I am in awe of my friends who are parents. Without a doubt, they are the most selfless, the hardest working, the best multi-taskers I know. It seems like they are truly superheroes- the fact that they get up in the morning ready to take on parenthood AND whatever else their lives entail. This is a story of one such friend.
Lindsey had her first child during what many people would deem one of the most challenging times in life-medical residency.
Lindsey was in her first year of residency in family medicine when this story starts. She had recently moved with her husband of around five years to start the residency program. She initially held the belief that her training program would be “pretty chill” compared to other medical training programs. And she would have been right, if “pretty chill” meant working 80-hour weeks.
As it would turn out, her program was more intense than others, with much more time spent in the hospital and a lot of time focused on obstetrics (delivering babies).
Intern year is known to be the hardest year- you’re the newest in your program and subsequently responsible for most things- you’re known as the “worker bee”. To combat burnout in her program’s intern year, once a week there would be a set period of time in which interns would meet together for lectures and small group discussions. One of the small group discussions was aimed at being a check-in for interns to share with their peers difficulties they were going through- things that were coming up both in their personal/professional lives. At one check-in group during the winter of her first year, Lindsey shared how she was feeling down about the inability to move forward in her personal life. She had started to experience an internal clock that was telling her she wanted to move forward with starting a family. It felt like residency had taken over so much control over her life that it seemed impossible to plan anything beyond her next meal. She shared this was her peers—that it felt like her life was on hold, that beyond her training program she was really just eating, sleeping, and occasionally seeing her husband. “Her story” was stuck until residency was over, it seemed.
A day or two later, she received an email from a co-resident. This colleague told her she understood how she felt, but she wanted her to know that she could have a family. It would be hard, but it was possible. She, herself, had children and was managing both.
This message , someone saying “Hey, I’d doing it” prompted her to consider possibilities beyond what she thought was just how things were. She talked to her husband who agreed that he felt ready as well. During the next few months, she continued to deliver babies which, if anything, reiterated what she knew was already true. The she wanted to have a baby. “Helping people form a family is really special,” she told me.
In November she found out she was pregnant. Her son was born in August, as she started her third year of residency.
Like her colleague had said, it was hard. Pregnancy wasn’t a time when she could rest. Instead, she continued her program, working night shifts and spending 12-hour days on her feet. Her program was generous in giving her time when she needed it, but she was often being pulled in one direction or the other- she rarely had time for herself.
After her son was born in August, she took off 12 weeks and then went back to work to finish her program.
As is often true, things that are most difficult are also most rewarding. The first day she dropped her son off at daycare, she cried all the way to work. There were days when she wouldn’t see her son awake, when her husband would have to bring him to the hospital so she could spend time with him on her break. There were times when she thought “this feels unfair”. But there was also something immensely rewarding about having a job where you were caring for people, where it mattered if you showed up. There was something incredible about her ability to do what she wanted- to take back control of her life and make decisions for herself-to feel that she could become a doctor and grow her family and not feel that one was keeping her captive from the other.
People tend to look at a situation and say it is all good or all bad. But Lindsey’s story really speaks to the thing that is so true about so many things in life: there are hard and beautiful things about everything worth doing.
Becoming a mom and going back to residency gave her perspective. While it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies, it allowed her the ability to see what really mattered and what didn’t. If someone said something snarky to her at work, it didn’t matter because she had to focus on getting work done so she could be a mom. She disavowed herself from the belief that she had to be a mom who could “do it all” –she recognized that was impossible. Her choices weren’t seamless, they weren’t perfect, they weren’t easy. But she had the power to decide them. And, given the decision again, she assured me she would choose the same way. She would choose her family.