Monday, July 7, 2008

Second generation

I'm in a somewhat unique position in that not only am I a doctor-in-training with a daughter, but I am also the daughter of a former doctor-in-training.

My mother returned to medical school when I was three years old, living out a dream she had held for the last ten years as she taught biology to high school students and then became a stay at home mom after I was born. Unfortunately, the dream didn’t include her marriage falling apart a year later, turning her into a single mother.

I don’t have many memories from before my mother went back to school. As long as I can remember, I was always the kid who had to stay at the afterschool program or get picked up by a babysitter. I hated the afterschool programs--I always had one eye on the door, waiting for my mother to show up. And even on weekends, I couldn’t count on having her to myself, although I did have fun when she brought me to work with her on Saturday mornings.

Residency was really rough for us. Due to all the late nights and overnights and moonlighting for extra cash, we had to hire a live-in nanny. The nanny moved into my bedroom and I moved into my mother's bedroom. I really adored my nanny (who coincidentally had the same first name as my mother), and that was a good thing since she was the adult I spent the most time with.

My mother and I were always struggling to spend more time together. When I was in day camp during the summer, one day she sneaked out of work early to surprise me and bring me home. I was overjoyed. But as soon as we got home, someone noticed she wasn’t at work and called her to return. Back to camp I went.

For these reasons, I’m glad that my own daughter won’t remember my residency days, even though I know it’s been hard for her. On the first day I went back to work from my maternity leave, I said to my husband, "She has no idea that her whole little world is going to be ripped apart..." Every day when I leave in the morning, she reaches out for me and cries. And I think to myself, "What kind of mother am I to leave her like this?" But when I go to work, I’m earning the money that pays the rent and building a career that hopefully someday she’ll be proud of.

I'm not going to lie and say that 6-year-old me wouldn't have been preferred that my mother stayed home all day and spent every minute of her time with me. And I won't tell you that my mother doesn't sometimes say she regrets going back to school and missing those early years with me. But we are very close now and I think having so much time apart made us closer. The little time we spent together was that much more special.

And even though she wasn't there with a homemade bologna sandwich every day when I got home from school, on the evenings that she was home, I got to crawl into bed with her and sleep there all night long.


  1. I find it fascinating to read about your experiences, so different from my own.

    My mother stayed home when she had her first child, and has not returned to work to this day, when the youngest (of six!) is 23.

    I appreciate that she stayed home with us. Trouble is, she expects me to make the same choices she did. My parents' first response when I announced my first pregnancy was, "So you'll be quitting residency, then!"

    Although I work part-time, the choice to work at all is a thorn in my parents' side. I think my mother takes my decision not to stay at home full time personally, as a flippant dismissal of the choice she made years ago.

    I'm assuming your mother is supportive and understanding of your current situation - you're lucky!

    Thanks for your story.

  2. I think the fact that you seem to have graduated and been accepted to/from a variety of schools and apparently haven't spent time in prison bodes well for the childhood of a Resident.

    It sounds like you knew that your Mom loved you and that she loved what she chose to do.

    Within reason I don't think it hurts for a child to know that their parent works and likes what they do. Sounds like your Mom hit that balance pretty well.

  3. While not a physician, my mother (a nurse), held down a full-time job, a part-time job and went through grad school while I was a young child.

    Later, she apologized to us individually for not being there. My sister is a physician, too, and my brother is very successful in his line of work.

    Here's what I told mom, and I believe it is true: You taught us that women go to school and work hard. That's not a bad thing. And for Sister and me, the message obviously took.


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