This is part 1 of 4 of my stories about becoming a mom during my first year of surgical residency. I’m sharing my experience as a pregnant woman in a stressful job. This is a reflection on the reasons I was so stressed during my pregnancy. I think the primary reason was that I cared too much about what other people thought of me. At that time, I had never met or heard of a pregnant ENT resident and many peoples’ attitude was - you waited until after residency to have a kid.
I’m a changed woman now. I’m wiser, more confident. I worry less about others’ impression of me. I wish I had this mindset three years ago, but hindsight is always 20/20. I’m sharing my pregnancy story today to hopefully help someone else who may be battling the mixed emotions of being pregnant at a delicate stage of her career.
I used to focus too much on what others expected of me. I was ashamed that at my hospital, I was the only surgical resident that got pregnant in her intern year. I was terrified that no one would take me seriously because of the pregnancy. Now, I’m so glad that the pregnancy happened. I was 26, it was the right time for my body and the best thing that happened to me because, as a woman, time waits for no one.
I was on my vascular surgery rotation when I found out I was pregnant. I didn’t need a test to figure it out. My body felt so different. It was like experiencing the prodrome of an illness that doesn’t progress into the full thing. My husband (boyfriend at the time) had just made a grand gesture to move our relationship to the next level. He quit his job, temporarily gave up his career, and moved to a different state to live with me. When he did all this, I had not even told him I was pregnant.
The same night he moved in, I told him we needed to take a pregnancy test. I wanted to wait until he had moved in on his own accord. I didn’t want a baby to be the catalyst for this decision. Patrick and I were very happy to be pregnant even though it wasn’t the best timing. But you know, good things happen when you least expect it. In my private life, I was happy to become a mother but in my professional life, I wasn’t.
I still get nauseous when I think about my intern year. Literally. The nausea was constant for the entire 9 months. I remember marking my calendar, waiting for the second trimester because that’s when the nausea was supposed to go away. It didn’t. I was nauseated while talking to patients, and while operating. This did not help as I tried to hide my pregnancy. A couple of times I had to swallow my puke while operating. Don’t worry, my face was covered with a mask and I brushed my teeth afterwards.
I’m sure I would have been excused and it would have made my life a whole lot easier had I just come clean with the pregnancy. I wonder how ridiculous I must have seemed, tired and uncomfortable for 5 months, looking supposedly beat up by residency, no one knowing that it was actually a secret pregnancy kicking my butt.
I kept it a secret because I didn’t want to be just the ‘pregnant resident’ in the OR. I was afraid that this state of my body would define me or even worse, diminish me. I didn’t want anyone to expect less from me because I was pregnant. I was really in my own head. I worked hard, bore the discomfort, ate a ton of Zofran and Reglan, and every other nausea medication I could come across because nothing seemed to work. I was racing to the bathroom between surgical cases and between patients. The intern year night shifts were gruesome.
I’m dedicating this paragraph to the awesomeness of scrubs. They can hide anything. In scrubs, I didn’t start looking pregnant till I was 5 months in! Then at that point, I had to let people in on my secret. Everyone I told at work was very respectful. My residency program was at a transition point so there was the issue of trying to figure out how to give me time off to have a baby without affecting the length of my training. This lead to the compromise of utilizing my vacation for maternity leave.
Residency life continued as usual after everyone found out that I was pregnant. I met all my requirements and progressed through my training. Through it all, I was fighting the voices in my head that were telling me that I was at a disadvantage/inadequate due to my pregnancy.
Maybe I was too sensitive and too much in my own head but there has to be something wrong about the culture in medical training, particularly surgical training, that scares/deters/discourages the pregnant woman.
I think that one important step in changing this attitude is to be confident and proud to be pregnant/a mom in any work position we find ourselves. Wear that belly proud and don’t hide behind baggy scrubs. We just need to own it and slowly, it will be the norm. So what if you are the only pregnant female resident/exec/new hire? It doesn’t and shouldn’t matter.
I look back and regret that I let the negative attitudes that I have witnessed over the years shape my own experience. I let the fear, of what others thought, have power over me. Do you know that I only have a few pictures from my entire pregnancy? I didn’t let myself take the time to revel in the amazing thing that was happening to my body. You know that cute thing people do, where they compare their baby’s size to a different fruit at each stage of pregnancy? I didn’t even know this was a thing while I was pregnant! I didn’t take baby bump pictures. I just puked, and stressed, and worried about issues like - would I have a maternity leave? Would I be able to maintain my surgical skills after I became a mom? I had enough to worry about.
I delayed nesting for a while. Patrick and I live in a cute loft downtown. I mean cute in a literal sense of the word. It is only 900 square feet with 2 small rooms. It was supposed to be my bachelorette pad. Had I known the plans God had for me, I would have gotten a house instead. But we loved it so much we didn’t want to move. We decided to put Tobe’s nursery in the spare room. This spare room is the everything room. The extra storage shelving is there, the extra bed for visitors is also there. And it was also going to be Tobe’s room. A few weeks before Tobe arrived, we couldn’t put it off any longer so we made the corner pictured above into a space for Tobe. It was kind of cute.
As my due date approached, I tried to clear my mind of work thoughts to focus on enjoying motherhood. It was a struggle but becoming a mom was glorious. I can't wait to share more on my birth story in the weeks to come.