Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Forgive me for getting carried away here. I know it's the first day of September, but I stepped outside, and it was CRISP today. School buses were lumbering down the road, which I noticed more than usual since I have a kindergartener today for the first time. Regardless of when the autumnal equinox is, it's fall. I can feel it. My favorite season. And close to Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday.

In a half-hearted attempt to get our chaotic home in order before school started, I cleaned out our file cabinets this weekend. Well, actually just one of them. And just one drawer. But as JC points out, you've got to start somewhere. I picked an easy one, our "professional" drawer, with copies of diplomas, DEA forms, board certifications, licenses, transcripts, and hospital privileges forms, that usually doesn't require excessive discarding. At the back of this drawer was a folder I had almost forgotten about in the overwhelming busy-ness of my life as a doctor mom of three. It is labeled "Feedback" because that fits on the tab and is less embarrassing if discovered than "Affirmation" or "What you are doing does matter, Dr. Tempeh" or "Yes, your doctoring career has taken some hits because you have small kids, but take heart-- you have been good and will be again, and this is the folder to prove it". The folder includes glowing letters of recommendation (possibly intended for someone else) from when I was a young, energetic, childless resident applying for fellowship, over-the-top attending evaluations (clearly intended for someone else) from when I was a 36 week pregnant first-year fellow continuing to moonlight to save up for our first baby, and mostly a lot of thank you cards and letters from patients. I love this folder, and not only because it buoys my spirit when I wonder if I am losing my way, navigating these two lives that often run parallel and occasionally collide head-on. It is a little time capsule of my former doctor self that resides in our home. And it can bridge the gap when there is a dry spell of gratitude at home and at work.

As I sent my little guy off to full-day kindergarten today, I found myself wondering if I should have done these last 5 years differently in some way. I started working part-time 3 years ago. The extra time it has given me with my 3 kids is priceless beyond measure. But, at times I have wondered if it was worth it from a career perspective. After all, it wouldn't be that long until all of my kids were in school with full-time jobs of their own in some sense. Would I have sacrificed so much in my career by that point that I wouldn't be able to "get back," whatever that means?

The truth is that my career has changed for having kids, and it is probably kind of irreversible. Much like your body before and after children, you don't have to take the changes lying down, but you do need to come to terms with the fact that you won't ever get back to exactly the way you were before you had kids. And if you want to get back to something that closely approximates it, you are in for a long road and a lot of hard work.

But today, as I watched my little boy walk into his kindergarten classroom, then turn around to come back, kiss me on the cheek, and say, not "I love you" but "thank you, Mommy," I realized that I was in no rush to get back to my old life. I am happy right where I am. Fellow Doctor Moms, Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. So lovely - thank you for writing this. This is timely in my life of questioning choices and working like crazy to be as good as the other med students who don't have kids. I appreciate the reminder to zoom out a little so I see the whole of my work, not just the career aspect.

    And Happy Thanksgiving to you!

  2. Happy Thanksgiving. and "thank you" for this post at a point in my life when I really needed to hear this. It is affirmation to my fourth year med student ears.

  3. Tempeh - I think you did absolutely the right thing for you and how great is it to look back and have no regrets on the career choices you've made.

    I also have absolutely no regrets, but, as you know, chose to keep working full-time. I actually think motherhood made me more productive: having to be absolutely efficient and productive with my time at work.

    Whatever our choices as mothers, we have to be happy and fulfilled - I think it's clear that there are many avenues to this in medicine...it's just finding the right fit and not looking back!

  4. I have one of those files in the back of my filing cabinet too. There are times when its lovely to browse through. i've also committed career damage for going parttime for kids, and there are plenty of days I wonder if i made the right decision, and plenty I know I have. No matter which path we choose its hard!

  5. So what do you do when there's no "folder" and you KNOW you made a mistake and it is 19 years too late to correct it...then what.

  6. We all struggle with how to balance motherhood and doctorhood. My fear is that based on my inherent perfectionism no matter how terrific I am as a mom and MD I will never be satisfied with my efforts. Then despite being damn good I will constantly second guess myself. If I look for evidence that I am a bad mom I will find it. If I look for evidence I could be a better doctor I will find it. How do I become immune to the self sabotage that drives me to succeed but stands in the way of happiness?

  7. Anonymous- we all make terrible mistakes during our careers. There is nothing you can do to go back and fix it. But you can learn from it and not do it again and be aware that you've done a lot of good too- far more than bad. But I know that sometimes the things we have seen and done can haunt you for a long time

  8. We all have to make choices in life. Sometimes I think: Why am I doing this to myself? My life could be so much more relaxed!

    Would I be happier? Maybe. I still have that option in my back pocket if it turns out I hate being a doctor.

    In the end, life is not a big contest over who becomes 'more successful' and who has the biggest career. People who look at it that way strike me as rather pathetic.


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