How this OB/GYN handled her unexpected maternity leave

by RH+, MD

About 3 weeks after my son was born I read this post and I was extremely jealous as I read about the author’s extended leave. As I began to consider my “maternity leave” I realized that I could quite possibly have a truly unique situation on my hands.

I work in private practice and my husband is an amazing stay at home Dad. We had been waiting to adopt a baby for 3 years, then one miraculous day in November we got the call. Your baby is here … pick him up tomorrow.

We were beyond excited. Wait, did you say tomorrow? As in “24 hours of notice.” As in my schedule is booked solid for the next 3 months including a massive number of December surgeries.

As I gave my office manager the wonderful news she hugged me tears streaming down her face but quickly after the congratulations was the question … what are we going to do with your schedule? Hmm. Let me get back to you on that.

So, of course, I canceled by patients for the next 3 months so I could bond with my child? Actually, no.

After a couple of days I realized something. I was essentially a man here. I am the sole bread winner. I didn’t need to recover or breast feed; and there is a parent home full time with the kids. How would other men handle this? I thought of my own patients whose husbands took a week, maybe two off at the most, when their babies were born.

Being in private practice was great, I make a good living, I set my own schedule, I am my own boss. But if I don’t work I don’t get paid. I strongly considered taking an extended leave and taking out a loan, but realistically I wasn’t sure that was wise in this economy.

Also, with so many of our patients postponing surgery until they have met their deductible, the surgery schedule in December was full. Asking my patients to see some other provider in our office for their pap smears and minor issues is one thing, but when someone is having surgery they want their doctor. So this was my dilemma.

Essentially, I compromised. I took 3 weeks “off” (I did run in and do a few surgeries), then worked 2 days a week for a few weeks. After a month I went to 3 days a week then returned to working 4 days a week (my usual schedule) after 6 weeks. I’ve also taken lots of other random extra days off here and there. This, plus my husband home full time and several weeks with grandparents visiting, has actually lead to an amazingly smooth first 6 months.

I feel extremely bonded with my son and feel this “maternity leave” was so much less stressful than my maternity leave with my older son when I was recovering from a c-section and having breastfeeding issues. My partners and nurse practitioner were wonderfully helpful in seeing my patients when I was on a reduced schedule. Luckily my son has been a good sleeper and the transition has gone quite smoothly.

I realize that a lot of women are forced to take a reduced maternity leave because of school or training and don’t have the advantage of having control of their schedules. I feel lucky that mine worked out so well and my son has such an amazing Dad as a primary caregiver.

RH+ is an obstetrician-gynecologist who blogs at Mothers in Medicine.

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