Like many women in medicine, you might wonder, “When should I have a baby?!” There’s never a perfect time, and you can always think of a reason to delay starting a family, even if it’s something you really want to do. The best advice I ever received as a medical student came from a “lunch talk” where the speaker said, “Since there’s never a good time professionally, just do it when it feels right personally.”
I took this advice to heart and after a wonderful post-graduation trip/honeymoon, my husband and I decided it was time. Heading into intern year seemed daunting without pregnancy and somewhat impossible while growing a human, but it ended up working out better than I could had ever imagined. Here’s my advice on babies during training:
1. Since there’s never a good time professionally, do it when it feels right personally
I’m stealing the first bullet from that very influential talk during my first year of medical school. No time ever feels perfect in this profession. There is always a next goal you’re hoping to achieve – passing an exam, finishing a clerkship, applying for residency, publishing a paper, looking for attending jobs, starting those jobs off strong, working toward promotions...the list never ends. You’ll never stop having professional goals, but that shouldn’t mean your personal goals are always pushed to the side.
2. Consider how family-friendly a school or program is during interviews.
I was pretty open about my recent marriage and family plans while I interviewed for residency. No one asked any prohibited questions, but I would weave my family plans into conversations with residents and even attendings throughout the day to see what their reactions were and what support the program offered during pregnancy and in early motherhood. I wanted to be at a program where I wouldn’t feel like I was penalized for living my fullest life, so having these discussions was important to me.
3. Let your program know early if you’re trying to conceive.
I told my PD about my plans shortly after I matched because I wanted my schedule to be built in a way that best accommodated pregnancy (stacked wards months in the beginning and electives/lighter rotations right before and after delivery). This allowed me to complete everything I needed to in a way that was best for me, and if I hadn’t been successful in getting pregnant, I had a very light second half of the year to look forward to!
4. Realize that having a supportive program doesn’t mean that all co-residents will show the same enthusiasm and support for your pregnancy.
Potential side effects like morning sickness and fatigue that cause you to start your day a little more slowly or lead to an attending allowing you to skip walking rounds because you’re walk is progressively turning into a waddle can cause some tension. Especially for those who have never been pregnant or don’t have a spouse who has been pregnant, it might seem like you’re given preferential treatment or an easier time on a rotation because of your pregnancy. Most people will outwardly say that they support you or will cover for you if needed, but when it comes time for action, it’s much harder to show continued support if it’s inconvenient for them. This is just part of being a woman in medicine to a certain extent, and you have to try and brush it off as much as possible.
5. Take care of yourself.
Bring extra snacks and water on all rotations. Take a nap after your shift. Go to bed earlier. Allow yourself time to relax if you need it. We’re all used to being productivity machines, but there will be times in pregnancy where you might need to take a step back and focus on yourself and the health of you and your baby – and that’s ok. Priorities are different at different points in life.
6. Find other moms in medicine for support.
Having a pregnant co-resident and several male co-residents with pregnant spouses allowed me to have conversations about my excitement (and my questions) without having to overwhelm other residents with baby talk. In addition, talking to attendings or residents who had already had children provided opportunities to ask for advice on work-life balance, especially how to prepare for going back to work after baby is born.
There is no perfect advice on balancing medical training with pregnancy and motherhood, but know that you’re not alone. Be kind to yourself. It’s hard to strive for both professional and personal success, but it’s 100% worth it when you get home from a day of patient care and hold your little nugget extra close.