Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Guest post: A hard decision

My parents emigrated from Korea to America with hope of providing a better future for their unborn children. Fast-forward 28 years later and here I am, the product of their sacrifice.

My name is Geri. I guess we can add the M.D. after the name since I have graduated from medical school 2 years ago. I am currently a radiology resident. After 4 years of college and 4 years of medical school, I am about to start year three out of five in order to complete my residency to become a board-certified radiologist.

Somewhere in the middle of this process, I met the love of my life and we got married 3 years ago. He’s also a resident in the field of orthopedic surgery. If that wasn’t complicated enough, I got pregnant. I spent my maternity leave in Orange County with my parents, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The anxiety of becoming a new mom was compounded with the idea of going back to residency. Simply put, the hours and demand of residency was just incompatible with raising a child. 

It was then my mom sat me down and said “Leave Chloe with me.” It sounded crazy but she was right. There was no other way to do it. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. 7 weeks later, I left Chloe in Orange County to resume my residency.

When I returned, everything changed but nothing changed. Residency is still residency. There is work to do and an endless list of expectations. I feared judgment from other people. How can a mom be away from her baby? This one was the worst. My husband was given the “advice” that he had too many “distractions” and what he really needs is a stay-at-home wife who can fully support his career. That one really got to me. 

Yes. I am a doctor. I am also a mom. I am also married to a doctor and no I am not going to end or put my career on hold. I put in my time too. I deserve this just as much as he does.

But…there is a huge but. This is not one of those feminist proclamations where I say I can do it all. Becoming a mom changed my life. There’s nothing more I want to do than spend time with Chloe but I know completing my residency is what’s going to allow me to be an even better mom and role model to Chloe.

My life in a nutshell exemplifies the sad truth that women can’t have it all. As a mom to a daughter, this is not what I want to say, but I don’t say it with pessimism. There’s just too much on my plate. When I am in a place where I get to choose what stays on my plate, what does stay on it is what really matters. In my short five months I’ve been a mom, I already know that yes, I love my job and I love being a doctor but I was born to be a mom. I’m not a superhero. Every day I have to remind myself this is just temporary and that there will be a day that I get to set the work-life balance. Yes, I may never be a pioneer in the field of radiology but I will be there for every birthday and Christmas for Chloe. There will be family vacations and impromptu mother-daughter dates. I will know the names of all her friends and teachers. I am going to make up for all the lost time during residency.

On the outside it looks like I have it all, including a future career as a radiologist, an orthopedic surgeon for a husband and a wonderful mother who’s taking care of my beautiful, healthy baby, but I don’t. The guilt kills me every single day. I am extremely grateful for what I have but nobody, including myself, has it all. Residency just exacerbates the challenges that any working parent faces and even when I’m done, I know I’ll be constantly making adjustments and sacrifices, but I have made the choice early on. Family will always come first.


Geri blogs at www.chloeandresidency.blogspot.com.

17 comments:

  1. Hang in there!! I think the lesson in what you wrote above is that we all really need are less judgments. NO ONE out there has it all figured out. And the world is much different now than it was when those judgy people raised a family. You do what you need to do & don't worry about what other people say or think. When you are in your mid to late 30s, those judging voices will mean nothing to you anymore. You'll get to a point where you don't give a damn what people say or think about your life choices. Until then, you're doing the best you can and that is all any of us can do!

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  2. Oh Geri I have some idea of what you're going through as I'm a fourth year med student, my husband is a second year IM resident, and my son lives with my parents for most of the week. It is SO hard to give up the day to day child-raising, even if it is temporary. Personally, I've come close to quitting more than once, and I haven't even gotten to residency yet. Not a day goes by when I don't feel guilty about it, too. Ultimately though, we're just doing the best we can in a situation that is less than ideal to say the least and we should be proud of what we're achieving. I think the fact that you're blogging for your daughter when she gets older is incredibly special. The fact that you make it a priority with your busy schedule is wonderful. Keep up the good work!!

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  3. Currently, you are very far from having it all. It must feel excruciating to be away from your daughter. But. Eyes on the prize. Eventually, residency will end and you will be close to having it all (no-one has it all, even men with stay at home wives). Hang in there! My daughter has no recollection of those residency days when I go for days without seeing her. She was a baby then. Of course, now that she is older, she remembers when I miss out on important events--but I try and am there for most events. Being a physician actually gives me the flexibility I need to be there for my kids. My children and I are extremely close. I am grateful for my job. Residency is not forever and better days are coming. Good luck!

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  4. Maybe this is a stupid question and I'm missing something, but why can't you pay for childcare near where you live, or have your mom come stay with you for a while to help out with your baby?

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  6. I guess I wasn't clear. My husband is an orthopaedic resident who works 80-90 hours a week. He works 30 hour calls, work weekends and comes home by 7pm on a "normal" day. I am a radiology resident whose days vary from about 7 to 6 pm. I work until 9 pm about 2-3 days out of the month and work 2-4 weekend days a month as well. In addition, I'm going to be starting night float this year which means I work 8pm to 8am for weeks at a time. With our schedule to have Chloe here, we would need to do two nannies, which is unaffordable. No daycare is compatible with our hours. In addition, when we come home, residency doesn't stop. He's often on home call and I'm always reading or working on a ppt presentation for conference. My mom can't come here because of my dad's work. They live about an hour away. I know my decision will seem like a bad one to most people and trust me, I've received a lot of judgment from everyone especially from my husband's co-resident's wives who are mostly stay at home moms. It took me a long time to be at peace with my decision. But there is nobody in this world I trust more with my daughter with than my mom and if it means I don't get to see her on a day to day basis, I know I'm doing the best thing for her. She was only 6 weeks old when I first came back from residency. Any day I have off is for her. I have learned to be super efficient because I have no days off now. Every day off from work is time spent with Chloe. I'm not asking for understanding but I just wanted to share my experience.

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    1. I wasn't trying to sound judgmental and I hope I didn't come across that way. Child care is very expensive. My family doesn't have the luxury of a family member to provide full time childcare for "free" so we have to pay for it. In some ways you have it really good! I wish I didn't have to pay 40K per year in childcare expenses!

      We use daycare and also have an au pair to do drop offs and pick ups. Daycare is 8-6 (of course) and both my husband and I work longer hours than that. Currently our au pair also covers weekends and sick days also and we need that flexibility since we have no help. One of my attendings took on credit card debt to pay for childcare for her kids, and as a dermatologist has now paid it all off (you would too). Another friend had the wife of one her resident colleagues babysit for a lower than standard fee since she was wathing her own kids already. You could also look into a nanny share.

      Just saying, people make it work in a variety of ways, and there may be more options than you think if you want your daughter to live nearer to you.

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    2. Oh and like everyone else said, you are a good mama. People will judge you over everything if you are a mom. It's one of the hardest parts.

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    4. sorry i didn't mean to come across sounding so upset. As much as I think I have come to peace with my decision, I can't help the guilt and feel defensive at times. The main reason I left my baby with my mom wasn't financial. I felt selfish keeping her with me when there was better care only an hour away especially at this age when she's only a baby. When shes ready to start pre-school, I won't be done yet and I'll have her back with me. I have exhausted the possibility of every option but at the end of day, I think I'll take the judgment from other people as trade off to the peace of mind that she's getting the best care. But sometimes as you can tell, I still have to justify my choice. So I apologize! This website has been lifeline since I've returned to residency and it gives me hope as I look forward to every day because it's one closer to having her back with me.

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  7. You don't need other people's approval. But you do need and deserve support, and as a fellow mom in medicine (anesthesiology), I completely understand having no down time, because it all goes to your kids. Every time. I do not understand the pain you feel precisely, but I want you to know you are not alone in trying to undertake motherhood challenges.

    Sometimes I wish that the silent and/or anonymous cries for help from the mom residents across the US could somehow make themselves known to all of us who are also mom residents. There are so many of us who struggle finding a way to make motherhood and residency work, and we are probably surrounded by other mothers in medicine who would take a second in a heartbeat to hug you and tell you you are doing great if we only knew who each other was...

    That said - hugs from somewhere in the South. You are supported, you are doing great, and well done you for making sure your baby is well-taken care of however best you can. Sounds like her Grandma is quite loving.

    You are going to make it.

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  8. While it may be unusual in American culture where everyone seems to think a child should be raised by his primary care taker, I think this kind of arrangement is fairly common in other countries. At least the ones I know have similar arrangements despite not having rigorous hours like residency. For example, one couple I know has grandma watch the baby from Mon-Thu. And no one blinks an eye. In fact parents hear how fortunate they are to have such a grandma. Another one I know sent away the older child with grandma for a few years because the mother (a SAH) felt she wasn't handling 3 kids well. And the kids grow up just fine. I truly believe that it takes a village to raise a child, and this is harder for you than your child. And I agree that having grandma watch your daughter when you really wouldn't have the time for her anyways make sense. Thank goodness she lives only an hour away.

    Raise your head high and forge on. Be proud of what you have achieved. It must be heart breakingly hard, and I am not even going to pretend I understand. Good luck. I am cheering you on!

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  9. I once visited a neighbour's house and found out that they took care of a couple's baby on weekdays. The baby was less than 3 years old and it seemed odd to me that her parents let them live with someone else rather than take care of the child themselves.

    But after being a mother and having to send my baby (2 yo this 18th July) to my MIL at times, I now understand that rather than spending time worrying where to send my child when I am not around, it is best to send him to someone who loves him so much. My baby was breastfed and he wakes multiple times at night, something that my husband never got used to, but my MIL will.

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    1. All mother have this guilt of not taking care of their offspring, it's something that ties us to our child. I guess those mother who intentionally abandon their child chose to ignore it rather then acknowledge it.

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  11. I am a hospitalist 7 years out from residency with 3 kiddos ages 7, 5, and 1 ½. I initially worked full time, then part time, then “for fun” which currently are Tuesday nights only. My career has gone nowhere as I do attending moonlight work, and moonlighting is what residents do right? But I love spending a lot of time with my kids and picking hours for work based on how much $ I want for our Disneyland trip etc. I tell you this because once you are further down the mama hood road you will appreciate the flexibility, choice, and monetary power your MD and training gives you as a mom. I was where you are now once and the mama guilt and mama doubt happens to all of us and it shall pass!

    You are so lucky to have your mom for childcare, remind yourself of that! And regardless of what you pick for childcare someone will have something to say about it. I remember dropping off my 2 older kids crying at daycare, working with guilt all day, then when I would pick them up they wouldn’t come home with me because they were having so much fun! So I thought their daycare was pretty good but then the lovely judgmental mom comments “your kids like daycare because they don’t know better” would follow. When we went back to the same daycare for my youngest my older two couldn’t remember any of it except two teachers they really liked. Your daughter will not remember her first few years, and when she hits the age where she does remember she will be back with you. You did it exactly right, you have your mom to take care of your daughter during the most time intensive years and you get to step in when it gets really fun!:)

    I would advise you to skip the judgmental stay at home mom crowd. I wasted so much time trying to fit in so my kids would be invited to play dates, birthday parties blah blah blah. My kids are smart, have a lot of friends, and are just good happy kids. Kids do not pick their friends based on whether the mom changed every poopy diaper or whatever. Great kids come from love and if your mom is anything like my mom your daughter is in great hands!

    The quicker you learn to let the negative comments slide the quicker you will hit your mama stride and have fun with your kids regardless of what anyone else has to say about it.:)

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  12. I think you have made a good choice. Not judging but genuinely curious--did you mean to get pregnant?

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