, time was at a premium!
Strides on the Journey
Once I knew for sure what direction I was headed, I didn’t let any grass grow under my feet! Less than a year out of school I purchased my practice. Since then, the growth has surged ahead. I have grown and transformed the business. My kids are now exiting their teen years. The youngest one, who I carried in dental school, is now in high school.
Which Direction Are You Headed?
On this journey I encountered various opinions about the direction of my life from others. Of course, they meant well. But many people questioned my decision to pursue a professional career as a young mother. I have observed that we ladies are vulnerable to receiving unsolicited input from others about our life choices. There are so many opinions about what women should be choosing.
Should she have children? Stay home? Pursue more training? How much should she work? I would like to suggest that as females in dentistry, we reach out to the women around us and build them up. Empower them to make their own choices about their potential.
I would like to suggest that as females in dentistry, we reach out to the women around us and build them up, to empower them to make their own choices about their potential.
There are so many ways to empower success in the women around. Guiding our auxiliary employees to achieve the highest levels of training legally available. Applauding mothers around us who choose to pause their careers so they can nurture their precious babies. Really, embracing women everywhere and letting them know they can! They can choose a direction. They can make good decisions. And they can succeed.
Truth be told, we all stand feeling naked and exposed. We feel vulnerable, judged by those around us. This is true whether or not we have children, are experiencing infertility, are working, not working, or any other circumstance we feel separates us from our sisters. We all feel like we are sticking out.
Collectively we are also the ones who can change that for those who will follow us. That next future female dentist you encounter isn’t going to have a sign on her forehead that says “Future DDS.” So see if you can spot her in the crowd and build her confidence and excitement about her potential. As you do, the entire profession of dentistry and the women who, frankly, dominate the field will all be elevated.