I will never forget that moment sitting on the exam table and attempting to process the words from the doctor. “Oh wow we haven’t had a set of identical twins in years! Congrats!” My IVF journey had been anything but typical. Despite being healthy and young, my first retrieval only yielded 4 embryos and just one survived to Day 5. I pinned my hopes and dreams of motherhood on that ball of cells, knowing that your first, fresh transfer generally does not work. But here I sat, not only pregnant but expecting twins! A million thoughts ran through my head but on top of my mind was, what about my job? Will I still be taken seriously? Can I even DO my job anymore?
I truly, whole-heartedly love my job. Very few people can say this and mean it. The place I am at in my career is my dream job, so surprise twins caused me to panic, especially as my field tends to be male dominated given the demands. I am Director of Humanitarian Assistance for a mid-sized international non-profit, which means I get to travel the world, sometimes on extremely short notice and for extended periods of time. A twin pregnancy, especially a mo-di one (monochorionic diamniotic – one placenta but separate amniotic sacs), comes with a lot of complications and unknowns. Fortunately, I was blessed with a fantastic pregnancy. How many kids can say they visited African twice and India before they were even born?! They also “participated” in a HEAT training, which stands for Hostile Environment Awareness Training, where I learned hostage negotiation tactics and evasive driving maneuvers. My organization was hesitant to let me keep traveling but I wanted to prove that this would not slow me down and it was cleared by my doctors.
Once the girls were born and my maternity leave was over, I took my first work trip when they were 9 months old. This was not my first time away from them, but it was still 10 days in a Dominica, a small island in the eastern Caribbean. Since then, I have visited 10 countries (some multiple times) and crossed a few things off my long bucket list. Not a lot of people can say they rode out a hurricane, gone on safari, visited an active volcano or floated in the Dead Sea. Of course, it’s not all snorkeling and dreamy landscapes, there is a lot of hard work I do there as well. Donors, whether that is a government or foundation or someone in the US, give us money to respond to disasters around the world and it is my job to ensure those funds are being spent properly and we are reaching the most vulnerable, underserved communities in the world.
This also means a lot of personal sacrifices, many of which didn’t mean much before children but give me pause now as we try to establish our own traditions. Last year, I missed Thanksgiving thanks to my deployment to Honduras. I’ve missed countless secondary holidays like Memorial Day and President’s Day and am almost always on travel for my own birthday. The conditions are usually far from 5 star and I never fly anything but basic economy. Ironically, I hate camping and prefer a luxury hotel but something inside me switches to work travel mode. My stay in any situation, from living in a tent in a refugee camp for a week to a hotel with giant cracks in the ceiling for 2 weeks post Nepal earthquake, is limited and finite. I am only there for a short time before I hop back on a plane but the people in these dire situations are living like this for much longer, some even the rest of their lives. In this business though, you cannot dwell too long on those facts otherwise you would become overwhelmed with the needs and lose focus of what relief efforts are possible with the resources you have been given.
When people find out that I travel the world for a living, I get asked two main questions, that I know would never be asked to my male counterparts. The first is do you feel guilty for leaving them? In short, no I do not. This does not mean I feel zero guilt. As with many working mothers, I feel like I am trying to do it all but failing at everything. But thankfully technology is an amazing thing that keeps me connected to my girls. Most of the time when we FaceTime, they could care less but it’s nice to see them even briefly and hear their little voices. My travel times are also a time for me to enjoy a hot shower, a full meal and get some good rest. Not all trips are equal but there is usually down time to focus on recharging myself. This in turn, makes me incredibly grateful to go home and focus on being the best mommy I can be. The second question, is how do you do it? My response is that I am incredibly blessed to have a village surrounding these little ladies. My mother retired from being a teacher in 2020 and generally, she and my dad watch them the entire time I am gone. Knowing the girls are safe, happy and being loved to pieces also allows me to focus on my tasks at hand. My mom is my best friend and I truly could not do this job without her support.
I know there will come a time when my grueling travel schedule has to change or slow down as the girls get older. And of course, the nagging fear that they will grow to resent me for being gone is always in the back of my mind. But I hope that I am raising my girls to have compassion for others (maybe future humanitarians!) and will one day understand the impact of my job and how mommy was helping give a life of dignity to those who have lost everything.
Carrie Taneyhill is a mama to two identical twincesses who works for an international non-profit geared towards humanitarian efforts and relief. She can be found on Instagram at @carrietaneyhill