Like most medical schools, mine has a number of lunch lectures given at any time during the week. Different interest and student-run organizations sponsor them and very often, there is food served. Today, we had a lecture sponsored by a national women’s organization, of which I am a local officer. The theme of this lecture was when to have children in medical school.
Last year, I remember being traumatized by a similar lecture. It was only second in the shock factor to a lecture sponsored by the Catholic Student Association on natural birth control. (By the way, I am in full support of both Catholics and natural birth control, but if you are hosting a lunch lecture combining the two, you should warn people before you put up images of cervical mucus while they are eating. Also, comparing taking oral contraceptives to setting off an atom bomb would be considered...excessive by some.)
Anyway, what was traumatic was not the idea of having children in medical school, but the personal testimonies of the students, residents, and physicians on the panel. Last year, one of my professors (now a hospitalist) actually held back tears as she described giving up her coveted cardiology fellowship when she was pregnant with her third child. Her husband was also a cardiac fellow at the time and realizing that they couldn’t maintain the demands of both training programs, she conceded and started practicing internal medicine. She described the decision as a “lifelong regret.” Every time I see her smiling in lecture, I think about her sitting on that panel, swallowing her tears, and wonder if she ever resents her husband--the now cardiologist.
This year, the attendings and residents were all pro-babies, but of course, what is a lunch lecture on childbirth without instilling fear and trembling? One of the attendings told a story about when she was a resident and her colleague was pumping breastmilk for her newborn. If you’ve read Michelle Au’s blog, you already know that physicians and residents are forced to find literally whatever closet or unlocked stall they can for such a deed. In addition to the physical limitations of pumping, though, this resident only had enough time to pump during her break--not to eat.
So, at some point, she realized that the only thing she had time to consume was her freshly pumped breast milk.
She didn’t do this because of some weird fetish or compulsion. Acknowledging the time restraints and inherent nutritional value of breast milk, she did this to survive. As the attending told this story, laughing, a wave of horror spread through the auditorium. I mean, I feel like medical schools should be obligated to tell you these things when you are interviewing.
As a medical student, we will show you graphic images of cervical mucus viscosity, while you are eating, during your precious one meal break of the day. But don’t worry, it won’t be as bad as when you are a resident and are forced to drink your own breast milk to survive.
The resounding theme of the panel was that you need to hire good help—and lots of it. Many of the panelists have their in-laws living with them and recommend moving closer to home for this reason. As I was thinking about the cost and logistics of all of this, I was beginning to realize that if I want to procreate in medical school, I’ll probably need to marry someone wealthy, with obsessive parents who always want to be around. Except…that situation sounds strangely reminiscent of my relationship with Rich.
Unfortunately, Rich did not satisfy the other requirement of surviving motherhood in medicine—being a supportive spouse. Many of the panelists talked about how awesome their husbands are, with their regular working hours and doting paternal tendencies. One attending said that her husband used to wake up at 4 a.m. during her surgery rotations just to make her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before she left. Let me tell you, Rich would never have done something that. So, I’m good.
Except, I’m not good. Having babies in medical school terrifies me and even though I’m going to be really, really old (no, you don’t need to post statistics about aging eggs and fertility, because I know), I don’t want to have children until after my medical training is over.
I love and support my friends who have made the opposite decision, but I don’t think I could muster the finances or emotions to pull it off. I mean, where does one find the loan money to hire a live-in nanny? My loan money currently supports a family of one. I didn’t really know it could stretch further than that.
So, are any of you mothers in medicine? What are your thoughts about this? Am I just being irrational or squeamish? And for heaven’s sake, please tell me if you have resorted to drinking your own breast milk before, because I need to know these things up front.