A Motherhood Experience as a CV Physician

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Motherhood and a career in cardiology are two fulfilling aspects in my life. Some fear that these roles are not compatible; however, they can be complementary. For example, medicine has helped me become a deliberate and attentive mother, while motherhood has improved my efficiency, teaching and communication in medicine.

I have five children: my first during residency, three during general cardiology and advanced cardiac imaging fellowships, and one during early career. Currently, my children are ages 6-months-old to 9-years-old, each about two years apart. Cumulatively, I have been in the pregnant state for about 3.8 years – most of which was during training – and I breastfed thereafter. For portions of that time, my supportive spouse worked out of town.

Navigating the aspects of motherhood such as pregnancy symptoms, maternity leave, lactation, childcare and family life, in addition to pursuing a career with a blend of outpatient, inpatient, imaging, research and teaching, has been at times immensely satisfying and other times wildly challenging. Although I still have much to learn, I can share some pearls:

  1. If you have a partner, be on the same team. Share the work together and communicate regularly. A recent study found that even after adjusting for hours worked outside the home, female physicians spent 77.6 more minutes daily than male physicians on household activities and childcare. Especially early in motherhood, I regularly spent more than 120 minutes daily on these activities in addition to work responsibilities, at the expense of self-care. By necessity, I have learned to better share these tasks with my spouse, outsource when able and change expectations. Further, my spouse and I now realize the importance of intentionally prioritizing time alone together. Even though that requires finding sitters, those people become future back-up childcare.

  2. Create a village. There are many ways of creating a village, or in other words, networks of support. When I was a trainee, our village encompassed friends, colleagues, a trusted neighbor, a second cousin who lived in town, specific daycare teachers, out-of-town relatives and grandparents. I am forever grateful to co-trainees who in rare situations helped cover or care for my children when I had no other available options. This village has since matured to include hired sitters, past and present nannies, members in our church and school communities.

  3. Cherish the little things. The highlight of my day is connecting with family. Conscientiously investing a couple minutes to write messages in a mother-child journal, text a funny meme to my husband, or leave special notes for my children can be effective ways to bond even on the most stressful or busy of days.

  4. Learn from those before you. The woman's experience of parenthood is different and typically much more physiologically demanding than a man's, specifically during pregnancy, postpartum and lactation. But managing the demands of career and personal life are important for both sexes, parents and non-parents. There are mentors, both male and female, who have provided support and perspective not only on my career but personal life, as well. These people can be identified both inside and outside your institution. Even a short conversation over coffee can be energizing with a mentor you trust.

There are times when I feel more "balanced" than others. Just when I feel like I have mastered the day, something changes – a child becomes ill, the furnace stops working or my inbox messages double. That is when I have had to learn to embrace life while allowing for self-care, partnering with my spouse, being a loving role model for my children, and a resource to my patients and colleagues.

This article was authored by Marysia S. Tweet, MD, FACC, cardiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.