When we decided to try and have our first child, we were well aware of, and in part reassured by, the colloquialism that “there is never a perfect time to have kids.” With a due date one month into my first year as an attending, at the start of my wife’s fellowship interviews, and weeks from both our board exams, we seemingly found the most imperfect time to start our family. We braced ourselves and hoped for the best.
Our baby boy is turning eight months this week. Somehow, we survived piecing together days off and not having true maternity/paternity leave, flying to fellowship interviews and staying at various hotels with a four-week-old (no fevers!), passed our boards, my wife matched for fellowship, and I landed a dream job. It is all a blur. We have truly been blessed, and I am forever grateful that our boy has been healthy through it all. But, fatherhood has been the single hardest thing I have ever experienced, and at times I have broken.
Trying to get a crying four-day-old to sleep, I remember my wife saying, “don’t worry, he’ll tire out before we do, he’s just a baby.” I remind her of those famous last words when we finally sit down to breathe or collapse into bed after he’s down for the night. For my wife’s last fellowship interview, we decided it would be best for her to travel alone. That night, the first “boys’ day” we had, I cried while rocking him. I was overwhelmed emotionally and physically, and I was worried that I was doing it all wrong. I didn’t tell my wife about this moment until months later. Now, when we comment about the rough days, she responds with “but he’s so beautiful.” And she’s right. One silly laugh, one toothless smile, and life is all better.
Still, for as much as I can write about how hard it’s been for me to be a new parent, I cannot begin to imagine what my wife has endured for our family. She finished residency and transitioned to be chief resident while pregnant. She interviewed for fellowship with breast pump in tow, often pumping in bathrooms and storage closets. And while my emergency medicine schedule has allowed me strings of days off with our boy, she works all week and often only sees him awake for a couple of hours. She has done it all without missing a beat. This summer she will be starting her fellowship training in pediatric cardiology. She is a total “boss,” “the real MVP” of our little family.
For weeks, we had been anticipating the day that my wife would go back to work full time. That morning, the things that usually brought us amusement, like our baby laughing while we brushed our teeth, had a feeling of heaviness to them. I can’t guess how many times I probably muttered “it’s OK little man,” not sure if it was meant to reassure him, my wife, or me. Tears in our eyes, we watched mommy drive away. I knew that whatever I was feeling could not possibly match the emotion she would have to suppress under a smile once she stepped foot in the hospital.
I decided the day my wife returned to work to write her and my son a children’s book. Titled “My Mommy is a Doctor Superhero,” it’s a story that I read and will read to our son when my wife is away taking care of patients. For my wife, it was meant to be a silly form of comfort, but also to remind her that she is equally amazing in both roles that she fills, that of a mom and a physician. She didn’t need me to tell her that, but she appreciated it. Recently she encouraged me to share the book on Twitter, and we enjoyed reading comments that people left.
In the recent past, social media has drawn attention to movements including #sheMD, #HeforShe, #SheforShe, #WomenInMedicine, #GirlMedTwitter, #TimesUpHC, #FemInEM and many others. Before fatherhood, I admired what they stood for and recognized their value and importance. Now, thinking of my wife, a wonderful mom and doctor, it pains me to know that necessary paradigm shifts are still in process and that she will continue to face gender-based challenges in her career. It is comforting to see that there are supportive networks both online and in-person, and we can’t wait to see what great change comes from this advocacy to make things better for physician moms.