Finding Myself

“One of the greatest tragedies in life is to lose your own sense of self and accept the version of you that is expected by everyone else.”
K.L. Toth

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Image Credit: Google Images

How do we know when we are on the right path in life?
How do we know that we made all the right decisions for all the right reasons?

I have come to a crossroads, perhaps a crossing of paths like the one famously described by Robert Frost’s most quoted poem.

I’m acutely aware of a dissonance in my life – the two largest parts of my life suddenly seem to clash with each other.  I am not a happy mother because I know that when it comes to my kids, I have sacrificed more of what they need of me than makes me comfortable.  I am not a happy resident because I’ve come to realize that perhaps the amalgamation of my parts – the very aspects of my life that make me the person I am – does not completely fit the criteria of what my superiors want to see.

I cannot take more away from my life at home – from my children; from me – and force myself to become someone who isn’t really the person I am meant to be.  If I continue down this path, I know that at the end I will be more unhappy than I am right now.

Unfortunately, the other path is scary, unknown, and not what I ever imagined in my life.  I don’t know what the end will look like or what I have to traverse to get to that end.

What I do know is this:
I am a mother to three beautiful children, and that should be celebrated.
I am a physician who is caring and compassionate, and that should be valued.
I work hard to bring balance to my life, and that should be what matters most.

I love my job, but do I love my job enough to let the other pieces of myself wither away?

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First Steps

Today I was supposed to be at a conference for work.  Initially, I was determined to go despite being on maternity leave; I wanted to show that I am hard working, committed, and engaged.  I also worked very hard all year to plan an important even that is happening at this conference – today actually.

Going to the meeting, however, would have meant travelling by plane, alone with baby El.  It would have meant staying in a hotel room alone for 4 nights and single handedly taking care of the baby, while also trying to attend the meetings and give off the vibe that I have it all together.  It would have likely been far from enjoyable.  So, I decided to stay home and enjoy this time with my family.

Staying home also means that instead of spending over $1000 to attend a conference, I can save that money and use it towards a family vacation.

Despite the overwhelmingly good reasons to stay home and not attend the conference, it was a difficult decision to make.  This is the first decision (I guess the second decision, if you count having a baby and taking a maternity leave) I have made in my career that puts my family ahead of my desire to be “the best I can be” in my work life.  This is like the first step in “retraining” myself to put my family and my role of Mother ahead of work and my role as Doctor.

This was not a hard decision to make, but it was difficult to execute, mentally.  I knew the right thing to do was to not go and stay with my kids and baby at home.  But I feel sad and I am mourning: I feel like I have thrown away an opportunity to show myself off as a dedicated, hard working, and committed resident.  Likely, it wouldn’t have made a difference to anyone but me.

Hopefully these steps get easier as the time goes on.  I feel it is imperative that I make this change in my life

Identity Crisis

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.