Happy Mother’s Day…Getting out of the “Mom Box”

I have to admit that I really feel like I have it all. I complain about my crazy and exhausting life sometimes, but I wouldn’t change it. I have the residency of my dreams and I’ve reached the end of my Chief year (Holla!!!), the man of my dreams (you’ll appreciate this more in a minute), and a beautiful and fascinating baby girl. I even have a borderline-magical beast of a dog that will get his own post one day, but suffice it to stay he’s my hero and definitely one of my besties.

There is a detail in here that is actually quite vexing to me, and it’s the mom part. We were married for 10 years before having a baby, and during that time, I was pretty hard core anti-motherhood. I read and related to articles examining the decision to never have kids. I was “not maternal.” I couldn’t talk to kids. I was impatient. I didn’t like clutter or messes. I was 100% career driven and proud of it. So what happened? Well, I slowly started to get to the point where I didn’t want to choose between a career and a family. Certain aspects of motherhood started to appeal to me, and for half a dozen little reasons that aren’t important, I decided I wanted a baby. I figured out that an au pair would be essential and also doable with our money and space. So I became a mother, fully expecting a tsunami of life-altering invasions of time and privacy that would leave me grouchy and struggling to maintain sanity. That’s what all the advice focused on, right? How to “survive” the first year. How your life as you know it gets destroyed by a baby and you deal with it for 18 years.

Well that’s not how it happened. From day 1 to now day 600-and-something, it’s been fairly awesome. Truly, I’ve loved it. I’ve given up lots of sleep, yep, and breastfed forever, pumped countless time between cases, felt the push and pull of work responsibilities and fatigue, but I’ve never felt like it wasn’t manageable or that it destroyed my life. It’s been fine.

How is this possible? Well, firstly I would say that I have no shame about asking for help raising this little angel. Yes it would have been more enjoyable to stay home more, I fully admit, but that’s not the path I chose or was meant for, so I enlisted the help of my two aunts when Eddy was an itty bitty (6 weeks to 3 months) and then an au pair plus day care as she got a little bigger.  She loves day care and our au pair, so even though her day from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. routinely is with them, I don’t get stressed about that. Secondly, Josh and I have equal parenting responsibilities. I’ve observed that in many families, even where the woman works full-time, the mom is the “dominant parent,” responsible for much of the mental burden of planning and decision making among the family. Josh simply doesn’t have the reflex to push that stuff onto me, and for the most part I let him do things his way. Admittedly, Dad-style can be less polished (like when the baby’s clothes don’t match or fit and are out of season), but is reliably more efficient. I’ve actually adopted some of his techniques and been happier for it!

From the beginning, I have had a routine of bathing Eddy and safely co-sleeping (according to pediatric safe sleep guidelines), and so we spend all night together. This has helped me feel like I wasn’t missing her so much and I think it also strengthened our bond and made nursing much easier at night. I think another key has been that I learned a parenting style from my Mother-In-Law, who had a very late in life baby, that allowed for a full range and display of emotions from the little one without taking it personally or even reacting. I joined a gentle parenting group on facebook that reinforced these principles, and I think it saved my sanity and helped me maintain patience. I got into a discussion one time with a friend who was absolutely miserable trying to stay firm with their 1 year old over sleep training, and in that discussion I created a new mantra, which is “If snuggles solves the problem, there really is no problem.” I will fully admit, this philosophy is as much about my happiness as my child’s.

I’ve been thinking about parenting in the context of pursuing humanitarian work and the Indie Docs lifestyle quite a bit. Josh and I have talked about the best way to raise our kids and make sure their education doesn’t suffer. In the process the topic of being flexible has come up, as has different parenting cultures. Josh sent me this article the other day: Secrets Of A Maya Supermom: What Parenting Books Don’t Tell You, and it was a great article talking about how skewed our idea of parenting is in Western Society. I love the author’s imagery of how we have put parenting, motherhood, in particular, but this is relevant to the many stay-at-home Dads I know, in a box and expect one person to do it all. It’s not normal or necessary, and I think it generates a lot of anxiety and misery among parents. Of course, reading the article I felt validated in my parenting style (after being called “crunchy” a few times in various contexts) and in my skepticism of some parenting advice I was hearing over and over (like hard-core sleep training, we can have that discussion another day).

Perhaps more relevant to Indie Docs per se is the fact that we will demand a lot from our kids as we pursue this mission in life. They will need to understand that a huge portion of our time and money goes to help others. They will have to be flexible and adaptable to other cultures, and will likely sacrifice some aspects of the prototypical American kid existence from a social or sports context.

Now to inject some reality that life is not a fairy-tale. I got mastitis 3 times on a rotation where my attending would not let me pump. I was so tired one time that I came home and while holding Eddy to nurse her, I hallucinated that it was raining inside my kitchen. I’ve gone on a job interview just to have a night away in a hotel, and I felt FABULOUS after getting that night of undisturbed sleep. I’ve let the au pair feed Eddy her dinner while I hid in my room either power napping or vegging out for 20 minutes. Our marriage has undergone a tectonic-plate-shifting adjustment, and I had to delve into relationship podcasts and articles to try to undo some of the damage done by the paucity of quality time we had together. Going back to work when Eddy was 6 weeks old was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in life, and her sleep habits only got worse over the next 6 months when she was waking up every 2 hours to nurse. But we coped and managed and continued to enjoy the moments and milestones along the way.

Fortunately, I did not experience postpartum depression, or have a colicky baby, or have any major medical concerns that would be much more challenging and beyond my control.

This is a huge topic that is both paramount to life as a physician parent and in related to upcoming big decisions about where and how to raise our kids. I hope to become more open minded in how I guide my little one through life, and most of all I hope I can maintain the inner peace that motherhood has brought to me. And to any reluctant trainees contemplating whether it’s worth it, I can offer my anecdote that having this child in my life is the most interesting, entertaining, and warm-fuzzy-feeling-inducing thing I’ve ever done. As The Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said, having a career and being a mother gives balance, and one helps you find respite from the other. I hope everybody finds their tricks and techniques that can make this huge responsibility wonderfully enjoyable.

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms out there making it work!