Updated: Sep 20, 2019
Wondering if you can be a doctor and have a family? Or how you can manage being a parent AND a physician? We are bringing you stories of female physicians that prove you CAN do it! Dr. Kat Ogle discusses her less than traditional journey into parenthood.
I recently had the opportunity to join some EM colleagues in a panel briefly discussing each of our unique experiences with becoming parents. We were charged with providing a tweet worthy summary of our story followed by some key pros and cons of our experiences. Interestingly, when this panel was created, I believe the idea was that each of us made choices to become parents at certain times of our careers, however, as I sat up there listening to each person’s story, I realized my journey to being a mother was born not of a deliberate plan. It was very much unplanned, as a matter of fact and was certainly not the path I’d envisioned in my early years daydreaming of becoming a mother.
You see, I was in my third year of residency. Near the beginning of that PGY3 year, I came home from work and my husband at the time had told me he didn’t want to be married anymore. He couldn’t really articulate why, but he knew that what we had was not what he wanted anymore. I was crushed, confused and much of the next week or so was a blur. We’d had a fairly roller coaster relationship which I’ll save for another discussion. I didn’t argue. I didn’t fight. I got online to find a place to live. Found a furnished studio, packed my things and left. I went to work. I went home. I cried until I had no more tears in my tear ducts. I drank up to a bottle of wine per night. Rinse. Repeat. I stopped taking birth control because I was no longer in a relationship in which pregnancy was even a risk. I still can’t drink a certain Shiraz with a kangaroo on the label anymore.
Nearly six months passed with very little communication. Then he reached out. We talked. We explored what might have been missing and how we could move forward. We discussed counseling. I was hopeful, but cautious. Anyone who’s been in love, even with the wrong person knows that feeling. My heart ached for connection and my brain screamed to tread carefully. We started dating... we re-engaged intimately. I told him I wasn’t on birth control anymore, but neither of us made a deliberate decision to add any component to prevent pregnancy.
Things became rocky again. Communication was inconsistent. I withdrew, focused on work and the good old in-service exam. I’d cut drinking back down to a minimum and was running regularly as I trained for my first 10 mile race. As a human, physically I was healthier, however emotionally, I was a wreck. I covered this up with work. I’d just found out I was going to be a chief resident. This was a huge emotional win for me when I felt like the rest of my life was falling apart. My coping mechanism for the heartbreak I was experiencing in my relationship was to bury myself in work and to cut out the person who was hurting my heart. Old patterns were resurfacing and the tug-of-war between my brain and my heart started to favor my brain and I was actually taking note of the red flags. I also found myself to be incredibly sensitive and simply chalked it up to the experience of my ending marriage. Then, one day I noticed my body actually didn’t feel right. Then I realized I was late. I went to the CVS, bought a pregnancy test, went directly to the Starbucks bathroom and peed on a stick.
Two pink lines. PREGNANT.
You’ve seen those special effects in movies where the actor hears something unexpected and then sounds become muffled, the image starts spinning and there’s this tunnel vision surrounding them? That is the closest thing I can use to describe what it was like for me in that moment. I was numb. Shocked. I think I wandered through a shift in the ED. I didn’t tell anyone for a couple of days. I calculated how far along I likely was, then I called my co-chiefs and spilled the beans. If this was to work, I needed to plan my schedule around my likely delivery date. I swam around in my own brain about what this meant. My husband at the time had made it unequivocally clear when we’d started our relationship five years earlier that he had no desire to be a parent. It was in fact one of the reasons he ended his previous marriage. Before you judge, this was also my second marriage. So, here I was. Separated from my husband, unclear future of our marriage, living in a studio apartment, on a resident salary. I had no family or prospect of family in the geographic area. How in the world was I going to be able to make this work?
I’d always wanted to be a mother. Two of my greatest dreams in life were to be a doctor and to be a mom. I was 34 years old. I had 1.5 more years of residency. I’d been through some tough things in my life, and those experiences were fraught with financial instability and insecurity. How would I be able to pay for childcare to accommodate my resident schedule? Would my health insurance cover the cost of a pregnancy? Who would help me? I’m going to be a single mom, chief resident with no safety net? Is that my story?
I wasn’t going to even tell him. Why not just disappear? Best of both worlds. I get to be a mom. He didn’t want to be a dad anyway, so he doesn’t have to know. We never have to speak again. Simple, right? Then I convinced myself that was unethical. He should know. We talked about it. We argued. We talked about termination. I almost convinced myself it was going to be too hard and that termination would be easier. I actually went to an abortion clinic. I left before they called me in for my appointment. I walked down the street sobbing because I was so overwhelmed and confused. I called my best friend in the entire world and told her the whole story. I poured my heart out. Thankfully, she talked sense into me. She said, “Kat, you’ve always wanted to be a mom. You’re a doctor. Why are you trying to talk yourself out of something you’ve wanted for so long. No, it’s not ideal and yes, it will be hard. You’ve been through hard things. You can do THIS.” I knew she was right.
I called him. I told him, “I couldn’t do it. I’m not going to terminate. I’m having this baby. You can walk. You never wanted to be a parent anyway. I’ll figure this out on my own and you won’t have to worry about any of it.” He was shocked and he refused. He said, “I’m not abandoning my kid. It’s my kid too. If you’re doing this, we’re doing this.” I was shocked, angry, confused and relieved all at the same time. I was shocked after everything he and I had been through in our relationship that this was the point he was sticking to. I was angry because as difficult as it would likely be to parent 100% solo, I was despondent about the things which had occurred prior to the pregnancy. I knew full well my feelings around those experiences and intimate partner relationship inconsistencies would bleed over into our relationship as parents. In many ways, I felt like it just would’ve been easier for me emotionally if he’d walked.
I didn’t move back into our home until I was 8 months pregnant. By that time, I knew that our marriage was not going to last, however I chose to make a home with him for the benefit of our child. It was an incredibly tough decision. My heart and brain were at odds with each other. When it came down to it, however, I knew we would have to weather this parenting adventure together, even if I had doubts about our intimate relationship. We were committed to sorting out how to be parents and that was our primary focus. We were both nervous and scared and turbulence of the delivery itself warrants an entirely different story. With all of that, we made that unforgettable connection of unconditional love with our son... his tiny hands, feet, nose, lips... his big brown eyes and ridiculously long lashes... his little jeans and Chuck Taylors. We became a family and though our family has been tested and run a bit of a roller coaster, that has been and will continue to be at the core of our success as coparents.
I look forward to sharing another chapter highlighting yet another difficult decision in a future post...