Sometimes blessings come from the unlikeliest of places. Spending the first week of our little one’s life visiting him in the NICU was certainly no easy task (Read about it here). However, it provided us with the awesome blessing of teachers, in the form of nurses, to help us with transitioning into parenthood. Every day, there was someone there to help us with getting the hang of things like changing diapers and breastfeeding. It seems so intuitive, but without their help, I don’t think we would have ever figured out the simple, yet revolutionary, concept of taking the wipes out BEFORE you open the diaper! They also set Micah on a feeding schedule, where he ate every 2-3 hours. This was super helpful because when we got home, we were able to simply continue that schedule. Because of this, we didn’t have a huge initial learning curve.
I say all of the above to make the point that these blessings were more than appreciated, since I had just 6 short weeks of maternity leave before returning to work. Between the feeding schedule established at the hospital and my husband’s determination to have Micah sleep-trained before I returned to work (which, by the way, I am so grateful he insisted on, despite my opposition), the transition back to work went much more smoothly than I had anticipated. That being said, it wasn’t without difficulty.
One of the biggest logistical challenges of my transition was pumping at work. I think for most moms, pumping at work can prove to be difficult; however, it is especially difficult when working at a hospital. There’s no such thing as a set schedule in that environment. After rounds, anything is fair game and your pager can go off at any time. There are consults to call, orders to put in, labs to review, discharge summaries to write, patients to check-in on . . . the list goes on and on. In theory, pumping should only take about 15 minutes, but once you factor in the time it takes to leave whatever you’re doing in a semi-non-chaotic state, walk over to where your pump bag is, walk from there over to where you’ll pump, then do that again in reverse order once you’re finished, the entire ordeal takes about 30 minutes. Now multiply that by 4-5x for the day, and you’ve effectively removed 2 hours’ worth of working time from your shift, yet you’re still expected to complete the same amount of work as your non-pumping colleagues in less time. Not to mention the awkward conversation you’re forced to have every two weeks when a new attending or senior resident rotates onto your service, where you have to explain why you’ll be missing randomly throughout the day.
In addition to this, there was, of course, the constant gnawing feeling that I shouldn’t be away from my baby so soon. After all, he was only six weeks old! At the end of every day, I would race home to see him, so I could enjoy those precious moments before it was time for him to go to sleep. However, as the weeks went on, something strange started to happen. I began to accept the times that I wasn’t able to make it home before he was asleep as “okay.” I found myself not “racing” as hard to make it home to him. I was becoming complacent in what I was starting to accept as normal. Then began the tug-of-war between my two selves: feeling complacent, then feeling guilty about feeling complacent. Needless to say, I eventually realized something had to change, which in part led me to my decision to stay home (Read about my decision here).
Looking back at that time of my life, a few thoughts come to mind. One, the struggles I mentioned are just two (of the many) reasons why paid maternity leave should be federally mandated for at least 6 months. One year would be ideal of course, however, I’m not terribly optimistic about even the former being possible. Two, these struggles highlight the need for a culture of understanding and support surrounding the issue of family planning for medical students, residents, and fellows. All too often, women in medicine are forced to choose between their careers and starting a family because the two just seem incompatible. Lastly, when I think back to what life was like while I was working, giving my son and my husband just 11% of the time in my day (yes, I actually calculated it), while leaving the remaining 89% for my job, I realize there was a severe lack of balance. It highlights, for me, the importance of making intentional decisions each and every day that will lead us toward the lives we want to live. Most importantly, it underscores the need to ensure that we are walking in our purpose and our calling.