As a college student, my friends and I spent countless hours sitting cross-legged on the dorm room floor eating take out sushi and discussing third-wave feminist theories that career women who embraced motherhood were the new feminists. We believed that we could mesh the two; the “you can have it all” mantra of young Barnard women. We knew that there would be challenges, but they all seemed to be external: maternity leave, daycare, financial burdens. The internal struggle was overlooked by my younger, idealistic self.
Now, as a Pediatric Chief Resident and mother of a 7 month old baby boy, I am living the work-life balance that I used to theorize about and it is nothing like I imagined. I never considered the emotional toll of deciding after 23 years of school and training that just as I am on the brink of starting my actual career, I might want to cut back. The media often hypes the working mom vs stay-at-home mom conflict, however, ignores the competition among the working moms (part-time, full-time) or within themselves. Are you a worse mom if you pick a specialty with in-house call versus an outpatient practice? What if you want to do research but can’t get funded because you work less than full-time? Will the residents take you seriously when you return their pages with a fussing baby in your arms? Are pediatricians who are parents better pediatricians? How do you explain to your child that you can’t take care of them because you are taking care of other children?
I wish I had answers, but I’m still figuring it out for myself. There are days when I can’t imagine not doing my job and other days when I think I must be crazy to leave my baby at home with a stranger, now known as our nanny, instead of soaking up every minute of his development myself. Everyone uses the word “balance” but it often feels more like a pendulum, swinging between career and family. So maybe, to borrow from Neonatology, the answer is to find the right frequency.