It was the end of my third year in OB/GYN residency. I was 39 weeks pregnant with you and doing a hysterectomy, my gravid abdomen being utilized as an “extra hand” to displace the large clamp nicely to the side as I pressed my belly gently against the table. I was doing surgery all day and loved operating and feeling your occasional gentle movements when in the quiet operating room as I was working. I knew my days were limited with us being one.
It was sometimes hard to breathe with the mask covering my face from the natural air hunger that can sometimes accompany pregnancy. I would have the OR nurse gently loosen my mask and take a deep breath. I was worried about you and wanted to make sure you were getting enough oxygen. After my last case was finished, it felt so good to drive home and rest sitting down after standing all day. This was my favorite time of day as you moved the most on my way to and from work while I was still and I could concentrate on just you.
Later that same day, I went into labor, and your Dad drove us back to the same hospital where I was operating earlier that afternoon. He was nervous, but I knew you were safe and we had a long journey ahead of us.
When you finally made it into my arms 19 hours later I was exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time. Looking at you, I finally understood what it meant to feel like your own heart was outside of your body. You were perfection, and I didn’t know how I could make something so beautiful. I still feel that way.
I spent a precious six weeks at home with you but had to return to work and help other women bring their own miracles into the world. I hoped you would grow to understand that I of course always wanted to be with you, but also felt the pull to continue my path as a doctor.
That first year was tough. I was working 80 hours a week, and there were some days when I only got to see you an hour a day, or when on call not at all. Those days were torture. You were often asleep for the night before I got home. There may have been more than one occasion when I sneakily scooped you out of your crib while you were still asleep and rocked you in the middle of the night so that I could have that precious time with you. I knew you were well cared for during the day, and it was me who needed this snuggling more than you. I missed you so much during those times.
It got better over the years as my workload became manageable and I got to feed you breakfast in the morning and dinner at night. We would play before bedtime. I could see that you were thriving and my guilt for leaving you during the day lessened. Your pictures covered my desk at work, and your smiling face was plastered all over my bulletin board along with the babies I have delivered.
After you were born, I was also changed as a doctor. Delivering a baby wasn’t the same. I empathized more with my patient in pain, begging for an epidural. I understood the fear before a C-section. The first cry from a baby I delivered brought me back to hearing your first cry every time. Unfortunately, the losses my patient’s experienced also hit me five times harder as I felt their pain as only a parent could. I think you made me a better doctor.
I’m sorry I missed your field trips at school. I so wanted to be there, but work requires a six-month notice for a day off, and schools don’t often understand this. I’m sorry I would forget to send you in with crazy hair on “crazy hair day” or miss a deadline for a book fair. I was doing the best I could juggling surgeries, being up all night at the hospital delivering babies, and seeing patients in the office all day. Despite all that, you were always in my thoughts.
I hope when you are older you will understand the sacrifices and more importantly how much I love you. You will know a different mother than your much younger brother and sister. You will remember me coming home in scrubs exhausted after a 30-hour call. You will remember me leaving your soccer game early to go to the hospital to deliver a baby.
However, I also hope this will help you to see that you can do it too. Maybe not a career in medicine, but whatever you want to do. I could see you as an artist, singer, scientist, entrepreneur … the list goes on. Knowing what a fantastic person you are turning out to be lets me know that it is possible to be a good doctor and also raise a wonderful child and to have a career and give your children the love they need. I am fortunate that I will have more time with you moving forward, and I am so happy for that, but I don’t regret our past. It has made us both who we are today, and I couldn’t be more proud.
Valerie A. Jones is a obstetrician-gynecologist who blogs at OB Doctor Mom.
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