When I arrived home last Wednesday morning, I was broken and beaten down from a long night in North Philadelphia sharing hugs, tears, and anecdotes with my patients who were heartbroken with the results of the election. However, I had the most wonderful surprise…a 4-year old with a dream. She said “Mommy! Did the girl win?” I reluctantly had to report that the girl did not in fact, win. She looked at me with those big, beautiful, innocent baby blues, paused for a moment before turning her head to the side and saying “That’s ok! Guess what? I’m going to go to Saturn! Here’s the rocket ship I drew last night while you were working!” I looked down and then realized that she had dressed herself in a “Girls can do anything!” t-shirt and I choked back yet more tears…but this time tears of pride.
As a second year resident, I had the unexpected joy of learning I was pregnant with Johanna just before starting a 12-hour long fast track shift. Needless to say, the surprise overwhelmed me to the point of needing a ride home and calling in my back up! Nowhere in my grand scheme of residency → chief resident → critical care fellowship → take over the world had I envisioned a child! My husband of not even a year was still living and working in Alexandria, VA during the week! The next day, I went to tell my program director the news and as I sat in her office, puffy eyes from crying all night, she simply said, “Wait! Let me guess what it is!” and she wrote something on a post-it note and turned it over on her desk. She then handed it to me and it just said “Congrats!” which opened the floodgates again including the stuttering, sputtering speech of the “Now I’ll never do this, can’t do that and so on.” She simply looked at me and said “Who says?” and asked if she could put me through the resident duplicator machine. Slowly I began to believe her, that I could in fact do it all and do it well.
It was not until about halfway through my pregnancy that I began to question that belief. Perhaps it had something to do with the behind the scenes comments from my colleagues and attendings about drinking in the ED (no eating OR drinking anywhere in our ED!), but after passing out due to second trimester hypotension, I received approval to drink. Maybe it was the fact that another PGY2 resident was paired with me during each shift “just in case.” Honestly, those things did not bother me that much. Well, being paired up bothered me because that was less patients and procedures for me to see and perform!
Ultimately, it was another female physician who upon hearing my desire to do a critical care fellowship laughed and said bluntly “Listen, you can either be a good mom or a good doc. There is no way you can ever succeed at both. You had better choose which one you want to succeed at and accept mediocrity for the other now.” How could someone who was supposed to be an inspiration, a mentor, a guide, an example, tell me that I could not be good at the things I desired? I had come so far, worked so hard, only to be told that MY dreams had to come second. I remember that day like it was yesterday, it was just the moment I needed to push me towards my future.
The hairs on my arms still stand up when I think that I am now sitting on the other side of the desk, as an assistant residency director with two beautiful daughters who will always be encouraged to reach for the stars. They hate that Mommy misses bedtime and camp shows sometimes, but that is because she is at the receiving end of the “red and white ambulances that take the sick people to get help.” I will never stop my drive to not only be a great doc and a great mom, but to make them proud while doing it and to never cease encouraging their dreams.
There are days where I spend a lot of time thinking about that encounter…Was that actually the most important thing anyone could have said to me? That moment drives me every single day to be better and do more. Every time I get discouraged, overwhelmed, or simply start to feel burnt out, that conversation passes into my view and I pick myself up again. It started with pulling trauma patients out of police cars at 27 weeks pregnant and continued with putting patients on ECMO just walking through the ED, and then with a field amputation at 7 weeks pregnant with my second daughter. It continues now with the creation of a hospital wide Women in Medicine advocacy group, running our medical student clerkship, and winning a national CPC competition.
I am so proud that I get to teach the next generation of astonishing young female emergency physicians. The greatest pride I have had as a physician thus far was when several of the female residents asked me to be their mentor. One of them even gave me my own hashtag when she emailed me to ask: #badassdoctormom. How could I not want to live up to THAT?