A celebration of being a Paediatric Parent
Series Compiled by Lizzie Wortley and Trisha Radia
Welcome to our working week. In this series, seven women are going to discuss the realities of being a working mother, and beyond that a woman who works outside the 9 to 5 grind. The pull of doing what is right – both at work and at home, and how they manage it and find their “joy in work”.
Trisha and I came up with this idea after a conversation about being honest with each other around the realities of our working lives. The PRACP (Paediatric Return to Acute Clinical Practice) course is a hot bed of worries, stories, concerns and reassurance for both clinicians returning to work after time away, and a large number of women coming back to work after maternity leave.
Being a working mother can feel a bit like a secret club you’re not allowed to talk about. We know partners do a huge amount, but somehow for many women, there’s something about being the mother that seems to equal an extra practical and emotional burden. We want to break that taboo. We hope that juggling it all it will work out for you, though sometimes it doesn’t. We are all too aware that for a multitude of reasons (some being a positive decision to walk away, but many not so empowering) some women either never come back to work, or struggle with the job they go back to, having a massive impact on confidence, love of work and their wellbeing.
We wanted to find the positive side to this story. We know it is never easy, and there are many routes to success. But what even is success? We can go to events with CEOs and world leaders who give us a picture, but what about everyone else? We want our inspiration from the everyday marvellous people who bring us joy in work and with whom we can relate.
So, down to work. Here’s a little bit about ourselves and how we manage.
Day 1: Lizzie’s story
I’m an ST6 in paediatrics, currently doing a paediatric public health job – half clinical and half public health at 60%. I have recently returned to work after my first child. I can honestly say I don’t know 100% how I feel about shift work. Doing so much on early development and attachment is not very helpful to a new mum who is sitting in the lecture thinking about how she’s left her child in the care of someone else – how does my brain cope with all the evidence about a mothers role in the future of her child and a job where you’re not always home for bedtime? My positive take-away is this: the little man has time with his Dad, which if I worked 9-5 would be far less likely to happen one-to-one, and I think it’s really important for their relationship to have the space without me to build their own routines, stories and adventures. It truly allows us to be equal parents.
The other major positive is for me. I can stand up and shout that I love being back at work. I love my patients, I enjoy the variability of the job, and I love having more strings to my bow. I wrote about this return to work in the ‘from parent to paediatrician’ blogs on paediatricFOAM in May. It was an account of those initial few weeks going back into work and although they were, and are, an honest representation, I still felt there was something about the wider picture of being a female at work that wasn’t being seen.
I tell the following to help anyone who feels like they are alone in reconsidering their career. At medical school, I thought I’d be a tertiary neurologist or international aid medic. I am nowhere near either. A combination of life choices and changes in areas of interest have lead me to my special interests of public health and adolescence (and now this year – breast feeding and early life). I have a job I really enjoy and I have no regrets for the path it has taken. Reflecting on ‘coming to terms’ with this change in path, I did have moments where I felt I’d failed because I wasn’t being my previously idealised version of a doctor. Sometimes I still have a pang when I meet other people doing what I always thought I would do, but I usually walk away reminding myself that I have so much joy, inspiration and happiness through my work. There is a problem for most of us that if we make decisions based on family or relationships or life outside of the ‘pure work’ then somehow we are a lesser doctor than others who forsake it all to “help people.” Now I see there are many highly important and valuable paths in medicine, and as anyone who spends any time with me knows, I am definitely enthusiastic about this one! In fact, I now routinely talk to the medical students about how they make career decisions and try to make it clear that choosing something for practical and emotional reasons is absolutely fine, and often essential to their wider wellbeing.
The second time I had a crisis of ‘doctor identity’ was deciding to go part time before having children. Two miscarriages and losing all interest about work (there’s something about doing paediatrics or neonates in that situation that is particularly cruel – work is not a distraction) brought me up short. It took me 2 months to make the decision as I initially saw it as giving up, being weak – things that would not occur to me if chatting to a friend in the same circumstances. I hadn’t realised how much of my mental wellbeing was tied up in being this ‘good’ doctor I had in my head. It took a lot of reflection, conversations with patient and kind colleagues to see there was more to me than a reliably smiley person being efficient. Going part time changed my life in more than one way, different opportuities have arisen, and I have a new perspective – I am a much happier and better doctor because of it.
I’ve been lucky to be able to work with really inspiring and wonderful role models and mentors. For a number of years I was confused myself about my love of acute medicine, and my interest in public health, and I often got told they were incompatible. It’s so wonderful now to have found a job that understands they are not different ends of a spectrum, but the joining parts of a circle. It’s having had the opportunity to explore these other interests beyond the day-to-day clinical work that has really kept up my passion for working since starting a family and keeps me enjoying work and everything else in life.
So, over to Trisha. Each day this week we will hear from a different paediatrician in various specialities across London.
PS – this isn’t about exclusion – groups who feel they aren’t represented in this series, we apologise. We hope to be able to do more work in this area so if you think you haven’t seen a story that related to you – please let us know and we can build on what we have.