My husband and I met during my graduate studies and while he was earning his bachelor’s degree. Two years after getting married, we packed our belongings and moved to a new state where he began medical school. We started our own little family a year later and welcomed an amazing daughter into our lives. After she was born, I made the personal decision to leave my job and stay at home with her, which meant putting my career on hold, forfeiting a good income and living on student loans. Many people would wonder why I would give up working with my graduate degree that I spent so much time on to stay at home with our daughter. Do I regret the choice? No. It was MY choice, and I would make it again in a heartbeat. We agreed that my husband would finish his education and I would fulfill my career path at a later time.
However, I have to admit that I often fixated on the concept of “later.” I found myself fantasizing about when my husband would finally be an established doctor and would have the time and financial means to support my own goals. I would tell myself “I can’t wait until later when we can … (fill in the blank here).” In the midst of such unproductive musings, it occurred to me that this line of thinking was a waste of time. It seemed I thought my life was on hold and would only resume at a “later” time when my husband finished his residency training. I knew I had to change my way of thinking and after many discussions with my spouse, we decided we both needed to modify our outlook. I still wanted to stay at home with my child, but we felt it was important for me to start finding greater personal fulfillment during the long road of medical school and residency. After some introspection, I decided I would try to find fulfillment in the following ways.
Build your resume. The reality of people in my situation is that it’s easy to focus on your partner’s medical career as it often influences you as much as it influences them. Though it’s important to support your husband or wife in medical school, it’s just as important to focus on pursuing your own growth and development. Whether this is building your actual resume or the “resume of life,” keeping this in mind can help both those who are working or staying at home while their spouse is busy with school or training. For example, my graduate degree is in a helping profession where it is often useful to know the Spanish language. It has been a personal goal of mine to achieve that respectable and coveted status of being bilingual (well … have a semi-acceptable understanding of another language anyway). I decided to learn as much as I could and borrowed a Spanish learning program from my in-laws (who they themselves speak excellent Spanish since they lived in Chile for three years). My skills have grown, and I certainly can communicate on a very basic level. The point is I think it will help my goals for the future, and it’s fun for me now. ¡Que bueno!
Find a hobby. Medical school is a costly investment, and residency isn’t exactly the most lucrative point during a doctor’s career. It’s imperative to be smart with your money, and though there is power in managing your finances, that doesn’t mean you can’t do activities you enjoy. If you find fulfillment in a financially viable hobby — go for it. The world is your proverbial oyster. Again, allow me to provide a personal example that also includes my husband. We both considered hobbies we could pursue together and identified running as something we enjoy. We decided to pursue a goal of completing a 5K, 10K, half-marathon and full marathon. My running game was seriously lacking in the beginning, but I have improved my abilities and have completed a 5K and 10K. Running is fun for me, it’s affordable, and let’s not ignore the eternal truth that exercise is good for my body (mind blown). Other hobbies that have sparked my interest include cooking, photography, yoga and coding (yes, it’s something else I have always wanted to know more about). Think about what you like and don’t be afraid of it. Embrace it. Love it.
Make friends and get involved. There are many people who are in your same situation and know what you are going through. Some of my most cherished friendships have been the ones made with other “med-school spouses.” We are there for each other to offer words of encouragement. Host playgroups, plan baby showers etc. My husband and I find immense joy when friends come over to our tiny apartment for games or even just to chat about life. I would also like to stress the importance of getting involved. Take advantage of positive opportunities that present themselves by becoming involved in your local community.
Spend time together. My hubby is my best friend, and I genuinely want to hang out with him all the time. Of course, this is not a conceivable option since he has an increasingly busy schedule, and I also have responsibilities that demand my attention. Planning activities such as a simple date, going for a walk, making dinner together or running together can be tough to fit in but is meaningful to our relationship. Setting aside time to communicate with each other and show love for one another helps me in the present and will provide strength and stability in the future.
I have seen how this new way of thinking has improved my life and made me a better person. Hopefully, my thoughts and discoveries can help others who wish to find fulfillment now — not just later.
Lauren Checketts-Warne is a writer.
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