We had our first child during the fourth year of my husband’s ophthalmology residency, and our second son joined us during the first year of a surgical retina fellowship. Juggling long hours, multiple medical commitments and the needs of two small children can be exhausting but every day is complete with fulfillment and laughter — and who can ask for anything more in life than that?
For many, the long hours of residency come hand-in-hand with a new challenge — becoming a parent. Does deciding whether to take the plunge leave you and your partner jittery? While having a family is a game changer, anyone who has done it will tell you that it is worth it. Having children is infinitely rewarding, fulfilling, busy, and as far as finding the “perfect time” goes — that just might be an impossible task.
For the medical parent, becoming a mother or father can offer new perspectives with patients, and the majority of programs now offer some degree of flexibility and understanding during birth time and late pregnancy. Both parents will also need to have time for themselves on occasion.
1. Shared learning curve. Your partner is at a career stage when he or she is learning new skills daily — just like when you become a parent. Your relationship will grow and change in all sorts of new ways when you start to refer to yourselves as mommy and daddy and you’ll really bond over all the new hurdles you’re experiencing every day.
2. Tick tock. Time waits for no man, woman or resident. In the game of life, starting younger certainly has its perks. You never know how long it might take you to conceive and welcome your first child. Indeed, the general attitude of waiting to do anything in life until after residency can be a slippery slope. If we wait until the end of medical school, then residency, then fellowship, then those first few years of settling in at a new practice, we might just end up waiting for retirement! Whatever your dreams may be — having a family, traveling, home ownership or a hobby, the best time to start is typically today — not tomorrow. And of course, some simple math will tell you that waiting to complete residency – and possibly, a fellowship, can bring with it an increase in various pregnancy risk factors due to advanced maternal age.
3. Those crazy hours. It’s 3 a.m. I’m up soothing the baby and I hear my husband’s pager go off. Sometimes, with two kids under the age of three, plus one-in-two call, it seems like we will never be able to enjoy a good night’s rest. In any case, we have found peace in the overall feeling that we are pushing hard right now to achieve a more balanced lifestyle in the future.
4. The ultimate stress remedy. Nothing reduces stress like having a tickle fight, going sledding on a snowy afternoon or cuddling with a little one to watch a movie. Being a parent certainly has its difficult days, but one kiss, whispered “I love you,” or coo can make even the toughest day melt away. Family time warms the spirit and rejuvenates the soul — reminding a busy resident that there is more to life than medicine. Sometimes, between rounds, journal club, clinics and exams, that’s just what the doctor ordered.
5. It takes a village. During residency, there is often a wealth of local programming for partners and families. If your program has a structured organization, be sure to join in the fun. You’ll find scheduled play dates, social gatherings and holiday events. If not, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to other medical families with young children. It’s an easy way to develop a social circle, especially if you are new to an area – and having a circle of friends to lean on can make a world of difference once the medical parent returns to work.
6. Logistics, logistics. Having a child during residency has its logistical perks. Finding coverage as a resident is often much easier than in the “real world,” and elective schedules can often be adjusted so non-call rotations and vacation time can be added on to maternity leave.
There truly is no perfect time to have a baby — each family has to make the decision that’s right for them. As a family in medicine, we often find ourselves looking out at our future in blocks of time — four years for this, three years for that, one year of this. It can be challenging to imagine how children fit into that picture — but once they arrive, it is impossible to imagine the world without them.
As someone wisely told us when our first son was born, “the party is over — but the real fun has just begun.”
Jasmine Almeida is a writer who blogs at Physician Family, where this article originally appeared.
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