As our society’s awareness of mental-health issues increases, the idea of balancing personal and professional life has become a central topic of conversation. It cannot be disputed that finding a healthy equilibrium is especially important for mothers who enter the professional world, medical or otherwise. As a student in an accelerated post-baccalaureate pre-health program and a mother of a 3-year-old girl and a 10-month-old boy, I have made many strides finding balance and converting my feelings of guilt into more productive emotions.
Mindset has been the most pivotal aspect of pushing through challenges. It does not take any magical powers to be able to have a career and also raise a young family at the same time. Medically speaking, the biologically ideal time for women to have children is between ages 20 to 35. In this age range, our processing speed, performance, as well as verbal and visual working task ability are also in their prime. Women in socioeconomically sound communities have been choosing to pursue careers during this age range and ultimately have put their child-bearing aspirations on the back burner. Having the mindset of wanting both a career and children and knowing that this is the best time to do both is what pushes me during trying times. It also helps to know that this is temporary and will eventually end. The brain has tremendous coping mechanisms to deal with stress and even trauma, and I believe that just as I forgot enough of the details of my daughter’s birth to become pregnant with my son, this whole segment will be a shadow in my mind at the end of this journey.
The mindset of “this too shall pass” is not the only aspect of thinking that has allowed me to persevere during this demanding time. Staying organized (almost neurotically) has helped take the guesswork out of day-to-day circumstances. More significant, though, has been sincerely letting go of aspects of my life that cannot be managed at this time. In an Instagram-publicized world, it can be anxiety-provoking to not have a picture-perfect life. Is the house ready for my in-laws to pop by or for a dinner party? Absolutely not. Are our tummies filled with healthy food and are we wearing clean clothing? Certainly. Having a system in place for errands and chores around the house is ideal, but shedding this list down to only the most central items during a tiring week has been especially vital. When a week seems to have no time to do even the critical errands or chores, somehow we still survive to tell the tale.
There is no denying the feeling of judgment women receive for their decision to pursue a career in general, even without the addition of a husband and children. “The vibe” you can get from other moms when you mention to someone at the playground that you are in school to become a doctor, lawyer, accountant, nurse, etc., can stir up feelings of uncertainty. “Wow, a doctor? You must be super-mom” is the common sentiment that somehow manages to come out more like an insult than a compliment. In these times, I am so thankful to have a mentor. A mentor (whether of the same gender or not, in the same field or not) who understands what it takes and will always lend support can alleviate the internal struggle that often comes from listening to those who judge your journey.
There is certainly a stigma when it comes to women in STEM in general, and especially in circles that traditionally value women in domestic roles. Although yoga and meditation are not currently penciled into my weekly schedule, mentally validating my struggles to reach a somewhat steady state is what keeps my anxiety and stress at bay so that I can be productive at school and still be there for my children. The world is coming to a place where women can excel at work and at home if we are willing to put in the work and have the right mindset. Even though it is the road less traveled, it is certainly becoming more smoothly paved.
Sheindel Ifrah is a post-baccalaureate student.
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