Living With Kids: Amber Johnson

Today I am going to introduce you to Amber, a nurse midwife who lives with her family in Boulder County, Colorado where her husband works in software. Because COVID forced them to move their kids to online school like so many others, Amber and Josh decided that this might be the perfect time to move over seas, and Amber recently accepted a nursing teaching position in Uganda starting in the fall of this year. Amber graciously opened her home to us before they finalize preparations to leave. Welcome, Amber!

I’m Amber and I live in Colorado with my husband, two kids and our dog, Otis Redding. My husband, Josh, and I have been married for 15 years. We met, dated and married all within 1 year. I wouldn’t say that it was love at first sight but pretty early in our relationship, I knew that we had something extraordinary. To this day, I still find myself surprised by how well Josh and I work together with compassion and flexibility toward each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Because we married in our early 20s, I feel like we grew into adulthood together and those experiences forged our relationship in ways that made us increasingly compatible. We’ve spent the majority of our marriage swapping the roles of student (we’ve collectively completed 5 college degrees since marriage), primary income earner, and primary caregiver for our children. The juggle of parenting hasn’t always been graceful but I am proud that our kids see us as equal partners in all areas.  

Josh is an electrical engineer turned software developer. He is smart, analytical and committed to growing, learning and challenging himself. After our second child was born, he made a brave career shift from hardware engineering to machine learning and artificial intelligence, largely through self-taught skills he worked on during evenings and weekends. He has a home office and worked remotely long before the pandemic made it cool. His work-from-home position is likely the only reason our family stayed afloat during the pandemic. Josh loves exercising, mountaineering and rock climbing. He’s one of the few engineering-minded people I know who also has excellent people skills.

Our oldest, August, is 11 years old. His birth encouraged me to become a midwife. August was named, in part, for Saint Augustine who said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” He is sensitive and intelligent. He is an engineer at heart, just like his dad. He loves to learn how things work and to create with his hands. At the age of 3, we realized he innately understood dry and self-deprecating humor which brings us endless laughs. He loves playing piano, rock climbing, and reading. He recently created a YouTube channel to post reviews of his favorite books. He made a commitment to read 50 books this school year and is on track to surpass that goal. 

Eliana, our youngest, is 9 years old. When I was pregnant with her, Josh and I had an overwhelming sense that, with her, our family was complete. She has enjoyed every bit of the savoring that comes with knowing she would be our last child. I like to say that my firstborn brought the forward-thinking excitement of each new stage of parenting and my last child taught me how to slow down and savor my motherhood. Eliana is confident, outgoing and brave. As a toddler, we lovingly referred to her as our “little honeybadger”. Our doting on her has led to a plethora of amusing nicknames: Elle, Ells, Bells, Elle-Belle, Bird, Birdie, and Bird-Bird. Her brother once referred to her as “a pimple” in the midst of a heated argument and our family laughs about that absurdity almost daily. She’s competitive and approaches the world as if nothing is out of her reach. She loves drawing, rollerblading, anime, and sleeping in. 

When people find out that I am a nurse-midwife, sharing birth experiences and stories from my profession often dominates the conversation. Birth, for all families, is transformative. I became interested in midwifery because a nursing school instructor told me that how a woman feels about her birth experience impacts her for a lifetime. With the birth of my own children, I internalized this truth.  

Over time, my family and I have developed a few funny responses to acquaintances who do not know what a midwife is or what they do. There’s a surprising amount of misinformation about midwives. Before I became a midwife, I was a registered nurse. As a nurse, I worked in Peru and Costa Rica and then in Colorado before I decided to pursue midwifery. After the birth of my second child, I completed my master’s degree in nursing to become a nurse-midwife. My role is similar to other types of advanced practice nurses such as nurse practitioners. A key difference between midwives and nurse practitioners is that, in addition to providing primary care for women throughout their lifespan (including gynecologic and contraceptive care), I also provide pregnancy care and have the joy of attending births! 

Many midwives refer to themselves as “baby catchers” because this language highlights that it is the mother who “delivers” the baby and midwives have a supporting role. This is midwifery in a nutshell: empowering women while promoting evidence-based healthcare. The most common misconception about midwives is that we only attend births at home. Although some midwives do provide home-care for birth, most nurse-midwives practice in the hospital or birth center settings. I work for a collaborative physician-midwife practice and attend births at my local community hospital. Now six years into my career as a nurse-midwife, I have “caught” hundreds of babies in my community!

I have a non-traditional work schedule that includes both office hours and time “on call” for the hospital. I often work nights, weekends, and holidays and rotate my schedule with 3 supportive nurse-midwife partners. My husband and kids don’t know what it’s like to have a mom with a traditional 9-5 job. We like to joke that babies don’t know about calendars or clocks. Hopefully this makes clear how important it has been to have shared parenting duties with Josh. We’ve also become flexible when we celebrate birthdays and holidays: festivity can happen any day you choose!

We live in Boulder County, Colorado, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. We originally moved from the midwest to Colorado where Josh completed his master’s degree at the University of Colorado. 12 years later, it’s been nearly impossible to find a reason to leave Colorado. We love our location because we are a short 20 minute drive to city and mountain activities. We take full advantage of both locales as enthusiastic members of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and supporters of the Colorado Symphony as well as avid hikers and campers. We love exploring Colorado: the hot springs, skiing, epic hikes, kayaking, camping, biking and climbing. The opportunity for outdoor adventure is limitless. Colorado has four distinct seasons and boasts over 300 days of sunshine a year! Our neighborhood is surrounded by protected open space with miles of well-maintained trails overlooking the Rocky Mountains. 

Colorado, in general, was not hard-hit by the housing market collapse of 2008 and has a relatively expensive cost of living. Even so, Josh and I were able to purchase our first home, a modest townhome for $240k, when we were pregnant with our first child and living on my salary as a registered nurse. We look back at this time and still feel surprised that we were able to make the move from the midwest to Colorado as a young, poorly paid nurse and graduate student. We stayed in our townhome longer than we expected and made some significant home improvements. When we sold, we were able to make enough profit for a reasonable down payment on a single family home in Boulder County. We moved to our current neighborhood because I wanted to be close to the hospital where I work, the housing market here is stable, and the school district has an excellent reputation. Our home is one of the less expensive options in the neighborhood and is worth about $600k. 

Early in our marriage, Josh and I naturally fell into the habit of living on only one salary. This has offered us both the flexibility to go back to school, dedicate more time to parenting, make career shifts and travel the world. When both of us are gainfully employed, we continue to live modestly because we appreciate the flexibility and financial cushion. 

Colorado as a whole isn’t known for its diversity but our neighborhood has a surprisingly diverse population. Our kids have peers from Korea, Israel, Costa Rica and India. Boulder has a growing tech and startup job market which draws families from all over the world.   

We live in a suburb of Boulder that offers some of the most affordable homes in the county. Unfortunately, these homes are aged, not routinely updated, and many have issues with the foundation due to shifting soil. When we purchased our home, there were only a few homes on the market and we had to be flexible with our ideal home. Our house was previously owned by a bachelor who had several male roommates. The maintenance was lacking and virtually no updates had been made since the home was built in the late 1990s. Luckily, Josh and I both enjoy home improvement projects! 

We renovated the kitchen and master bath, replaced the deck, installed new flooring and completed several other cosmetic updates. We felt confident to invest in these home improvements because there is always a high demand for houses in our area, especially ones that have modern updates. I am not shy about making our home fit our needs and tastes. For example, we painted the floor tile in our entryway with a stencil and, although it might not fit everyone’s taste, it brings joy and character to our home. I enjoy the challenge of updating and personalizing our home in low-cost ways. 

In 2020, while working as a frontline healthcare worker during the COVID-19 pandemic, I completed my doctorate in nursing. The past year brought unexpected challenges on all fronts: balancing careers and family, navigating virtual schooling for our kids, participating in social and racial justice initiatives in our community, and advocating for political platforms that align with science and compassion. The amount of time our family spent together during quarantine helped us take time to examine how we want to invest our time, money and skills.

I began my nursing career volunteering in Peru and Costa Rica and Josh and I have also spent time traveling in Africa. It’s been a long-term goal of ours to work in an international, low-resource area and expose our kids to different cultures. Our kids are pre-middle school and successfully transitioned to online learning which gave us confidence that the timing to move out of the country might be right. I began to look for positions as an international educator and, after a rigorous interview process, accepted a position as a visiting professor of nursing at a Lira University in Uganda during the 2021-2022 academic year. 

We are thrilled for this new adventure and although the logistics feel overwhelming right now, we’re confident that our family is ready. We plan to find renters for our home in Colorado and have had a gracious friend offer to give our dog, Otis, a temporary home. We’re still working through the details of internet access in Uganda, homeschooling plans, travel during the pandemic and putting our life in America “on hold”. Once again, Josh and I will rotate roles as I take on this new position and he becomes the primary parent for homeschooling abroad.

I’ll be transitioning from working clinically as a nurse-midwife here in American to the role of nursing professor in Uganda. This feels both exciting and daunting! Part of my role in Uganda will be helping to launch the university’s first graduate-level program for midwives. Access to well-trained birth attendants such as midwives is both life-saving and life-changing for women in low resource areas. I’m honored to be part of this endeavor. 

In some ways, the pandemic did not change our family’s schedule. Josh has continued to work from home as he did before the pandemic. As a healthcare worker, I also continued to go to work throughout the pandemic. In the early months of the pandemic, it was strange to be one of the few Americans to continue on a normal work routine and I had a lot of worry about exposing my family to COVID-19. I chose to decrease my work hours somewhat when our kids were home full-time and needing more assistance with virtual learning. Prior to 2020, we had no experience with homeschooling or virtual learning. We had many failed attempts at a schedule or routine before we settled into what worked for our family. Luckily our kids are old enough to have some level of independence in their school work which helps on the days that I am away from home and Josh is working in his home office. 

Our kids were surprisingly adaptable this year as they navigated virtual school, drive-by birthday parties, Zoom piano recitals and Facetime play dates. Due to social distancing guidelines and my increased risk as a frontline healthcare worker, we cut back on all non-virtual extracurricular activities such as rugby, gymnastics, boy scouts, and indoor climbing. In many ways, this sparse schedule was a relief in a very busy season of life. We live far from our extended families and have always felt that our nuclear family was closer than most. This year made us appreciate how we rely upon each other. We have so many inside jokes, comforting rituals, and quirky habits that bring us all a deep sense of belonging. 

The thing our family misses the most is travel. As a family, we typically travel 2-4 times a year. This past year has been the longest stretch of time our kids have not been on an airplane in their entire lives. 

It has been challenging to watch the families I serve navigate healthcare and pregnancy during the COVID-19 pandemic. For the past several months, I have been attending the births of patients who have never met me without a mask covering a majority of my face. The entirety of their pregnancy has been impacted by the fear and unknowns of COVID-19. A large portion of my doctoral work was focused on promoting maternal mental healthcare by pairing routine depression and anxiety screening with onsite mental health care consultations. This work began before the pandemic and became infinitely more critical during the past year. 

My work promoting maternal mental health has made me more sensitive to the mental health needs of my own family, especially during the pandemic. Quarantine, social distancing and virtual learning clearly delineated the introverts and extroverts in our family. Our introverts have largely thrived with the freedom from social engagements and rigid schedules. Our introverted child has blossomed and enjoyed pursuing interests they were too busy to dig into before our schedules were brought to a standstill during the pandemic. On the other hand, our extroverted child has struggled with loneliness, mourned the loss of social engagements and, as a result, has worked harder to strengthen the relationship with their sibling. The amount of time our family has spent together has made each of us more sensitive to individual needs and forced us to learn to resolve our disagreements efficiently.

We recently listened to a This American Life podcast episode called The Show of Delights. This episode resonated with us because it is something we have been cultivating throughout 2020 and into 2021. We collectively obsess over our dog’s cuteness, listen to great music, have movie marathons, support our local Indian restaurant with regular takeout, and generally elevate the everyday by recognizing delight when we experience it. In the first weeks of the pandemic, we created a rainbow decoration on our front window as a way to project hope and joy to our socially-distanced neighbors. Our faded rainbow has been up for nearly a year but we cannot bear to take it down because it is a daily reminder of joy during a year of hardship.

I hope our kids remember that their parents were continually learning, growing, and cheering for each other. I hope they remember our home as a safe space to be, feel, explore, question and grow. I hope our kids forget how stressed their parents were during the 2020 election cycle.  

I loved my pregnancies, births and breastfeeding my babies. Even so, I did not thrive during the baby stages of mothering. With 2 children closely spaced in age, those infant years sometimes felt like losing myself to their physical needs and constant closeness. As an introvert, I struggled to find my space in mothering young children. I often joke with parents that the glowing amnesia that comes with pregnancy, birth and early mothering is mother nature’s way of encouraging us to have more babies. If we vividly remembered the hardest parts of becoming a mother, we would be more cautious to repeat the process. As a midwife, I am in constant contact with families in the midst of these hard, life-changing stages of fertility, pregnancy, birth and parenting. For me, it is a stark reminder that the struggle and the magic happen simultaneously. And, luckily, the passing of time brings nostalgia for the good parts. 

Once my kids could talk and communicate, I loved seeing their personalities and inner lives. I am endlessly fascinated that I gestated and birthed two humans who are wholly their own. They are lovely and complicated. The weight of growing them into kind and compassionate humans who contribute goodness to the world often feels immense. It’s the most important thing I will do with my life. 

I wish someone had told me that you never reach a moment of feeling like you have it all together. I care for women who look to me for medical advice, guidance, and wisdom in pregnancy and parenting. I am, of course, an experienced mother, nurse and a doctorally-prepared midwife. I like to quip that “the first lesson in parenting is to realize how little you know” and “there is no one right answer”. As a new mother, I remember looking around and wondering how everyone has this parenting gig all figured out. Now, over a decade into mothering, I try to convey to new mothers that we’re all just making it up as we go. We are all just doing the best we can.  

I wish someone had told me that all of my feelings and emotions would be magnified when I became a parent. All of the love, loneliness, joy and frustration would feel big and overwhelming. My motto as a mother has always been “this too shall pass”. I tell myself this when I need to remember that all of the good parts and the bad parts come and then go. This gives me the confidence to savor the good and weather the bad, gracefully holding on and letting go in turn. This mantra was life-giving during the COVID-19 pandemic and I have a feeling it will serve me well this coming year in Uganda.

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Thank you, Amber! What an amazing opportunity for Amber’s family to experience a new culture and travel when their kids are small. I hadn’t every considered that spending a year or so getting used to educating kids on line does open up the possibility of doing that school from…anywhere. As long as you can get a reliable internet connection, there is nothing that says they have to be in physical proximity to their school.

And I appreciate the work that Amber is doing in midwifery and caring for the women and families in her community. I can’t imagine that dealing with pregnancy and birth during the COVID pandemic has been easy. It can already be such a stressful time of life and having to worry about getting sick on top of that must be so hard. How wonderful that it must to be to have an educated, compassionate person in your corner to help navigate all that.

SOURCES

Blue living room couch 

Living room arm chair

Kitchen chairs

Oversized egg chair


Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram too.

Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at features@designmom.com.

8 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Amber Johnson”

  1. This is one of those Living with Kids posts where I think, wow, it would be nice to trade lives! I have also found the pandemic to be a critical time to stop and reflect on the way our lives have been, and what changes we should make. I have never been and never expected to be so involved with my kids’ education, and now we’re homeschooling. I lot of things that we always did, like big birthday parties, have fallen by the wayside, probably permanently. I have made major changes to my work schedule beyond what would have been acceptable pre-pandemic and have spent vastly more time with my kids. All that said, we haven’t made any changes nearly as significant as relocating to Uganda! I wish your family an amazing year abroad full of personal growth, new friendships, adventure, and good health.

  2. Amber, Thank you so much for sharing your lovely home with us, You are living in one of my dream locations (CO–near the mts). I love how you and your husband have a spirit of adventure and service–that you are clearly passing on to your children. I’d love to hear all about your experiences in Uganda. Good luck!

  3. Loved hearing from Amber. Midwives are so, so important globally and in the US, and I wish more people understood the role of midwives. Thank you for sharing your story, Amber, and good luck abroad. Launching a new midwifery program sounds absolutely amazing!

  4. What a fun post to read! Best of luck to you in your next adventure, Amber. I love being inspired by the various ways people live their lives and the opportunities they take. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Such a lovely home! And yay for midwives! Some of my favorite people on earth. Can I ask about your source for the bathroom tile (floor). I love it. Best of everything to you and your family, Amber!

  6. Such a fun read! I spent a semester as a visiting professor in China, where my daughter had her 11th birthday. I had read that was a great age for a child to live in another culture. That was certainly true for my family. A decade later I attribute that experience as a key reason for how close we are today. In this pandemic when so many of us feel trapped where we are it is a joy to read of a family still willing to choose adventure. Amber’s story makes me realize that I have more choices than I sometimes remember.

  7. I LOVED my midwives! I am forever grateful for both my midwives (different cities for both my babies), and I still send a Christmas card to one of of them, so she can see how my daughter has grown all these years.
    I hope for such amazing adventures and success for your time away, and I thank you for opening your beautiful home! Love the stencils and colors!

  8. Your home is lovely Amber, and so airy and neat! It makes me want to rearrange my home! Thank you for sharing, your work is so inspiring. Good luck in Uganda, that’s going to be a great adventure.

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