“…the inner conflict that I return to and that continues to cause me the most pain, is being torn between my loves.”
It was a typical evening on call at Sutter General Hospital and I was preparing for the typical 32-hour shift that I did every 4th night for almost 3 years. This night, however, was special in that my toddler son and husband were coming to have dinner with me—a blessed and unusual opportunity to see them during the long stretch of time away from home. Because we lived 30 minutes from the hospital, we hadn’t tried this before as calls from the ER were unpredictable, but I met them with glee in the hospital lobby and swung my curly headed son up in my arms, smelling his head and rubbing his hair with my cheek—that constant ache when I was absent from him for too long easing. And with sickening timing—my beeper went off. The ER doctor on the other end of the line demanded my immediate presence for an unstable patient, and being a relatively young doctor, I didn’t know I had a choice in the matter. I tearfully looked in my patient husband’s hurt and angry eyes told him goodbye. Again. My son wailed and cried “Mommy, Mommy” as they exited through the sliding glass doors.
When I reflect on what have been the most stubborn, ongoing challenges and conflicts in my fairly typical life—an alcoholic mom, my parents’ rocky marriage, getting into and surviving Stanford, my “almost” eating disorder, the anxiety of medical school training, the challenges of my own marriage, a dangerous twin pregnancy, the interpersonal chaos of running a large medical center, the serious spiritual and mental crisis of my child—the inner conflict that I return to and that continues to cause me the most pain, is being torn between my loves. My absolute devotion to my family, and my passionate love for my calling as a physician/teacher/writer. I am older and much wiser than my medical resident self and I do my best to bend my schedule around my family (the ER docs be damned), but inevitably, I miss volleyball games, or field trips or just having time to hang out together—in order to do the work that I love. I find the working mother guilt difficult to shake, even though my youngest children are now 16. Mother guilt feels like a cultural plague. Does anyone ever consistently feel like a good enough mom?