I was nearing the end of ob/gyn residency when my second child turned two years old. He was my residency baby. While pregnant, I had worried so much that I wouldn’t be as good a mother to him as I was to his big sister. For that first child, I had managed to contrive an eight-month maternity leave. During my time as a stay-at-home mom, I was more or less my daughter’s whole world, and she became mine. Never had I known such a gift of love. Nor did I appreciate how incredible the female human body is, until then. The biology of reproduction fascinated me. While motherhood was (not surprisingly) life-changing, it also turned out to be career-changing: I found a passion for women’s health that ultimately led me to ob/gyn.
The long, grueling journey of a physician career cannot be understated. I am grateful that I found a residency program supportive of my goals. Pregnancy during residency was not ideal, to say the least, but it was the path I chose. I was fortunate to have a low-risk pregnancy and tolerated its physical symptoms well enough. The emotional toll was harder. I cried for all the nights this baby would cry for me when I would be gone on call. I worried about my daughter, too — if mommy was already spent from work and had to tend to baby brother, there wouldn’t be much mommy left for big sister. I worried about the stress and strain on my husband, who would soon spend many days and nights functioning essentially as a single parent of two.
Labor and delivery went smoothly, and I set about shoehorning this baby into our lives. I was hustling to knock things off my ever-growing to-do list. Babies adapt, right? If I snuggle him less, he’ll eventually learn to be content, right? My first kid turned out all right, so I know what I’m doing and can do more with less, right? My second child won’t be emotionally stunted just from having less mommy time, right?
And then I had a moment in those first few weeks when I broke down. My residency baby didn’t choose to be a second-born residency baby. It wasn’t fair. My poor little guy deserved more than I was giving him. And so the house went uncleaned, chores were ignored. I scooted out of work as soon as I could, even though I didn’t want to look like I wasn’t a team player — I completed my duties but I didn’t volunteer for more. I pumped for breast milk through the night and whenever possible, because by golly, if I couldn’t be with my baby, then I would do my damnedest to feed him. My poor daughter said, “I am Daddy’s baby now,” because she felt the loss of my presence in her daily life.
Somewhere in those early days when I was feeling woefully inadequate and raging about maternity leave and the awful state of support for mothers in this country, and crying about how this second baby was getting terribly shafted, another physician mother said to me: “Babies know love.” Slowly it sunk in. My residency baby would know I was trying. He would know I love him. He would know I wanted so much to take care of his every need but could not. I took comfort in this notion that Babies Know Love. Yet I did not realize how true, important, and meaningful it would become, and how it would still give me comfort today.
My residency baby knows my love for him. He knows his father’s love. He knows his grandparents’. He especially knows his sister’s. The dog is his buddy. He knows his daycare teacher’s love and the love of his toddler friends. He knows all the love around him.
Our house is still far from perfect. I am not the best resident I could be. But we have made it work.
To all the moms and babies: Hang in there. You can do it. It takes a village, it won’t be perfect, but you can do it, and love will carry you through.
How do you balance medicine and motherhood? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Dr. Butz has since graduated residency and is an ob/gyn physician practicing in Virginia.
Image by Irina Qiwi / Shutterstock