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Lives of Doctor Wives: Work, Baby, Work

Friday, July 31, 2015

Work, Baby, Work

I didn’t start to hate DrH’s career until our daughter was born. We’d been together for six years—through all four years of medical school and one year of anesthesia residency all in the west. Now we were on the east coast for his final three years of residency. While we had always felt the inconvenient parts of him being a doctor in training, I never truly hated his job. Having a baby changed everything.

I grew up with two doctors for parents—one family practice and the other internal medicine. They practiced in my tiny hometown in Montana and took on celebrity status amongst its citizens. My dad delivered many of my friends and classmates. My mom kept their mothers and fathers sane and healthy. Everywhere I went I was told, "Oh I just love your parents. You’re so lucky." And I was. They were smart and could provide everything we needed. But I also saw how stressed they were at home and the energy they didn’t have for marital discussions, helping with homework, and decorating the Christmas tree. I knew how many hours a week I spent at daycare. In many of our home videos, my dad looks like he’s half asleep—because after delivering a baby at 4 o’clock the previous morning he probably was. I decided at a young age (as did my two sisters) to never be a doctor. I didn’t want anything to do with that life—the life of sacrifice at home to serve others. And then I met my wonderful husband.

When we started dating, he had already gotten into medical school. Right away, I shared my trepidation with him about the medical lifestyle. But he was a starry-eyed, first-in-the-family-to-become-a-doctor type and said he valued family time above all else and would never go into a specialty that didn’t respect that. And in addition to falling in love with him and knowing I would do anything to be near him, I believed him, thinking that my childhood experience was myopic—that the overworked, rural primary care physician wasn’t the only model out there.

And actually, medical school started to convince me that doctor training wasn’t that bad. Everyone told us to brace ourselves for how hard it would be. Throughout it all I just laughed to think of that, still do. Med school seemed totally doable! Being an independent woman with a lucrative job, I was happy to have my own thing going on and the space and time to meet with friends and do creative projects while he studied. We did date nights every week, went to concerts, and took little road trips on the weekends. He would study in the car. During fourth year we got engaged and traveled together for all of his away rotations, taking our adventurous wheaten terrier with us. It was a blast—a month each in six major cities, playing the tourists with our free time, planning our wedding, and visiting friends and family. I picked him up and dropped him off every day at work, exploring the city with our pup and doing at-home transcription during the days. On his days off, we sunbathed in San Diego, saw museums in Chicago, and strolled in New York’s Central Park. For the most part, we felt free and happy.

Then everybody warned us again: "The first year of residency is the worst." The dreaded intern year loomed after our wedding and honeymoon were over. Luckily, we matched for that year in the same city as medical school had been, so we were able to stay near all of the friends we had met the previous four years. I soon got pregnant and stayed busy working, planning for baby, doing home projects, and figuring out the move out east for the following year. Intern year flew by, and we were mostly still able to keep our date nights and sanity. Days off we spent at the pool or hiking and always felt rejuvenated afterwards. The best part was that DrH was truly free when he came home—no studying or applications or thank-you letters. We thought we had made it and felt like the next three years while financially hard—I was going to stay at home with our daughter in one of the most expensive cities in the US—would be emotionally and physically easier.

Wow, were we wrong! In October of this year, we welcomed our daughter into the world. Even planning for her birth was stressful beyond anything we had imagined. They wouldn’t give DrH any days off surrounding the birth, so we had to plan an induction for his vacation week (that he requested around the due date and thankfully got). Luckily I went into labor naturally one day before the scheduled induction, so he still had five days to spend with us in the hospital and settle us at home. We were lucky he had even that, and he was able to be with me through the entire process, which ended up being as wonderful an experience as labor can be. We had time to go to the first pediatrician appointment together and make sure our house was set up for our new leading lady. However, those days were over in a flash. The night before he had to go back to work, I thought he might cry (and I certainly did!). He knew once he was back in the hospital work zone, the sweet bubble of love we were creating at home around our new tiny family member would burst.

And it did in a way. As the early months of her life went by I started to get very, very bitter. It didn’t help that all of our friends and family were now thousands of miles away. But even had they been close, I wanted DrH home. He was missing so many things. I knew he had to work to support us, but did he have to work so much? Did his job have to demand everything from him? Our daughter was changing before my eyes every day, and he was only seeing it through my pictures and videos of her first smiles, motions, and baths. By the time he got home, she was often cranky and ready for bed if not already asleep. Besides, even when he was home now, I felt a huge divide of what I was experiencing and what he was. He was so tired and overworked on top of the debilitating fatigue of having a newborn that he was hardly able to participate in our family. Many times he would fall asleep while holding her. It broke my heart. I wanted my daughter to have a present and awake father, the kind I didn’t have growing up. Like my father, DrH was an amazing dad, sacrificing everything he could to make our daughter and me happy. But time and energy were two things he just couldn’t give because his job was sucking them from him.

DrH started to get bitter, too, so it made it hard for me to be supportive. When he complained about work, I was quick to agree and criticize it whereas in previous years I had reserves of energy and positivity. Before, I knew his dream of being a doctor was becoming more and more tenable, and I wanted him to succeed and to support him in it. Now I couldn’t see the positive side of it, and he really needed me to. He still loved the mechanics of what he did, but the workload was harder than anything either of us had envisioned for PGY2 mostly because his hospital had massively increased its caseload that year. He was doing his best, but he just felt he was falling behind in fatherhood. And he wasn’t even giving all he needed to at work. In every spare moment, he was supposed to be studying for his big end-of-year test, but he just wanted to play with his baby girl. He felt the constant pull of these two demands, and all his desire pulled him toward family. His priorities had changed after her birth, but he still had to provide for us. We both knew that this was what we had signed up for—that residency wasn’t easy and that he would still have limited family time. Even if we wanted to reconsider, we were in far too much debt now to do so! We often wonder how many doctors in training are in a similar boat.

Our daughter turns eight months old soon. We are thankfully sleeping more and feeling better about being new parents. We also know we are so fortunate that he has a stable job, our daughter is healthy, and we are making do. I remind myself every day that many people in the world don’t have that and that life is not easy for anyone! But I am still trying to find a new peace with his work post-baby and trying to get rid of the bitterness—mostly because it harms our situation more than helps. PGY2 is nearly over, and the months are flying by. I know that we will blink, and his last two years of residency will be over. Hopefully this will free up some family time. It is hard not to just dream of that day. But I also know that by that time our daughter will be two and a half—walking, talking, forming opinions and saying crazy things, most of which he will have missed because he was working. We say regularly that we wished the payoff were even marginally worth the sacrifice right now. He recently told me very matter-of-factly that if he had to do it all again he would have chosen engineering or even just a nine-to-five job. Maybe the payoff is coming. Maybe it will all be worth it in the end. Until then we will keep plugging away and trying every day to focus on the joy our daughter has immeasurably brought to our lives—to focus on the moments and love we’re gaining not missing. After all, life is only now.


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Blogger Tara said...

I feel you! We just had our first baby three months ago at the end of second year in an internal medicine residency. The month-long nights rotation and critical care rotations with Q4 call weren't fun, pre-baby, but he had a month in the CCU and a month of nights right after our son was born. I thought I was going to lose my mind by the end of his nights rotation! I am so very fortunate that our son sleeps well at night, but during the day I wouldn't get a break and I was pushed into a survival mode that made it difficult to enjoy the baby! Thankfully he had an easy month last rotation and things are much better now, but those two months, especially the nights, were the most difficult of my life. I am still doing most of the parenting and DrH gets to play with him some, but honestly I'm such a control freak I think I prefer it that way ;)

August 1, 2015 at 1:21 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

I just wanted to reach out, as my husband is Anesthesia PGY2 and we have a son born in March, we are very much in the same boat- which while many doctor's wives have similar experiences through residency, I find that different specialties have their own unique challenges and even year by year it can be hard to commiserate in the moment when one has already "made it through" that point. We certainly had similar experiences through med school and even intern year. I'd love to be in touch, I hope you would too. :)

August 16, 2015 at 9:10 PM  
Blogger Kaitlyn Stephenson said...

Hi Catherine,

I am reading your blog all the way from Queensland, Australia, and I just wanted to thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.
Although not my husband (yet!) my boyfriend of 2 years is an Emergency registrar and is currently living in another state thousands of km away... I have been feeling like no one understand what I am going through at times, hence why I have gone online to connect with others.
I loved reading in this post that your parents were medical professionals in Montana... I actually studied abroad for a year at Montana State University, Bozeman. I absolutely LOVE Montana! I swear a piece of my heart is still there and I hope to get back there in the near future.
I really appreciate you passing on your knowledge and experiences as I am wanting to be supportive of my partner with his career.
So many women comment on how privileged and how easy my life must be, and they are correct in some ways, but they also don't see the hard work and the massive support role that I play, let alone his sheer hard work.
As an ED registrar, the random shifts and long hours and the continual study and limited down time can be difficult to live with, but I am learning how to be the most supportive person I can to him.
Thank you again for your words and I look forward to reading more in the future!

Kaitlyn xx

August 29, 2015 at 9:36 AM  

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