Sunday, June 13, 2010

My "Maternity Leave"

About 3 weeks after my son was born I read this post on our blog. At the time I was extremely jealous as I read about the author’s extended leave. As I began to consider my ‘maternity leave’ I realized that I could quite possibly have a truly unique situation on my hands.

I work in private practice and my husband is an amazing SAHD. We had been waiting to adopt a baby for 3 years, then one miraculous day in November we got THE call. Your baby is here… pick him up tomorrow. We were beyond excited. Wait, did you say Tomorrow? As in ‘24 hours of notice’. As in my schedule is booked solid for the next 3 months including a massive number of December surgeries. Yes! That was the big News. As I gave my office manager the wonderful news she hugged me tears streaming down her face but quickly after the congratulations was the question… what are we going to do with your schedule? Hmmm. Let me get back to you on that.

So, of course, I cancelled by patients for the next 3 months so I could bond with my child? Ummm, actually ,no.

After a couple of days I realized something… I was essentially a man here. I am the sole bread winner. I didn’t need to recover or breast feed; and there is a parent home full time with the kids. How would other men handle this? I thought of my own patients whose husbands took a week, maybe two off at the most,* when their babies were born. Being in private practice was great, I make a good living, I set my own schedule, I am my own boss….. but if I don’t work I don’t get paid**. I strongly considered taking an extended leave and taking out a loan, but realistically I wasn’t sure that was wise in this economy. Also, so many of our patient postpone surgery until they have met their deductible, that the surgery schedule in December is full. Asking my patients to see some other provider in our office for their pap smears and minor issues is one thing, but when someone is having surgery they want THEIR doctor. So this was my dilemma.

So, essentially I compromised. I took 3 weeks ‘off’ (I did run in and do a few surgeries), then worked 2 days a week for a few weeks. After a month I went to 3 days a week then returned to working 4 days a week (my usual schedule) after 6 weeks. I’ve also taken lots of other random extra days off here and there. This plus my husband home full time and several weeks with grandparents visiting has actually lead to an amazingly smooth first 6 months.

I feel extremely bonded with my son and feel this “maternity leave” was so much less stressful than my maternity leave with my older son when I was recovering from a c-section and having breastfeeding issues. My partners and nurse practitioner were wonderfully helpful in seeing my patients when I was on a reduced schedule. Luckily my son has been a good sleeper and the transition has gone quite smoothly.

I realize that a lot of women are forced to take a reduced maternity leave because of school/training and don't have the advantage of having control of their schedules. I feel lucky that mine worked out so well and my son has such an amazing dad as a primary caregiver.

*I recently had a patient schedule her c-section for a Friday so her husband could “have the weekend’ to bond with the baby?????

**My overhead is quite high. I still have to pay my employees and malpractice even when I’m not working. Taking 3 months off work would but me at least $50,000 in the hole.


  1. Actually, more part time, extended maternity leave would be very helpful to many of us. Being off full time then back full time really doesn't give us the flexbility to adjust as our bodies heal, our children grow, our care arrangements change and so on. Simply establishing a strong bond with a new baby doesn't obviate the subsequent challenges in balancing care and work. In my academic practice, I had to argue with the chairman to let me go on 75% "full professional effort" status--the rules forbidding part time work were designed to keep people from setting up competing private practices. I did finally get that as an accommodation to being a parent--and that form of "maternity leave" actually lasted until my youngest child was about ten!

  2. I am glad to know that you were able to make it work. I will begin my second year of medical school in August, and I am due October 15th. The medical school has been very encouraging in that I can make it work, but I am scared. As of now with a rough draft schedule, my "plan" is to take an exam on the morning of October 11th and walk across the street to be induced. That gives me until the 29th to be ready for the next exam. Thank goodness all lectures are recorded and are online. Luckily my husband works for a company that allows him to take a lot of (unpaid) leave. He plans to take at least 6 weeks off, and he may take up to 12 weeks if we need him to. Thank you for sharing how you made it worl!

  3. I'm also a second-year due unfortunately 12 days before a huge exam. As I'm not in favor of inducing for the first child for non-medical reasons, I'm going to be REALLY hoping my baby is on time. My "maternity" leave is two weeks at Christmas. I plan to become an OB/GYN, so I like hearing your idea of how to manage your maternity leave as a working professional. Thanks for sharing this!

  4. Thank you for sharing this, RH+ (and juliaink). It's nice to see how women make things work.

    I just finished reading Opting Out? by Pamela Stone. Sounds like the real issue, like juliaink mentioned, is what happens *after* the maternity leave--if you get it in the first place. I really hope our generation of mothers can find a way to make flexible schedules a more common and accepted occurrence in medicine.

  5. Every situation is different and you have to do what is best for your particular family at that particular time. Sounds to me like you've got that figured out pretty well.

  6. I am so frustrated by the overall lack of maternity leave. I am currently trying to make changes for our residency program and meeting so much slack.... It's esp ridiculous b/c I'm in Peds, where being a parent makes such a difference to how you practice. Our daughters first pediatrician was the assistant head of the program- and single and we fired her b/c she was horrible as a general pediatrician! Now as parents we only see docs who have kids. of all of the "professional" careers, across the board we have the worst policies. My husband is also the primary parent in our family- mostly b/c his call schedule is way better than mine, but I'm not looking forward to my 2 weeks off with my second one- and as you said having all the breastfeeding etc responsibilities to go with it...

  7. I am now (finally!) a 4th year medical student. I want to give encouragement to the two second year students who posted a response on this blog! I had my second child during my OB-GYN block of 2nd year. I was so extremely scared when he came 3 days before my exam. I had a plan that included no induction, and breast-feeding exclusively...but had no idea how to make it work. Thankfully, the course directors were willing to work with me on whatever I wanted to work out. When I went in for my exam 1 week after my delivery (about 5 days after the class had taken theirs) I was shocked to find myself in a room with other students who had taken their exams late because they "woke up late". I let all of my guilt go at that moment, focused on my beautiful, healthy son, and pressed on--looking at power-point slides from my laptop as I breastfed my son. School ended 7 weeks later (Hopefully knowledge passes through breast milk too!!). I then took a year-long leave of absence to focus on my family and to enjoy learning more about OB-GYN outpatient medicine. I truly enjoyed bonding with my son, and the attendings with whom I worked. I feel extremely lucky. I hope to be able to manage a career as an OB-GYN and I am so glad to read these blogs with doctor moms making things work. Please keep them coming (especially when there is so much negativity on the web regarding OB and parenting and time off).

  8. Hi all. I need help. I am trying to challenge the administration on maternity leave but I need some guidance on wording. I will be drafting a letter to the board of directors given my concerns have thus far fallen on deaf ears. how can I grab their attention?


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