Doctor mom, remember that it is all worth it


Dear doctor mom,

I’ve been a physician for 13 years.  For the past 7 years, I have also been a mom.  A growing number of experiences made me decide to write this letter.  I hope other moms don’t attack me.  I do not mean to downplay their struggles, or to insinuate that doctor moms necessarily all have a harder time compared to other moms.  I only focus on you, because I am like you, and I can relate to your struggles.  I write about what I know.

Doctor mom, remember there was a time when women could not be admitted to medical school.  Think of the struggles it took, for women like Elizabeth Blackwell and Rebecca Lee Crumpler to make their way and achieve their dreams.

Yes, doctor mom, there is no denying that you are a different kind of mom.

Consider those events at school, the realization that you need several weeks notice to make it to a Thanksgiving party, or Mother Goose rhyme recital, or even a Mother’s Day brunch.

Consider when you happened to have a day off work during the week, the shock and awe in your child’s voice when she says, “Mommy, you didn’t go to work today?  What about the sick people?”

Consider the excitement in your child’s face, when he walks into the house after school bus drop off, and sees you home, at about 4 p.m. on a weekday.

Consider the phone calls and text pages that you have to answer at home sometimes, particularly when on call.  Consider when you have to leave the house after dinner to go back to the hospital, instead of reading bedtime stories.

Consider the birthdays and other party invitations that come, and the realization that you are on call so the weekend is busy and kids may not be able to attend.

Consider the caution you have to exercise in explaining that “maybe Mommy will come to school for an event, but only if she can, and if she can’t, remember it’s OK, because Mommy loves you anyway.”

Consider the look of disappointment on your child’s face, when you tell her that you suddenly cannot drop her at school this morning, because “there is someone very sick and Mommy needs to go and help them feel better.”

Nonetheless, consider the joy of realizing that you are raising a child who will be comfortable with balancing career and family life, knowing that it is entirely feasible with planning and some support.

When you feel overburdened and exhausted, remember that we stand on the shoulders of giants.  Remember the legacy you are leaving for your daughters, by being ever present in medicine. Remember the unique joys that come with your unique position.  Consider the pride in your child’s face when he says his tummy hurts.  You are able to quickly place them on a couch, palpate their belly and listen with a stethoscope.  You are able to assess the situation and determine if it’s constipation, or something more serious that needs the ER.  Your child goes to school the next day, and you hear him speaking to a friend at drop off.  He says, “My belly hurts yesterday, and my mommy made it better; my mom is a doctor, she listened with a stethoscope.” Although he can barely say the word, it is music to your ears.  You feel like all your efforts do matter, that your young child appreciates that.

Think of the pride your child will have when they grow old enough to understand, when they realize how much effort and dedication it took for your to balance life and work.  Think of how they will be encouraged to realize that nothing is impossible, that even the sky is not the limit.

Doctor mom, remember that it is all worth it.

Uchenna O. Njiaju is a hematologist-oncologist who blogs at Erica OncMD.  She can be reached on Twitter @ericaoncmd.

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