A wise woman once said, “There is no ideal time to have a baby. However, if you feel right now is the worst possible time, then you should probably wait.”
Every year feels like the worst time to plan for a baby in the whirlwind of a decade of medical school and residency. So when does one procreate in the medical profession? A lot of female physicians tend to wait until their residency is over to start planning for a baby – only to be met with one obstacle after another in the form of decreased fertility or increased health problems. A 2016 study revealed that almost 1 in 4 physicians suffered from infertility – that’s almost double the percentage in the non-physician population! Furthermore, conceiving after 35 not only lowers your chances of conception but also increases medical risks during pregnancy.
For women who wish to delay childbirth – that’s perfectly fine. However, for those who desire children at a younger age but feel as if they can’t because of the constraints of this profession – rest assured: it is difficult, but not impossible. So how does one go about this life-changing milestone?
Make sure that you want a baby
A baby is a huge responsibility – and juggling it with a medical career is no easy feat. So make sure you are not just having one because ‘that’s what you are supposed to do’, but because you actually want one and have decided you are going to have one someday. If you feel that you MIGHT want a kid someday, then residency is probably not the best time to test that hypothesis. However, if you and your partner are on board with this, and the only reason you are postponing it is because of your residency, then read on.
Let your supervisors know as soon as you’re pregnant
A lot of couples tend to hide their pregnancy until the first trimester is over due to the high risk of miscarriage in the first 12 weeks. However, letting your supervisors know beforehand is a smart move. When my wife did that, not only did the paramedical staff become unbelievably kind to her but even the training consultants became a lot more merciful to her on her calls. Knowing this, your seniors can adjust you into the duty schedule in such a way that you can opt for lighter rotations near the end of your pregnancy, and the kinder ones will also guide you regarding the hospital’s maternity leave policy beforehand so there are no surprises at the end!
Support from friends and family
Make sure you have a strong social network, because you ARE going to need help. You’ll often need help at the hospital in the form of supportive colleagues if you get sick during work, or need an hour or two to rest during your shift. For example, I had to cover several 30 hour calls for my wife when she fell pregnant during our intern year, and was often too sick to stay up all night. You’re also going to need family support for your postpartum period, as well. The most ideal scenario would be if someone from your family, or your partner’s family, could move in with you for a while (like your mother or your mother-in-law). This would allow you time to heal faster so you’re back on your feet as soon as possible. Lastly, you will need a supportive partner. Residency hours can be insane, and you won’t be home a lot. Your partner is going to have to manage the extra load by himself for the nights you’re not there, so these expectations should be discussed beforehand.
Be mentally prepared for the possibility of finishing later than your colleagues
Pregnancy can be unpredictable, and whilst your career is important, your health is more important. So bear in mind that in case of any complications (such as placenta previa), you may get put on bed rest sometime during your pregnancy, or be asked to take a break from work. Again, there is a small chance, but the chance is there all the same, so it’s better to be mentally prepared. If nothing else, you may want to prolong your maternity leave. Depending on your hospital’s policy, you may be asked to make up for the time missed, hence resulting in you becoming a consultant slightly later than your childfree colleagues. However, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t make a huge difference whether you finish a couple of months later. Medicine is a lifelong journey – you have to create room for the rest of your life too.
There are many things you must plan beforehand. For example, if both you and your partner work, who is going to take care of the baby? If you plan on leaving the baby in daycare, then make sure you’ve visited the local daycares beforehand and decided which one is most feasible for you. You need to discuss how household chores will be split, now that there is an overwhelming new responsibility on you and your partner’s shoulders. Will you and your partner take turns, or can you afford to hire part-time househelp? These are important questions that many partners don’t really look into before having a baby, so make sure you have this sorted out before the baby arrives!
To conclude, parenthood is never easy in the medical profession. Whether you’re a student, a resident or a consultant, there will be new challenges at every level. If anything, it is relatively easier to have kids during residency than when you’re a consultant – because not only do you have a larger co-worker pool that can cover for you when you need a leave, but you’re going to be far more energetic in your 20’s than in your 30’s.