I could write a whole article on the question of when to have children. Should you start early in medical school or wait until you’re in residency or even in practice? To be honest, there is literally no good time for physicians to have children.
But don’t let that stop you.
A lot of my physician colleagues say they want a family but worry about how they’ll make it work. I’ve been a physician for six years and a mother for four years. Here are some things I’ve learned.
Let go of guilt
Parenting and medicine both come with heavy responsibilities and high expectations—maybe unreasonably high. Physician parents feel that pressure constantly, as well as considerable guilt. Whether we’re at work with our patients or at home with our children, there’s always the sense that we’re failing the other.
I’m still learning to make my peace with this, but here is what I try to remember:
At work: We work shifts for a reason; the need never ends, but our bodies and minds have limits. You have a team of competent caregivers just like yourself. You can count on them while you’re away just like they count on you. Leave work at work.
At home: Your nonphysician friends may well spend more time with their children—that doesn’t mean you love yours less. Also, research shows quality time with your kids is way more important in fostering bonds than the quantity of time spent.
Find your support network
My husband is an emergency medicine physician. On the plus side, he understands that my schedule and workload are demanding and largely out of my control. The downside is he’s in the same position, so we really have to work together to make sure our household can function day to day.
We also have to be intentional about scheduling date nights two to three times a month. But having each other and being able to celebrate our small successes and commiserate about our common challenges makes a huge difference in not feeling alone.
I’m also a member of the Physician Moms Group and its OB-GYN Moms Group, which has been an amazing resource for finding people who have the same personal and professional challenges. What I love most is how supportive we are of each other and how willing people are to share the solutions that have made this crazy life a little easier.
Ask for help
If your friends or family members offer to babysit for an afternoon or evening, take them up on it! Go out to dinner with your partner or just take a shower in peace. If you need to take a break to pump during your shift, ask a colleague to help you out. You’ll be surprised at how willing people are to give you a hand, especially those who have been there before.
You might have to get creative with childcare because of the odd hours you work. Whether it’s a daycare center, a nanny, a grandparent or some combination, you can make it work. It takes a village, right? It is a gift for your child to know a whole community loves and cares for her. And exposing her to people of different ages and backgrounds will be good for her.
When it comes to household chores and errands, you have to start weighing time vs. money. If you can hire people to mow your lawn, clean your house and deliver your groceries, do it. There will still be plenty of spills to clean up, laundry to fold and diapers to change.
Act like a 2-year-old and say ‘No’
Life as a physician parent is basically one of unending obligation. Free time no longer exists naturally in your schedule. You have to make time for the things that help you restore your sense of self and wellbeing.
Remember: This is your life. You need time to just be with your family. You need time to just be alone. But this all starts with being willing to say no—like, a lot. If it helps, realize that saying yes to one thing is tacitly saying no to everything else for that time.
Be proactive with your schedule
The flip side of saying no is deciding how you do want to spend those small precious windows of free time. Whatever your thing is—running, painting, seeing your friends—you have to know in your heart that it is equally important to anything else. And once you have it on your calendar, guard that time like a dragon coiled around its treasure.
Share your calendar
Speaking of schedules, one of the best tools my husband and I have for managing life is a shared Google calendar that we can both update with our meetings, shifts and other appointments. Yes, this takes time, discipline and communication to make sure we both know where to be, but it works and helps us avoid moments when we both say “I thought you were taking care of that!”
There are a ton of apps you can use, so just find one that works for you and stick to it.
Remember your ‘why’
I think I was destined to be an OB-GYN. My mother was a labor and delivery nurse; she would take me to the floor to talk with her coworkers and see the babies. It seemed magical and sacred and it still does when I stop to think about it.
It’s easy to forget how special my profession is when I’m spending nearly twice the amount of time on EHR data entry as I do with patient care; or when I’m taking a call from a very upset patient over a completely non-emergent issue in the middle of the night.
But I then I remember: the very nature of my work as an OB-GYN is to facilitate some of the biggest moments in my patients’ lives.
Handing a couple their new baby is huge, and it’s still a high after being through it so many times. There’s also so much satisfaction in the quiet pragmatism of helping a first-time mother get her infant to latch correctly. Stopping to appreciate these moments is an essential component to avoiding burnout.
But stopping, taking that moment to appreciate that these moments are the end result of all the sacrifice and stress and work is an essential component to avoiding burnout.
Parenting is the same way. Some days I feel like I might never sleep a whole night again. Some days I just don’t feel like being responsible for meeting my daughters’ endless needs.
But then I realize that I get the privilege of introducing them to the world and will one day watch them venture into it to make it brighter, more kind and hopeful. Before then, I get to cuddle in bed with my girls and read them a book, watching their eyes course over the pictures, then the words, imagining what it all means.
Being a physician and a parent is the best, hardest and fullest life I can imagine. If you’re overwhelmed by parenting—or even by the thought of becoming a parent—just remember how much you’ve already accomplished and realize that you can do this too.