Parenthood Juggle: The Most Important Thing is to Have Options

Female doctor examining an x-rayFrom as far back as I can remember, I knew I was going to work when I grew up. Maybe it was all the time I spent listening to my parents fight about money. But I knew I never wanted to have to worry about it the way they did. I never wanted to depend on anyone financially. Thus I started a little lawn mowing business with my mom when I was 12 and started babysitting around that time as well. In high school I took a part time job at the local grocery store as a cashier.

So that was the deciding to work part. Not so much a decision, just knowing that it was always something I’d do. When I started getting all those young women lessons about getting married and having babies, they sort of got to me. Not that I didn’t plan on doing that as well. But it made me question who I was as a person. Because I have always felt that working and having a career was part of who I am. To not work, to stay home full time–that’s just never been *me*. But I started to feel like I was a bad person for wanting other things on top of husbands and babies.

I hate to say this, but those lessons nearly did me in. And feminist guilt is gonna kick in when I further admit that the only reason they didn’t was because of my future husband (who is totally awesome, btw).

I guess I should tell another part of the story before we get to that though. As we all know, different people have different talents. I wasn’t super pretty or funny or a great athlete or whatever. But school was my thing. Going back to, well, kindergarten-I’d always done well in school. It came quite naturally to me. When I was in 7th grade, my best friend tested out of 7th grade math in order to start algebra a year early. Naturally, being a 7th grade girl, I decided to try to test out, too. Ultimately BFF’s parents decided not to let her go ahead with it, but I wanted to anyway-for some weird reason I cannot recall. My guidance counselor warned against it, telling my mom I’d never get a boyfriend if I did it (I swear, I am not making this up. Also, I had my first kiss within a year of that propehcy, so Mrs. Guidance Counselor, you can bite me.) Actually, maybe I went ahead with it, just to spite her. (Yep, spiting people has always been a good motivator for me.)  Anyway, that experience taught me to think of myself as smart. Not that I wasn’t beforehand. But it made me believe that I was, which is important for me as confidence isn’t really my thing. And because I thought I was smart, I thought I should do something that smart people do. (Remember, people, I was in 7th grade here. Try not to judge me too harshly) So when I saw Patch Adams later that year, I decided I wanted to be a doctor (and yes,as totally lame as that is, that is the story I told on my med school application about how I decided to go in to medicine.)

Flash forward a few years. I had a lot of conflict going on in my mind about being a doctor and being a mom. I decided to get my patriarchal blessing. Let God just tell me what I should do, right?

Spoiler alert: God did not mention one word to me about school or career or ANYTHING of that nature! I was pretty upset. How could He not care about something that I cared so much about? It was baffling and upsetting to me. Until I decided that maybe it was up to me? Maybe it didn’t matter what I chose-I could do whatever I wanted. And I felt pretty good about that idea. At least good enough to pursue a path that would allow me to attend medical school if that was what I ultimately decided to do. But I wasn’t 100% set on it.

Because I didn’t feel like it was a decision I could make on my own. I felt like my (as yet, undetermined and perhaps non existent) spouse should have some say in the decision. Which I now think is a ridiculous idea. But that is how and what I thought back then.

Fortunately, things worked out perfectly, given the place I was at and where I hoped to wind up. I began dating my husband my last year of college. He was extremely supportive of me pursuing medical school, so I did. The truth is though, had I not been dating anyone around that time, or if I’d met someone who’d been less supportive, I never would have done it.I couldn’t have made such a ‘radical’ decision (because, let’s face it, how many mormon women doctors do you know?) on my own. So I could never judge a woman who was in a similar position, for making a different choice.

So there’s the career decision. Enter motherhood. Once again, I always knew I wanted to be a mom. I’ve always loved kids. I never even questioned the idea of having children. Note: I think we should teach our kids to at least question that decision. Not that I regret parenthood. But it’s SUCH a life changing path, there really should be more (some?) thought put in to it. My only question was when to have kids.  If I had things to do over again, I’d probably have waited longer before I had my son. I had him at the end of my third year of medical school. Pretty much my worst idea ever-in case anyone else out there is thinking of doing the same thing. Hardest year of medical school + awful pregnancy=hell. But you live and you learn, right?

The other fun thing was that I wanted to take a year off of school to stay home with my son after he was born. This was my first kid, after all, and I had no idea what I was in for. I thought this request was a no brainer.

After all, one of my classmates said she wasn’t sure she still wanted to be a doctor and was given a year off to bar tend. Seems like taking care of a living breathing human baby would be at least as important as bar tending, right? Not so much. The Dean of my school (a woman!) told me she’d never in the 20+ years she’d been doing this job, been asked that request.

I had to fight for 9 months to get the time off. But it was so important to me to have that time with my son, that I literally would have dropped out of medical school to be with him. Luckily it worked out for me and it didn’t come down to that. But there are some crosses you’re willing to die on, and that was mine. The other bit of good that came out of that was that now any other female med student in good academic standing, may take a year off after having a baby at UTMB. Small victories.

When it came time to return to school, I was again really lucky. My son is happy and social and my best friend lived across the street. She took care of him my last year of school. And he loved it. If he’d been clingy and unhappy, or if I couldn’t find someone that I trusted to care for him, again, I would have quit. But again, I’m glad it didn’t come down to that.

The other thing that makes this all doable for me, is having a supportive husband. I’m currently in my third year of residency, and it’s been pretty grueling in terms of work hours. I’ve had a crazy schedule, working the equivalent of two full time jobs at odd hours including nights and weekends. He’s done way more than his fair share of the parenting and if not for him, this would not at all be a viable option. We make this work though because we know in the end it’ll pay off. I’ve got

18 months left and then I’ll get to pick a job that I LOVE with flexible hours that is well paid. And that’s what I’m gunning for.

What’s the moral of the story here? I’m not quite sure. I would never tell or push another woman to take the same path I have because it’s been incredibly difficult. And lonely. The truth is, this is a lonely path to take in most worlds, but especially in mormonism. While I understand where many women are coming from, having done the SAHM thing, not many get where I’m coming from. Even other working moms don’t quite comprehend what it is to be a mom in a medical residency program. And so I have often felt quite alone and left out.

The other thing is that there’s really no such thing as “having it all.” At least, not for me. Or not if that entails being the best in your field, working full time, and being the kind of mom I want to be.

I’ve made sacrifices on both ends which have left me overall satisfied. For me, having it all means working part time so I can spend the rest of my time with my son. I haven’t gotten there yet, but I will. And while it feels like I’ve been working my plan forever with not enough pay off, I’m sure if you ask me in 5 years if it was worth it, I’m going to say yes.

I would however encourage other women to get an education!! The most important thing is to have options. Not just in case your husband dies, but so you have options for yourself, to be fulfilled and do what you want with your life no matter where it takes you.

-Submitted by Jessica Howsley

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