Friday, August 8, 2014

(Don't) Hide your kids!

The first year after my daughter was born, my end of year evaluations digressed into a lot of talk about whether or not I was mommy tracking myself.  The criticism was not about my work ethic or my skills. Apparently, there was an extensive discussion about how overly preoccupied I seemed to be about my daughter.  I mentioned her too often.  The suggestion of part-time residency came up and the sentiment was that I would no longer reach my full potential.  These meetings are supposed to be confidential-ish but I was told afterwards that perhaps I should try to hide my kid.

The instructions to hide my daughter came from a good place.  It came from an attending who had my best interest in mind.  He mentioned that in this world even though I was working just as hard, family issues were going to be looked down upon.  I would be stereotyped.  People aren't used to mom surgeons, especially not as residents.  He told me a story about sneaking off from work as a fellow to pick up his sick son by making up some elaborate story to hide the reason that he had to leave.  “It is more respectable to meet friends for beer than try and pick up your child from daycare,”  he told me.  My response…I would talk about my child incessantly!

So, I did.  I figured, if the world wasn't ready for women to be both surgeons and moms, than I would help to make them ready.  The end result is that I feel this has brought me a lot closer to the other hospital staff who are sometimes more open about recognizing the importance of family.  Being closer to the hospital staff makes my job easier.  I chat with the nurses, scrub techs, office managers about our families.  I feel like it gives me a sense of legitimacy and realness which means we are all on the same team.  Also, an unexpected result was that I became the “mama hen” of the residents.  There are a few more junior residents with kids or husbands and the associated stress.  I try to keep an open door policy for them.  And we have real and frank conversations about how hard this can be.  The supportiveness of being able to have this dialog goes both ways!  Also, I find that many of my attendings take an interest in my family life as well as my surgical development.

This past year’s evaluations had no mention of mommy tracking.  In fact, I was made chief resident.  Last night, as I sat finishing up work in the chief’s office while my baby girl bounced around watching Dora and coloring, I felt I made the right decision.  She knows all the names of the other chiefs and incorporates them into her world.  She loves coming to the office and is well known throughout the department.  She chats with me at night about her day and asks about my day.  She tells me she wants to be a doctor like me when she grows up (well, a doctor and a cowgirl of course).  I’ll never hide this beautiful girl!

12 comments:

  1. I'm a little appalled (though not surprised) that you were given the advice to hide your daughter. And I'm really proud of you that you chose to follow your heart and talk about her anyway while simultaneously kicking ass as a resident. You go!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Bravo! Very happy for you, fellow mama doc!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Good for you! Stick it to the patriarchy.

    Related, but off topic, one of our friends is a mom (kids are 7 and 10) and a surgeon and she complains about how everything in surgery is set up for larger hands, male hands. So she has to do all these work-arounds to deal with having normal-sized but female hands.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Love it - thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for this reminder! I blogged about this last year (I'll include the link below if anyone is interested), but mine was more from the standpoint of disclosing my need to do IVF in order to start a family. There have been other articles on this topic, notably a good NY Times article in favor of "unhiding" family. Coincidentally I believe it was written by a man. The link to that is in my post as well. I think it's wonderful that you have become the go-to person for other residents to talk to regarding work/life/family stress.
    http://www.practicebalance.com/2013/11/uncovering-family.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great post thanks for sharing I subscribed to your blog. I'll let you know there in case you don't see this.

      Delete
  6. I used to be very careful in residency with who I talked to about my kids. Some ok with it, some not. Overall it was viewed as a handicap in women, not so much in men. I continued to hide them for the most part in private practice. I remember when I first brought them to my work it was sneaking them in on the weekend to see my office and scope.

    They are older now and have school and life but I am much more open and have pics everywhere. I love to talk to all the staff and partners about my kids and tell stories - I get pics and stories too of kids and grandkids. My daughter reveled in spending a (mostly recovered) sick day in my office last spring and meeting more of the people I work with.

    I was in the Doctor's lounge this afternoon and bumped into two pulmonary docs I work with, both men. I stopped to ask them some questions about EBUS - it's getting more prevalent at one of our hospitals. They filled me in, one had trained at Sloane-Kettering and told me how they do EBUS there. Somehow talk turned to kids and their faces lit up. They shared about theirs and I shared about mine. I think unhiding family should be a new revolution in medicine. Congratulations Cutter you are a true pioneer woman at home and at work - you successfully blended and completely changed the culture I am so proud of you and to know you here thanks for sharing:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Gizabeth, you are the real trailblazer. Happy to know you here too!

      Delete
  7. Great post Cutter! Sometimes the unwritten rules of medicine are not obvious, until something like your post raises them! I've had a similar experience to yours and still find, even in Peds, the mothers who seem to get ahead and be viewed more positively career wise, are those who don't ever mention their children. One of my colleagues recently needed to take three days off as her nanny was sick. She felt she needed to lie about why she took the time off, as childcare issues were not seen as a valid excuse. So sad! This is in a children's hospital too, where you might expect more family friendliness. It's not just children either. One of my colleagues was told to 'move her wedding date' when it conflicted with a rotation she was given. We still have a long way to go, but I'm so impressed with you Cutter, for remaining authentic in your work. We all know of the positive skills motherhood brings to a working mother - maybe the patriarchy will see it one day too!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks for sharing cutter! As a PGY-2 categorical surgery resident and the mom of an 18 month old I have often found myself worried that I am talking about my daughter too much. I think sometimes mentioning her forces attendings to be reminded that i'm a human with a family and not just a work machine who lives and breathes surgery...there have been many times where i have missed her so bad it hurt though so I will continue to talk about her. Thank you for being an example of someone who has not only survived but thrived as both a mom and a surgeon!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I had similar advice when applying to residency - don't mention my two kids or any plans for more. But I took a similar approach. I talked about my boys in my personal statements. I brought them up in all my interviews. I didn't want to go somewhere and any residency program have a false impression of who I was. I was accepted to my top choice. As I think about my next job, I plan on doing the same thing.

    ReplyDelete
  10. During my first official meeting as an intern with the residency director in what I thought was a supportive pediatric residency program I was asked to not ever speak of my family (including husband and two young children- 1 of which I was still pumping for) while at work. My reactions have varied during the remainder of residency and when interviewing for fellowship I openly spoke of my family and sought a program that seemed genuinely interested in me as a physician, spouse and mother.

    ReplyDelete

Comments on posts older than 14 days are moderated as a spam precaution. There may be a delay between submitting your comment and its publishing. Thanks for commenting!