A Journey of Resilience

By Dr. Amy Semel, as told to Caroline Briselli and Jonathan Beyoghlow

In 2011, while I was working as an inclusive special education teacher in New Jersey, my husband and I decided to start a family. I planned my pregnancy so that I would be able to take my maternity leave around spring break and return to teach in the fall.

family portrait in the woods

We became pregnant with triplets, which forced me into medical bedrest early in my pregnancy. I gave birth at 31 weeks, and it soon became clear that our daughter, Pazel Rein, wasn’t developing like her two brothers. With that in mind, not to mention the cost of daycare for three babies, I stayed home with my triplets instead of returning to work full-time. I didn’t want a gap on my resume, though, so twice a week for a few hours, a friend would babysit while I taught psychology part-time at a local college.

In 2013, when the triplets were a year and a half old, my husband was offered a job opportunity in Alabama. Although we did not know anyone in the area, we decided to move, with the understanding that life’s a journey and, if we went to Alabama and it didn’t work out, we’d just move back. I always knew I wanted to return to work full-time once the triplets were in kindergarten, so after we moved — in addition to teaching night courses — I decided to work on my Ph.D. in psychology. That may sound like an insane decision while raising triplets, but I knew I wanted a leg up when I started my full-time job search.

Before I finished my doctorate — when my triplets were five years old — we found out we were pregnant with our fourth child. Pazel Rein was still not developing correctly; she was non-verbal, in a wheelchair with a feeding tube and legally blind. Developmentally, she was a newborn level, but we still didn’t know what was wrong.

When I was 29 weeks pregnant with our son, we found out that Pazel Rein had a genetic disorder. We were glad to know what was causing her developmental struggles, but because it was genetic, the doctors said there was a 25% chance that our third son would have it, too.

Our daughter unexpectedly passed away in her sleep on July 12, 2017, six days after receiving the genetic disorder diagnosis. Although that was the scariest moment of my life, I knew we had done everything we could to support her and that I had to be strong for my boys; there are things you can change and things you can’t. I wish she was still here, but as I tell my sons, we are so lucky to have been chosen to be her family.

No one should bury their child, and with our son due in 10 weeks, we were imagining that we might have to bury two. When he was born, though, he was — thankfully — completely healthy. I went on to finish my dissertation in 2019 with my son sitting on my lap, thinking about my return to work. A friend of mine, who worked for Northrop Grumman, had previously told me about the company’s iReturn program, which provides opportunities for professionals who have taken a career break to return to the workforce. I wasn’t sure, though, how my education and psychology background could relate to the work that Northrop Grumman does. All I really knew was that I wanted to make a difference and help others succeed.

Eventually I went on YouTube and looked up videos about the company’s work. About a year after the discussion with my friend, I mustered up the courage to submit my resume and was hired. After my 12-week iReturn “returnship” — during which Northrop Grumman took a chance on me, supporting my return to work through training, professional development and networking opportunities— I accepted a full-time manager position in November 2019.

It’s definitely been a big learning curve but, today, as a project manager — supporting everything from the Pathways and internship programs to engineering training — I feel like I am making an important contribution to Northrop Grumman’s overall mission. I hope that sharing my story inspires others who feel stuck or unable to achieve their goals because of their circumstances. I find great joy in helping others find their purpose in and out of work — and at Northrop Grumman, I’m doing just that.

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