Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I feel sorry for you

Last night we went out to dinner with a friend of my husband as well as his girlfriend. Both members of this couple were graduate students and didn't have any kids yet.

If you were to construct a Responsibility Scale to rate the obligations that various people have in their lives, I would say that being a medical resident with children would fall on the higher end and being a childless grad student would fall on the low end. The very very low end. Like, zero.

Naturally, the topic of my own career came up. When the friend discovered that I'm a resident, his first response was, "Wow, that must be REALLY HARD."

Then he added: "You must be EXHAUSTED."

Well, yes. It is hard and I am exhausted. But regardless of the hard truth of that statement, I absolutely hate it when people say that to me. Maybe in this case we could blame it on the fact that Melly had just thrown like five consecutive tantrums (damn teething), but it seems like that's the universal response I get whenever someone hears that I'm both a resident and a mother: sympathy.

I don't want sympathy. Not unless it comes with an offer of babysitting.

Sometimes I question my reasons for going to med school and if they were the right ones, but I have to say, I'm pretty sure I didn't go so that people would feel sorry for me. And I know I didn't get pregnant so that people would comment on how absolutely horrific and miserable my life must be.

Just once, when I tell someone about my job and my child, I wish they would say to me: "Wow, I'm so jealous of you. You have a wonderful, fulfilling career, and you have a beautiful daughter."

(And not be sarcastic when they say it.)


  1. It will happen. I have patients that say very similar things. "You have a beautiful family and such a *meaningful* career." Um, ok.

    Personally, I appreciate the sympathy. Being a mother is hard enough. Being a physician mother adds another level of difficulty. Don't be insulted, what they mean is that they are in awe of your great ability to be both mother and doctor. It's a back-handed compliment! :)

  2. I agree with Dr. Whoo.

    When they say, "It must be so HARD," they mean that as a compliment. They don't want you to think that they don't see how hard you work to be a successful mom and a successful doc.

    I get the jealousy comments now and then. Usually it's something like, "You are so lucky." I interpret that as a slam, like where I am had to do with the stars lining up a certain way, not because I worked really hard and sacrificed a lot.

    As women physicians, we had to fight to get where we are. Sometimes we still feel like we have to fight.

    The worst is behind you. Trust me.

    Peace, sister.

  3. Yeah, I know they don't MEAN it as an insult, but being as tired and overworked as I am, I am liable to misread it as that :) I don't know exactly why I find it so objectionable. I guess I just hate feeling like I'm pitied.

  4. As a mother of a very active 2 year old, who is at the (relative) beginning of the long journey to medical school, and residency, I'm VERY jealous of you, and I can't WAIT to be in your shoes. Of course it will be a hard road to walk, but it will CERTAINLY be worth it, and even fun along the way. Does it make me a bad mother to think that parts of being away from my son for 80 hours a week will be fun? I sure hope not.

  5. I agree with Dr. Whoo and Fat Doctor. I think it was kind of them to try to empathize and put themselves in your shoes.

    I LOVE sympathy because it restores my faith that others can be compassionate, can sincerely want to understand another's situation, and I truly appreciate that effort in others. It's so much better than the, "Well, you made your bed, so you sleep in it" attitude that I sometimes sensed from others on the whole being-a-mom-and-a-physician issue...

    Peace, likewise,

  6. Thank you for your post. You do have a lot to be grateful for. I'm 32 and a second year med student. I hope to someday have a "wonderful, fulfilling career, and a beautiful daughter" or son. Thank you all your writing, It gives me hope. O-

  7. "Wow, I'm so jealous of you. You have a wonderful, fulfilling career, and you have a beautiful daughter."

    I think this statement is true, and I am sorry it bothers you. FD, I do feel inclined to disagree with you, too. "You are so lucky" is how I feel.

    You see, for 25 years all I wanted to do was be a doctor. I wanted to be a surgeon or pathologist, or most especially travel to poor countries like Africa and help pro bono. I believe I would have been an outstanding doctor. I have the intelligence, the caring, the curiosity.

    But I don't have your other talent to get there. I can't memorize and I don't take tests well. I've tried repeatedly. I love to study anatomy and physiology, cell biology, pharmaceuticals, etc, etc, but I can't memorize quickly and I can't take tests well. The harder I try, the more nervous and stressed I get and the worse I do.

    I've tried over and over for years. I've cried hopeless tears. I've been told repeatedly that I'm highly intelligent and can do anything I want to do. Its simply not entirely true.

    Apparently I am very intelligent, I just don't have your talent. The idea that you can do anything you want to do as long as you try hard enough simply doesn't apply if you don't have that talent. If you are not talented you cannot be an opera singer or a pianist or a theoretical physicist, for example.

    I finally listened and went in a different direction. I have an MHA and am working on the administration side of healthcare- a combination that allows me to use my talents and interests.

    I still suffer a pang occassionally when I think about where I should be professionally right now. I think it is important to say, "I am jealous of you." And, "You are lucky."

    You did work hard to get where you are, but not everyone can achieve what you have. You are fortunate to have been able to match your talents with your dreams.



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