Tell us about your background, and who you are.
I am a wife, and a mother, and a doctor.
I have been married for 5 years. I met my husband in college at Notre Dame, and we got married the month following graduation. I got pregnant three months following that, which also happened be my second month in medical school. My son was born the last week of my first year of medical school. He’s now four, so I’ve graduated med school, and I am currently in my second year of my psychiatry residency at UC Irvine in Orange County, CA.
What do you find most fulfilling and most challenging about motherhood?
In the world of medicine in particular–especially being somewhat of a new grad–there’s a fake-it-’til-you-make-it mentality. You do your homework, you work hard, and you have to come off as somewhat confident. You just do the best you can to learn the most you can to help your patients, and practice in a very professional way in a field that’s somewhat new to you. So, you need to seem like you have it all under control when you are at work in order to benefit your patients the most.
And then you come home, and that all unravels. Because as much as you are in control at work and your patients are looking to you, when you get home, your four-year-old or your toddler doesn’t listen to you the way your patients do. So any order you’ve tried to build around your day comes to a screeching halt, and all of a sudden it’s a negotiation with a toddler, and nothing is reasonable, and nothing makes sense. It’s actually really humbling to go from feeling professional and like you have it all together, to coming home and remembering that sometimes, macaroni in your hair is just how the day is going to end. And that’s okay.
I think it’s refreshing and humbling.
What I do at work, and what I do at home are so different that I leave work excited to go home, and I leave home excited to go to work. It seems to be a pretty good balance, and it feeds a lot of sides of me, and it averages out as a good mix, I think.
How have you incorporated motherhood into your identity, and how have you kept your identity as a mother?
I didn’t–for a long time. I struggled to redefine myself after my son was born. I remember being on my residency interview, and someone asked me what the most challenging part of residency was, and I said it was having a kid. I came back from the first summer of med school, and I had this idea in my head that I could either be a good mother or I could be a really good student, but I couldn’t be both. For some reason, being good or even great at both things wasn’t compatible in my mind, so I struggled, because I was always someone who functioned at a high level in whatever I did. That feeling persisted for probably about a year. I felt like I was a mediocre mom and a mediocre med student.
We took our board exams going into the third year of medical school and I did really well on a national level. That proved to be a confidence booster for me. I’d been a mom for a whole year now, and I was still a medical student performing at a high level. My one-year-old was thriving and meeting all of his milestones, and I returned for my third year really rejuvenated because I had this objective sign that I was doing okay. Prior to that, I had no objective measure that things were going well. It was at that point that I felt more solidified in my identity, and that I was actually a kick-ass med student or doctor BECAUSE I was a mom. People around me would ask, “How do you do it?” And I would say it was because I had something to go home to. So when I was at school, I wanted to study hard and work hard, so when I went home, I could play hard and love hard. It forced priorities, and all of a sudden I felt confident that I could do both and be good at both.
That being said, that’s my identity as being a mom and a doctor. My personal identity took even longer still. I got into yoga when I was going into my fourth year of medical school, and I really took to that. It was an hour and a half I was away from my phone and no one could reach me. I got a good workout in, and left feeling relaxed. My husband was really good about protecting that time. I loved it because while I had been a college athlete, my exercise fell by the wayside in medical school. I was able to push myself to whatever level was helpful. In the last year, I’ve settled into residency, and I’ve taken on a more healthy lifestyle. My husband and I are both experimenting in the kitchen, and feeling really good about it. So we are starting to incorporate things into our identity as we go.
What advice would you give women who are desiring or seeking motherhood?
We knew we wanted kids, but we didn’t know when. I remember my dad calling me when he found out I was pregnant and said he thought I was crazy since I was in my first year of medical school. He was so worried. I distinctly remember standing on the patio at school, talking to him, and saying, “I love my husband so much. I couldn’t imagine a greater gift than creating a child out of that love.” I understand my twenties are going to look different, but I just felt so strongly about it and about our relationship.
Our path is different. I’ve seen so many friends, and even patients contend with questions of “Do I want to be a mother? When do I want to be a mother? How is this going to happen?” And I have to say, the path is so different for everyone, and it’s been said–and it’s true–comparison is the thief of joy. Just because it didn’t happen for me or didn’t happen for you in a certain way, that doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong; it just means your path is different, and sometimes, things happen that are often outside of our control. We just need to realize that our stories are being written as we go, and be okay with that.