I knew I was crazy on probably the eighth hour into the first leg of the drive. I was perhaps one of the only people in my medical school class I knew of that took their family along for the ride that was two, back-to-back away rotations. Both of them were located quite a distance away. Through the magic of Disney movies and some well-planned vacation weeks in between rotations, I managed to break up the tough, away schedules and lengthy drives with visits to family along the way. Sounds insane, right? What sort of mother takes their toddler out of Mother’s Morning Out (ironically named since my husband is the stay-at-home dad) to traverse the country with nonstop Cars, Over the Hedge and Disney movies?
Needless to say, I felt horribly guilty. It’s the same guilt you feel when you judge yourself against the mothers who have their children in play-based preschool programs. You know the ones. These are where the kids gather eggs every morning, feed bunnies and take woodland walks. Except your child is not that child. My toddler was the kid sitting in the car watching another run of Mater’s Tall Tales while their mother drags them cross-country for a rotation. Sometimes it gets a little lonely to keep hearing, “I can’t believe you brought your family to your aways.” Let’s not even talk about interview season. That is a whole ‘nother post of mother failure, right?
This guilt was nothing new to me. I blamed myself throughout medical school. Whether it was working on USMLE World from my mobile phone while holding my kid as he watched Sesame Street in the mornings, or it was trading my son out in shifts when I was newly postpartum so I could prepare for a test, I never felt like I was giving him what he deserved.
Was I a horrible mother? Medical school has definitely not made me the homemade baby-food making mama I had hoped to be, and I am horribly embarrassed to announce that my son is still not potty-trained. We gave up our apartment at the end of this year, and we moved home with my family to save money and help some family members in need of care. We will also visit some other family directly after graduation, so I seriously wonder if he is ever going to sit on a potty without hysterical tears until we finally get settled in our new home for residency.
I judge myself constantly. If I were not a medical student mom, I could have given my child a more even-keel life filled with playgroups, museum activities, more reading and less TV. Should I be doing those things despite needing to study and handle school and fatigue? Should I have done more anyway? Maybe sucked it up, because darn it – medical school moms are supposed to be smart and manage the house and family? Having it all and doing it all, right?
Now I’m looking backwards. I am less than two weeks from graduation as I write this, and I still judge myself for decisions I made in medical school. We did survive the away rotations despite living in a 350-sq ft apartment for one of them. We survived each of the Step exams and third year. We even survived a crazy interview season that involved many flights, and I matched somewhere that is perfect for my family. However, did I do enough of the right things to balance out the wrong ones? Should I just be thankful Sesame Street and Super Why! have taught my toddler all his letters and numbers? (Thanks PBS!) I don’t really know, but I console myself that he is a loving, sweet toddler who seems to somehow really love me. I don’t know if mothers can have it all anymore, but I do know that I’m sure going to keep trying to be a good mother and a good physician, and I think that will be the “all” I want.
ToddlerMamaMD blogs at Mommd.com.