Showing posts with label pregnancy timing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pregnancy timing. Show all posts

Monday, September 19, 2016

Living Your Questions

I’m sure you’ve heard Sheryl Sandberg's advice to women, "Don't Leave Before You Leave". Well, several years ago, I faced some choices. I had finished Family Medicine Residency the year prior. As planned, I did a series of temporary positions filling in for other doctors - the usual course of action for new grads in my field and location. These experiences were crucial in showing me the kind of practice style and environment I desired. After a year, though, I longed for "my" patients - to be able to get to know people, and follow them over time, both personally and clinically. It was unsatisfying to frequently step into a new clinic environment, never knowing how complete (or legible) the patients' charts would be, and never being able to follow a patient for very long.

Then, I filled in for a colleague's vacation at a great clinic and I didn't want to leave. Another doctor there asked for maternity leave coverage and I happily obliged. It was so refreshing: the clinic physicians were collegial, the staff was efficient and professional, and the electronic medical records system worked like a dream. The great news was that they had room for me to start a practice there. 

This idea daunted me: was I ready to commit to a practice? I wasn't sure, actually, because Family Medicine has its challenges and those that concerned me most were dealing with patients whose expectations greatly conflicted with what treatment I was comfortable providing, as well as assessments of disability for which I felt woefully untrained and unqualified.  I also had interests beyond clinical medicine - in academics, including medical education and research. Wouldn’t it be great not to be tied down? Many of my colleagues continue doing locums for years, and have great freedom and flexibility. Finally, my husband and I wanted to start our family: wasn't it foolish to start a practice when planning a pregnancy? I had uncertainties, and wasn't sure what was the best next step. 

I went for it anyway. I read and reflected on a couple of things: one, that I owe it to myself and potential patients to try practicing "real" Family Medicine. I knew it was the only way I'd find out whether I liked it. After all, having your own patients and directing their clinical care is so different than covering for another physician -- you set the tone of your practice. Further, I came across this powerful statement during that time - "if your next step doesn't scare you a bit, you're not pushing yourself hard enough”, which further reinforced my decision. This, I might add, is quite uncharacteristic for me - I am a very careful decision-maker. And the truth is, for the first few months, I still wasn’t sure that I had made the right decision.

Nearly six years later, I love having my own practice.  I get to establish a rapport with my patients, and partner with them on their journey to improve their health. I have been able to really delve into the problem-solving that makes medicine so engaging. I was also able to serendipitously find and develop an interest in refugee health.  Skill-building in this fairly new, actively growing field added another dimension to my practice, and allowed me to incorporate teaching with medical students and residents and involvement in community initiatives. 

As it turned out, it took my husband and I longer than anticipated to conceive. We are now grateful to have two young children, and I’m grateful that after each maternity leave I looked forward to returning to my practice. The experience of being completely unsure of my decision brings to mind these lovely words by Rainer Maria Rilke, which I first encountered several years before, during another period of uncertainty:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Goodbye hormonal birth control

It’s kind of hard to say goodbye to hormonal birth control when it’s been so good to you for so long. I started taking the pill as a teenager. My father is a teen parent and my mother instilled in me such a huge fear of early pregnancy that I stayed prepared, mostly to avoid her wrath! Talk about the teen brain in action; birth control was a very concrete option. Avoid pregnancy or be beaten, possibly at school in front of all of your classmates. YouTube videos of parents beating teens wasn’t around then, but if it had been, I’m sure this nightmare would have included my Aunt videotaping and putting it on the Internet. (note: I am totally over-dramatizing this and my mother and Aunt are two of my dearest friends now. They loved me fiercely and kept me from all types of danger including a few college boyfriends who were up to no good.)

I still remember sneaking to Planned Parenthood (it was across the street from a busy metro station) in order to get my first pack of pills. I was sweating, I was scared. But larger than my fear of being seen was my fear of getting pregnant and having to tell my parents. I knew getting pregnant before college would make my dreams of becoming a doctor even more of difficult to achieve, if not impossible. I had my share of providers over the years. I remember one male doctor that tried to shame me by drawing horribly graphic pictures; I wanted to yell at him but was too scared. I remember some outstanding older nurse providers (one super cute grey-haired lady in particular) who were very sex-positive and helped me try various methods.

Methods I have tried to date (in semi-order): combined oral contraceptive pill for years, the patch for less than a month,  Depo-provera for a few months, abstinence, emergency contraception, pills again, the ring for a few cycles, the Mirena IUD for 3 years, a healthy planned pregnancy 3 weeks after discontinuing the IUD, breastfeeding and the mini progesterone-only pill for a few years, and finally my second IUD.

Somewhere around age 30 and my pregnancy, I began to have hormonal headaches each month around ovulation and changes in birth control. Now that Zo is well out of diapers, we are ready for baby number 2. So I said goodbye to my second IUD. Hubby and I decided this would be the end of hormonal birth control for us until we decide to have someone’s tubes tied. I am still holding out hope he’ll see me waddling around pregnant and will decide to get a vasectomy.

I know this country tends to shame sexually active teens, but I was one of them, and I turned out alright in my opinion. I’m a pretty successful Pediatrician, married, with a child. I have friends who used various methods and ended up teen parents and now as an adult I have countless friends dealing with infertility. I wasn’t promiscuous (though I won’t shame those who are), but I always knew that avoiding pregnancy and infection were top priorities for me (referring back to my mother who wanted no parts of being a young grandmother). Now that infection is virtually impossible (if anything goes down hubby will have some ‘splaining to do) and we actually want to expand our family, I say goodbye to my old friend hormonal birth control. Thank you for keeping me safe and allowing me to follow my dreams.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Hello from CaliMed

Hello MiM!
I'm excited to be joining this fantastic community that has helped me tremendously from the time I started thinking about medicine to now, 12 weeks shy of starting my first year of medical school. A little bit more about me, my background is in finance, but after a few years on Wall Street I knew I was going down the wrong career path. After having my first daughter in 2011, I realized if I really wanted to go for medicine, I had to get on it. I am extremely lucky to have a supportive husband and thus started my post-bac when my daughter, SK, was 1. Because I was a finance major in college I had to take all the pre-reqs and although I've always loved school, I learned that studying with a toddler in tow was a completely different experience than my undergrad years. (Like that time SK accidentally locked me in the garage like a prisoner before my organic midterm...)

Now said princess is turning 4 in June and we are expecting another in a matter of weeks. It was my plan all along to squeeze another child in before the start of school, but the window was limited and tricky. At one point I was clearly delusional and considered being a "little bit" pregnant for the MCAT, but thankfully came to my senses. I am sad that baby #2 will still be tiny when school begins, but I know I am luckier than most to have the flexibility that comes with being a student.

I am really looking forward to sharing my journey through school with you all. I have to confess, I feel like quite a newbie - I've done the mom thing for a while now, but I've just started the medicine part. And with so many wonderful members in this community who are much more advanced in their careers than I, I am curious what others would like to see from me. Please let me know!

And now I will leave you with my brilliant plan for the next 12 weeks before I take the plunge into medicine:
1. Pack up house and move most of our stuff to new city.
2. Rent out current place.
3. Host fantastically awesome Rapunzel birthday party for SK at 38 weeks pregnant.
4. Pop out baby #2.
5. Move the rest of our stuff and drive down to med school.
6. Get situated (make sure SK likes school, find nanny (!), get to know area, figure out transition from life with 1 kid to life with 2, oh and unpack)
7. Start school and balance marriage, 2 kids and student-life like a boss*

* TBD. May need help with this one, but absolutely thrilled to be pursuing my dream.

Cheers all!

Edit: I wrote this post before I saw Cutter's post from yesterday. After reading it and all the comments below which seemed to offer a resounding and unanimous "no" to her question, I realize my post may sound slightly manic and also maybe naive. But I am honestly very excited for this new experience that lies ahead and think it would be wrong even, to make such a drastic change in my life and not put everything into it. I have so much respect for Cutter and all the women in this community who have taken the path that I am just now embarking on. And I would be lying if I said I was not affected by some of the comments. But I was also very encouraged by the fact that many of you absolutely love what you are doing. I know I have a lot to learn and I may feel differently down the line, but for right now, I can't look back and can only look forward and say yes. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pager Anxiety*

I was on call for 7 days starting last Friday. My mother watched Babyboy all day until I got home from work close to 7 pm. My husband was traveling. Mom and I had a bowl of soup together, and then she went home. I was thankful knowing she would be on duty for me Saturday and Sunday so I could go in and round on my patients. Babyboy and I set about our usual Friday night routine: he sat on my bed supported by pillows as I got my pajamas on; then we did tummy-time for a bit and sang songs for a bit. As soon as he started to rub his eyes, I darkened his lights, set Sleep Sheep on “rainfall”, and gave him a warm milkie bottle. And as per usual, he conked out.
Time for Mommy to conk out. I set my pager on the bedside table, turned out the light, and nestled down for the night. Then, “Bip!” the pager went off. I startled and turned the lights back on and fussed with my glasses and looked at the page text: an urgent page from someone with a sore throat. Sigh. I got up, logged into the computer, pulled up the patient’s chart and called her. A young new mom, her baby is in daycare and is on his 3rd course of antibiotics for an ear infection. Now she’s had a very sore throat and fever over 101 and difficulty swallowing. She knows she should have come into the office, but between work and the baby, she couldn’t. She’s miserable, she’s pretty sure this is Strep, can I help her? Sure. We chatted, she was very gracious, and I felt good to be able to help her out. I called in her Amoxicillin and that was that.
I again set the pager down on the bedside table, turned out the light, and settled down to try to sleep. But how could I sleep when I kept worrying and fretting that the pager would go off again?
Sigh. This has been an ongoing issue since residency. As a resident, when you’re on call, you’re in the hospital, often covering more than one service. As an example, when I was on Pediatrics call, I sometimes would cover two floors: toddler and school age. Back then, each floor had their own pager. Then there was the clinic pager. This in addition to my own personal pager. So it was not abnormal to be wearing 4 pagers. I had to double-knot my scrub bottoms so they stayed up with all these pagers clipped to my waist. It was a feat to use the bathroom and not lose one down the toilet!
And they beeped. A lot. I remember being on call one overnight at a satellite hospital. I was the resident covering the Peds ward, admissions, and backup for labor and delivery. I was paired with an intern who was thankfully a smart and cool-headed guy. For most of the night, we were working with a newly admitted teenager in diabetic ketoacidosis. The teen was on an insulin drip, and their blood sugars, electrolytes and acid/base balance had to be watched carefully. We were being paged so often about the teen that we decided to just stay up there. But, BEEP! A code in the ER! An 8 year old in status epilepticus. We ran and got there at the same time as the on-call anesthesiologist. We decided to sedate and intubate the boy, give as much Valium and other antiepileptics as we could and call for transport to the Main hospital. Then, BEEP! we were STAT paged to a delivery. The resident covering Neonatal was already in a delivery, and there was another imminent delivery that required Peds presence: premature TWINS. They were 32 weeks, which is little but not too too little. They would need to be in the NICU (Neonatal intensive care) for a few weeks, but they were fine. The whole time there were numerous other pages: issues with the admitted children on the ward, beep beep beep; some new admissions to go and see, beep beep. We split up to try to cover it all.
That was a pretty bad night on pediatrics, but it wasn’t abnormal. Medicine codes were much more common, and arguably worse, because people died more often. The medicine code pager, which went off if there was an adult in cardiac or respiratory arrest somewhere in the hospital, had the loudest, most obnoxious sound: “REE-OO-REE-OO-REEEEE”. If I’m in my hospital now, and someone’s pager is set to that tone, I get so uncomfortable. I want to run, or hit them.
I now have my pager set to a sound that isn’t at all like the ones I had in residency. It’s a little “Bip!”, almost a chirp, really. And it never means I have to run anywhere. I only need to be able to pick up the phone and talk, and think. But when that thing goes off, I might as well be back on the floors again. I’m like a returned soldier from ‘Nam, man. Just a tad PTSD.
There was even one holiday weekend, a Fourth of July, where my office was closed on a Friday. I was on call starting that morning. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm. But the pager went off every five minutes for the whole day. I was planted at my desk, fielding calls, reading charts, looking up answers, trying to keep track of all the issues. The calls piled up. People were annoyed that the office was closed, and that I took so long to get back to them. I went into a full-fledged panic attack at one point. I can now tell my patients with panic attacks that I really do know what a panic attack feels like.
And so, a week ago Friday, there I was, in bed and trying to sleep, in the safety and comfort of my own bedroom, and I couldn’t sleep, after just one benign page. I even started drifting off to sleep, and hallucinated that the pager beeped. I woke up and turned the lights on and stared, but there was no blinking callback number, no message.
I finally fell asleep. Then, at 4:30 a.m., “Bip!” From the deepest sleep, I startled, turned the light on, fumbled with my glasses, and looked at the message. An urgent call for nausea, vomiting. I sighed, pulled myself up and to the computer, and dialed. The lady had school-aged children. She couldn’t keep anything down. I talked to her husband. We agreed that he would take her into the emergency room. I called the emergency room to let them know she was on her way and that I suspected Norovirus, that she would likely need IV fluids. I typed a brief note. I went back to bed.
Two hours later, I was still awake.
*originally posted at March 19, 2011

Monday, June 23, 2008

Researching my options for parenthood

Three years ago, I was finishing my first year of general surgical training. I’d love to say my husband was by my side, but he was at home, and I was spending six months in a dingy flat that used to be accommodation for psychiatric patients. It was my first six month rotation away from home, and hopping in and out of the cold bed multiple times on call nights felt pretty lonely.

One night, non-medical hubby asked me to make my career let me sleep at home. Not one full week later, I was approached by my final year tutor and asked whether I would consider a research degree. Bingo-shezam! I had my solution.

Not four months into my PhD program, I turned thirty. Vaguely thinking of fertility and body-clocks, I stopped taking the pill to “see what would happen”. Bingo-Shezam!

Doing self-directed research with preggo brain was a challenge, to say the least. The internet, prime procrastination tool, is just there behind that stats program window! Frantically, I finished what I could and sailed out on maternity leave, just in time for Christmas. Four weeks later, my beautiful Miss Z arrived in a fanfare of electronic beeps, hustled epidurals, botched large-bore IV cannulae and theatre lights.

She has felt at home in the spotlight ever since.

When I returned to study, I compared notes with my clinical friends. I realised I had found the perfect maternity break. Not only had I managed to sneak it in before my ovaries failed, I also had flexibility. The latish start; the early childcare pick up; the day off when she was sick: all unimaginably difficult as a surgical trainee. I even started to congratulate myself - who said there was no good time? Who said you couldn’t have it all?

Miss Z is now 2, and she has been joined by cuddly Mr J, 10 months (who has always been more reserved). I am about to return to the wards, and fellowship exams are just around the corner. I seemed to have blocked out my last few clinical rotations. I have vague memory of having to work weekends. I did have to work late a few nights as well, now that I think about it. Studying was pretty time-consuming too, I recall.

I thought I had found the perfect compromise, and my life was easy. I can no longer even imagine how much I loved helping patients; fixing them. Instead, I can only imagine the wrench of losing wriggly toes in my bed at 7:30, and giggling bathing at five. When I planned parenthood, it felt like something I could control. I could decide what my obligation would be, and what I would expect in return. There would be no compromises, and everyone would be happy all the time.

Luckily, it is much more fun than that.

But I still haven’t figured out the perfect maternity time. Have you?

Dr. Cris Cuthbertson is a surgical trainee in Victoria, Australia. She is currently midway through a PhD on pancreatitis, and will then return for two more years as a registrar before sitting for her fellowship exam. She is a mother to two children - 2 year old Z and 10 month old J. She maintains a blog at, which is focussed on medical productivity, with discussion of medical applications of Mac software.