Showing posts with label being imperfect topic week. Show all posts
Showing posts with label being imperfect topic week. Show all posts

Saturday, May 4, 2013

On Being Imperfect - Topic Week at MiM

Welcome to our topic week celebrating imperfection. All the posts this week contributed by readers and regular contributors will be about this in some way - our thoughts, our stories, our confessions, our revelations. Thanks to all who have shared. All hail the sometimes messy but (hopefully) meaningful life of being a MiM.

Posts will be spread out across the week and will appear below. Thanks for reading.

Cutter's extra random top 10 list of imperfection!

1. I've allowed my daughter to watch 4 hours of consecutive Dora while I half sleep on the couch post call (unfortunately this one has happened more than once!)

2. The tired mama: In the middle of telling my daughter a princess story to help her go to sleep I heard myself say "prepped and draped in the standard sterile fashion" to which my baby girl responded with "WAKE UP!  More PRINCESS MOMMIE!!!!"

3. A happy meal 

4. Letting baby girl sit in a dirty diaper for about 30 minutes to long because I was just TOO worn out to change it

5. I understand mom jeans now - how else do you rein in all that belly!

6. I can't do it all, which means I struggle to read enough and I'm sometimes late to work - especially when I go to kiss my baby on the way out the door and discover that she has collected a mountain of poop right by her head!

7. Occasionally I wear swim suit bottoms to work as underwear.

8. I'm really bad at dictating in a timely fashion once I get behind.

9. I owe lots of library fines.

10.  My hair looks terrible nearly all the time!

The Bear of Shame, or the Story of the Mother Who Didn't Have Wipes

Today was a beautiful day. This winter has had a long and unexpected and not entirely welcome coda this year which has only sweetened the anticipation of spring. Today the sun was out, the sky was cloudless, the temperature was just warm enough for short sleeves but not warm enough for sweat. I got out of work early--I am in the Emergency Department this month, so am working half the number of hours I usually work, though at odd hours--and raced to pick up my daughter early from day care. The thirty minute drive from work to day care has a sweet, crazed quality to it--never am I so eager to reach a destination, never am I so irrationally angry at anything or anyone who causes the moment of arrival to be delayed. After picking E up, I decided to take her to a nearby park in the adjacent but much ritzier neighborhood a few minutes from our house. Instead of the space-age shock-absorbing pseudo-gravel that carpets most playgrounds these days, this playground is carpeted in sand, ye olde original shock absorber. It was E's first encounter with sand and while initially tentative, she was soon letting out excited squeals and hurling sand into the air and by extension into and onto every part of her, including the area between her nose and her mouth in which snot has taken up semi-permanent residence since she started day care. There I was in my barely-nice-enough-for-work-but-certainly-not-casual-enough-for-the-sandbox attire, with a toddler whose face was covered in snot-stuck sand. All I had with me were my keys, my smart phone, and E's hoodie. I did not have wipes.

The playground was full--mothers, father, babysitters, grandparents, nannies. I walked over to someone who seemed to be a nanny--surely they come prepared!--and asked if she had a wipe. "I'm still learning," I said, by way of explanation. "Oh, that's why we're here to help each other," she said, and I felt good about humanity. She opened the child's blue elephant backpack which I could see was meticulously arranged. "Her mom sure knows how to pack a bag," she said, pulling out a travel-size package of all-natural hypoallergenic wipes.

Well, there it was. Her mom sure knows how to pack a bag. I imagined the woman out there in the world of work somewhere, calm in her knowledge that should her child be caked in a mixture of sand and snot while at the playground, there would be a wipe at the ready. As I walked back to my delighted daughter and wiped her face, I thought to myself: Am I ever going to get my s&*t together?

Sadly, it's a familiar refrain. My thank you notes are still not done from E's birthday and the holidays in December. I sent off the ones that were truly socially dire (grandparents, great aunts, co-workers) and now I'm wondering if it's even polite to send the others. Is there a statute of limitations on gratitude? Speaking of the holidays, I just couldn't make a holiday card happen this year, so you won't find my daughter's adorable face on a refrigerator near you. The baby book I lovingly bought when I was pregnant remains half-finished, with only the pregnancy section filled out. When it came time for my daughter to go to day care, we were not on any of the right waiting lists. A year later, we still aren't. When it comes to potlucks, I either bring store-bought hummus and a loaf of bread (from Whole Foods, though, so maybe a couple of extra points there) or I just decline the invitation upfront because I foresee that the guilt of not having made a homemade casserole will just be too much for me. I have even shown up to a potluck with my daughter having brought nothing and proceeded to feed her everyone else's food because she was hungry and I hadn't even brought snacks for her from home. On Valentine's Day, my 14-month-old returned home with a Valentine's goodie bag from one of her classmates and I just had to throw up my hands. Am I supposed to be cutting Valentine's hearts out of construction paper after my child goes to bed to give to her barely ambulatory classmates? And if so, who is going to finish my notes from clinic? Most nights, I go to bed feeling like a there's a bear hibernating next to me -- the bear of all the things I'm supposed to be doing, am late doing, don't know yet that I'm supposed to be doing -- and I just try not to wake it up. Just give me one more day, bear of shame....

But here is what I will not do: I will not waste any of the time I have with my daughter on the bear of shame. Our time together is not an expansive as I would like it to be, so I am going to use it to delight in her and in the world with her. I will try to get better at the thank you notes and the day care waiting lists but I will do that after she has gone to bed and if I'm too tired, I will go to sleep instead. I will probably never show up at a pot luck on time with home-baked goods. Many things will remain undone or not perfectly done. But E and I, we will do lots of fun and interesting things together. I may not have my s*%t together, but at least I know what's important to me. I'm probably never going to get rid of the bear of shame, but it's not going to eat me either.

So the Story of the Mother Who Didn't Have Wipes is actually the Story of the Fun Afternoon at the Playground. Instead of remembering that I didn't have any wipes and some other mother had remembered to pack them, I will remember my daughter's gleeful shriek as she wiggled her toes free of the sand piled on them. I will remember her little finger pointing up at the sunlight seeping in between the leaves of an enormous old-growth tree. I will remember her look of surprise as I blew the seeds off a dandelion and her subsequent earnest attempt to locate and un-seed every dandelion in the neighborhood. And hey, maybe I'll put a packet of wipes in my glove compartment tomorrow, because  I may not be perfect but at least I can learn.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Snippets Of Imperfection....

It's Being Imperfect Week... I don't know where to start.

1. I fed my cats a 5$ can of fancy Italian tuna packed in olive oil. 
I had clinic all morning, admin all afternoon, battled traffic, picked up the kids from Nana's and then brought them home, practically tripping over our two needy, oversized rescue cats, they wending in and out of all of our legs begging for food. We were out of wet cat food. Damn, I thought, got to put that on the list. Meantime I'll give them tuna. But all we had was this overexpensive shmancy tuna from Wholefoods. Why on earth did I spend 5$ on a can of stupid tuna? Because Giada said so, that's why.While I was on maternity leave,  I spent many hours breastfeeding on the couch, flipping through foodie shows. You gotta love Giada. She can smile and talk at the same time; her eyes practically pop out of her head as she says things like, "Next time your best girlfriends pop over for an unexpected lunch, you can wow them with this yummy White Bean Tuna Salad, made with ingredients from your pantry! I like to use high quality tuna in olive oil." Well, after 6 p.m. on a weeknight when the kids need to get in the tubby and the cats are frantically hungry and practically eating my legs, is not the time to worry about wasting money. Open went the can and plop into the cat bowls. They loved it. I think they were wowed.

2. I showed up to work on a day I had asked for vacation. 
I've actually done this more than once. I can't keep my schedule straight sometimes. We have to ask for our vacation days months and months ahead of time, yet hubby's schedule can change on short notice, so sometimes planned vacations get moved around... I have not yet developed any good system for recording all of this. I have a paper calendar that gets a bit over-marked-up, and I use Google calendars, which is synced to my iPhone calendar. Yet things still fall through the cracks. Amazingly, I have not yet NOT shown up for work on a day I was supposed to work. I don't think... actually I may have.

3. I forgot to pay the mortgage. For two months. 
In my own defense, I had had to open a new checking account, as a check I had given to one of Babyboy's behavior therapists had been stolen out of her car. THAT was a pain in the ass. But I did it, and I had even re-set-up the mortgage automatic payments... not realizing that it takes two months for that to kick in, and I needed to manually pay the mortgage in the interim. You would think that after two months I would notice that that amount of money was NOT being deducted from my checking account, but nay, I did not. Things were crazy as usual and I have all the bills on automatic billpay, so I never even looked at my balance. Until the mortgage company started calling. THEN I had a heart attack, explained everything five times, and paid immediately. Then, for weeks afterwards, we got calls from them asking us if we'd like "to talk to someone from customer assistance about our difficulties meeting payments, just to review our options"... which is nice, that they offered, but it was also embarrassing.

4. I had to steal feminine products from the office.
I can't keep my schedule straight, so obviously I can't keep my cycle straight. I've been surprised by my own body more than once. If whoever stocks up the feminine hygiene products at work is wondering why we're always low on these in our area of the office, I am to blame.

5. I had cookie dough for dinner on Saturday.
Hubby was at work, and me and the kids were a bit late-ish getting home from Nana's. I got them home and out of the car, but Babyboy balked in the yard. Sometimes Babyboy will just NOT go into the house. He'll bolt into the yard and play "run away from mom". And to get into our house from the driveway, we have a somewhat rickety set of wooden stairs leading up a story to the back door, so it's pretty impossible to wrangle Babyboy as well as carry Babygirl and everything else into the house solo. I knew I had to get them through dinner and tubbies on my own, and the best way to get him up the stairs is for him to walk.  So I bribed him. "We'll bake cookies!" I promised, and up he went, like a little monkey, repeating "Bake COOKies? Bake COOKies?" He LOVES to bake cookies; he even can pull all of the ingredients from the pantry and lug them to the kitchen counter. It's adorable. Also I discovered that cookie bars are fast: SO much easier to make than individual cookies, and people like them better anyways. Anyways, I did get dinner into them both, and the cats fed (not 5$ Italian tuna), But with all the activity, I never got dinner of anykind for myself- so right before the cookie bars went in the oven, while the kids were distracted, I got out a spoon and enjoyed a little treat as my dinner.

6. I went 72 hours without a shower last weekend.
Not the first time I've gone such a stretch, but probably the first since maternity leaves.... It was just one of those weekends. The whole childcare team is down with variations of the same lower respiratory thing. Our Babysitter left early Saturday with a bronchitic cough and the chills, and I had had only enough time to run one big errand (grocery shopping) before she crawled out the door. Hubby was away/ working all weekend, and Nana is also sick, though she did help us out for some short stretches, I didn't want to overwork her. Our neighbor also helped out here and there, but I don't want her to start avoiding me! There is no feasible way to bathe with two kids under thre years old on the loose. So Saturday, then most of Sunday, went by without me washing. AND I was out and about, to the neighbors'; to a friend's barbecue; I even hosted a family dinner on Sunday. Good thing our neighbors, friends and family don't seem to have any issues with my body odor... or at least, as far as I am aware.

7. I throw temper tantrums. 
Babyboy can really throw a tantrum. This week he had multiple tantrums for two days in a row. He was getting over a cold, and we think he just didn't feel good... That or he was overtired. Who knows. Sometimes, he gets fixated on something unreasonable/ irrational, like, he has to be up at the altar at church. Or he doesn't want to leave play group. Or he doesn't want to change out of pajamas. Or get in the tubby. And he kicks/ flails/ screams/ cries for up to, and sometimes over, an hour. It's really grating on me when he does this. He is utterly inconsolable. Last tantrum, after 45 minutes, I went to the pantry and pulled out every treat I could find, offering ANYTHING to him if he would JUST STOP SCREAMING. I mean, I was yelling and begging at the same time. His reply? A snuffly, barky: "No. want. treat. Want. go. back. PLAYGROUP." At that point, the babysitter had come and his behavioral therapist was there, so I just had a silent tantrum of my own. "I have to step away," I explained, and I left them with him. Just walked away. Did something else for awhile. He did eventually calm down, and they all said they understood, but I felt bad.

8. I really throw temper tantrums.
I once was so angry at Hubby, I threw raw cookie dough at him. (I guess we make alot of cookies in our house...) It fell short, missed him, and plopped all over the floor. Our fat cat scrambled over to sniff and lick at it. Anyways, it was so ridiculous, we ended up laughing about it. I don't even remember what the fight was about.
9. I have gotten lost in my own town.
Or rather, I have been so distracted that I drove to the wrong place, or forgot where I was going, or I missed the turn. I have called our close friend's kids by the wrong names. I put the wrong last name on a Christmas card to a neighbor. I have written checks in the wrong amount; I have written checks to the wrong names. I rip up alot of checks. I forget birthdays, even when I mark them on the calendar. I forgot administrative assistant's day last week, AGAIN. I clip coupons for the store and forget to bring them; I bring a list to the store and forget something THAT IS WRIITEN ON IT. Not all of these things in the same day, but at least a few in the same month. I see these errors as red flags that I am too busy/ overtired/ stressed, and something needs to go.

10. I am too busy.
Isn't that at the heart of so much of our imperfection: we are all too busy. We have dueling responsibilities; to our patients, colleagues and staff, to our families and communities. Modern life is complex, and creating balance is managing a large, fragile, unwieldy thing. But what it boils down to is simple: Slow down, take some time to appreciate the most important things in life. SIMPLIFY.

no such thing as perfect

Guilt was one of the first feelings I experienced upon learning I was pregnant with my daughter, now 4 years old.

I had been on a pub crawl the night before, gotten home around 2 am and woke up a few hours later miserably sick. This might seem to be expected after a night out on the town, but had gone to bed sober and hadn't drank that much. I had taken a pregnancy test a few weeks earlier, prompted more by nausea and fatigue than a missed period as stress-induced amenorrhea was not new to me. It was negative.

That morning, not able to shake the fact there was something very wrong, I took a (second) pregnancy test. Positive. I took another. Positive. I took a another. (still) Positive.

Pregnant, drinking, not taking folic acid, and ignoring what my body had been telling me for weeks- which was Have Some More Water. Now Pee. Nap! Eat Some More Bread. I thought about my booze-soaked "intern week", which must have occurred right after I got pregnant.

I was already failing motherhood. It became a recurrent sentiment in my daughter's first year of life. Breastfeeding and pumping were more difficult than I had predicted. We used store bought formula and baby food. She develop a taste for Mac N Cheese. As a resident, I didn't know our pediatrician.

A few years passed. I did some growing.

I have a good friend, an ivy-league educated attorney, who wants nothing more than to home school her children. I have another friend who posts on her FB page links to articles about the treacherous and unregulated world of daycare (the most recent was about a home daycare that burned down) or an admonition to her baby group that, really, if breast feeding was that hard our species would have died out eons ago. These are both woman I like and respective very much.

In my first year of motherhood, these things would have bothered me. Why didn't I want to home school? (And believe me, I don't.) Am I putting my children at risk in daycare? Is my daughter going to be fat, sick, and anti-social because I didn't BF for 12 months? Was she already missing out on activities that would prove pivotal to her future success because I wasn't around to shuttle her from one to the other?

of course not

It took some time to become comfortable in motherhood, which itself has been the most intense and important undertaking in my life. That being said, I've come to realize that, for me, the Perfect Mom is not the Total Mom. I don't have a cohesive philosophy on motherhood save that the vast majority of us seem to be trying as best we can, and how we implement our universally-held good intentions is both personal and family-specific. In regards to home schooling, prolonged BF-ing, nanny-care, organicthisthatandtheother, epidurals, music appreciation class - they are all part of a decision making process that is individual to your family and lacking in any specific moral imperative.

For me and my family, its best that I work. Aside from the obvious financial implications, work is good for me. I enjoy what I do and I choose to believe my children benefit from having a mother who feels this way about her vocation, even if it means daycare and formula and dinners on-the-fly.

I am not perfect. I get cranky, irritable, and short with people, some of them my offspring, who deserve my patience. I don't think this makes me a bad mom, I think it makes me a human being. I gave up perfect a long time ago.

Although, all things being equal, I wish I hadn't drank during the first few weeks of my pregnancy...

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Booty, booty, booty, booty

My talking toddler is an amazing little creature. At first he would mostly babble and jargon, now he says sentences. His newest feat is to repeat words he hears in music we are playing or on the radio. My husband is a hip-hop aficionado but songs with curse words have now been relegated to the after-bedtime hours for fear of having our toddler repeat them to his teachers at school or on the playground. He doesn’t really repeat things he hears on NPR, but I am hoping that one day he will start reciting things he learns on All Things Considered or better yet from the TED Technology hour.

I must admit that I taught him a “bad” word. Completely unknowingly. It’s not even a real curse word but it’s still not something I want him to repeat with hand movements. To keep him distracted during diaper changes and during his twice daily rub downs with petroleum jelly (he has had some eczematous flares that are now under control), I would recite body parts to him and tickle him. When I got to his butt he would giggle as I said “booty, booty, booty”. 

One day as I was changing he ran up to me and said “booty, booty, booty” as he grabbed my butt; full on butt grab, the little bugger just dug in. I laughed, handed him a truck and kept it moving. It became concerning when he would bee-line toward me any time I was changing or heading to the bathroom. He would recite “booty, booty, booty” as he proceeded to grab my butt, he even tried to reach into the toilet once. He has now become a Booty Monster! My husband and I have been working for the last 2 weeks to get him to understand not to touch butts or other private parts. He’s almost 2 so this process goes mostly like this:

- see smiling toddler approaching with hands raised and fingers splayed saying “booty, booty, booty”
- Mommy says “no Zo, this is mommy’s booty, you cannot touch”
- Zo looks questionably at Mommy (I know he’s thinking but a few weeks ago you were laughing)
- Mommy hands Zo a toy
- Zo takes toy and runs or more likely, Zo takes toy, throws it on the ground and begins to cry
- repeat daily for weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks

Now, Mommy second guesses every gesture and phrase that is now cute but could potentially turn Zo into a raging maniac. Who knew? Not this Imperfect Doctor-Mama. Fingers crossed he isn’t doing this at school but I just can’t bring myself to ask his teachers.

Guest post: When imperfect feels perfect

I’m writing this with my laptop perched on a giant stack of review notes and printed lecture slides and I am purposefully ignoring the multiple powerpoint slideshows and files open on my desktop begging/demanding to be memorized. The worst part? My baby is at daycare, where she’ll be for another half hour to complete her 10 hour day. This is just so hard and sucky sometimes.

I’m a med student with a baby. I get asked all the time how I “do” it. Some weeks, it’s no big deal, it’s not that bad, and I feel the balance works well for our little family. But when she is brings me her favorite book to read, pulls the charger out of the computer, and screams until I read to her, I think to myself that I don’t know if I can “do” this, or even if I want to.

I have friends who have babies, too. One is a full time SAHM. Her instagram pictures of nature walks, arts and crafts, and “Sunday/Monday/EVERYDAY Funday” kill me a little bit inside. Another friend works from home and her pictures of “lunch with the little prince!” make me sigh/roll my eyes/shake my head (depending on the day, the most recent Histology quiz, or whether I got to see my baby before heading out in the morning).

I picked priorities. She was drinking formula at 3 months (end of summer vacation) but I made all my own baby food. Her grandma takes her to music class once a week since I can’t, but I put her to sleep every night. We read books and play all day Saturday, but Sunday mornings I go out to study.

My husband is awesome and supportive and doesn’t understand how I can love the field of medicine, love school (nerd, I know) and still feel so conflicted. I guess that’s the imperfect side of living your dream- other dreams sometimes get put to the side for a bit.

But as imperfect as the balancing act seems, when my baby is teething and only wants her mommy- and, since it is 3am, I am home (and awake), or when I get that HUGE smile and kiss when I come home, it feels so perfect. I’m sure some researcher somewhere has proven that listing bones, ligaments, and muscle attachments as a bedtime story, and speaking in mnemonics for disease presentations helps kids go really far in life. And keeps them happy. Here’s to hoping.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Less than perfect

I admit I’m not a perfect mother.

I wish at the end of the day, I can see all the bathwater that has sloshed out of the tub and likely making its way down cracks in tile and through the subflooring, and not angrily bark at the kids (who are at least in the tub and getting clean). After I bark and they are settled into their beds as I read their bedtime stories, I imagine how I could have handled it differently: with less anger, more love, and more humor.

I wish I could make them do things that they don’t want to do without the aid of bribery or sheer parental authority force. Like being creative and using Jedi mind tricks. Like being a positive shaping force instead of a strong-arming wet blanket. I manage to do this well sometimes, and others…well, I default to those methods which take the least time and energy.

I wish I could always be 100% attuned to them and their needs when we’re together, instead of being preoccupied with what I’m doing on the computer or the laundry or the person on the other end of the phone line. I realize this sometimes only after they raise their voice to tell me something again. Or act out to get my attention.  This always makes me feel guilty, vowing to try harder.

I wish I could put aside all of my stresses – and there are many big ones I deal with every day –when it comes to taking care of them, instead of letting those stresses spill over messily into my precious family time.

I have friends whom I think are better mothers. I imagine: what would she do in this situation? Or how would she handle this? Probably with more patience, I think. Less frustration, most likely. More accepting, I bet. This helps me be better in the moment, or sometimes the moment has unfortunately passed, but I’ll try to remember for next time.

I’m not a perfect mother. I’m a work in progress. But, I hope my children know how much I love them, and how much I think of my own imperfections, so that one day, we all could not be prouder of the mother I have become.

Posted originally on

My Holey Life

I desperately need to go shopping.

I am a physician, a professional, a role model, etc. Yet this is what the sole of my shoe looks like:

This is my underwear:

The cuff of my pants:

My socks:

(In my defense, those socks are only about a year old. I think our dryer eats clothing.)

And just in case you had any doubts in your mind that I am about as far from perfect as you can get, here's a photo of my child on a leash:

No, you can't pet her. But thanks for asking.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Guest post: Two weeks

I know I am imperfect all the time, but I felt particularly so during my recent two weeks on the wards.  Although I enjoy teaching the team of residents and students and doing some intensive patient care, it is also very hard.  And this was my first time on the wards since maternity leave, which was even harder.

One Saturday night, I was getting ready to leave the hospital at 8 pm.  My team had been admitting during the day and dealing with some other complicated issues, so I had stayed late.  I could have stayed even longer, but it was getting to be Baby’s bedtime.  I wanted to be at home for that and the team was under control.  Guilt-about-staying-at-work was slightly stronger than guilt-about-going-home, so it was time to go home.

I called my husband to come pick me up.  On weekend nights, there is no parking near where we live and we’re better off walking rather than moving the car.  We are within a 30-minute walk from the hospital.  We decided on the phone that Daddy would bring Baby in the stroller and we would all walk home together.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Baby usually likes walks in the stroller, but not this time.  He cried almost the whole way home.  And so did I.  He was hungry and tired and wanted his mama.  I was hungry and tired too and could not stand the sound of his distress.  Of course, it also started raining on us.  Not our finest hour. 

He forgot about all this as soon as we got home and put him to bed, but I continue to feel bad about being torn between work and home.  I have to remind myself to focus on the positive though.  Despite having a very busy service, I managed to sneak over to the OB floor to pump every 4 hours or so and sustain Baby’s feeding.  I am glad that my difficult weeks are interspersed with some easier ones, when I can spend more time with him.  And I am thankful that Baby has a wonderful Daddy to help take care of him.  All we can do is our best, even when it doesn’t always feel like enough. 

TaborF blogs at Tea with Dr. Tabor.

Why doesn't your mom just...

Setting:  tree pollen infested suburb of our nation's capital, springtime

son's friend (unaffected) 
son (with puffy eyelids and superficial excoriations on arms/back/legs)
mom (pediatrician, imperfect)

Act I: morning, breakfast

MOM: (places drops in son's eyes, sprays up son's nose, 10 ml syringe generic nonsedating antihistamine in son's mouth).  Have a good day, sweetie.

SON: (blinking, sniffing, rubbing, scratching...  yet smiling.)  Thanks mom.

Act II: school, lunchtime

SON'S FRIEND:  (inquisitively) Hey, why doesn't your mom just take you to the doctor?

SON: (emphatically) Because my mom is a doctor.

                --  The end --

Summary:  A mother in medicine recognizes that despite everything she (as a pediatrician) knows how to do, and everything she (as a mother) wants to do for her son, she is imperfect in her ability to cure all.  Drops, sprays, creams, liquids for her patients...  plus kisses for her own son.

Epilogue: This mother in  medicine recognizes, more painfully, that she cannot prevent or cure cancer in her own parents. She can understand and translate the fast talking teams of surgeons, anesthesiologists, oncologists, radiologists.  And she can be there with support, a lot of love, and a little laughter amidst the tears.

Guest post: The Medical Student Mom Guilt

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

Monday, April 29, 2013

Imperfection Trumps Perfection

I used to think that being perfect was the ideal.  Now I embrace imperfection.  It all started a few years ago, when I got divorced.  I have written here a little about my divorce before, not wanting to repeat myself, but time and experience brings fresh perspective to the past.

My marriage to my physician ex, my kid's dad, started to go downhill when I was in residency and we started a family.  Neither of us were equipped to have intelligent discussion about it, so we shoved our problems under the rug, I as much as he.  I projected an image to the world, my world - residents and attendings and future job possibilities - that everything was peachy keen.  Turns out the person I was most fooling was myself.  It took a long time and a lot of counseling to admit that; first to myself, then to him, then to our world.

I feared honesty.  Mostly for my kids.  Sure, all marriages struggle, but ours was gasping for air.  My daughter, Cecelia, at age 4 could see it.  "Mom, how come we never do things as a family?  I do things with daddy, and I do things with you.  Aunt Annie and Uncle Dave seem so happy - they touch and hug.  Why don't you and daddy do that?"  Children's words cut to the quick.  There comes a point when you worry that the fantasy you are creating for yourself and those around you is detrimental to your children.  What was I modeling?  Certainly not good relationship.

I recently read a book from one of our guest posters, Melissa Yuan-Innes, called The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World.  She writes comical and insightful short essays in this one of her many books about medicine.  The essay I am remembering while writing this post describes her desire to switch from a Type A to a Type B personality.  She takes it on, Type A style, both successfully and unsuccessfully.  Which is to say she mostly fails, but in her failure she wins awareness.  We can't really change who we are, but we can damn well try and usually gain something from the effort.  I empathized with her as I read, jokingly (um, half seriously actually) thinking of her as my Canadian twin.

I hike.  I do yoga.  I run.  I read voraciously.  I drink way too much coffee.  I am a single mother.  I am a doctor.  I burn the candle at both ends.  I do the best I can with the Type A personality that was hard-wired from birth.  Everything I attack is Type A - parenting, relationship, and work.  If I find myself with a short block of free time I reflexively fill it with activity, only later reflecting that I might have spent it better sitting on the couch and staring into space.  It's hard for me to unwind.  I can't change that, but I can change how I view outcome.  I am not perfect, no matter how hard I try.  And I'm finally coming to the conclusion that it's all right.

I am the epitome of imperfection.  A few years ago, it would have killed me to admit that.  Now it is freeing.  I am free to embrace my kid's stepmom as a wonderful addition to our lives.  I am free to embrace my true feelings around life situations.  I get mad, I get sad, I get happy.  My children experience this, the messiness of me and my life, whereas before I was a shell of a human being covering up all my emotions.  I think this allows them the freedom to express themselves as well, warts and all.  If I can allow myself to brag on my kids (this is the perfect forum) my daughter is a Duke/TIP scholar in math, an avid late into every night reader, and a creative singer/songwriter who hits the mike running every week at a recording studio.  My son is a math genius (according to his teachers), another avid reader, and carries so much emotional intelligence in the first grade that I get e-mails from his teacher about specific incidences with peers and adults that transform the classroom into a mini-utopia.  But my oh my those siblings can Fight with a capital "F."  And sometimes Cecelia gets into moods that rival the worst teenagers - Ack, at 10 already, who knew?  Sometimes I get ruffled - she is wildly intelligent and preys unconsciously on my weak spots - and yell back.  But we ride it out, and we learn from it.  It makes us closer as a family.

I created all this.  We created this.  The good and the bad.  Me, their dad, their stepmom, all of our extended family and support.  It's not perfect, it's perfectly messy.  But there is something amazing underneath.  Perfection, bah.  Toss it out.  Until you do, you cannot fully embrace life; because life is imperfection.  When you accept that notion, all you Type A MiM's or future MiM's out there - that is when life truly begins.

Guest post: I stopped worrying so much

I’m six months into motherhood and I’ve decided to stop worrying. My husband and I waited until well after residency finished to start a family, mostly to make sure that we were secure in our lives but partially because I know way too much. I was concerned that I would spend what energy I had left worrying about every last thing – did the baby move enough today, did I drink enough water, my feet are swollen and could that mean that my blood pressure is up? During pregnancy I decided to leave all the worrying to my obstetric colleagues (not that there was any worrying to be had – my pregnancy was uneventful and I delivered two days before my due date). After our daughter was born I worried about every last thing. What is that rash? How many times did she poop today? Is she sleeping enough? Can I get all the laundry done today? How will I go out to get diapers if she’s eating for 30 minutes every 90 minutes? Did I eat lunch today? Why hasn’t she started rolling over yet? What if she doesn’t like daycare?

Our darling girl is now six months old. She has turned out just fine despite all my distress and disquiet. I was fortunate enough to be able to exclusively breastfeed her for the first six months. She has had no major illnesses. She is developmentally appropriate. She sleeps through most nights without needing my services. She’s a champion traveler. She enjoys daycare and all the kids there. We have yet to run out of diapers.

I’m making a commitment to worry less. The laundry can wait – it’s more important for me to spend time playing with her while she’s awake. I can fold laundry after she goes to bed. It’s cheaper for me to make my lunch but if I don’t make it to the store because we’re having fun or because it interferes with naptime, then I can buy my lunch. I will worry less the more time I spend with her because it reassures me that we’re all doing fine. We’re alive, we’re breathing. We have a roof over our heads and (sometimes wrinkled) clothing on our backs. When I start to become distressed over something, I stop and remind myself that we’re quite alright. There will be plenty of things for me to obsess over in the future. Right now, I’m going to enjoy my baby girl and how much joy she’s brought to our lives.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Next topic week: On being an imperfect mother

We mothers in medicine may be very different. We've chosen different specialties, have one child or multiple, have stay-at-home husbands or husbands who travel for work more often than they are at home, are of advanced maternal age or had kids at an age earlier than average, have different ideas of a balanced life. But, I can guarantee we have at least two things in common: 1) we are trying our best for our children; 2) we are not perfect parents.

Our next topic week starting April 29 will be about celebrating our imperfections. (During topic weeks, we feature posts by our regular contributors and guest posts submitted by readers, all centered on a specific topic. During previous topic weeks, we've covered everything from a day in the life to work life balance to childcare.Well, they started as topic days but we realized we had so many posts that we needed to spread them over a week to avoid massive post fatigue.) Posts may cover anything related to being imperfect - confessions, reflections, laugh-with-me-so-I-don't-cry stories, personal philosophies on parenting, you name it. 

We hope you will join in and write something for topic week. To be included, please send your submissions as a Word document attachment to mothersinmedicine(at)gmail(dot)com by April 28. Submissions can be anonymous. For more examples of past topic days/weeks, see Labels in the sidebar.

Thanks for reading and making MiM such an amazing online community.