I recently became a mom for the first time. The adventure of motherhood has changed me more—and faster—than I could have ever predicted.

Before my son was born, I worked for five years at an organization I loved, with a great team and challenging assignments. I had a job I was excited to return to after my maternity leave, and I wanted to continue to grow my career. I treasured my work and poured myself into it.

As my 4-month maternity leave drew to a close, however, I found myself struggling to imagine leaving my son for long days back at work.

The desire to stay home really caught me by surprise.

I shocked my co-workers (and myself even more) by deciding not to return and instead stay home with my son. As I have found in my life so many times, sometimes those unexpected decisions are the best ones.

Watching my son grow and learn something new every day is an amazing gift. I have no regrets about leaving my job , or about pressing pause on my career in general, and am soaking up this time with him. Yet despite the overwhelming positivity I feel about this decision, I have to admit that it was hard for me to share this personal choice and life change with family, friends and even strangers.

I worry about what others will think about this decision.

I worry they will think I was foolish for leaving my job when my career was on an upward trajectory.

I worry that they will wonder why I don't feel guilty for not contributing financially to my household.

I worry about their unspoken judgment.

I secretly dread making casual conversation with people I don't already know well—particularly when they ask the innocuous question, what do you do?

The first time I realized this question was worrisome to me was during a trip to my doctor's office for an annual physical and a flu shot. My husband had worked from home that day to watch the baby while I took a quick 30 minute trip alone for this visit. The nurse providing the shot, making polite conversation, asked me if I worked nearby and I fumbled. "Um... I live nearby, yeah. I just had a baby 6 months ago."

I realized at that moment that I was worried how she would respond if I just answered, honestly, that I was a stay-at-home mom .

A few weeks after this appointment, I was with my son at the bank, opening his very first savings account (remember pre-pandemic errands like that?). Again, during normal chit chat with the banker while opening our account, I found myself fumbling through a response to the "what do you do" question—trying for some reason to avoid saying that I hadn't returned to work after my maternity leave, and instead talking about where I used to work.

In my pre-baby life, I felt quite defined by my job, as so many of us probably do. It wasn't until I didn't have a "job" that I realized how deeply I felt that definition. My old life featured projects to complete, presentations to give, performance reviews, raises and promotions—tangible things I could point to in order to prove my success.

In my new life, the recognition may be less tangible than a promotion but, to me, it is much sweeter. Getting a knowing smile from my son after I pull his favorite book from the shelf. Being able to comfort him with just a cuddle. Seeing him crawl furiously down the hallway just to be near me.

My definition of success has changed, and I'm working on realizing that as long as I am okay with that definition, an outsider's opinion shouldn't matter.

There is so much to be proud of in staying at home, just as there is with working outside the home. But I was so used to thinking about what I "do" and how it defined me differently . I can still proudly be defined by what I do; others' judgement, if it comes, does not and will not define me.

Here's hoping that the next time I am asked my "dreaded" question, I will proudly and simply answer, "I'm a stay-at-home mom."

Whether you work, stay home or do it your own way, wear your mama badge with pride.

"I can do hard things" tee

It's not that you're doing it wrong, mama. It's just that it's hard. And you know what? You can do hard things. Sewn in Peru (where it's hand-signed by the woman who made it) and screen-printed in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this super-soft 100% Pima cotton shirt is the perfect gift for anyone who needs a reminder.

Mama necklace

What was intended to be a small gift from a mom to a fellow new mama, quickly grew into a signature piece with a following of its own: the MAMA necklace, in solid 14K gold.

"I was made for this" bracelet

Dealing with a tough pregnancy? Remember, "I was made for this." Need help reframing and comforting your mind during birth? Remember, "I was made for this." Questioning yourself as a mother? Once again, remember, "I was made for this." It's hard to remember what we and our bodies are capable of: Let this Oath Bracelet empower you to believe that you truly were made for this.