Has anyone else had to temporarily give up their children in order to facilitate their career in medicine?
I am a junior general surgery resident a few weeks away from delivering my first child. The pregnancy was a surprise, but I am eagerly awaiting the baby. I wrote "I" rather than "we" on purpose- although I am married, my husband lives in another city, some 1500 miles away, where he is at the top of another incredibly demanding, long-hours, "mistress" profession. We did originally live together in intern year, but with my blessing he accepted his current position and moved away. It was shortly thereafter that we found out about the pregnancy.
I have had a dream pregnancy with absolutely no problems- no morning sickness, no cravings, no complications, a total weight gain of 15 lbs, and no stretch marks! My clinical performance has not been affected and I remain passionately committed to surgery- it is absolutely the right specialty for me.
Here's the problem: I have 4 wks of maternity leave. The baby will come in February, which means I return to work in March. My husband will get a month of paternity leave and spend it in my city, which he will take for the second month of the baby's life. This puts us through to April, but I will have 2.5 months of the academic medical year remaining. The hours of a surgical resident, it goes without saying, are not conducive to single parenting- how on earth could I arrange for nannies/ au pairs / daycares to cover 90hr weeks, weekends, night call, unpredictable hours, etc-- especially on a resident's salary? We have no family within 2000 miles, and no family members can take off 2.5 months to be the primary caregiver. So, we have concluded, the only thing to do is to send the baby away to be cared for by relatives, who will love and adore him and give him the 24hr, unconditional attention I cannot.
This arrangement will only be for those three months. I'm starting my gen surg research years in July, and the lab I'm entering will be in my husband's city. So we will all be reunited and normal again after a few months.
We have received a variety of comments on this arrangement, some of which are meant to be helpful ("don't do anything you will regret forever"; "you should sue your hospital;" "why can't you just take a normal 6 month maternity leave."). Many others are to the effect that I am an unfeeling monster who is a defective female and should never have children in the first place. Most people- especially at work- assumed that I would terminate the pregnancy, and were shocked to learn that was unequivocally not on the table. I won't deny that there has been a lot of guilt (my husband, who is unbelievably excited about being a father, feels a great deal of blame) and concerns about emotionally managing the separation, but we truly believe this is what's right for our family and our unborn son.
I was wondering if any other mothers in medicine have had to make a similar choice, and what their coping strategies were? I know, for example, many foreign-trained residents have to leave their children behind when coming to the States for residency. I would really like to hear some stories from people who have "been there," and not to feel so alone.
Thanks very much for the blog- I really enjoy it and its variety of perspectives, particulalrly the advice from the women in long-hours specialties.