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Opinion: Sometimes I think having cancer would be a good idea, because it would give me an excuse to sleep.


By: Susana Vega

Sometimes I think having cancer would be a good idea because it would give me an excuse to sleep. And I’m aware of how fucked up that sounds. I spent years caring for oncology patients, and yet somehow, when the thought crosses my mind, I’m filled with longing.

Then I think of one patient who, when I inquired if he needed anything as he sat in his chair, in the dark at 3 am, surrounded by his sleeping family members, simply responded with, “just live your life well”. I’m sure he’s dead now, and I’ve failed him. I’m 39 years old, and I don’t know how life has become what it is. Flash forward ten years from that night, and now, as a midwife. I care for countless women whose stories break my heart. Women who beg me to write them notes saying it’s ok to return to work for weeks after a c-section because they have no choice.

I know that I have so much to be grateful for; shelter, food, education, but why am I so exhausted? And why is this supposedly ok?

Recently I reached out to an old professor to inquire as to her recommendations on how to expedite the dissertation process of my Ph.D. studies. I just want to get this shit done. I shared her with how my time was divided between work, school, managing a home, and mothering. She commented on how one day I’ll look back and know-how spread thin I was. But feel proud, how “we all go through this,” and it’ll all be “worth it”. And I chant this to myself, over and over, in some desperate attempt to soothe my nerves. To comfort myself when I yet again do some ridiculous thing because I just cannot focus.

Still, I cannot help but ask, how did we get to this point? How have I, as a first-generation American, a child of uneducated, poor, immigrant parents, who went along with their dreams of success, suffocated myself with such enormous student loan debt?

Is it a good idea?

Why must I be so desperate to go, yet again, back to school in the hope that this path will allow me more career flexibility just so that I can avoid long days and weeks of clinical work and patient care and spend time with my child? For a mother to be with her child is a luxury. And I know there are so many who relish the break, who are happy for time away. Not me. Don’t get me wrong, I like a little self-care, but I like my child’s company and find joy in watching him grow.

And so, others laugh at me when I say I’d instead take my kid to the zoo than go out and get drinks. And when my little one clings to my legs as I drop him off at pre-school, I want to stay back and not hand him over to someone else. But there is a mortgage to think about, and papers to write, and a retirement to save for, and when am I supposed to sleep again?

This is what life has become. What mothers have become?

We work, we breed, we work some more. Life is looking at the photo of my son that sits by my computer at work and saying I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. And I want to scream at everyone that this is not ok. It is not ok. It is not ok for women to suffer, because we can. Because we are supposedly fucking tea bags to throw in hot water. Life should be more than this.

Life should be a celebration of creation, the creation of our children, the creation of our ideas and inspirations, the creation of peace and community. I have so much that I want to share and teach my son. I have so much in me that I want to explore, book ideas, screenplay ideas, documentary ideas, but there is no time.

No time, no energy, no expression. No time for a good idea.