Tuesday, October 26, 2010

AWOL: Waiting for baby

I left work four days ago. Standing waiting for the elevator I felt tears well up in my eyes. Pushing back the emotion I turned my thoughts away from reflection and toward my next move.

A 38 week and 4 day little boy. Inside my uterus threatening to make his big arrival. Oh the places this little guy has gone (conferences in distance cities, organ procurement midnight travels) things he has seen (dying patients, miracle recoveries) and the drama overheard (dying great-grandmother, father unexpectedly unemployed). I could feel the strain of the pregnancy. In my hips and pelvis. On my mind. Being the wholesome expectant mother was inconsistent with my reality of 12 hour work days, two week blocks of call and Saturday and Sunday rounds.

It was time for me to move on. To move away from my office. To enter the parking garage and drive away. To pick up my two year old at day care in the middle of the afternoon. To arrive home in time to make dinner.

Really I had made it. Worked beyond emotional and physical pain. Accomplished professional milestones that I felt would justify my absence for maternity leave. But on that day instead of high fives on my way out- I felt a strong sense of disappointment. Despite all that I had done. Despite my sacrifices of health and happiness. To my (mostly male) colleagues at the end of that day I was still leaving. Taking a three month "vacation" where my work would need to be done by someone else.

Is it simply a scenario of wanting the cake and to eat it too? (And let me tell you I have indulged in my share of cake eating over the past nine months.) Honestly it would have been my preference to continue working up until my due date. To ease out of the most grueling work and ease into my transition home. Ultimately I had to call it quits. I needed a physical separation. I needed a vacation.

In my first days home I completed my patient charting, painted/organized the nursery, caught a matinee and napped in the mid-morning (and afternoon). It has been an active process of turning off my role as doctor, grappling with this guilt of desertion. What I have been able to do is sit and find my voice (hence the blogging). A week ago I feared that labor would come too early- leaving me to scramble and find a replacement for my hospital duties. Now I find myself, thank goodness waiting patiently, staring over at an empty bassinet as I type.

What I also found is strength. Strength that I was using every day, but somehow managing only to get by. Following a day at work too exhausted to climb the stairs to bed and overwhelmed to the point of tears. Now physical strength to attend a fall festival and join the family for a hike in the woods. Emotional strength to participate in the hospice care of my grandmother occurring five states away. Finding myself in the quiet and recognizing that there is plenty of me for this baby, my son and my husband.

Yes I do have a problem with work/ life balance. Partially to blame is my chosen specialty, but also to blame my own ambition. Achieving a sustainable effort is something I will continue to pursue- but for the time being I am the wholesome expectant mother. Hmmm, I wonder if there will be time for a pre-natal massage before my OB visit tomorrow afternoon?


  1. I'm not a mother or a doctor. I'm not even married anymore, for that matter. As a professional woman, though, I understand your need for work/life balance especially at this special time. Your work being what it is, that balance is near impossible. The scale swung severely to one side while you accomplished professional things during the long days. Now the scale has swung back, allowing you to nurture yourself and your family. Enjoy this time. Enjoy your family. The scale can swing back later and eventually may center itself a little more. I suspect, when we are younger and new to our careers and families, the balance of power between work and life swings wildly one between the other with every new weight of responsibility placed on one side. As we get older and more established with our colleagues and families, the shift of weight will only occur slightly as we learn the best way to balance happiness with drive.

    Best wishes to you. Let us know when your little one arrives?

  2. Good luck! And, don't feel guilty. Maternity leave is hardly a vacation.

  3. I wish you a safe birth JC. If you work out the work-life ballance thing, let the rest of us know (we're all still struggling with it!)

  4. Kellie (General Surgeon)October 26, 2010 at 5:43 PM

    HOpe everything goes well with the delivery.

    I am so blessed to work with the person that I do. He is "old school" but was very very supportive in my pursuit of motherhood. Had some major fertility issues and ultimately went the route of IVF. He took my 8 weeks of maternity leave in stride. He did call basically 24/7 and did not ask for "repayment".

    Did I mention I am a General Surgeon?

    I wish that everyone had supportive work environments.

  5. Glad you're having time to catch your breath before the new baby. My kids were both born 7-10 days early and being tired did not help during delivery. Who in the world thinks maternity leave is vacation? &*%$ men.

  6. Safe delivery! From what I read you excel at whatever you try. Just remember to give yourself a break sometimes. Best wishes.

  7. I hope it all goes well, JC. Good for you for taking time off! Enjoy it as much as you can.

  8. Interesting about turning on/off our roles and self-perceptions, thanks for this post. Hope you got that massage, have more cake, and a smooth delivery any day now. Best to you.

  9. Wow, JC, you took the words right out of my mind (7 years ago). I was a surgery resident, pregnant during my second year - and prided myself on missing zero days during pregnancy. Well, actually, I did go home early after I had an amniocentesis one day, but they told me I had to....I remember looking forward not to meeting my baby, but to my vacation. Turns out, she was colicky and I had some adjusting to motherhood to do - so it was not so much of a vacation actually. I hope every minute of yours is wonderful, and hopefully you'll be much more graceful about the change than I was! Good luck, and thanks for the memories!

  10. I'm a GP who also does ER on maternity leave and find it hard not to sign up to a million projects that would further my career but also take up a lot of time and energy. However, I tell myself that my baby changes so much every day and as retirement age for our generation is probably going to be closer to 75 than 65, I have another 40 years of work life ahead of me. Sometimes it makes me stop signing up....
    Good luck and enjoy!

  11. Forgot to add that if mommy ain't happy ain't no-one happy is my motto. So I do sign up for more stuff than some people think I should. Same old, same old...


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