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Lives of Doctor Wives: Darlin’ you’ve got to let me know…should I stay or should I go?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Darlin’ you’ve got to let me know…should I stay or should I go?

My journey of loss and life, from bread winner, to reluctant stay at home mom
by: Sarah Vaca
Anybody that knows me knows that I strive on stress. I am an over achiever to the 10th degree. I was that girl… president of my class in HS, valedictorian, cheerleading captain, and wannabe professional ballerina. In college, I continued to half-heartedly pursue my ballet career, I was sorority recruitment chair, served on student government, volunteered, worked a 20 hours/week, and maintained a superb GPA with 18+ credit hours of science courses, and still found ample time to have fun. I graduated from college and joined the real world, where absolutely none of that mattered. I married my college sweet heart weeks after my graduation, gave up my spot at a prominent PA school and moved to a rural town 3 hours from home for my new groom to start medical school. The “me-centric” life that I knew and loved was over. I waited impatiently to see if I would make it off the waiting list and be granted an out of state spot in the PA class at my husband’s medical school…I wasn’t, at least not then. This new, slow paced life depressed me. My husband was busy studying. Most would not envy such tedious hours spent at the library, but I longed to be learning and I desperately missed the collegiate environment. Few of his classmates were married, but I became friends with the med students and their significant others, but even still, I felt like something in my life was missing. I found a job right away that was far from my dream job at the local 20-bed hospital. I worked as sort of a jack of all trades aid. I drew blood, did typical CNA/secretary work, helped educate new moms, and became very active in a research project. I didn’t love my job, but it was the only thing I had to keep me busy, so I gave it my all. I was quickly handed new responsibilities and went from aiding research to being the primary author. But still, something was missing.
Soon, I found myself staying late to help when new moms came in to deliver. I adored that new life and the opportunity to teach and snuggle a perfect, brand new baby. I loved helping with deliveries and seeing new moms as they met their child for the very first time. Driving home one night, it suddenly dawned on me: I desperately wanted a baby. My husband and I come from large families and both knew we wanted children, but never discussed when. I knew I wanted them sooner than later…after all, I had changed my career path in college from a MD track to a PA track when my mother told me that if my then boyfriend and I were both going to be doctors, I should probably freeze my eggs. I was young and my husband was a medical student. We were buried in student loan debt and were just barely getting by financially as it was. My career was blossoming, and I still had dreams of a graduate education. However, absolutely none of this seemed as important as my need to procreate. I approached my husband with the idea, and though at first he was absolutely shocked, after a week of pondering, he said he thought now was as good of a time as any other. We weren’t going to get less busy, and if we waited for that moment to come, we could wait forever.  It took a short two months for the positive test to come and we were thrilled to announce our pregnancy. Our family was shocked, but thrilled also. I was horribly nauseous and hardly glowing, but I was extraordinarily happy… happier still to find out that we were expecting not one, but two babies. As a twin myself, I was over the moon. At my 16 week appointment, my small town family practice physician was concerned that I was losing, not gaining weight. I was still extraordinarily nauseous. She wanted to do an ultrasound and some blood work. I obliged. I knew immediately something was wrong. To make a very long and very sad story short, one baby was actually a molar pregnancy, an egg that, instead of the normal two sets of chromosomes, has one or three sets and was rapidly dividing in my uterus. The other baby was normal. The molar pregnancy was not compatible with life and was a large danger to the other, normal baby. At 23 weeks, the inevitable happened, and I lost my first baby.
I was unbearably depressed. I still looked pregnant, I still felt pregnant, but I had nothing to show for it. Strangers asked me when I was due and I would burst into tears in a public place. My family and coworkers were supportive and my husband tried to be. He didn’t know what to do with me. I had never been depressed, and he just kept waiting for me to snap out of it. I ended up getting into PA school, something he thought would bring me joy, but it didn’t. My employer was impressed with my research and wanted me to stay, but they really needed someone with a license to carry on the research. They offered to pay my way through an accelerated nursing program and some graduate statistics classes so that I could extend my research. I obliged and started to feel some twinges of happiness. This job had just sort of fallen in my lap and it was turning out to be everything I wanted it to be. I could study, teach, research, write, and serve a clinical role, and best of all, distract myself from what I really wanted…a baby.
We moved to a bigger city, planned for me to start school that January, and I began to expand my research project while my husband continued to study. He commuted back to our medical school town for his second didactic year of medical school.  Suddenly, I started feeling terribly nauseous again. I was terrified that the molar cells that had been eliminated for the last 6 months were back. I had a positive Hcg test, and I prepared myself for another round of methotrexate. In the ultrasound room, I prayed, please, no white snow on that machine. There was no snow, but there was that flashing light...a heartbeat. I was pregnant. I was astounded…terrified…and totally joyful. I called my husband who was in the hospital’s library studying. He came and saw that screen and cried the very first happy tears I ever saw him cry. I was eight weeks pregnant. Our child was to be due just 5 months after I was to start school.
We decided to move in with our in-laws to save money and still allow us both to pursue our educational dreams and afford to start our family. This proved a difficult, but a doable sacrifice to finally hold that baby and have the career I so very much wanted. School started and everyone was shocked to see that I was going to undergo this intense program while 5 months pregnant. I excelled, even when I got placed on bed rest and fellow class mates had to roll me in a wheel chair around my clinical sites. Our son was breach and had a nuchal chord that was preventing him from turning. At 35 weeks, 6 days, I went into labor. My son was born via c-section at exactly 36 weeks and he was absolutely perfect. He was healthy, strong, and instantly had our hearts. We took him home two days later. He came to class with me the next week. He nursed while I studied, and my husband and I frequently read aloud from our text books to put him to sleep. We joked that he would be 10 steps ahead if he ever went to medical school as he had been studying the human body since infancy. Life was beautiful. I graduated on time and returned from work, and although it broke my heart to walk out the door and leave my son behind, I loved the joy on his face each time I returned. Also, working cheered me… the intellectual stimulation, the encouraging feeling of making a difference in someone’s life, and even the mere distraction helped me keep my mood up when I was frustrated with a new phase in my child’s life or missing my husband... I never missed a single developmental milestone and being gone made me cherish each moment I had with my little family.
Match day came and we knew that residency would mean changes. Big changes. We were to be moving to a brand new state 4.5 hours from the nearest family member. I knew that this new stage of life would require me to count on doing all of the child care myself. Because we decided to buy a house, it would also require me to take on the majority of the care of our home. We made our two busy lives work in our medical school town by me working nights and enlisting the help of willing grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends to care for our child while I slept. I frequently went without a full “night’s” sleep and sometimes went without any at all. I knew this situation could not be replicated in our residency town and struggled to find child care and a new job that would work for our new life situation. After a particularly stressful week, my husband suggested that I just stay home. After all, his income would replace mine, and we were doing quite well financially. He said he did not know if he could handle the stress of my job in addition to his. I honestly had never pondered this option, nor considered that my stress brought him stress, but my immediate response was “no.” I’ll be honest, I had absolutely no idea what stay at home moms did. I imagined gossiping with women I didn’t really like and watching daytime TV. The idea sounded horrendously borin. I liked working and I really, really liked the idea of us having two incomes at last! I had this brilliant plan that we would live on the same budget (our house was actually less expensive than our previous rent) and use my income to pay down debt ASAP. I felt confident that I could find some sort of job that would be regular hours and a day care that we could trust before we ever even moved. I didn’t.
The move came and that first month of living in our new home, we were both home. I was so thankful for that time together. There was so much to do, and I was grateful that we could help our son adjust and settle in without either of us having to rush to work. When my husband started his program and spent his first week working exactly 81 hours, I had another rush of relief… how would I do all of this and work full time? However, I continued my job search until one frustrated day, after snapping at my husband for no real reason, he said, “I think you need to stop looking for a job. Do me one favor, just wait until December.” In the moment, this infuriated me. Who was he to tell me what to do with my life? I already left everything I knew to follow him here, if I wanted a job, I would get one. But, sanity hit, and I realized he was right. He was stressed and any stress that I brought to the table pushed us over the edge of what we could handle. In addition, we were trying for another child also, something that wasn’t happening near as easily as we thought it would. When it did happen, this would be a big life stress. Why would I get a job just to hopefully go on maternity leave? Would I even want to work with a brand new baby? Would it be profitable? I wanted to want to stay home… but I couldn’t make myself love the idea and this made feel extraordinarily guilty. I wanted this child so badly; shouldn’t I want to be with him all day, every day?
 I vowed to take his advice. Just stay home. Ha,” just stay home” is a ridiculous phrase. I was so wrong about what stay at home moms do! I work an absurd amount harder now than I ever did in the ICU… and I frequently never sat down, even to pee, for 13 hours straight in my ICU days. Now, I work 24/7 with pretty much no break. I have to do lists that are never done and I have no one to take over as my shift is never over. Just recently, when a nasty GI bug hit me, I realized I no longer have the ability to call in sick… I felt horrendous and desperately wanted to curl up in bed, but I had nobody to take over for me. When this same bug hit my son, I learned that I still get the pleasure of cleaning up every type of gross body fluid imaginable. That was not something I missed about the ICU! When, in a period of five minutes, my son puked on the couch and then pooed in the tub, I began to miss the ready-access I had to latex-free gloves.  I once left him outside in our fenced in back yard for a brief moment alone so I could go use the ladies room and returned to find our gate open and him on the other side of the street checking the mail. This made me miss always having a second nurse around to look out for me if I needed a second. It also brought the harsh reality that if someone were hurt due to my negligence it would be worse than losing a license; it would mean losing my child and the fault would be 100% mine. 
Since staying home, I find myself losing my temper with him far more than I ever did when I was working. My son is two, and like most two year-olds, he is very busy. He is very strong willed, and sometimes, after a particularly difficult day, I watch the clock waiting for 5 pm when I find it acceptable to have a glass of wine. I love my child, but I don’t always enjoy playing trains for hours on end when I have a to-do list a mile long waiting for my action. I will never love chasing him around with his clothing, literally begging him to be still so we can get dressed and get out the door. I don’t like discovering the food I make him being fed to the dog or thrown on the floor, and temper tantrums make me want to throw myself on the floor and scream. One minute, I find myself swelling with pride at his verbal ability, and the very next, wanting to a dig a hole in the ground and disappear with his words (namely when he clearly stated, “You’re fat, don’t see me” to my overweight relative at my grandfather’s funeral). When he insists on using the potty (and immediately demanding a marshmallow when he sprinkles 3 tiny drops into the pot) and ten minutes later pees through the undies he demanded to wear and onto my couch, I find myself trying not cry.
The constant power struggle is exhausting and I give in to him on things I know I shouldn’t. He drinks too much chocolate milk, watches too much TV, and eats too much macaroni and cheese. Every day is a battle for independence and I am pretty sure I am not gaining any ground. Our days are filled with mundane tasks and happy little moments. Yet, I still find myself checking out job postings and longing to apply. As much as I love answering his constant questions and his extraordinary joy at the tiny things in life, like getting stopped at a train track, I will probably always miss my old life.  I don’t really believe that I was designed to do this forever, but I am grateful that I get to do it now. After all, when in my life will I be able to do this again? My son will never be two again. I will never get to hear him “vrooming” his trucks down the hall and see him chasing the dog outside. I will get one opportunity to answer the questions, “how do plants grow?, “What does special mean?, and “Where is God?” It is hard, thankless work, but somehow, there are moments of unbelievable gratification, brief glimpses that tell me, “You’re doing alright.” Advice from wonderful women in Side by Side (a national organization for Christian medical wives) and women from the Facebook LDW group made me realize that it takes time to grow into this new role and I must take time for myself. I do have some spare moments, if I let myself. My floors don’t have to be spotless, my bathrooms don’t have to be scrubbed, and I don’t need to cook a gourmet meal every night. I was encouraged to join some women’s groups and have and the interaction with the women I have met is absolutely essential to helping me maintain my sanity. I have started to carve out a small amount of time to do something I want to do at least once a week, rather than making time to do only the things I feel obligated to do. This is no small feat for me, as I am usually overwhelmed with the obligatory tasks, and find it near impossible to squeeze anything else in. However, I have discovered that moments I carve out painting something for our walls or working on a scrap book, taking an excessively long shower, painting my nails, or reading the New York Times bring enough happiness and sense of self to make each moment “wasted” worth the small stress that having foot prints on my wood floors brings me. By no means do I consider myself an expert in mommyhood. In fact, I would like to meet the woman who does. But each day, I learn and grow. Some days, I can’t wait until that promised date in December. Then the next day comes, and my child wakes up and tells me, “Mommy, you are my princess,” and I pray that I get to do this forever.  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful. I have always wanted to be a SAHM, but I can definitely identify with your feelings about the day to day challenges. I know God has called my husband to his career, and I feel equally sure about my calling. Carry on, fellow doc wife and mommy! You are certainly not alone. --Alison

September 28, 2013 at 2:59 PM  

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