Sunday, August 21, 2011

My Beef With Women Doctors

Six years ago, I walked out of a wildly successful legal career to take care of my babies. I never looked back. I rocked newborn babies. I struggled with infertility. I learned how to swaddle, cook and home-school. I never paid attention to the debate that raged around me about "retaining female talent" in the workplace. I was convinced that making my baby laugh far outweighed any theoritical legal victory I might have won in the Appellate Court.

Then came the dramatic day of September 5, 2010, when my baby girl Tess started dive-bombing towards death.

I found myself dramatically thrust into a room at Children's National Hospital surrounded by women. There were three female pediatricians, and female respiratory therapists. Female residents and female nurse. Thirty medical personnel surrounded my newborn's crib. The most striking fact to me at the time was that not one of them was male.

In that helpless moment, I felt chastised. "I was wrong," I admitted to myself. I was so profoundly grateful that some women dedicated their lives to specializing in one field. They sacrificed many things in their personal life to learn medicine, years of medical school and residency and extra long hours in on the job training. In that frightening search for the exact cause of Baby Tessy's distress, I was grateful for every single hour they spent learning how to save newborn babies.

I gave birth to my baby girl.

I loved her.

But I couldn't save her.

And in that moment, I was so profoundly grateful that a place like Children's Hospital even existed. A place where extreme specialists gave hope for the "almost goners."

For two weeks, I admitted defeat. This "Mommyhood" vocation was simply a path that I had chosen. It wasn't naturally superior. It was very important that other women chose to stay in their careers. The world clearly needed female NICU doctors.

I tiptoed around the exalted NICU doctors, especially the residents who visited my daughter's crib side often. I learned their names and their family histories. I learned who was newly married and who was divorced.

And then something happened which changed my opinion again.

First, a surgeon complained that her surgery schedule was double that week because another colleague was ordered on immediate bed-rest after her premature labor pains put her unborn twins at risk. I remember overhearing the conversation and thinking "This is not good!" and "What an irony!" Here is hospital that is dedicated itself to saving premature babies, yet it's own 10 to 14 hour a day surgery schedule put one of it's own female surgeons at risk for premature labor. The apparent lack of concern expressed by these two consulting doctors for the babies at risk really shook me up both as a mother and as the mother of a hospital patient.

Then there was my buddy Sachika. (I'm nicknaming her this because I can't clearly remember her Indian name and Sachika supposedly means kindness in Indian). Sachika was my angel in the NICU ward. She was a resident assigned to my daughter--super tiny, super petite, a newlywed with an extra large wedding ring, who gushed with kindness and knowledge. Sachika was the one who explained my daughter's frightening diagnosis in plain English. She would give us the heads up about what to expect in the NICU room before we got there in the morning. She would see us out when we left late at night. One of the most precious conversations we had was when she warned me that a cardiologist was currently conducting an "echo" on my little girl's heart "purely as a precautionary measure." It was if she knew beforehand that for a Mother to walk into a NICU room and see a doctor from an entirely unknown department working on her kid, that was enough to start a chain reaction of new panic attacks.

At the end of her hospital stay, Tess had recovered from her emergency surgery on her small intestine and we were just waiting for her special feeding schedule to end. Jon went back to work and I spent nine hours a day rocking my baby girl alone in her NICU room. I positioned the special NICU rocking chair towards the hallway door. Tess and I sat and rocked and rocked.

One morning, I kissed Tessy's little forehead. I looked up and meet the gaze of Sachika.

She had this look.

Her look was one of such intense longing.

Overcome with emotion, she dropped her gaze and stumbled into the women's bathroom across the Hall.

I sat there, holding my almost perfectly healed Baby Tess, and I realized what a profound gift I had in being her Mother. We brought her to that hospital dying, and many, many people rushed around dedicating their lives to fixing her broken body.

But now the drama was done.

And I was the one who was getting to take her home.

All around me were these wonderful amazing professional women, who dramatically saved the lives of newborns every day, while meanwhile almost none of them had little babies of their own to rock to sleep every night.

Almost a year later, I'm still mixed up about all of this. I know in my bones that staying home is the right thing for my life.

Yet if one of my three girls announced that she wanted to become a pediatric surgeon at Children's National Hospital, I burst my buttons with joy. Heck, if one of my kids wanted to wash dirty hospital linens at Children's National Hospital I'd be overjoyed. That hospital is simply amazing.

At the same time, however, I'd be praying hard to Mommy Mary that if someone I loved chose the obsessive careers of medicine, law or police work, that it didn't ever stop them from raising up their own children for the Lord. Not even the most important job in the world can beat that joy.