Monday, March 7, 2011

Guest post: One month down

I never thought this moment would arrive, but as of tomorrow, I will have been back at work for one full month after the birth of my daughter.  When I dropped her off at daycare the first day, I didn’t think I could survive it.  Now, I’m a savvy daycare mom, chatting it up with her teachers and settling into a routine.  One great thing is that she seems to love it, she smiles at her teachers and is universally known as the “happy baby with the curly hair.”  I survived and managed not to quit my job.

I’m taking a hiatus from surgical residency right now and in a basic science lab.  I hate basic science.  I’ve always known this.  However, when I found myself pregnant and bleeding and nearly passing out in ORs last year, I decided I desperately needed to make a change and I weaseled my way into a lab, telling myself I might love it and find my life’s work.  That was a lie.  I hate the lab.  Even more, I know that I would rather do a completely different type of research in my career and wish I was putting things in place to make that happen now, especially since my surgical career seems to be at odds with my new mommy desires.

My thoughts about this first month as a working mom:

#1 - People say stupid things

As a resident most moms get six weeks, and six weeks ONLY of maternity leave, which includes all of your vacation for the year.  I fought for eight weeks and I was extremely proud of being able to take this extra time for my daughter.  However, my return to work was met with some stupid, hurtful comments such as being asked how I could leave my daughter when she was so little and how they could never do the same.  But, I stand by my pride.  I fought for 2 (actually 2.5) more weeks with my precious daughter.  This is my life and our story and in this story that was a success.

#2 - Women in Medicine really do have to be super moms.

Shared parenting, at least for now, is a myth.  I feed her (I’m breastfeeding).  I change her 97% o the time.  I wash her bottles and her clothes and get her ready for daycare in the morning.  If I want to eat nutritious meals, I also cook.   If I want to eat my nutritious meals on clean plates - I do the dishes.  My husband tries, but I think only moms actually know how much moms do.  I have NO idea how this will translate one I leave the lab, I’m guessing a nanny and a maid (something else we can’t afford). 

#3 - From now on, I will always have a twinge of guilt and confusion about my career choice.

The first few weeks after my daughter was born, I was almost 100% sure that I was not going to complete my residency.  As time passes, I feel more capable of finishing.  I crave mentors and therefore read this site like a maniac.  I could write a blog entry every day about how I grapple with this issue.  While I was pregnant I wrote letters to my daughter that I plan to give to her someday.  Over half of them are in some way about my trepidation over pursuing a career in surgery and being a good mom.  My own mother was a stay at home mom and she poured her energy and love into all of her children so that we could be something great.  Now, I feel as if being something great is at odds with being a great mom. 

I had to fly out to a conference 6 weeks after my daughter was born.  It was my first talk at a national conference.  My parents, brother and sister drove down to see me.  It went really well - a big step in my career.  However, even though it felt good, my major concern was if I had pumped enough milk and all I wanted to do was get back home.

I don’t have any of the answers now.  I’ve decided to find peace in taking it one day at a time.

"cutter" is a third year general surgery resident currently taking a 2 year hiatus in the lab and the mother of a beautiful 3 month old.  She started reading this blog during intern year just as a source of encouragement from women in medicine, not realizing that she would soon be a mother in medicine too.


  1. Cutter- congrats on surviving the first month. It never is easy to be a MIM but your habits of organization will kick in to help. Don't be afraid to ask your husband to do more. Most men, my wonderful hubby including will not know what you need them to do unless you ask. He would not try "because you do it better anyway." If you do ask him, relax and go with the flow if the results are not quite what you would do. Hang in there, we are rooting for you.

  2. I second Sunnimom. Ask your husband for more help. There is no reason he can't do dishes or do the cooking (or the laundry or the shopping). A lot of men just don't know how to help.

    Congrats on making it through month #1!

  3. It is hard. As they grow up there will always be things that you miss because you can't get away from the office, summer breaks and teacher workdays where you have to struggle to find care when you want to be the one to do it youself. The good thing is that as an attending I am ultimately master of my schedule and am able to arrange volunteering at my daughter's school or having lunch over there some days. We do the best we can and I truly believe that my daughter is happy and knows that I love her as much as anyone could love their child. Hang in there, you're doing great!

  4. Anne Montgomery, MDMarch 7, 2011 at 12:47 PM

    Add my "hang in there" comments. I waited til after residency to have my son, but was in small town family practice, and working harder than I ever did in residency. Figured out that no, you don't just get a nanny and a breast pump. Discovered that I wanted to parent my own child and be with him every moment. Cut WAY back but that had it's own challenges. Yes, get more help from your husband. Let everything "unessential" slide. And savor these moments, they are so fleeting. (My "baby" will soon be 21!!!) You are doing a GREAT JOB.

  5. A housekeeper even just once every 4 weeks is necessary for your sanity. Do it now. Also ignore the crap about maternity leave--it goes both ways--the people who make you feel guilty about it being too short, and the others who complain about your 8 weeks of "time off".

  6. mom of 2 and docMarch 7, 2011 at 5:32 PM

    You are doing a great job - and you should ignore comments like those you got.

    Somewhat random thoughts your post inspired (and I apologize for the unsolicited advice).

    Your time in the lab is not wasted even if you'd like to be doing a different kind of research. There are people who building the bridges between basic science and patient care - and an understanding of both goes a long way even if you end up doing one more than the other. For example, partner with epidemiologists and folks who do clinical trials - they may wish to have innovative markers measured, and along the way you can learn about those types of research skills and develop collaborations that may help you later. So many clinical researchers don't understand basic science - so you'll have a real skill even if you don't end up doing it.

    It is so hard when you feel like you don't get to see your daughter as much as you'd like not to want to do everything for her when you are with her. in the long run, though, you may be happier if your daughter is equally comfortable with your husband and he's equally confident that he can do everything she needs. When i'm on call and my kids (now 4 and 6 and one more incubating) are with my husband I don't actually feel guilty the way i sometimes do when they are with a baby sitter. Because I know they get love, safety, and all their physical needs met - perhaps differently - but just as well as with me, and they get the added bonus of the crazy, silly games I'd never come up with and his diligence in teaching them to help around the house and their total belief that dads can do anything moms can do (as well as vice versa). I really do think this confidence of dads and trust of moms starts easiest when they are small.

    Just my 1.5 cents. Probably all they are worth.

  7. Thanks everyone for the amazing suggestions and comments. I feel very encouraged! My husband and I have already put together a schedule and I realized that my psychotic bottle cleaning methods were a bit intimidating.

    mom of 2 and doc - thanks so mcuh for your insightful comments about the lab. I definitely plan to take your advice.

  8. I'm a lawyer mom (of three, now), and have so been there- especially with the craving of mentors. It's scary how few and far between it seems to find really successful working moms in demanding careers. Also been to the place where really, I get to do most of it and the husband's work around the house just isn't the same... that will even out with time. (And if you can get a housekeeper, even once every month, it's so worth it.)

  9. Hang in there. Things get a lot easier once the little ones are a bit older and sleep through the night. Not having to BF/pump every 3 hrs will also help. If you don't like the lab, can you switch to more clinical work? Good luck with the rest of your program.

    -intern mom with toddlers (exclusively BF until 13 mos.)

  10. Cutter - your post really took me back! I too fought for 8 weeks of maternity leave during residency (first for my daughter and then for my son) and sacrificed three years worth of vacation. Having my first - she turns 8 this Thursday - was one of the most surreal, life-altering experiences. I don't think there is a single working mom out there who can't empathize with you.

    I really applaud your decision to take time to do basic science research - I encourage you to savor your time in the lab and try to find something you enjoy - also enjoy the time it affords you with your daughter. They grow up so fast, and if you do pursue surgery - you'll miss a lot of moments down the road that you can cherish now.

    Do NOT let shared parenting be a myth. I was a young mommy - in comparison to many of my peers anyway. I didn't have a lot of others to model, and I have seen now, down the road, that it can be done much differently than I tried to do it. Trying to be a supermom might make you feel powerful in the short run, but not sharing responsibilities with your husband, or expecting participation, could cause resentment to build and damage your relationship in the long run.

    Congrats on your talk. I spent my daughter's first birthday in Vancouver giving a talk. My mom brought my daughter so I wouldn't miss it. Continue to take one day at a time - it sounds like you are doing great. I wish you all the best.

  11. I also tried to convince myself I could like the lab. Yuck. I also had a baby during residency and dealt with the "how could you leave her?" questions . How about $250K in debt and a career I have worked towards for the last decade?
    And I also love what I do, for the most part. But I wish there was a middle ground for us, (esp those still in training), where we would work and still have time for our families.

    Hang in there.

    ps I second the comment about hiring a housekeeper, even if it is just q month. You do not want to spend your precious free time 1. cleaning the bathroom or 2. yelling at your husband to clean the bathroom

  12. I also wanted to echo the comments about the lab. You may want to talk to your PI about having both short term and long term goals. If you are meeting the short term goals, it gives you a sense of accomplishment that will keep you in the game. I do think it takes a certain personality to do it but kudos for trying. Make the most of it.

    Second, I BF'd my three each for at least 13 months. Hated the pumping but I learned with number one to relax a little about it. If I used a supplement it was not the end of the world. It made it a lot easier.

  13. I echo what others have said here, especially the part about getting your husband involved as much as possible. You can't do it alone, trust me. Chances are he wants to help, he just isn't sure how. He'll need encouragement from you, so try not to criticize his efforts too much.

    A housekeeper is critical! You should NOT spend precious family time scrubbing toilets. Well worth the expense.

    You're right, taking it one day at a time is the best way to keep from being overwhelmed.

    Very important: Please do not feel guilty about making different life choices than your mom did. There are all sorts of great moms, and only some of them are SAHM's. You have to find your own way to ultimately be happy.

    The most valuable thing my mom taught me was to be strong and independent. She had seen too many women give up their careers and depend on their husbands for support. When something happened to their husbands (divorce, death, disability), the wives had lost their marketable skills and struggled horribly. When I graduated from med school, Mom told me she had found peace knowing I could take care of myself and my family, come what may.

    You can be a great parent AND a great role model for your children. You're already well on your way.

  14. Good Going, Cutter! I also had a baby at the end of second year of surgery residency, and also did a year of research when she was an infant. I have no interest in research, ether, but whatev - it's value was as a placeholder in my residency. It was easy (I did it part time) and I got to feel like "Mom" was my biggest and most important job for a year. I wouldn't trade it.

    Sadly, I'm no good to you as a role model since I actually left surgery for family medicine (wanting a change was actually why I got pregnant in the first place) - but after I was the first pregnant surgical resident ever at my hospital (2003, can you believe that?!?), several others followed suit! They are still practicing, and one of them now works as a breast surgeon in the same hospital system as I do, so I get to refer my patients to an old friend. She's happy. And very busy. And has a housekeeper (and so do I. Totally look into that).

    Keep up the good work!!

  15. Thank you so much for this post. As an older medical student (31 in 2nd year) who is considering surgery, this post was good for me to read.

    I often begrudge the fact that my post-grad options seem limited because of my age/declining ovarian function. I wonder--where are the surgeon moms? And am I insane for wanting to be both down the road?

    Do keep us posted on your revelations, challenges and further successes...we are out here, rooting for you, in the meantime.

  16. You sound like you're a wonderful mom.

    I had planned on being a MiM, but I'm a SAHM right now. I have guilt about not providing a strong, positive role model for my children. I worry that they will think that women/moms only stay home and bake bread and do they witnessed me do today.

    There is no perfect solution. You sound like a wonderful, loving mom!

  17. ortho pgy-4 here ... and trying for our first right now. at some point i woke up and was ready. and at that point, all those little voices that wondered what everyone in my residency program thought/said/did about my pregnancy... all those little voices were told to shut the hell up. :)

    i'm also super-lucky: my husband is going to be the one who does primary during-the-day childcare while i'm at work. (he works from home in a very flexible job.)

    seriously, do what is right for you. for your life. for your family's life. the guilt will be there no matter what you do - isn't that part of parenthood in general? - so it's best just to make the most of the situation you are in.

    (and yes, get a housekeeper.)

  18. I think guilt is part of the bargain with parenthood. No one is a perfect parent and we all feel we could do more or differently. For myself, being a MIM I miss my kids a lot everyday and have regrets about the missed play etc. However, I know for certain that I am more patient in my precious few hours with them than if I had them all day.

  19. I second what GCS15 said. My mom was a SAHM and now has basically nothing to do now that her kids are all grown up. She lost all her marketable skills. Now, yes she could go out and get a job working retail or something, but for a college educated women, she just can't swallow her pride enough.

    You're doing the right thing, you can have your surgical career and a family too, you just have to let go of the perfectionism that sneaks up with both.

    And girl, buy your husband a cook book and teach him how to use it. Or better yet, get a crock pot and a 101 crock pot recipe book. Just have him make sure all the ingredients are ready at night, toss them in in the morning, and bam! Hot dinner in 10 hours.

    YOU are paving the way for other women in surgery who want families. You're a trail blazer for the students (like me M2) coming in after you. Blaze blaze blaze!!! And when you become an awesome attending, you can be that mentor that other women are craving.

    Congratulations on your new baby, too :)

  20. Congratulations on your baby! I wanted to write a quick post for encouragement since I also had a baby while in the lab during my general surgery residency and am now in my chief year and 3 months or so from graduating (woohoo!). My first year back out of the lab was very tough for me and I often felt guilty. However, I also was reminded of the things I love about my job. And as time has gone on, my residency has been more rewarding and I have had (a little) more control of my time. I am so happy that I stuck it out and hope you are able to do the same. The support and camraderie of other female residents with children (whether in surgery or other fields) has been invaluable and I would encourage you to seek it out. Good luck!!

  21. Thanks so much RM (and everyone else). I'm really afraid of how I will feel when I leave the lab and its really reassuring to hear that it is doable!


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