I came upon a blog post today entitled “Do yourself a favor. Don’t have a baby during residency.” It’s by an anesthesiologist named Karen Sibert. Some of you might have read her Op-Ed piece in the NY Times back in June. That one was called, “Don’t Quit Your Day Job,” and basically said that women are screwing up the medical profession since too many of them work part time. According to her, medicine requires a singular commitment, to the exclusion of all other pursuits. She actually said in the NY Times piece that women applying to medical school should be asked to consider the potential conflicts between parenthood and medicine.
Don’t bother asking the men. Apparently their responsibility ends just after insemination of the egg.
Her blog post today starts off by enumerating the multiple ways that residency programs are burdened by a resident having a baby. Now, please bear in mind that these women are not taking off months and months of luxurious leave. The women that I know who had kids during residency took off four weeks (their normal yearly vacation allotment). So, in reality, they didn’t take off any more time than any other resident, although they did take it in one block, rather than the usual 2 two week blocks. Since there is generally 9 months warning before the baby makes an appearance, it left plenty of time for scheduling coverage to be arranged. I should know. I was chief resident for a year and was in charge of the residents’ schedules. Women having babies was no problem. You know what was a problem? When a resident got hit by a cab crossing 7th Avenue and had a bad leg fracture. She was out of work for 8 weeks without any notice. However, everyone dealt with it and provided coverage. My point is that bad things can happen to anyone at any time requiring time off.
She then makes the patently ridiculous comment that there is no rush to have kids. She actually implies that fertility does not decline as people hit their 30s, which is just plain wrong.
Her last point is that for women, having a baby is some sort of achievement to check off on life’s to-do list. You watch your friends have babies, and you get infected by baby fever, running out to get knocked up. I just have no words to describe my feelings regarding that idea.
Now, I didn’t have kids until I was done with residency. I didn’t get married until I was 28, and I had my first child at 33. I was lucky, with both kids. I had no problems with fertility and very easy pregnancies. I was very, very lucky. Unfortunately, many of my friends from med school and residency have not been so lucky. Infertility is a common issue among us, and for many it comes down to having waited too long. There is no “right” time to have a baby. I say, to all you residents and med students out there- if you want kids, go for it. Don’t listen to Dr. Sibert. Don’t wait (unless you want to). In 10 years, no one from your residency will even remember that they had to cover for you while you were on your pathetic 4 week “maternity leave.” And you will have the joy of your children forever.
Just one more comment, and then I’ll step off my soapbox. If I had to choose the one thing that has made me a better doctor…it was becoming a parent. It made me more patient, more empathetic, and more understanding of my patients’ needs. It is an experience that can in no other way be duplicated.