Life beyond medicine | Parenting during Residency: Can it be done?

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Editor’s Note:  This is the first in a series of posts about life that exists beyond the bounds of the hospital. This is the first of two posts about parenting during residency, the next post will follow and provide the male perspective. – TChan

Parenting during Residency: Can it be done?

Sure!

Is it difficult?

Definitely.

Then again, so are so many things you’ll attempt over the course of your medical training.

When is the right time?

I was halfway through my second year of residency in Emergency medicine when I got pregnant. It happened a little sooner than my husband and I were expecting, but we wanted to have at least one child during residency anyway so that wasn’t such a big deal. It’s easy to put off having kids. You may say ‘I want to finish medical school first’ then ‘I need to finish residency before getting pregnant’ and finally ‘Let’s start once I have some experience as staff’. On the other hand, some may be afraid of running into fertility issues if they wait too long. Ultimately, there is no right time. It’s right if it feels right to you. It’s hard no matter when you do it.

Working while pregnant:

The pregnancy itself was pretty routine, I suppose. I distinctly remember vomiting on the sidewalk after coming home from night shift one day, but I think overall I was pretty lucky. I didn’t have serious medical complications and I worked until 10 days before our son was born. Approaching the Program Director…Yikes! Approaching the Program Director was a little intimidating initially, but it ended up being a very pleasant experience. At the time, I was the only pregnant resident in our entire program. Initially, I had planned on taking nine months leave, but the PD suggested I take the whole year as it wouldn’t really make a difference in terms of duration of residency. A year it was!

The actual leave:

My husband and I decided that, instead of splitting the parental leave, I would take the entire year. It was one of the best times of my life. It was somehow both exhausting and restful. Before I went on maternity leave, I had planned to read all of Rosen’s while I was off. In reality I read exactly zero of 2604 pages!

Coming back:

Coming back was hard. It was hard to leave my baby and hard to get back to business. It was hard to get back in the habit of reading. I adjusted surprisingly quickly. In just a few weeks, I felt like I had never left. While it became easier for me, however, it seemed in some ways much harder for my son and husband. My husband also worked shifts, so sometimes we had to leave our son at my parents’ place for days at a time. My program also required a two-month rotation in a different city, during which I had to leave our son behind. At one point, things became so challenging that I actually approached my PD to ask him to let me complete residency on a part-time basis. The PD was incredibly accommodating, and in the end I continued as a full-time resident.

Would I change anything?

I think if I had to do it all over again, I would probably try to read a bit more during maternity leave! It wouldn’t have killed me to go to academic half day or journal club once in a while. What I would not change is having a child during residency. Was it challenging? Yes. Was my house a mess for most of post-baby residency? Undeniably. Was it a strain on my relationship with my husband? Absolutely. Did I feel guilty for not spending much time with my baby? Of course! With all that said, starting a family is hard no matter the timing. But it is so worth it. It was challenging for us as a couple, but it was also a time of bonding over the number one thing we had in common – our baby!

Advice for parenting during residency:

So you think you can do this during residency? Well, you got into medical, you matched into a residency, you have amazing life experiences, and you may have a PhD or an MBA. You are an amazing, talented, multi-tasker.

So…of course you can do it! Parenting is challenging but, to quote T.S Eliot, “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”

Peer Reviewed by Teresa Chan. Edited by Sarah Luckett-Gatopoulos.

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