I had my first baby during medical residency, where we were allowed 6 weeks off (including all the year's vacation) without extending leave. My daughter was, ahem, rather "colicky" (read that as "screams for no reason unless being walked on your shoulder for hours a day, or possibly asleep on mom"). I love her but after 6 weeks I was sick of watching Law-and-Order by myself at home (boo hiss lack of US paternity leave support), and starting back into a relaxing research rotation was a relief. Even if it was hard to find a private place to pump. With number two I vowed not to isolate myself so much. To go out and about more with baby, even if it meant breastfeeding in public a bit. (I was just too self-conscious to do it with number one, even with a sheet) So, while pregnant with number 2 during my first year of Oncology fellowship, I realized ASCO (the big annual oncology conference), which I very much wanted to go to, would occur about a month and a half after he was due. Should I go for it?
Being a mom in medicine feels like a mixture of wanting to have my cake and eat it too. I want to work, I LIKE work. I want to have babies, I LOVE my babies. I want to breastfeed exclusively. I hate pumping. I'm going stir crazy after a few weeks of being a stay at home mom. I'm incredibly anxious about the prospect of leaving my baby. It's so nice to be among adults and using other parts of my brain again. Etc.
So, should I plan to go to ASCO?
With a one month old?
First I did a Google search. I found a few articles on graduate students going to conferences, and that people were generally supportive. But nothing specific on ASCO. OK.
Could I keep the baby on me with a sling? Run out if he starts to fuss?
Sadly the answer to that is very much NO. ASCO does not allow any children under 16 in the conference, for "safety reasons." No exception for pre-mobile and breastfeeding babies.
So, I would say it's mostly impossible to attend ASCO if you don't have some kind of secondary childcare arrangement.
However I am incredibly lucky in that my parents are in Chicago, close to where ASCO is held. I was planning to stay with them anyway. My father no longer works and is very supportive. So, I did go with my baby to ASCO, and it was a good experience. Here's how I made it work.
1) Knowing my priorities. For me, my baby and establishing breastfeeding was my number one priority, so if there was a conflict I would choose that. Anything I got out of the conference would be gravy - some conference would be better than no conference, I reasoned. Especially since given the timing of my baby's birth, I was actually still on my 6 weeks of maternity leave while at the conference.
2) Having on-site childcare. In my case, my parents. What we ended up doing was, I went to the conference center with my father and my baby with a stroller full of supplies; there were a lot of common areas we could all go to. I would go to sessions, my dad has a book (did I mention he's tremendously supportive??!). When the baby got hungry and fussy, my father would text me and I would dash out to feed him. There was a first aid station where I could go nurse in privacy. I had my nursing pillow stashed with the diaper bag in the stroller.
3) Only go in-person to the in-person stuff: At ASCO at least, the talks are streamed online! So I could watch those in the luxury of a living room with some water and nursing a baby any time after the talk happened. There's really not much interaction at the talks, in fact sometimes the sessions are so full you end up running from room to room to watch it streamed. The poster sessions, on the other hand, I could read online beforehand then go and talk to the presenter one on one. Bonus, I could run in and out without any issue! I identified which sessions would be most valuable to me and went to those, running out for a half hour here and there when I got a text.
-- I did miss out on the "fellows lounge" as I did not know about it, apparently a good spot to be. Maybe next year!
Things that wouldn't work:
-- not having on-site childcare
-- pumping. Unfortunately the first aid station did not have a breast pump, you have to bring your own. And the site is HUGE. I did try to go one day on my own with a pump, and hauling all the supplies around was just obnoxious. They don't even let you stash them at the first aid station. So I can't recommend that.
Overall, I got to visit my parents, they got to see my new baby, I still breastfed and was with my son constantly, AND I was able to make a few connections and learn about some of the latest data on immunotherapy in different cancer types. I would definitely recommend it if you can find the support.
-Proliferating Oncologist, a first year hematology-oncology fellow.