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When I first found out I was pregnant with my oldest child, a lot of thoughts went through my mind. I had some of the traditional moments of panic and worries about whether or not I’d be able to hack it as a mother (or, real talk, if I was even strong enough to make it through the process of giving birth).

I was also worried about our finances. Although we were comfortable at the time, I knew adding the cost of daycare into our budget — a figure I’d wildly underestimated when we first started planning our family — would stretch us further than we’d ever been stretched before. The thing I didn’t expect to have rattling around my head ended up being one of the most consuming thoughts I had back then: what would my daughter think about what I did with my time?

Back then I worked in center city Philadelphia for a high-profile mortgage insurance firm. I’d spent more than a decade in the industry and had worked really hard to get where I was. I knew that I should be proud of my job and the money that I earned doing it, but I had this nagging thought in the back of my head whenever I imagined my 10-hour days and my two-hour commutes — was it actually worth it?

I’d always wanted to be a writer when I was a kid. I’d given up on that dream as soon as I discovered that you could make more money doing just about anything else. When I entered the mortgage industry I’d found a lot of success — both with my career and financially — so I’d left that dream behind. But now that I was facing motherhood and imagining having a little girl watching and learning from my every move, I started to think about my childhood dreams in a new light.

One thing I kept coming back to was that I wanted to serve as an example for my daughter. Like most parents, I wanted her to follow her dreams and find something she was passionate about, and then get paid to do it. Somewhere between the time she was born and the time I was supposed to go back to work I realized that the only way that I’d ever be able to teach her how to do it was by showing her how I’d done it.

I was incredibly lucky that certain things worked out financially for me at the time. We were able to drop down to one vehicle while my husband drove a company car, and we moved into my parents’ house as I became a full-time caregiver for my grandmother, among other things — and slowly I started chipping away at following my childhood dream.

I’m not going to lie and say it was fast or easy. There were plenty of nights I worked until three in the morning, only to get up at five to take care of my kids (eventually we would go on to have two more, another daughter and a son). But I can say that I became laser-focused on making my dream work. I was inspired to hustle harder than I ever had so that I could still be there when my kids needed me. I’d even discovered ways to be extra efficient with my time so that I could get work done in any small pocket that was available to me, even if that meant filing stories from my couch on my phone while breastfeeding my baby.

Every time I wanted to give up or thought about doing something else that was easier — or more importantly, made more money — I would look at my children and I would remember how much I wanted to do this for them.

Eventually, my writing career took off. While we’re nowhere near as financially stable as we once were, we are definitely happier than we’ve ever been before. I didn’t realize when I started this journey that there would be more benefits to it than just creating a blueprint for my kids to figure out how to build a career that they were happy with (whether it be as a veterinarian or a police officer, two of my oldest daughter’s loftiest goals) but that I would be working towards building a life that made me happy. A life where I had a job that I actually liked, where I didn’t resent the times that it took me away from my kids because I felt like my work mattered.

I’m not saying that my previous job (or anyone else’s job, for that matter) wasn’t important work, but the work I’m doing now is important to me on a whole different level. It makes me feel complete, and it makes me feel like I’m doing exactly what I should be doing.

I don’t think that I ever would’ve gotten here without my kids, though. They inspired me to push myself beyond the comfort of my paycheck (which again, I was so lucky to be able to step away from) and pursue the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do. They also inspired me to keep pushing that limit and doing the things that scared me, so that I could teach them how it was done when the time was right.

So often we hear stories about how motherhood can stunt ambition, but I think more often the issue is that we don’t make space for mothers to actually do the work they both need and want to do. Instead, we continue to try and pigeonhole them back into whatever box they were in before, like their entire world hasn’t been absolutely rocked by having children.

Becoming a mom made me more ambitious because I wanted to be able to maximize the money and enjoyment I got from my career while minimizing the amount of time it took me away from my children — if only because I wanted to be able to show them how to do the same for themselves someday.

Celebrate the beauty of different breastfeeding journeys through these photographs.

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