On Mothering and Residency
Updated: Oct 16, 2019
Once I had my son, the most important thing in my life became doing well at my new role of being a mother. But very high up there, on my list of priorities, was being a resident and learning the skills to become the ENT physician I had worked hard, all my life, to be.
At the time, becoming a mom was a foreign, new mindset compared to the physician goals I have had my entire adult life. Although Tobe was the premier responsibility in my life, my career was also very important. It was difficult reconciling these two aspects. I wanted to give my best to both.
I was very happy to become a mother but I had a lot of guilt and anxiety staining my happiness. I was very worried about what people at work thought of me. Unfortunately, getting pregnant in intern year and having a baby at the beginning of my second year left me vulnerable to harsh comments, judgements, and misconceptions on my abilities and motivation.
My mom stayed with me the first three months after Tobe was born. She was my rock. Whenever I slipped into self pity and started worrying about work, she was there to encourage me, to remind me that I was strong. She told me that I was doing the right thing by becoming a mother and that this aspect of my life was just as important.
The First Three Weeks
This was such an important time because this was the only time I had with Tobe before having to go back to work. My first rotation after that was going to be a research rotation for 4 weeks. It would be easier than going back to surgical rotations so soon after giving birth, but still, having to go back to work, to worry about something else in addition to caring for a newborn was not ideal. I tried to focus on the time I had with Tobe, and not worry about having to go back so soon.
Since becoming a mom in residency, I have suffered from the need, obsession, and anxiety to make the limited free time I have with my child count. It puts a lot of pressure to make every moment feel special and amazing. In reality, time spent with our kids never works out as we romantically envision it. Nothing in life ever works out that way. Kids get fussy, throw tantrums and we react. The feeling that you have to optimize every second just adds another layer of stress to the entire situation. I continue to struggle with this, three years later. It's unfair to pack so much expectations into such little time. I continue to work on just trying to be, and enjoy whatever comes out of the time I have with Tobe.
Upon going back to work, I started working on a retrospective research study on sudden hearing loss. It was a successful endeavor. It got published; here is a link to the article. In addition, it won a research award at work. I put a lot of hours into this project. My days involved breastfeeding Tobe, handing him over to my mom, and then spending hours seiving through patient charts for information.
I am so glad I had my mom there. Sometimes I wished that I didn't have to worry about work and just focus on Tobe. But on the other hand, doing this meant I wouldn't have to extend my training which was worth the sacrifice. The days flew by, Tobe and I got stronger and I prepared for my upcoming surgical rotation. I worked on keeping our freezer stocked with milk. I pumped after every nurse. You can read more on my breastfeeding tips in this article Breastfeeding Successfully in Residency/The Workplace.
Going Back To Surgery
Soon, when Tobe turned 7 weeks, I was back on my surgical rotations. My mom stayed with me until Tobe was 3 months old. This helped immensely with the transition. Every mother who has gone through leaving her infant can relate to how emotionally stressful it can be. After my mom left was when the real trial came.
Tobe had to start daycare.
I never knew how stressful getting ready in the morning could be until I added, feeding and dressing an infant, pumping, packing pumping supplies, daycare needs, dropping Tobe off at daycare and being on time for surgical cases, to my morning. All this truly tests one's time management skills. I did a lot of multitasking. For example - pumping, drinking coffee, and driving. It really felt like I couldn’t catch a break during that time of my life but I made it.
My advice to anyone going through this life situation would be work hard, try your best, multitask. Some days won't work out as well as others but time passes. You grow, the baby grows and before you know it, you are done with this life stage.
We did daycare for 6 months before going a different route. Tobe wasn't doing very well at daycare and he was refusing meals. Understandably, the care givers couldn't devote all their attention to just one kid. Patrick started working half days from home and we got a nanny for the mornings. I am so thankful he has that flexibility with his job. Many parents in our shoes understandably have to stick with daycare because of their jobs. I wish that good childcare was more affordable.
Living For the Evenings
When you become a parent, going home at the end of your work day takes on a whole different meaning. When Tobe was an infant, I looked forward to coming home to hold and nurse him. When it was evening time, he would get restless until I returned from work. He would then nestle into my arms and start trying to nurse. These are some of my fondest memories.
Now, Tobe is much older. He waits anxiously for me to get home, he shrieks in delight when I open the door, he tells me he loves me, and then asks what treats I brought from work while rummaging through my purse. Every stage of motherhood is uniquely delightful. My evenings are now full of adventure and wonder through the eyes of my three year old. I can't even remember what my life was like before him. Every evening I get to spend with Tobe is priceless. I do my best to get in as much quality time as I can.
A tricky part of my residency was having to do rotations out of state for months at a time. In my third year of residency, I had a total of 4.5 months away from home on rotations and conferences in 4 states. I couldn't bear to be away from Tobe for an extended period of time so I travelled with him.
My first conference was an anatomy conference in Indianapolis for 1 week. My brother actually came with me and watched Tobe for a week.
Next was a 2 month long rotation also in Indianapolis. My mom came from Nigeria to help me take care of Tobe during the long rotations. We lived in a hotel room for 2 months straight! Yeah. My mom is a saint! She is a testament to the sacrifices we make for our children.
Children adapt fast. Tobe got acclimated to playing in the halls and snuggling with me while I worked. He was always a good sport whenever I needed to go in for call.
We spent his first real halloween living in the hotel. He dressed up as a strawberry and tricked or treated in the hotel, knocking on guest doors. It was cute but unusual.
My second long out-rotation was in Cincinnati. We rented a house for this rotation. It was much better than the hotel room. We also had fun exploring the cool city. Tobe frequented the toy library they have downtown. It was such a neat facility for us, being away from home for an extended period of time.
We felt like nomads during this time of our lives. My husband travelled so many miles coming to visit us on weekends and going back to work for the week. Home for Tobe and I was wherever his pack-and-play was.
As long as you try to be a good parent, you will be amazed by how well you can make parenting fit into your life situation. You just have to get creative. Now that Tobe is older, I travel alone for work and conferences (up to a week at a time). But when he was younger, he went to all my conferences and courses with me, including one in Vail, Colorado. His dad tagged along for that one.
Family Time is Precious
Yes, as a resident, having a family takes away from the time you could theoretically spend on studying. But having a family also provides the support that propels you in residency. Residency is emotionally tasking. I don't think I would be able to do it without the support my family provides.
And with an understanding family, you are still able to carve out the time to study. Having a family in many ways helps you focus on the important things in life.
The picture on the left is from a spontaneous trip to a waterpark. I took this trip with my brother and Tobe. On this trip, Tobe splashed in a pool for the first time. It may be tempting to throw them on the back burner but spending deliberate time with the people that love us so much is extremely important.
It also helps to keep everyone feeling happy and needed because as you can see, it takes a village to raise a child.
Little Moments Count
I’m a big believer that giving a few moments, here and there, to things that matter to you, adds up to something significant over the course of days, weeks, months, and years. For example, if at the end the day you only spend 10 minutes reading a book, don't underestimate the power that little time has. It is probably one of the moments they will remember. Little moments like this are sources of joy for me in everyday busy life.
Thanks for reading part 4/4 of my post on becoming a mother during my first year of residency. Check out the first 3 parts of this motherhood journey here.