For almost 6 years, I have been a mother. For almost 6 years minus 13 weeks, I have been pursuing a career in medicine. Neither of these tasks are particularly easy on their own, let alone together. No one gives out medals and prizes to the Mom who “accomplishes” the most with her kids, or who “does it all right,*” or who raises the best kids. It’s different in medicine, though. In medical school there are awards for many aspects of study. There is a constant, hidden agenda, enticing students to be better than their peers, to be the best student they can be, and at the end of it all, to compete with each other for the best residency positions.
*What does “doing it right” mean as a mother, anyway?
For 6 years I have struggled to be the best mom I can be, despite the overwhelming time and energy commitment that goes along with medical training. Along the way I have received little recognition for my hard work (like every mother out there). For 6 years minus 13 weeks, I have struggled to be the best medical student and then resident that I can be. Fortunately, that role always came with significant recognition: Scholarships and Bursaries, conferences, accolades from my peers and preceptors, and the all too often phrase: “I don’t know how you do it.”
We all thrive on positive re-enforcement and recognition for our accomplishments. As a result, I felt more reward from excelling in my work life because the rewards were tangible. Even as recently as being pregnant at work, I had people telling me that they couldn’t believe how hard I was working, or how dedicated I was to be working so late into my pregnancy. It made me feel good to know that other people noticed my effort, how much I loved my job, and how well I performed. But now that I am off work, at home and being a full-time mom, all of that is missing.
I’ve been home for 2.5 weeks and I really miss work. I feel guilty because I should be happy to be home spending time with my kids – I never get this opportunity. I would argue that staying home with three kids (while one if a newborn) is tough work – tougher than my actual job. The worst part of it is that I feel like I don’t know how to be this person… the mother who gives all of her love, attention, and effort to her kids all the time. It makes me sad to realize that for the entire time I’ve been a mother (minus 13 weeks), I don’t know how to fully identify as a mother.
I have, somehow, let my life as “medical trainee” define my identity to a greater extent than my life as “mother.” I feel like this is so wrong – like I have it all backwards. I mourn for my children, who have never completely had a mother who knows what it means to be their mother. They have always been competing with my other identity – an identity where they have merely been accessories to my apparent success. And now I am home all the time and I feel lost. I am having an identity crisis, and I only have 5 months to sort it all out.