Dr. Mom: No instructions included

The day I graduated from medical school and walked across that stage with my diploma in hand, I was sure that I had achieved the highest honor in the land.  I could not help envisioning myself in a long, crisp white coat, walking down the long hallways of the hospital, with my name badge perfectly displayed that read: “doctor.”

I was certain in my mind that I had finally made it.  I was truly satisfied with my ability to get up each and every day to do what I loved.  I remember my father telling me when I was young, “If you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life.” I was happy with my life choice to pursue medicine, and I still am.  This isn’t about regretting my decision to become a doctor, or even complaining about all my time spent studying for countless exams or late nights spent on call as a young resident.  Looking back, I am still very proud of my achievements, and humbled by the mere fact that despite my professional success, I still had so much to learn about life and reality, and what really matters at the end of every day.  For me, it’s about balancing the life I love, and defining success in just that.

I knew I wanted to get married and have a family some day.  I always knew considering my career path, that I would be a working mom.  I never spent much time contemplating how to balance life, or the strain that two full time jobs, doctor and mom, may place on my daily routine.  Before I had my son I remember asking some of my mommy friends for their books on “mommyhood.”  I was so used to everything I needed to know coming from a textbook of some kind and found myself wondering how could this “mommy” thing be any different?

I borrowed a few books from close friends, and read them all cover to cover.  I made notes on nearly every page, and even started memorizing milestones for each month of infancy.  I read, and read and read.  I was 100% prepared from my perspective, and I was ready to have that baby. I even talked my OB/GYN into scheduling an induction at 39 weeks, so we could adhere to my schedule.  Looking back, it’s quite comical that I actually considered myself “prepared” for the events that were fast approaching.

After two failed inductions, my son finally entered the world via C-section — things were not going as planned already. (I didn’t read any chapters on emergency C-sections.)  This was uncharted territory to say the least, and within the first three days of his life, I was sure I was in over my head.  By the end of the first week home with my new baby, I was beyond tired and sleep deprived, and I craved my normalcy.  I needed to return to what I was good at: I wanted to go back to being “successful.”  The daily failures became too numerous to count, and I began to feel the heavy guilt that I’m sure many working moms have felt before.  There was a fine line between exhausted and crazy, and it often became smudged every waking moment of each day.

It is only now, two years after the birth of my first child, that I learned the true meaning of success, for me.  I spent the majority of my first months as a new mom, focusing on how being a doctor was all I knew how to do.  Working in the emergency department was so unpredictable, and I loved the excitement of it all — and somehow the unpredictability of an infant proved to be a little more daunting to say the least.  I quickly realized that what life was teaching me, I couldn’t learn from a book.  Each day is its own, met with new challenges and victories.  I began to appreciate every milestone whenever it came, and tried my best to enjoy every moment when I was home, being a mom.

My newfound successes ranged from the ability to pump breast milk while working a shift in the ED, to spending time with my babies at the park, while studying for my medical boards.  For me, its about making it all work, and taking each day in stride — it’s become my new normal, my very own little piece of reality.  It was hard in the beginning, and it still is.  There are days when I searched for an even keel, and didn’t find it anywhere.  And there will always be days like that.  Finding real balance isn’t about having it all the time, it’s about being cool, calm and collected enough to know you will strike it again.  I slowly learned to give myself credit when credit was due.  By taking time to address the little triumphs (sometimes daily), I had the ability to better deal with challenges when they arose.  I was finally getting it: the 800-watt light bulb incessantly flickered.  I realized that I would never be good at everything all the time.  And with failure comes the overwhelming resolve to get up and try again, day in and day out.

The old adage, “You can’t appreciate the sunshine if it never rains,” still rings true for me.  Never in a million years would have guessed that being a mom would be the hardest job that I would ever have in life. It’s surely been the most educational and rewarding endeavor thus far.  At the end of the day, my mind is made up, Dr. Mom is by far the greatest title in the land.

Gina M. Blocker is medical director, emergency medical services, William Beaumont Army Medical Center, El Paso, TX.

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  • Scott R.E. Thompson

    Thank you for sharing your insights. As a young father who decided to give up medical school and a potential career as a physician to stay home and raise a family, I’m glad that you emphasized how life changes for professionals with young children.

  • FEDUP MD

    Please don’t think that balancing being a physician and parent is necessarily extremely stressful. I just had my second child and couldn’t be happier. Limiting my working hours has certainly helped, although of course I have had to accept the decreased pay and hit to my career long term that that may entail. Of course, part time in medicine is full time anything else. Also limiting the martyr complex helps- expectations for what mothering entails has increased so much in a generation that it is ridiculous. Just recognize that working mothers now spend more “quality” one on one time with their kids now than stay at home mothers ever did during the Mad Men era and you will realize the psychologists who came up with the “good enough” parenting paradigm had it right.

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