Susan Choichon Ford mixes quiet prayer, dogged determination to find right job
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Charleston area employment snapshot
Here is how many people in the Charleston metropolitan statistical area’s labor force have jobs (and don’t) as of July 2012, the most recent statistics available:
Total labor force
S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
There was a day, an entire season really, when Susan Choichon Ford considered herself a strong young professional woman ready to climb the corporate ladder.
She lived in Chicago and made great money in medical sales working with obstetrics home care. It was a job that left her fulfilled in many ways — professionally, personally and financially.
“I felt like I really made a difference in women’s lives,” she recalls.
So when she and her husband had their first child, she continued to work and hired a nanny. But there were the moments when she would come home to find their nanny cuddling with her baby boy or singing to him or playing games.
“I always thought that should be me,” she recalls. “I remember myself coming home from school and seeing my mom. I wanted my kids to have that.”
When she became pregnant with their second child, and her husband’s job brought them to Charleston in 1996, she quit work. After all, she was good at her job. Jobs were plentiful.
She would return to corporate life later, when her children were older and the seasons changed.
This was a season for raising children.
Then her children grew — and her marriage crumbled. The season of jobs aplenty withered with the nation’s economic chill.
Today, the newly divorced mother of three faces a season of life she never imagined. This season demands that she support herself after 15 years out of the workforce.
Any stay-at-home mom knows each day can require the patience of Job and heroic multitasking. But it does little to fill a 15-year void on a resume.
Single at 48 with three children — ages 19, 16 and 13 — Ford needed income and employment benefits beyond her ex-husband’s child support and the beloved jewelry making business she had kept up for years on the side.
Naturally, she would look for a medical sales job. She crafted a resume. She scoured online and made phone calls. She sent out three resumes a day at times.
She thought about going back to school, perhaps to get a master’s in health administration. But she lacked the money.
Instead, she’s working as a sales associate at a downtown clothing store making $12 an hour. She needs a paycheck.
“What are my choices?” she asks.
Ford is a poised, educated, well-dressed woman who looks the part she feels society wants her to play.
Raised in a faithful family, she attended Catholic schools and sent her own kids to Catholic school. She felt close to her faith. But at her parish in Mount Pleasant, she too often wore a fake smile with her nice clothes to look the part.
“I didn’t want people to see me unhappy,” she concedes. “I was a strong woman. I didn’t want them to see me fall apart.”
But fall apart she did.
She felt she had let down God, her parents, her kids and herself. She stepped away from church.
From time to time she goes back, but mostly she prays alone.
‘Still pray every day’
While working on King Street, she discovered a tiny chapel inside the nearby Pauline Books and Media where she could share her anger and sorrows and hopes with God without people watching or judging. She asks God for help looking for a job and writes her needs in the Daughters of St. Paul prayer request book.
“Miracles happen in there,” Ford says. “I still pray every day. But now, I pray for God’s will, not my own.”
Where she felt more stable in her faith before her divorce, she now feels more spiritually alive, more in transition, in a more personal relationship with God: “It’s like I am on a spiritual quest.”
With her divorce finalized, she has changed her name from Susan Hauser to Susan Choichon Ford, adopting each of her deceased grandmother’s surnames. Both were strong women of faith, and their presence in her name represents her commitment to continue their example.
“I’m going back to the basics,” she says. “I’m learning to be on my own again and to be strong. It’s like I’m figuring out who I am again.”
Last week she had a phone interview with a recruiter. It was something small, but it was hope — and maybe a clue to what the next season of her life will hold.