Monday, June 23, 2008

Researching my options for parenthood

Three years ago, I was finishing my first year of general surgical training. I’d love to say my husband was by my side, but he was at home, and I was spending six months in a dingy flat that used to be accommodation for psychiatric patients. It was my first six month rotation away from home, and hopping in and out of the cold bed multiple times on call nights felt pretty lonely.

One night, non-medical hubby asked me to make my career let me sleep at home. Not one full week later, I was approached by my final year tutor and asked whether I would consider a research degree. Bingo-shezam! I had my solution.

Not four months into my PhD program, I turned thirty. Vaguely thinking of fertility and body-clocks, I stopped taking the pill to “see what would happen”. Bingo-Shezam!

Doing self-directed research with preggo brain was a challenge, to say the least. The internet, prime procrastination tool, is just there behind that stats program window! Frantically, I finished what I could and sailed out on maternity leave, just in time for Christmas. Four weeks later, my beautiful Miss Z arrived in a fanfare of electronic beeps, hustled epidurals, botched large-bore IV cannulae and theatre lights.

She has felt at home in the spotlight ever since.

When I returned to study, I compared notes with my clinical friends. I realised I had found the perfect maternity break. Not only had I managed to sneak it in before my ovaries failed, I also had flexibility. The latish start; the early childcare pick up; the day off when she was sick: all unimaginably difficult as a surgical trainee. I even started to congratulate myself - who said there was no good time? Who said you couldn’t have it all?

Miss Z is now 2, and she has been joined by cuddly Mr J, 10 months (who has always been more reserved). I am about to return to the wards, and fellowship exams are just around the corner. I seemed to have blocked out my last few clinical rotations. I have vague memory of having to work weekends. I did have to work late a few nights as well, now that I think about it. Studying was pretty time-consuming too, I recall.

I thought I had found the perfect compromise, and my life was easy. I can no longer even imagine how much I loved helping patients; fixing them. Instead, I can only imagine the wrench of losing wriggly toes in my bed at 7:30, and giggling bathing at five. When I planned parenthood, it felt like something I could control. I could decide what my obligation would be, and what I would expect in return. There would be no compromises, and everyone would be happy all the time.

Luckily, it is much more fun than that.

But I still haven’t figured out the perfect maternity time. Have you?

Dr. Cris Cuthbertson is a surgical trainee in Victoria, Australia. She is currently midway through a PhD on pancreatitis, and will then return for two more years as a registrar before sitting for her fellowship exam. She is a mother to two children - 2 year old Z and 10 month old J. She maintains a blog at, which is focussed on medical productivity, with discussion of medical applications of Mac software.


  1. The perfect maternity time is an illusion that for physicians does not exist.

    The perfect maternity time starts nine months after you conceive.

    We spent a long time considering when a three months away would fit into my career. Now I'm 6 wks away from my 40th birthday and we've switched plans from conception to adoption.

    If and when a baby comes, I may have only a few hours warning.

    Know what I'll do? Call my boss and say..."see ya in 12 weeks."

  2. At-a-way, FD. You know what's important. Dr. C also gives MWAS a term for her times - trade-offs.

    My most recent post can be more broadly-applied than to parents of children with diagnosis. Get to the point where you are happy with the lifestyle you have created.

    Do any of you hire housekeepers? Seems a reasonable trade-off to me.

  3. I have a housekeeper! And I work non-clinical, and I still find it very hard at the moment.

    Since having my kids, the process got a lot easier, though. Now when a big decision comes up, I give it the "black and white trade off test". If I could only do one, would I have my kids, or would I pass my exam? Hard question, but I would definitely have my kids.

    If I only get to do one, I know I would go crazy, so I have to fit in the lesser around the greater. But the compromise becomes easier.

  4. Those terms work for me, too - "fit in the lesser around the greater".

    This group might be interested in an ABC series "Hopkins" on real doctor's lives (primarily broadcast for the people pining for Grey's Anatomy over the summer.)

    Literally, we don't watch TV in our home. We don't have cable or satellite, but occasionally the newspaper will alert me to something I might like. Anyway, thanks for letting be put in my two cents. Barbara

  5. I've got two great housekeepers - my 6 and 4 year old!! You're never to young to do chores!!!!!!!


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