Being a Working Mom and Physician is a Tough Balance

April 17, 2012

I am a woman and the expectations my family, my husband, and the larger society have of me are different. Not better, not worse, just different.

A reader recently commented on a blog I wrote about the struggle of getting to the hospital for a delivery when I wasn’t on call (in my call group, we deliver our own patients whether on call or not). The reader was surprised because I am married to a physician and assumed that my husband would be supportive of my difficult schedule. Now, don’t get me wrong. My husband is very supportive, having given up his career to stay home with our kids and support my career. But I’m still a wife and a mother and a woman.

And this is the heart of the matter. I am a woman and the expectations my family, my husband, and the larger society have of me are different. Not better, not worse, just different. When my stay-at-home husband (who I have to say is truly an amazing and wonderful man) goes grocery shopping with a baby strapped to his chest, flocks of people descend upon him to gush about what a great dad he is and how wonderful it is that he’s shopping with a baby. I’m surprised that the dozen or so women pushing their own grocery carts around with screaming kids don’t throw things at him. Just the fact that my husband stays at home with our kids is noteworthy enough that he had a feature written about him in the newspaper (twice) and appeared on "The Martha Stewart Show." The same isn’t done for stay-at-home moms.

The pressure and judgment I feel to simultaneously juggle home and work is partially my own creation. I feel that I should be home on the weekends, coaching soccer, taking the kids to the park, and catching up on laundry. When that time at home is interrupted, I get flustered; worried how I’m going to get through my Saturday to-do list while taking care of a patient on L&D. I feel guilty going to work and not only when my husband gives me a look or makes a comment that indicates his displeasure at a non-call weekend being interrupted. I feel guilty because I’m mom and I’m not fulfilling some type of expectation I have of myself and those around me have of me.

In a perfect world, it wouldn’t matter who the working parent is. Both stay-at-home moms and stay-at-home dads would be treated equitably; working moms and dads, too. But it’s not so. The headlines from Working Mother magazine this month address issues like messy house guilt and how to bond with your baby when you get home from work. I haven’t seen a similar magazine on the shelves at Barnes and Noble called Working Dads. No matter what your day job is, being a working mom carries with it many of the expectations that are placed on stay-at-home moms. Some are self-created but some are so deep seated in our societal constructs as to be nearly impossible to uproot. Truthfully, I’m not sure I’d want all of those expectations removed anyway.

So this is a rambling explanation as to why it is a challenge to go deliver a patient sometimes.

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