One short, miniscule, month. And I can’t get my shit together.
I started medical school almost eight years ago. I had the world at my feet. I was married five weeks before med school started. My husband was in graduate school about an hour away. I had a wonderful social life, and the resume-padding was unbelievable.
Then, unexpectedly, just before the end of my first year, I was pregnant.
Now, I am blessed with three beautiful children, the same wonderful husband, a dog, and a cat. I am about to start an exciting, rewarding career. I have a loving family and, once we dig out from under the mortgage-sized debt of my medical training, the prospect of a secure financial future. My licensing exam is completed – and passed. My application for independent practice is submitted.
Tick, tick, tick goes the checklist.
So why am I so blue?
Because I am sitting in my “office”, in the basement, for the gazillionth time, while my husband puts the children to bed. I am supposed to be finishing my resident research project, but all I can think about is the sacrifice that went into this whole deal. And I feel like I just can’t do it one more time. I can’t sit down here, while my kids do their thing, while my husband cooks and wipes little faces and hands, and dresses and changes, and talks and explains and answers little questions, while he washes hair and towels dry and finds pajamas, while he surfs the net in lieu of my company and attention. I spent months studying for my exam down here. I still spend endless hours down here administering to administration, to licensing bodies and colleges and universities and evaluations and preceptors and the endless litany of mindless work that only I can do. And I just can’t do it anymore. I am utterly spent.
Where are the other medical mothers who feel this way? Is acknowledging this darkness akin to yielding to it? Because I have noticed that no physician who does creative writing in popular medical journals seems to get published unless there is a vein of hope, silver lining, outwardly optimistic, or putridly glowing endorsement of the profession tucked into the moral of the story. We only want to hear tales of physician woe if the tales end with the message that we are the fortunate, rarefied few who get to struggle in this way. We hold our noble heads high.
Give me a break. Give me the sweaty mothers who can’t afford a nanny or a housekeeper or even a babysitter for a night out. Give me the stressed out mothers with messy homes and offices and cluttered minds and hearts. Give me the medical mothers who nurse their infants while reading their journals, then feel guilty about splitting their attention. I want to befriend the other mothers who adore their children so much that their hearts break on a daily basis – yet can’t stand the same children disturbing their few hours of consecutive sleep. Give me the doctors who love medicine, who want to see patients all day and night, who listen to medical podcasts and fantasize about intubating crashing patients while doing their completely irregular workouts (it does get the heart rate up), who obsess over the evidence basis for PSA testing and feel crushed when they miss a diagnosis. I want to be friends with dedicated mothers and dedicated doctors, and I want to acknowledge the horror of combining those two wonderful people into one. Because it isn’t as pretty as it sounds.
So, as I sit down here, I just can’t get my shit together. I can’t decide if it’s all been worth it or not. On the very cusp of being “done” with training, with one foot raised and about to touch the start line of the rest of my life, I can’t decide. Or maybe, I’m a little bit sickened. Because maybe, I want to admit, that the sacrifice has been too great, and if I could do it all over again, maybe I just wouldn’t. Silver lining be damned. I’ve always wanted to be a mother, more than I ever, ever wanted to be a doctor. And while being a mother has undoubtedly made me a much better doctor, I cannot say that the reverse is true. In fact, being a doctor has stolen gaping wounds of time and attention from my mothering soul.
But I can’t bring myself to say it just yet. Somehow, despite the sickness in my heart, I just can’t say it. Perhaps the future knows something I don’t. Perhaps I just can’t bear to close a piece of writing on a negative note. Maybe I am copping out, playing to the audience, telling you what I think you want to hear. I don’t know. So I sit in my basement office a little longer, the children are asleep, and soon I should be, too. Because tomorrow the children will want me, it will be my 27th-last day of residency, and there is still, always, work to be done.