Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How Motherhood Changed Me

Having a opens something inside of you.  It's almost like the world splits in two, you're so open.  All different sorts of things can rush inside of you, can fill you up.  Some women fill with's hard to explain. Loving something so much--you're not prepared.  It's so big, so ancient and animal.  It's terrifying...It can make you feel crazy.
                                                                           ~The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle

Before I had a baby, I was a type-A student.  In high school, I actually read textbooks and studied.  I was that annoying kid that would ruin the curve.  I didn't feel satisfied with getting all A's.  I wanted all A+'s.  (I swear I wasn't a pompous jerk...I was never in your face.  My parents are first generation immigrants so the pressure to achieve was very strong.) And, I was blessed with a brain that had the capacity to learn and a thirst for knowledge so A+'s was what I got.  In high school and college.  Medical school wasn't much different.  There were no A+'s but despite all the terrifying introductory speeches about all of us formerly being the upper crust and how that would no longer be possible, I did it again.  Top student in a few subjects and top quartile overall.  This was what I had been raised to view as success.  I was on track.  My parents were proud, my teachers were happy, and I felt accomplishment and pride in my hard work.

Then, my world shifted.  I was pregnant.

My husband and I wanted kids (a big family at that!)  but the timing was not perfect.  I was in my second year of medical school.  And if you know anything about medical school, you know that the most demanding year as far as hours spent away from home is 3rd year.  I boarded the roller coaster we call pregnancy hormones at this point.  I was up, elated about the thought of a life created by me and the love of my life growing inside of me.  Then I was down, questioning my very ability to be a mother, fearing pregnancy and labor then sleepless nights and active toddler years.... all in the face of the hard months I knew would come before and after my baby's birth.  I also feared losing all of my hard work, of failing, of quitting, of falling off track.

But then time flew (although when I was nearing the end of my pregnancy I would have said time crawled at a snail's pace).  As I began to feel my precious child move inside of me, I bonded in a way that I will never be able to do justice with words.  That baby became my focus.  I spent nights and study breaks organizing, dreaming, decorating, and picking out outfits for the hospital.  I still worked hard during the days (night shifts too) but my heart and focus were already shifting.

Then on a beautiful day in October, my world shifted even further.  The most beautiful (and very loud) baby boy was placed in my arms.  I was a mommy.

This tiny person became the center of my world.

The next days were a blur.  Someday I'll write about all the craziness that went on the week after he was born, but to fast-forward a bit, I spent two months at home, each day fearing how quickly the days were passing.  I dreaded January and starting back to my rotations like nothing I had ever dreaded before (I was one of those kids that actually looked forward to going back to school after long summer breaks.  Not that I didn't love summer but there's always excitement in a change of pace and seeing friends,etc.).

I knew leaving my baby would be hard.  But I didn't know how hard.  I don't remember silly details of that first morning but I will never forget how I felt.  I felt like my world was caving in.  Like I was trapped in some horror movie.  My mom stayed with us the first week and a half so it wasn't that I feared my baby wasn't being taken care was that he wasn't with me.  That base, animal instinct the author refers to in the quote above.  She describes it in horses separated from their foals later in the book:

    After we separated the foals from their mothers, we all stood around, watching their grief.  They screamed and rammed their chests into the fence, running circles in the little pen, colliding with one another in clouds of dust.  Their heads lifted, crying thin, anguished whinnies, slicing the air with their pain...there was nothing {we} could do to make it easier.

I needed to have my baby with me.  The separation felt like torture.   Nothing seemed important in comparison.

I have never been a big crier.  Until I became a working mommy.  I cried on my way to the hospital  every morning for over a month.  And most mornings for months after that.  I lashed out at everyone around me.  Like a wounded animal.  Especially at my husband.  For his love, I am eternally grateful.  His patience seemed boundless at times.  The hugs, the back rubs, the encouraging words...all despite my lashing.  I cried, I screamed.  I claimed that I was being tortured.  I can't imagine what he thought but I honestly was too wounded to care.

I hurt. But who was torturing me? My attendings?  No, they were only pushing me to excellence in a field that deserves nothing less.  My husband?  No, he was my greatest ally.  He was encouraging me so that I could go on not because he was forcing me to continue.  My parents?  While they would have been disappointed if I quit and the pressure to continue was undoubtedly great, I could not blame them.  Then who?  God? No! Even worse, it was a torment of my own devices.

My husband was right (of course).  I had signed on for medicine.  I had wanted a baby during school (granted we were a year early but it really wouldn't be much different intern year). Me.  I wanted all of this.

 That's when I had the greatest realization of all.

I had changed.  Me.  I was different. As a mother, my rosy image of finishing school and working part time once I finished residency had a big flaw.  I had to sacrifice about 5 years of my children's lives.  I would miss out.  And it wasn't until I became a mother that I understood what a great sacrifice that truly would be.  I wouldn't be there to see all the firsts.  These would be reported to me by someone else.  I wouldn't be the primary care giver.  I wouldn't know what soothed my child best, what he ate for lunch (unless I asked), what times he napped, or even what kind of day he had.  All I had was crappy second-hand reports.  I missed the smiles and the coos and the cuddles.  I wanted those.  I wanted them more than what I was spending my days doing.

But I felt stuck.  Expectations (of me, my colleagues, my school, my family) surrounded me.  To quit would waste the time I'd already sacrificed and that was unthinkable.  It was not something I could live with.  So what to do?

After a half a year of torment, I took the boldest step I've taken my entire life.  I stepped off the path.  I decided not to enter residency immediately after I graduate next year.  I am taking a year off.  And for once in my life, that's all I know.  I don't know what lies beyond that...residency?  working from home?  just being a mommy?  I don't know.

But I do know that I get at least a year as a stay-at-home mom.  And I need that.  I need to find myself.  My new self.  My mommy self.  I know she has been in torment these last 12 months.  She deserves a chance to speak.  I need the time to listen.  I don't know what my path will be but I do know that I deserve to find it.

I Am Surviving and Somehow Maybe Even Thriving

I was asked to write an essay about myself for an honor society recently. I think it explains how I feel on days where I can look back and feel a sense of pride and success over the past 3 and 1/2 years of medical school and last 1 year of motherhood. I thought I would share it as my first post so that on days when I am feeling like a failure, I can remind myself that I have done the best I can.  And honestly, that best is pretty darn good.

Here it is:

"I am a senior medical student who has made all A’s and two B’s thus far.  And I am graduating with my class in May 2014. This may seem like an obvious statement, but for me, it is not so obvious.  You see, my medical school journey has been somewhat different than what many would consider ideal.  In my second year, I discovered that I was pregnant.  Originally, I was overwhelmed with fear and uncertainty.  Medical school was challenging and time consuming enough without adding another generous helping of responsibility to the mix.  However, looking back, I see things differently now.  I cannot even begin to explain how my precious surprise has enriched both my life and medical practice.

As a future pediatrician, being a mother has provided continual and invaluable lessons on parental perspective.   I understand more than what a book explains or what observing other caregivers can teach a student about the incredible journey of raising a child.  This knowledge has affected my ability to see humanity in all of my patients.  I was surprised that I began seeing how everyone is or was at some point someone’s beloved child or mother/father, etc.

I admit it.  Motherhood has softened me.  Some would view this as weakness, but I feel it is an immeasurable strength.  My capacity for empathy has grown three sizes, along with my heart.
 As a medical student who was breastfeeding during clinical rotations, I learned time management even more so, I believe, than most of my classmates.  I had to be better, faster, and more efficient in order to make up for the time I spent away from the group while pumping.  At home, my studying became more efficient and focused as I learned to split my time between family and work.  I slept even less than my colleagues because I had a small infant consuming part of the very little sleep time we were afforded. 

The journey was difficult and there were times I doubted my capabilities.  These were times when my juggling act felt as if it were more than I could handle.  More than my human self that needed to eat, sleep, and have time to unwind, could emotionally survive.  Not only did I survive, but I believe I have thrived.  Becoming a mother in medicine has shown me a capacity to be more than I ever imagined. I have learned what it is to have to focus on more than just my medical career yet excel in it, regardless.  Perhaps I could have had better grades or higher scores and better reviews but I am proud of both my medical career and my family.  I have truly given my all in both areas. 
So, let me end by saying it again so that you can understand my meaning better.  I am a senior medical student who has made all A’s and two B’s thus far.  And I am graduating with my class in May 2014."