I am a full time working mother and I don’t feel guilty about it at all. I absolutely love my job, it’s a huge part of who I am. If you cut me I’m certain I bleed emergency medicine. At work I feel confident, in control, and most of the time like I know exactly what I’m doing. I took the full years maternity leave for both of my children, but in that time, out of choice, I would be coming in for meetings and teaching sessions with the babies in the sling. I loved using my brain for something and having adult conversation. The people I work with are like my second family, the Emergency Department my second home, I missed them terribly whilst on maternity leave, despite savouring my time with my tiny babies.
When discussing returning to work with my husband, it was a total non-brainer as to what we should do. I earned more money than my husband and loved my job an awful lot more than he did. Going part time was silly as the difference in our pay would mean he’d still need to work full time, and we’d have to put the children into childcare. We were in the lucky position, that as long as I kept working full time, we could afford for my husband to stop, and to have our children cared for at all times by one of their parents.
The women I know who manage to work full time with children all have a great support in some form or other, a wonderful stay at home husband like I do, or incredible grandparents on tap. My husband is definitely the thing that keeps all of our worlds turning, I rely on him so much, and he really does the hardest job ever. If I do ever feel guilty, it’s when I walk out the door to a shift at work, and the kids are going crazy, and he’s starting to lose patience. Then I feel really bad that I won’t be there to help, and a little relieved that my day may well be easier than his!
Don’t get me wrong, being an Emergency Medicine specialty doctor isn’t exactly a walk in the park. It can be a really high stress, high demands, high stakes job, with everybody needing you, all the time. Having constant targets you’re trying to meet whilst trying to still be a human being looking after people who are scared and vulnerable, and supervising junior doctors who often feel out of their depths in a specialty where you’re expected to know about the whole spectrum of illness, anything can come through our doors. It seems to suit me though, somehow.
Whilst I don’t feel guilty about my job, it’s not easy trying to be a full time mother as well as a full time doctor. Working nights and late evening and long shifts is great because it means I get to spend lots of time with the children at other times. It works really well for us. But it’s still pretty exhausting! Even after years of night shifts I still find them hard, feeling permanently jet lagged by them. I do miss the children terribly when I’m away, and constantly think about them, but I know it’s good for them to have at least one parent at home, and I love that they will grow up with a good role model of a working woman, and of a nurturing, care-giver man. How great is that!
There are certain things that I feel for us are crucial for making this work for us. The shift pattern means I still see them lots, still get to do lots of school runs, and bedtimes, and cuddly naps, and I can usually work around school plays and parents evening. When I’m at home my only responsibility is them, I don’t need to worry about what’s going on at work as well. I have decided not to pursue becoming a consultant, definitely not until my children are a lot older, as I really don’t want to have to move them every year, or spend all my spare time studying for exams. It’s not like I’m particularly ambitious anyway. I manage to continue to breastfeed around my shifts, with both kids having been happy with food and water when I’m not around. These days when I get home, my son greets me with a beaming smile, runs straight to my chair which he pats with his hand, asking enthusiastically for “bub”. It’s lovely to come home and be greeted by these milky cuddles, that oxytocin hit helping switch off from the stress of the shift. Now when I finish very late I sleep downstairs in the spare room, which feels pretty heavenly, then I head upstairs as soon as they wake in the morning. Sharing a bed with them the rest of the time helps me reconnect after time away as well, so it doesn’t feel like they’re missing out quite so much. I also make a point of getting to work early, having a much needed cup of coffee and half an hour to get my head straight and get into doctor mode.
So, I think I do ok at being a full time mum and a full time doctor, and I resolutely do not feel guilty about it. There are frequent times where it all just feels too much, where I feel like I might explode, but overall I think it’s worth it, in the end. And it was absolutely our choice, what felt best for us and for our children, and I stand by it completely. Nobody asks Dads if they feel guilty, my children are looked after by people who love them, I do a job I love, and we have a life we can afford. What is there to feel guilty about?