What makes you a #bettermother?

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Nope, not a better mother than your neighbor, than your friend, or than the president of your local PTA…but what makes you the best mother you can be?  Going even further than that… What makes you successful as a person?  As a human being?

 

John C. Maxwell defines “success” as:

“knowing your purpose in life,

growing to reach your maximum potential, and

sowing seeds that benefit others”.

 

Very recently I was approached by www.inspiringwomeninsurgery.com to provide some words of advice or encouragement, and while my 4 year old was brushing his teeth at night I thought about work/life “balance”, envisioned a set of scales, and came up with this.

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Why am I a #bettermother because I am a surgeon?  Because I know my purpose in life, I am growing and I am sowing seeds.  I know that this mother may be sad that I miss my son’s soccer practices, but I also know there are lots of other mothers out there that are glad I did… because I was able to help their children in their time of need.  And although my children may miss me at times, I know they also gain valuable lessons from my career – independence and selflessness chief among them.  My children always know that I love them, and they are important to me… whether I am sitting at their bedside, or at the bedside of one of my patients.

And no, you don’t have to be a trauma surgeon or work outside the home to be successful, or a #bettermother.  Again, look at the definition.  Nowhere in that definition does it mention spending every moment of every waking day with your child(ren).  It doesn’t mention making your child’s first birthday cake by hand, or becoming Vice President of a company.  Nor does it mention “leaning in” to the point that you are about to fall over.

YOU are at the center of your success, and you have to give back to yourself in order to be in a position to give to others – whether that is your spouse or your children or your community.

An example for you.  The wife of one of my partners volunteers with her daughters’ Girl Scout troop.  This makes her a #bettermother – not because she spends time in an activity that involves her own children, but because she gives of her time to an activity that gives many children joy when other mothers can’t.  Another friend is a #bettermother because she is a Crossfit addict… She is teaching her daughter that strong is beautiful, and physical health helps build emotional health.

Taking time in activities, away from your family, work related or not, that develop your sense of self, fulfill your purpose in life, and replenish your soul is not selfish.  In fact, it is essential to being a #bettermother and a successful human being.

So what makes you a #bettermother?  Is it the 30 minutes you spent exercising this morning?  Or is it the 2 hours over the weekend you took to train for a marathon?  Is it the overnight business trip in another city that allowed you to present a project that will better your company?  Is it the hours you spend volunteering at your child’s school because other mothers can’t?  Is it that extra time you took at the hospital treating a patient who needed you?  Is it the time you spend organizing a book club giving women the opportunity to fellowship with other women, building their support system?

Success doesn’t require a title, or a degree, or a paycheck.  It requires YOU being the best YOU possible.

So take that time to develop yourself, replenish yourself, fulfill your purpose.

Enjoy it.  Own it.  And snap a photo of yourself doing it.  To keep as a reminder – when you are coming home late, or have 18 loads of laundry piled up, or serve Cheerios for dinner for the umpteenth time that week, or in any way feeling like you are “failing”…that you are, indeed, not.

I am a #bettermother, and so are you.

 

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Defining “Mommy Friendly”

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I had a familiar conversation the other day with yet another female medical student.

“I really loved surgery!” she said, “but I was concerned about the lifestyle so I decided on _______________.” 

Lifestyle, it turns out, almost always seems to be code for having a family (maybe it’s just the kind of students who are apt to seek me out as I have yet to encounter someone who is concerned that a surgical career will hamper their aspirations to compete in triathlons or become national fencing champions or write books for the general masses–I personally know surgeons who manage to work full time and do all of these).

The other day, I came across yet anther discussion board on what advice to give to women in search of “mommy friendly” medical specialties. There were lots and lots of suggestions, some were full time jobs with predictable hours and others were part-time jobs but not one of the suggestions was a surgical subspecialty. 

Not. A. Single. One.

Sigh. This makes me sad for my chosen specialty and for all the promising young women who will not go on to realize their potential as amazing surgeons.

I would be lying if I said that surgery is lifestyle friendly. In fact, anyone who has followed this blog for more than a millisecond knows that many of our daily woes outside of work arise from the demanding hours and high stress of our career choice. But the question is: What does mommy friendly even mean? This is not the same as the “mother’s hours” often noted as selling points in help wanted ads. There may be ways to go really part-time or certain very specific specialties that enable a woman to only have to be at work when her kids are at school I suppose. But I have to believe that mommy friendly is about more than just the hours.

I know, I know. You are just waiting for me to launch into the cliche of it’s quality, not quantity. But I won’t. 

Because the truth is I wrote all the words above nearly 500 days ago. It turns out I never finished because I don’t know what mommy friendly means when it’s used as an adjective for a career. 

Since I first wrote the beginning of this blog post, I have spent well over a year of my life as a surgeon and a mother. I even wrote an open letter to young women with the same opening line evidently having forgotten about this draft. That letter, now read more than 15 thousand times, doesn’t define mommy friendly either.  

Paid maternity leave. Private pumping rooms. Childcare. A promotion clock that doesn’t penalize for maternity leaves. 

To be sure any work place can provide these but do the amenities in and of themselves mean the associated profession is mommy friendly? Not if the backhanded comments or outright displays of resent persist. Often, the culture of the profession is at odds with these progressive work place policies. And these replies on what medical career to choose clearly indicate that the culture of medicine has not caught up to modern times. 

Luckily, however, not every one is reading the same message board. And so this week across the country a whole new crop of women begin training as surgeons. They are less a minority and more just reflective of the demographic of modern surgery. Hopefully, they will all become surgeons (there is still some attrition in our programs nationally) and some will become mothers. And my hope is that, together with the men they are training with, they will foster a culture in which is it no longer necessary to ask if surgery is a mommy friendly. 

Mourning a Profession

This past week, an unimaginable tragedy fell upon a family. A wife lost her husband. (Nearly) four children lost their father. A mother and father lost a son.

Upon a circle of friends. A group of buddies lost their companion. A band lost their guitarist. A neighborhood lost the guy next door. A congregation lost their fellow worshiper.

Upon a highly skilled cardiac team. These heart surgeons, anesthesiologists, cardiologists, perfusionists, nurses, technicians, and many more team members lost both a colleague and a friend.

Upon a hospital. These employees across roles and specialties lost a visionary among them, slain in their own halls.

Upon current and future patients. These vulnerable humans lost someone who just might have saved their lives.

Upon a profession…

I did not personally know Dr. Michael J. Davidson, a cardiac surgeon from Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston who was shot dead by the son of a deceased patient, but of course the degrees of separation are few in our educational backgrounds and our chosen profession. Still, I am arguably low on this list of people mourning, grappling with the soul sucking grief of an utterly inexplicable loss of life. But I am feeling it nonetheless. I sobbed listening to the excerpts of the funeral on NPR yesterday. Sat in my car and sobbed after a long day at the hospital.

As a surgeon, I am prepared for a certain amount of risk in my profession. There are communicable diseases. I always double glove, never making judgment on a patient’s risk of Hepatitis or HIV. I am tested for TB annually. I take countless precautions everyday to protect myself (and my patients) from the spread of infectious disease. There are ergonomic risks. I woke up everyday for ten years with back pain. Luckily I was able to fix many of my issues with pilates but many a colleague has required surgery after years of contortion about the OR table. There are psychiatric risks. Rates of burnout are high in my profession. Burnt out surgeons have high rates of clinical depression, substance abuse, and suicide. One study showed the the highest rates of suicide were among young female trauma surgeons with children. That was a sobering statistic.

When I get asked by aspiring physicians, and particularly by medical students considering surgery, why I do what I do, my truly heartfelt answer has always been “Because I get to save lives and to experience the bittersweet joy of a family saying ‘thank you for trying’ even when a life is lost.”

I have lost many a patient. And I have never, not once, before this week, felt unsafe after losing a patient. Not once.

I am on call today. I have already had a patient die despite my best efforts.

And so I mourn. And I sob. For all those people on the list above me who knew Dr. Michael J. Davidson and are experiencing unimaginable grief. And I also mourn for the loss security of my profession, a profession I chose to help others in their darkest moments. I am left in one of the darkest moments of my career.