Updated: Sep 20, 2019
It took me roughly 12 weeks to get those words out and inform my future work partner that his incoming colleague was going to need some time off to have a child. His response: “That’s great!”
I decided I wanted to start trying for a family after residency. I got married during my fourth year of residency, planned our honeymoon for my chief year, and really wanted to make the most of my last year of training…PLUS my husband and I really enjoyed being newlyweds, traveling, even stay-cationing as a couple. This worked out great! But we did want a family one day.
My husband and I together felt that if we started our family during my fellowship, I’d hopefully have the baby before fellowship ended and my future job wouldn’t be impacted at all. Of course, you can’t plan exactly when you are going to have a baby (unless you are one of those REALLY lucky ones)!
I remember attending the Women in Surgery Career Symposium in February last year when my husband and I were a month or two into the “trying” stage. Several medical students approached me stating that they were still fearful of having kids during med school or residency and becoming a surgeon and a mom also make them nervous – could it be done? I told them, “Just do it. Get pregnant now. It will work out and you can not put your life on hold for someone else – whether that be your program director, your boss, your partners, whoever. At the end of the day, you want a family and you don’t want to look back one day and regret not starting a family sooner.” When I got back home from that trip I took a pregnancy test & it was positive! After 3-4 months, we were pregnant! Side note: call me psychic, but I knew the moment I took the test we were having a boy.
So, there I was, a pregnant surgical fellow. I told my two co-fellows right away because they kept joking to everyone that I was pregnant all the time anyway. I was lucky that my co-fellows each had two and three kids of their own, so being around a pregnant girl was nothing new for them. They were very happy for me and immediately offered to take any extra call or cover for me if I needed to go to the doctor. Having a trusting and friendly relationship with your coworkers BEFORE you ask them for something makes life a lot easier. I opted not to tell any of the staff or any of my attendings until things had progressed.
As far as my pregnancy goes, I must say that I am probably THE luckiest pregnant chic. I didn’t get morning sickness. I didn’t get heartburn or acne. I didn’t gain a ton of weight, and I didn’t get any stretch-marks. One day when I was doing a sleeve gastrectomy I did get really light-headed and almost pass out (didn’t eat enough breakfast) – and that’s how my fellowship program director found out. I was about 13 weeks pregnant at the time. I asked him not to tell the other attendings until I was ready to announce my news to others & respected that no questions asked.
I was able to make all my routine OB appointments, and when I was about 20 weeks pregnant and clothes were no longer fitting like normal, I told the staff and rest of my attendings. Later that same week, after my contracts for my private practice job after fellowship had basically been finalized, I told my future partners. Everyone was extremely supportive and encouraging. The only thing my more senior partner asked was that I keep him in the loop so that he could help maneuver any practice-related issues that might arise while I was going to be out on maternity leave. Deal!
So, the first 6 months of my pregnancy basically flew by, and then it was time for me to start my new REAL job as a private practice surgeon. I worked through the second to last day of fellowship, July 30. July 31 my husband and I closed on a house and packed up our apartment to move a few hours north from where we were living for my fellowship. August 1st we unpacked everything we could and on August 2nd, I started my job. (For reference, I joined a private practice group with two other surgeons. We cover and take call at three local hospitals within about a 20 mile radius.) I wanted to start work right away so I could get right into the swing of things and also for financial reasons (new house, student loans, etc etc etc). Plus I knew I would soon be taking several weeks to months off to take care of my new bundle of joy. I’m happy with the decision I made because I started to get busy in my practice pretty quickly and I was able to establish relationships and lay a foundation with all of my staff prior to maternity leave.
Operating as a pregnant surgeon does take some maneuvering and planning. I had to make sure I was well-hydrated and had eaten within a reasonable period of time before all my cases. Whereas I used to kind of lean or press up against the operating room tables, I now had to stand with my belly angled to the side…So laparoscopy got interesting. But I survived. I stopped taking our 72 hour stretch weekend call around my 36th week of pregnancy. I continued taking any weekday call I was scheduled for up until delivery. I ended up being scheduled for an induction in week 39, so I worked up until the Friday before my delivery, which happened on a weekend.
As far as diet and exercise goes, I committed to working out several days a week through the first 8 months of pregnancy. I cut back significantly during the last month as I was pretty busy with work and my body was overall tired. So I rested when I could. I ate very similar to pre-pregnancy, and I avoided the “eating for two” mentality. I did indulge in more sweets than normal (and my co-fellows and residents I worked with can attest to this!). I think the fact that I stayed physically active through the pregnancy GREATLY impacted my recovery. I am now three weeks postpartum and I feel great. I have lost almost all of the weight I did gain and any inflammation I felt from the delivery has now almost completely resolved.
So, I’m here to tell you that it can be done. You can get pregnant after residency. You can have a healthy pregnancy. You can have supportive partners. You can have a family. Its not all horror stories, and sometimes, that is just what we need to hear. I want to convey that it IS possible to fulfill your dreams both in and out of the OR. I wish the best of luck to any female undergrad, medical student, resident, or fellow who is thinking about starting their family while pursuing a medical or surgical career! You may not have it all at once, but you can have it all!