Every year in my residency program, we are given what is basically a "practice board exam". It is hyped up as being extremely important--something that the program uses to judge its residents and something that fellowships might ask to see. We were told that if we did well, it would make our program look good compared to others, so "make sure you do good". Eep, pressure!
During my first year of residency, I was going to be 39 weeks pregnant when this three-hour exam was scheduled. Considering the importance attributed to this exam, I asked the female program director if I could either be exempt from the exam or take it under circumstances more comfortable for a woman who was nine months pregnant, since three hours straight in a tiny desk with a hard wooden chair did not sound tempting.
Before I conclude this little anecdote, I want to say that I bet I know what some of you are thinking. You're thinking, "What's the big deal? I took my REAL board exam while nine months pregnant, also while breastfeeding a one year old, and pumping during my 15 minute breaks. Also, I had eclampsia at the time and was actively seizing. And I didn't complain."
Admit it, that's what some of you are thinking.
Which isn't so far off from the response I got from my program director, who was the mother of three small children. She told me (via email), "We'll see. I was still answering pages when I was in active labor."
I'm not as strong as all that. When the epidural went in, my pager went OFF.
Still, this incident made me aware of the fact that while other physician mothers ought to be our greatest advocates, sometimes they are our worst enemies. There's a general thought from some female physicians: "If I did it, then why can't you??" I think we've all had encounters with physicians mamas who showed a surprising lack of understanding, sometimes even worse than the men.
I'm guilty of it too. When other women with kids take off a day because their child is sick, I automatically think, "Well, I came to work when my daughter was vomiting." Or when another resident started her maternity leave a whopping month prior to her due date, I couldn't understand why she was unable to work till the very last day, like I did.
And I hate myself for thinking that way. Female physicians should support each other and work together to foster understanding and acceptance of things like maternity leave or having non-insane hours that allow us to spend time with our kids. Everyone is different and just because we were able to work until the last day of our pregnancy or pop back to work three weeks after delivery or have a nanny that never calls in sick, that doesn't mean we shouldn't stand up for other women who might not be exactly like us.
(In case you were wondering, I was granted extra time for that exam.)