As a second-year family medicine resident, wife of a nurse and mother of an almost-two-year-old, the feeling of just not being enough has a suffocating hold on me some days. Non satis. Sounds like a pretty good gig when I talk with others outside the medical profession and friends from home. Training to be a doctor? Great. Happily married to an amazing man who’s taking time off work to raise our child while I complete residency? Wonderful. A happy, healthy, oh-so-beautiful bouncy baby boy? Unimaginable joy. And yes, it is true that the greatness, wonder and joy are all part of my life — but some days the guilt and dissatisfaction with my performance in any given area of my life cloaks me like a blanket at night as I lay in bed staring at the ceiling.
Life as a resident is hard on many levels with the work hours, the expectations, the schedules that don’t always allow time for lunch or bathroom breaks, 24-hour calls in the hospital and evening clinic calls from home with a pager on your hip filled with the anxiety of that impending, beeping doom. But there is also the excitement of learning and that desire to grow and develop as a professional, the curiosity of anatomy and physiology. I am one of those people that truly loves learning, days dedicated to reading and studying holed up in a dark, quiet corner of a library feel natural and welcomed.
Now as a mother and wife, I have to plan my study time more stringently to accomplish what needs to be done. And when I do sit down with book in hand, laptop prepped and a hot cup of coffee steaming next to my carefully planned study agenda, I find myself thinking about my other roles in life and how I am not adequately fulfilling them. Does my husband resent me for taking even more time to myself and leaving him with the child once again? Is my child wondering where has Mommy gone again. I sometimes feel I could be studying more, learning more, looking for more opportunities in the hospital, asking for experiences outside scheduled work hours, and if I wasn’t a mother and a wife and I think sometimes that would make me a better doctor. Because who I am and what I am currently doing just couldn’t possibly be enough.
I am lucky to have married a man that works within the field of health care. Who knows the overwhelming body fatigue that comes from working a 12-hour-plus shift overnight in the hospital. To me, nothing shows love more than letting your wife sleep soundly in the loft during the day and caring for our child after a long night shift. He has put his career on hold temporarily while I am finishing my training. He has let go of a familiar world of working full-time complete with independence, adult socialization, medical queries and technical skills. He is now fully immersed in the world of library groups, swim classes and the great adventure of seeking out the coolest playgrounds in a five-mile radius. When I get home and see my husband and all he has done for us as a family during the day, I feel as though I “owe him.” These are my words, never his. But it is how I feel. That guilt is so deep and so natural it pains me and can be all consuming. He is supportive and encouraging and has accepted his new role with grace. And yet I feel, as a wife, I am not present enough, I don’t thank him enough, I don’t give him enough attention.
Life as a mom has been an overwhelming adventure. So many emotions. I have grown in character and learned so much about myself over these last 22 months, I truly never thought was possible. Patience. Worry. Amazement. Frustration. Hope. Contentment.
I found the last piece to a puzzle that had been missing for all these years. That piece of the puzzle was apparently covered in peanut butter and drops of milk and in the hands of a blue-eyed, dimpled precious toddler. The time I get to spend with him is a gift. I look forward to my days off and relish the times I too get to be co-captain on the playground seeking adventures. But when I’m at work — especially the long shifts when he’s still asleep as I leave and in bed by the time I get home — those ones are hard. Sometimes I wonder: does he wonder where I am? I cheer myself with the fact that he is happy, healthy and loved. But I constantly feel I could be doing more. I could read one more book when I get home from my 14-hour shift. I could hug him once more before I walk out the door. I could make more of an effort because what I’m doing now just couldn’t possibly be enough.
When I think of my health and education, I sometimes wonder should I have tried to get into a “better” medical school or a “better” residency? Did I not try hard enough? Did I not study enough ? As a physician training in primary care, I should be taking better care of myself. I should be setting a better example for my patients. I should be walking more, jogging more, lifting weights more, hiking more, meditating more, just be more. Because what I am doing now just couldn’t possibly be enough.
I know I am not alone with these thoughts. These thoughts are not unique. There is something cathartic about typing them out and reading them over. Despite having these feelings of not being enough I know intellectually that this stage of life is fluid. In many ways, I think being a mother and a wife and having many responsibilities and wearing many “hats” makes me a better multitasker, a better organizer, a better person and a better physician. Some days, I feel like I am ever-striving to reach a certain goal. But I know that time will pass, my toddler will grow, my skills will develop, my marriage with evolve. I need to remind myself that, indeed, I am enough and there are only so many hours in a day.
Dawn Browne is a family medicine resident.
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