Stories of Reflecting and Reconnecting

Three women rebuild their lives after events upend their best-laid plans.

While directing the Language Partners Program at Catholic Charities Maine, Malvina Gregory ’98 met “the one”—but he was Brazilian and undocumented. “Working in a field related to immigration, I knew what I was dealing with if our relationship continued,” she says. When a family crisis compelled Etelvino’s return to Brazil, she left family, friends, and a “dream job” to marry him, move to rural Padre Paraíso, and, a year later, give birth to daughter Gabriela.

“I knew who I was when I came here,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting it to break me down.” Adept at “forming a tribe,” she was disappointed when her in-laws didn’t step in to help and when her new friends didn’t call. After her mother’s visit, she felt alone, an “immigrant in a foreign country with a colicky baby who wouldn’t stop crying.” Prone to depression, Gregory needed social contact to stay balanced, but just getting out of the house was a challenge.

For Gregory, rebuilding community in her adopted home, the Internet was a lifeline—connecting her to “Mawrter Moms” on Facebook, letting her commiserate with an Argentine friend studying in the U.S., and giving her a forum to examine experience in her blog, Minhas Crônicas do Brasil. “When you give me a problem, that’s where I go to solve it,” she says. As she re-establishes trust in local family and friends, she writes to restore faith in herself. “In my darkest months, I held onto a card a Mawrter friend sent, describing me as ‘joyful,’” she says. “It took time to find that person again.”

“At 21, your brain is a physiologically and chemically different piece of equipment from your brain at 45.”

Graduating in an era after Betty Friedan and anticipating Leslie Bennetts’s The Feminine Mistake, Lauren Licata ’01 was cautioned by well-meaning friends and colleagues to factor fertility into her career plans. “I decided to go into surgery when there were very few mentors, including women, who would tell you, ‘You can do this,’” she says. “I dealt with a ton of sexism, but I kept moving forward, saying, ‘I can handle it.’”

But marriage to a critical perfectionist depleted her, and medical school left little time to reflect. When Licata didn’t get the fellowship she wanted, she says, “I was in a miserable place. I thought back to what made me happy in college, when I didn’t have to compete with or answer to anyone but myself.” Her subsequent choice to be a community surgeon is both a departure and a return. Emulating her mentor, who is “meticulous and caring, showing respect for the human being who has placed their life in his hands,” she feels resonance with the “mutual respect that was baseline at Bryn Mawr.”

Post-divorce, baby pressure persists as Licata rebuilds her life and surgical practice in suburban Long Island, where “success is marriage-home-kids.” But “I’m in charge now,” she says. Her collaborative style, as she talks through a surgery with her OR team or mentors a friend’s science-minded daughter, takes the shape of the support she once sought. These days, she measures success in gratitude from her patients and colleagues.

“A law partnership is like a marriage,” says Elleanor Chin ’93, a commercial litigator by training, rebuilding her identity after a painful “divorce” from her firm. “The concept evolved as a fiduciary and intimate legal structure and so to be ejected by my partners, essentially because I wasn’t a ‘good girl,’ was intensely psychically disruptive.” Afterward, she “dated” in the field for a few years; consulting in the area of electronic discovery kept her resume current and led to her new public sector job as a senior assistant attorney general with her state department of justice. Being tapped for her expertise was gratifying, but the time away—spent with her three children, publishing essays, and seeking mental health treatment—was transformative.

“It forced me to develop certain habits of questioning,” she says. “For three generations, every adult woman in my family has had depression and/or anxiety. I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I’m basically a high-functioning person with a long-term mental illness. If I have a shorter ‘battery life,’ I’ve got to operate differently, be self-aware and mindful, for the rest of my life.”

Watching her kids develop, and recalling who she was at Bryn Mawr, gives Chin insight into her middle-aged self. “At 21, your brain is a physiologically and chemically different piece of equipment from your brain at 45,” she says, pointing to the continuity and constant discovery that characterize midlife.