Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Guest post: Pregnant during residency (and not feeling the love)

Prior to becoming pregnant I thought there were no women's rights issues in today's day and age. It was only after I became pregnant that the struggles became all too real. One of the first questions I received from my program director upon announcing my "good news" was...will you take all 6 weeks? Soon afterward a colleague proudly told me he once worked with a resident who was back to work 2 days after delivery. He was hoping my pregnancy would be uncomplicated so I could do the same. Approximately 25 weeks into my pregnancy my physician said I could no longer work solo 24 hr in house calls or 80 hr weeks and that although I could continue my rotation duties, hours should be limited to 12 hr shifts, 5 days a week, maximum of 60 hours. This restriction came after early contractions, shortness of breath and tachycardia had set in.

Although my colleagues weren't pleased with this decision, they agreed to accommodate me of course with the assumption I will be heavy back loaded on calls when I return from maternity leave because each and every hour of call I miss needs to be made up. Made sense to me since caring for a 3 month old should be easy peasy right?

In the meanwhile I continued to work, study, do research, present at national meetings. Pregnancy brain hasn't always helped while being pimped or taking my yearly shelf exam but I have dealt with it as best as I can.  After receiving  two offers for prestigious interviews at two of the top programs in the US for my subspecialty my program director kindly contacted me to recommend that I not go to these interviews and postpone them in the interest of my health and since my schedule was already so "limited". I thanked him for his concern but went to the interviews anyway while 29 weeks pregnant and was accepted by both, able to have my choice!

Now with only 4 weeks of pregnancy left, my physician has recommended no more calls. I of course have worked with my colleagues once again getting them to cover my remaining calls with the promise that I will owe them all back.

I feel a bit like an outcast of the program right now all because I am trying to balance work with a future family. I hesitate strongly to say I am discriminated against but in some senses, I can't help but feel this secretly as well. I keep telling myself that this too will pass in hopes of things returning to "normal" after the pregnancy.

Has anyone else had similar experiences in pregnancy and if so, how did you deal with them?

-An ophthalmology resident 


  1. Similar to your experience, one of the first things a co-resident said to me upon announcement of my pregnancy was, "Damn, you're going to mess up the call schedule." I promised him I wouldn't (and I didn't) and took 24 hour calls up until the night before I had my baby (literally), and was embittered the whole way through. This society is so backwards with how they treat pregnant women/maternity leave/child care. I can't even start talking about it or I won't be able to stop myself from having another tantrum about it!

  2. Little brats. May karma smite them, so that when they have kids they suffer terrible morning sickness throughout the first AND second trimesters.

    (kidding... sort of)

    Hang in there. It's easy to feel alone and resentful when you're the only one going through this and you feel like everyone is mad at you for being pregnant -- which is supposed to be a happy thing! Trust me, you are NOT alone. Good luck! This is the easy part.

  3. I sympathize. I'm 21 weeks pregnant and in the last month of a very very busy anesthesia fellowship. I'm taking q5 call still. I recently heard from one of my co-fellows that one of my male attendings referred to me as "disabled" because I made him give me 2 bathroom breaks and a dinner break during a 12+ hour transplant that went from 6pm-6am. He was in the OR for maybe an hour total. And I'm on call with him again on Thursday, great.

    But the good news is that I have many awesome female (and some male ones) who encourage me to sit down, who send me on (excessive) bathroom breaks, and who ask me about the baby all the time. As women get more and more senior in medicine, I think these things will start to get better.

    In my new practice, where I am starting in August, they have offered to let me take a non-call position until after my leave (for the same pay!) and have nearly strong-armed me into taking 3 months of leave when I offered to only take 2, saying "this is your first baby, take 3 months!!!"

    Hang in there!

  4. Ugh I could write a book about pregnancy discrimination in residency, I did it twice back then (almost 10 years ago). My laziest co-resident referred to my maternity leave (I took 8 weeks for each having started residency a month early for that purpose) as "extended vacation." Ha. I did not have vacation for three years, only mat leave. Sure, it's not working in the professional sense, but it's working your ass off.

    Good for you for standing your ground and going to your interviews. You are going to be fine. Know that you are not alone in your struggles. I echo DoctorMommy's tantrum above. There needs to be respect and laws and change in our country around motherhood in residency or any type of job.

    Good news? You are going to bring so much more efficiency and intelligence to your field once you get over pregnancy brain. Speaking of, there is no such thing. It is normal brain. And that normal, a bit scattered brain having a kid in residency is going to be amazing brain for the rest of your, and your profession, and your child's life. I am there. It is totally worth the struggles.

  5. Your colleagues are jerks. Your program director is a punk. You will never regret the time you took off for baby or the schedule changes you made for your and baby's health. You go Momma!

  6. Ditto what KS said. And maybe you will be a trailblazer. In my program no one had a baby or even thought about it. My chief resident was pregnant and then it opened the floodgates - 8 women had babies over the next three years in our (very busy, lots of overnight call) IM program. By the time I had my baby during my R3 year there were policies in place and support systems for me that I'm sure the first pregnant resident did not have...

  7. I did my anesthesia residency in a program where few female residents were ever pregnant...then all of a sudden, SIX were pregnant at the same time. Unfortunately I was the last to know I was pregnant and I had the most negative experience. I heard so many complaints over the number of pregnancies that I was afraid to share my good news. Fortunately I experienced a straightforward pregnancy so I did not have to ask for many favors (nonetheless I did an all night transplant at 38 weeks). I pushed beds with heavy patients (only two people ever offered to take over), had female attendings tell me that they would never dare to be pregnant in residency, and was asked why I couldn't do fellowship interviews during maternity leave. I ended up having a c-section after a week of bedrest and my first thought was, "I can't believe I will have to take make up more days!" It was really hard.
    When I returned, some attitudes had changed. Several CRNAs would give me longer breaks so I could pump (though there were a few who made comments). While I was on leave, the chief resident decisions were made and while I was not chosen, several attendings told me they had expected me and another female to be chiefs (they said that perhaps we were not given the opportunity because of our recent babies, which was rumor but at least made me feel I had more people cheering me on at the time vs during my pregnancy). For the rest of residency, I never made my child an issue--it was always work first. Now I am finishing a fellowship where lots of attendings had kids during residency and they ask me why I didn't have another one this year!
    Hang in there and stay strong, it is wonderful to be a mommy AND a doctor!

    1. Sorry, not technologically advanced...somehow name didn't come out--AnesthesiaMommy!

  8. Thank you so much ladies! It feels so nice to realize I'm not alone.

  9. To an ophthalmology resident, I had a very similar experience with one of my pregnancies while in an OB residency no less. That was 1993. I hoped it had improved since then. It's a form of sex discrimination you know.


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