There is something wonderfully shameless about taking my one year old out on a Saturday night in Palm Springs. A friend having an engagement party at a restaurant says it’s okay to bring my baby, so I do. Baby refuses his afternoon nap, and becomes a tiny mess of a human just before we leave. Should I can the whole thing? Do not give up. For a moment, I’m emotionally exhausted from his unmet needs I can’t figure out. I attempt “quiet time” for Baby while getting myself dressed. I must move forward. After installing the car seat and hoofing our clunky stroller into the trunk, I choose to disregard the layer of dust on the car. Drive to the party spot and park a couple blocks away to avoid the valet, and to prime the child with a little walk.
Eking the stroller between diners, their dogs, and tennis courts, I find an elevator. We are making it! I see an uneven set of stairs- and tuck the stroller off to the side of an empty dining room. Where will I put my 21 pound child?
Balancing my 90th percentile baby in my hypertrophied left arm, I cradle a glass of wine in my other hand. I chat with acquaintances, and attempt a greasy pork dumpling. Grease runs down the back of my hand, but no matter. I am a super hero, and things like this don’t bother me now. (If it can be wiped away to the point that it is not visible, it no longer exists.) Somewhere between the child, the glass of wine, and heels in the grass, someone says, “Wow, that’s impressive.”
I did not realize what I’d become used to was impressive, and feel a ray of pride for moms everywhere, who do two- handed tasks with one hand all day. In small ways, motherhood has been a surprise pedestal I didn’t know I could stand on. I was afraid of motherhood- with the trappings, limitations, judgments, expectations and cliches that came along with it. Some women go from pregnancy to pregnancy because of the attention they receive from society, as though they are placed on a pedestal for carrying forth new life. Now I wonder- 1 year in- does this special treatment continue through motherhood? I now have a ‘who cares?’ philosophy about a handful of things, which makes me feel a bit invincible. I can prioritize like a mother… I can leave the house without makeup.
I’m being called beautiful by people for the first time, as a mom. Maybe my heart and face are open now. People want to talk to me, who never did before.
Motherhood is full of challenges and small triumphs, just like medicine, in my experience so far.
Has motherhood surprised you? What’s the best Mom compliment you have received? Leave a comment below.
And if you want to stay in touch for more momspiration in medicine, join my mailing list by clicking here.
This is a guest post from my former medical school classmate, Dr. Yana Barbalat. She and I entered med school together as twenty-something year old sprites, and we have reconnected many years later over our love of sharing a positive message about working in our respective surgically-oriented fields. Here she is to share her own personal story. It makes my heart sing! Here’s her take on thriving in the world of urology. -Barbara Hamilton, MD
Tired Superheroine asked me what it’s like to be a female in the male-dominated field of urology.
It’s empowering, fun, and challenging at times. Being a female in urology makes me a minority in most professional situations and that’s a place where I happen to feel comfortable and thrive.
Since I was born, I have been a minority. My family is Jewish and when I was born, we lived in Petrozavodsk, Russia. There were very few Jews, and antisemitism was rampant there. Thankfully, we immigrated to the United States by the time I was 8. As a kid in America, I found myself a minority once again, first because I did not speak any English and second, because we were poor. I dressed, looked, and sounded different which made elementary and middle school difficult, to say the least. But during those years, I built the resilience and work ethic that would serve me well.
As a young physician in residency, I was a minority once again. I had two children during residency, with the first one born two weeks into my intern year. For about five years, I was the only female surgical resident who had a family. At first, my goal was to blend in and not draw any attention to myself. I did not want to be judged poorly because I chose to have kids so early. But the reality is that residency was really difficult for me, not just because of the physical exhaustion but because of the constant mom guilt. Sometimes, I remembered an elderly lady who told me that urology was not a field for a woman with kids.
There were many nights that I would walk the hallways in the hospital and think of switching into another field. But with the support of my husband and my parents, who never believed in feeling bad for oneself, I held on and focused on the future. I learned to sleep less, be more resilient, and feel less guilty for not being the perfect mom. Proud of what I was accomplishing, I found my voice and began to advocate for myself. I started to share my experiences with others. I told junior residents and medical students to have children when they thought the time was right, not when others felt it was appropriate. And for my own sake, I stopped feeling ashamed of working four days a week, with the fifth day OFF, not on “administrative” duty.
Overall, I am really glad I picked urology. It’s a fun field with a lot of inappropriate humor. We use cutting-edge technology and cool gadgets- from lasers to prostate staplers, prosthetics, and robotic arms. As a woman, I bring a unique perspective to the table and I am somewhat of a wanted commodity because many female patients want to see only female physicians.
Being a woman also puts me in a position where I can advocate for women’s health in Urology. Pelvic pain, female sexuality, and recurrent urinary tract infections have traditionally been considered the less interesting topics in urology. Care of the female patient can be more time-consuming, and the visits typically don’t result in any procedures or surgeries. Adding to the challenges of caring for my female patients, the data on the management of predominantly female conditions is not robust. With more women going into urology, topics in female urology are being brought to the forefront, studied, and discussed more at meetings and events.
But being a minority can be lonely and can also put you at a disadvantage when negotiating equal pay and career advancement. Studies show that women in practices with other female urologists are more likely to be paid the same as their male counterparts, as compared to women with all-male partners. I think women in male-dominated fields should connect, mentor one another, and most importantly, support each other.
Hope this story of thriving in the male-dominated world of urology inspires you!
Push yourself, connect, ask for help, and don’t be afraid to be different.
I’ve been thinking a lot about worthiness. People talk about this in self-development circles, and I find it an interesting topic to explore when it comes to medical professionals like doctors. We are drawn to this service profession for different reasons. Some reasons are as unique as we are, while others are common. But my guess is when it comes to feeling worthy, you might be doing it wrong. I was. You see in medicine, many docs suffer from an arrival fallacy. We think we’ll be happy when we complete med school. Then, if that doesn’t happen, we’ll be happy when we finally get out of training. But sometimes the goalpost keeps moving, stymying our happiness. I think we do this with worthiness too. Here’s what I’ve figured out about worthiness in my medical career so far.
Medicine selects a lot of high achievers, and there are plenty of reasons to achieve. For me, it was looking for the best way to ensure a secure position in the world, where I’d always be needed. Being able to help people in my work was an obvious bonus– I could learn to help people with my skills, giving my work a greater sense of purpose. I thought a medical career would impart a sense of social and financial security. In times of COVID-19, we learned just how insecure our positions can be. Nonetheless, I suspect medicine selects for competitive, driven folks, some of whom wish to prove themselves. And we think, when we become doctors, we’ll have arrived. We’ll be unquestionably worthy.
Then, we go into training where we are beaten down a bit. We are corrected by everyone from our senior resident to the cleaning crew. I’m not exaggerating; it can be emotionally taxing. Meanwhile, we are just trying to keep up with the amount of information we must absorb and retain. Many of us don’t feel worthy at this stage. I certainly questioned my worthiness in the setting of my own training program. It was a competitive, grueling ride, and I often considered myself the dumbest one in my class. It’s an occupational hazard of surrounding yourself by smarties I guess.
I shipped off to fellowship and on to my first job. After caring for some of the sickest transplant patients in the world, I felt like I could handle almost anything. Maybe I felt worthy. I felt grateful to land in a position at all, after a long job search in a tough job market. I felt lucky they took a chance on me. Now, it was my mission to prove my worthiness, in a new environment, with new rules.
Personally, I’ve noticed this worthiness question lurks under the surface. It’s sort of always there, affecting my interactions and my experience. I wonder if it’s an unexamined question for women like me, especially in male-dominated fields like mine. We have to prove we belong here: that we are just as dedicated as the guys. That we won’t take too much maternity leave. That we can be trusted and won’t have untoward complications. When we do hard things, it can tax our worthiness meter.
I’m working on finding my worthiness seven years after medical training. On the one hand, I know I have a tremendous worth. I save lives for heaven’s sake. And I make my bosses and the hospital plenty of money while I’m at it. I’m worth… millions or priceless or whatever. But I’ve seen physicians tie their self-worth to other people’s metrics, or other people’s expectations, and I think that’s a problem.
I lost two physician co-workers to suicide last year. Just at my institution. For one of them– the clearly intentional suicide– I wonder if his sense of worth and purpose were TOO wrapped up in his identity as a surgeon, and as he circled the final lap, preparing to hand off leadership of the program he’d built, he lost his reason to live. I think about him all the time. I wonder if our sense of self-worth makes us vulnerable to that biochemically-driven, clinical depression that can take us into a deep hole, beyond where rational explanations can save us.
My foray into worthiness has come from delving into the semi-spiritual. Some believe we can create our biggest dreams by believing in our innate worthiness: we have a divine right to realize whatever we could imagine. It might sound far-fetched, but you can do this by believing in your worthiness. So it’s a concept worth at least exploring, whether it gets you that dream life or not. In my view, it’s worth just feeling… worth it.
As our kids run around the park, I chat with a gorgeous young mom, who tells me about about her days as a stay-at-home wife. Practicing my worthiness makes me more open to conversations like these. I don’t ruminate about how she cooks her kids 3 meals a day, and I could never do that. Her experience interests me. Here at the park, we are just moms. And there’s no one best way to be a mom- whether you stay at home or work outside of it.
I decided if you’re at the park having fun until dusk, you’re a good mom, and that is all. There are no organic snacks on my person; in fact, my kid is ravenous and eating all of hers. Just being with our new friends is fun. In the past, I might have ruined the moment with my sense of unworthiness. She’s a trophy wife, and no one would ever consider me that. In the past, I sometimes felt like being a doctor was my whole identity, especially when meeting someone new. I’d worry they would treat me differently, or pepper me with questions about their family’s ailments. This time, we chat about our vaccine status, and she asks, “Are you a doctor?”
I nod. “What kind?”
My new friend asks what life was like in the hospital through the pandemic. Then, we move on to another topic. I am just myself, and she’s good company. I’m flexing my worthiness with all the people, and it’s a work in progress.
In my new course, I’m sharing my highest-yield lessons to succeed in a male-dominated space. It’s called Broke to Breadwinner and Beyond. This course is for women in medicine and STEM who (may) go into debt for graduate school and training, only to experience the massive learning curve that comes with earning money and figuring out what’s next. This course is about building career capital at work, so you can get the credit you deserve. Finally, it’s about setting the stage for your financial future. Get a free preview of the course by signing up right here!
Hey there! I’m so excited for Women’s History Month and our upcoming virtual SIR meeting- the Society of Interventional Radiology meeting- that I’ve been swamped! I’m speaking 4 times the week of SIR, not to mention the virtual shadowing and student-led sessions I’ve been doing. Sorry for the absence last week, it’s been a whirlwind. This week, I’m sharing an idea I’ve wanted to write about for a while: my money mindset, in a nutshell, which has to do with making it like a fun game. Gamify your money!
Really, this is parallel to my work as an interventional radiologist. Many of us who enjoy our jobs, may see some aspects of the job almost like a game. Not to trivialize how important the work is, when you’re in someone’s organs, arteries, and veins, but I’m driving where I want to go under image guidance, and it’s like a video game. This is just like finances. You need to take the time to craft some sort of vision for what you want financially, so you can navigate there. Sure, if you overthink it, it could be scary, and the stakes are sometimes high. If you screw up your investments or your taxes, you could see some real consequences. But in general, I think you’ll be more successful if you learn to gamify it. Let me explain.
This is what I do, and it motivates me to keep learning and looking at what other successful people are doing. That’s why learning aspects of personal finance has become fun for me. It’s so empowering to learn and implement a trick or strategy that could help my money grow.
Did you know that our culture is imbued with a ton of baggage around money? Do you think it’s wrong to want more? Have you considered how much good you could do if you wielded more money? I adore looking at money as a means to learn more about myself, my values, my past, and my future. Money is a tool in many ways, and in this way, it’s so valuable.
Check out Dr. Bonnie Koo’s podcast. I binge-listened to it on my way to work, and I think she is absolutely killing it! Maybe it’s my feminist mindset, but her latest episodes had me riveted.
Listen to this episode on The History of Women and Money. It’s fascinating what rights women have had in ancient societies, and how recently we’ve recouped them.
Did you know that the more you learn about money, the more fun it can be? After learning about the history of the stock market and of Vanguard in J.L. Collins’ book, Simple Path to Wealth, (I actually listened to the author himself read it on Audible), I felt really empowered. And I think you should too. Unless you’re nearing retirement, you have a relatively long time span to invest, and time works in your favor.
Now, when I look at my accounts on E*trade, seeing a green or red (gain or loss) for the day doesn’t affect me much. But I log in to see the investment there growing, and to research different ticker symbols. There’s a wealth of information there. Beyond learning, I can optimize my investments in small ways, like re-investing dividends I receive. Click on this E*trade link to get a cash bonus to help you get started with investing there. It’s user-friendly and fast! I remember decades ago how my dad had to call up his broker to place a stock order, but now you can order with a few clicks. Pretty rad.
I did this recently by speaking at the annual White Coat Investor Conference on Physician Wellness & Financial Literacy. I synthesized the money mindset and the 5 most important money moves I credit with making it to a net worth of a million in my early career. You can see my preliminary notes as the talk came together here. What an experience and an honor to speak alongside a mentor of mine, and the godfather of personal finance bloggers, Dr. Jim Dahle. I really had to push myself to synthesize my best hacks for a broad audience of healthcare professionals.
I encourage you to flex your courage with your money. Pick an area of study, and dive in. If you’re at the beginning of your journey, read on student loan optimization or emergency funds. If you’re further along, look at the money in your accounts and the potential it holds. Realize that money lying in a low-interest checking or savings account is losing buying power every day. Investing entails some risk, but that knowledge (about inflation) certainly helped to motivate me!
By the way, you can still register for the WCI Conference, now an on-demand virtual experience, featuring hours of expert material. If you register via this link, I include personal coaching and a book bundle too!
Think about it. What kind of impact do you want to have in your career, on your family, on your community, and in the world? Maybe it’s my recent birthday, but I’ve been thinking about the years I have left, in this one life (depending on your religious beliefs). It’s a big question, but you know yourself best.
I want to use my time and efforts to empower women to live their lives as fully as I have. And I’m going to keep pushing for more. More impact, and more empowerment. Because when women wield more money, I know the world is going to be a better place for us all.
Let me know what you think of these tips to gamify your money. And please share your own strategies in the comments below.
The next phase of my mission involves the launch of a course, The Broke to Breadwinner Method. It’s for women in medicine and the STEM fields who want to fully own their career potential, and use that to build an empire. I’m so excited. Click here to get a FREE preview module 🙂
I have some secrets to share. There are too many to list here, but I have to let you know. Even as a successful female attending, I don’t always feel that way. And in the past seven years, I have hit some bumps in the road. There’ve been moments where my reputation was in jeopardy, and my very job was at risk. This breaking-into-the-boy’s-club thing isn’t for the faint of heart, but I know you are strong enough to handle it. Here are some secrets of a successful female attending. (Shh!)
Women are not the “weaker sex.” Womanly strength has covered my local interventional service when other vulnerable people needed coverage.
Here’s a secret: men are human too. They get sick, they break bones, they have heart attacks, and statistically, they don’t live as long! So I don’t agree when women are treated as second class citizens in the workplace. I.e., the pay gap.
Super secret: women pull their weight. Did you know, when i went on a 10 week maternity leave, they needed to bring in multiple locum docs to cover me? It turns out I was working quite a lot, and the guys covering didn’t want to work that much.
Here’s a secret people have yet to catch onto… the benefit of living in modern times (aside from covid) include readily available childcare, house cleaners, even a spouse who works less than or more flexibly than you! I take advantage of every one of those things (don’t tell anyone).
That not all women thrive as stay at home moms. That many women are tremendously talented and driven beyond the walls of the home. It’s not 1970 anymore. Women are literally half of the talent pool. It’s no secret I’m tired of hearing about women working twice as hard for half the recognition.
You know what’s still a secret to some? Negotiating isn’t greedy when you’re a woman. It’s a requirement. When I renegotiated my salary for the first time, I was called the G-word. Greedy. I’m serious. I survived, and so will you (if it happens, though it shouldn’t, ever).
And while I’m sharing… here are some mistakes I see y’all making.
There ya have it. These don’t need to be secrets or liabilities anymore.
Consider this chat like the moment of “real talk” reserved for the ladies’ locker room.
I’ve worked through some of these obstacles, and I can tell you, life is better when you do. And it can be incremental, like a work in progress.
In the coming weeks, I’m going to introduce a brand new course offering. It’s all about building your career capital so you can build your empire. It’s a mix of career coaching and personal finance, from the perspective of a breadwinning boss. I have learned to save lives and enjoy my own, and I want that for you, too. In many ways, I’ve told you “what” you can do to empower yourself as a female physician. Now, I’ll show you how. If you’d like a sneak peek at the course with a FREE intro, click here!
Hi Friend. Every few blog posts will now be dedicated to catching you up on the podcast I’ve been working on. These are short little episodes, 5-15 minutes. You can listen on the go and get a dose of divine feminine energy with me as you walk into your male-dominated space. Here are the new episodes, which relate to chapters 1 and 2 of Save Lives, Enjoy Your Own, the book!
It’s so interesting to think about finding your people. What does that mean? I explain what I mean by it in the book, and you’ll get a taste of it here. It’s easy to think, especially in the medical and STEM fields, that your people might look a certain way. In the male-dominated fields, we see a lot of stereotypes. In my field, a typical IR is male. They might be white, Asian, or South Asian, but they’re usually not female.
Over time, I’ve come to enjoy surprising people- by smashing their expectations. I exist in my department almost as an act of defiance. It’s been a while now that I’ve felt at home there- in my office, and in that interventional suite. It might take you some time to feel at home when you are finding your place in medicine. In the book, I talk about why this matters… why not just settle on something with more regular hours, so you can get home to your family? Because the meaning of your life is greater than that found inside the confines of your home. And how do you find your people when you feel like an outsider? I share some clues you might encounter that lead you toward your people.
Basically, these are people you can get nerdy with.
I hope you enjoy a listen, and let me know if you like this new medium!
This week, in honor of National Women Physicians Day, I bring you part two of my pregnancy journey. In case you missed part one, you can read it here. As I gestated month after month, I had to figure out how maternity leave worked, and who (aside from my husband) would care for my child when I went back to work. Looking back, it’s a blessing we got through that period of change. I’m grateful that in the end, I survived human resources (HR) and natural childbirth.
I say survive because it was not a seamless experience. Please note, this is my experience with a former radiology company that no longer exists. While I was on leave, I wanted to confirm my health benefits would remain intact. Seems like an obvious “yes” over a 2-minute phone call, right? Nope. My HR contact, the head of the HR, in fact, and a mother of three herself, could not give me a straight answer. It was pretty stressful. To make matters worse, she repeatedly used the word “terminated” to refer to my employment as I transitioned to leave. “I’m not quitting,” I assured her. “I’m the breadwinner of the family. There’s no question about whether I’m coming back.” I clarified this point, hoping she’d stop talking about my termination.
But on she went. “Are you f@#&-ng kidding me, lady?” I wanted to yell at her. But she was so nice… just oblivious. She seemed to be well-meaning but some of the terms she used were just tone-deaf. She droned on about how I might need to pay for COBRA, depending on the length of my leave, though I told her the amount of time I intended to take. It was bewildering. And not comforting. My husband and my new baby would be relying on that health coverage. Not to mention me, the pregnant person, staring down the largest medical event of her life thus far. In the end, there was no interruption of my health insurance, and no need to buy expensive COBRA coverage. But there was uncertainty.
As I prepared for my medical leave, I felt confident in my place as a valued and respected doctor in the practice. I’d pulled more than my weight in the years leading up to my pregnancy. So I was not bashful about asking, “Is there a maternity leave policy?” No. There wasn’t. A nationwide radiology practice had no parental leave policy. And I’m not talking about paid maternity leave. They didn’t have any written policy on how it would work, whether a pregnancy worker would retain her health insurance coverage during leave, for example. Apparently, I had 5 sick days to use before my state disability went into effect. I didn’t realize we even had sick days up to that moment (apparently, they are required by law). I had to figure these logistics out as I went, getting mealy-mouthed answers along the way.
States have different pregnancy laws, and this was my former group’s excuse for not having a parental leave policy. So despite my intimations that they should create one for the next individual affected, they never bothered. As I mentioned, this company I speak of no longer exists. Maybe it wasn’t forward-thinking enough. One thing I’m sure of is that in 2021, companies are operating in a world where more women are breadwinning than ever. They must have these policies in place. And FMLA is not enough.
FMLA is a loosely constructed federal protection, which holds a woman’s job for 12 weeks if she and her employer meet certain criteria. A company must have a certain number of employees and a worker must have worked at that company for at least a year. Well, since my radiology company had taken over from my last employer less than a year prior, I wasn’t even technically protected by FMLA.
Thankfully (?) it’s a huge cost and pain to recruit doctors, and my job was not in jeopardy. In fact, they needed multiple locum docs to cover what I’d previously done. I’m certain that coverage cost a pretty penny. Let’s just say everyone was eager to welcome me back.
Prior to becoming a parent, I’d worried that my becoming pregnant might be a liability to my career, how I was perceived, or how I was valued. But I must say, it had a paradoxical effect. As I prepared to return from leave, my Department Chair asked me to step into a new leadership role. I became Chief of Interventional Radiology.
It goes to show that there are places that value the contributions of women, even if they don’t do everything right. This felt truly deserved, as I’d been largely leading the section through my early career. Despite that, it was certainly the largest title I’d held up to that point. So I became “mama” and “chief” in the same season.
One thing I want to share, in case you’re planning a future pregnancy, is the concept of short term disability. If you work in certain states as an employee, you’ll automatically pay into a state disability fund. But if you don’t live in one of those states, and you’re planning a pregnancy, you should buy your own SDI policy.
Calling pregnancy a “disability” may be objectionable to some, but it is the current manner in which pregnant workers may qualify for partial income replacement in the period surrounding pregnancy and childbirth.
Two types of disability insurance are pertinent to the pregnant worker: state disability insurance (SDI) and/ or a purchased short term disability insurance policy.
No federal disability insurance or benefit is available to those giving birth or adopting at this time.
Employees working in California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico may be eligible for state disability benefits related to pregnancy and birth. In some states, this benefit is called temporary disability insurance or “TDI.” Workers in these states contribute to the state disability fund during each pay period.
To qualify for SDI, short term disability benefits, a medical practitioner must certify a disability is present. A pregnant worker or new mother must meet an income threshold in the year prior to qualify for state disability payments. The monetary benefit she receives will reflect a percentage of weekly pay, based on a sample period during the previous year, with a ceiling. For example, in California, the maximum weekly benefit in 2018 was approximately $1170. There is a waiting period of 7 days before one may claim SDI benefits. Refer to your own state’s department of labor webpage for further details.
An employer may have their own requirements for initiation of a medical leave (like taking sick days before leave is initiated). Ideally, parental leave parameters should be outlined in the employment contract. If not clarified at the time of contract negotiation, this kind of inquiry may be perceived as an announcement of a pregnancy. Be prepared to clarify this point.
If a worker does not qualify for a state disability benefit, or if this benefit is insufficient, short term disability insurance may be purchased. An employee or self-employed individual may purchase short term disability insurance for this purpose only before she becomes pregnant. The option to purchase such a policy will usually occur during the enrollment period for other employee benefits, such as medical, dental, and life insurance plans. Speak to your benefits coordinator or human resources department to find out more about the options available. Short term disabilities start after different amounts of time which is important to consider when purchasing if one is planning on using this for maternity leave.
For more pregnancy and post-partum resources, head to the SIR’s Pregnancy Toolkit, where you’ll find information about radiation safety, general tips and tricks from those who have been there, and other resources.
Oh, and I mentioned that I almost had an accidental home birth! It’s true. After a week of riding waves of nausea and misery, I was feeling pretty good one night, when I had a late-night snack. I wolfed down a tuna sandwich and Sun Chips, and within the hour, they were back again. I was in labor. Specifically, a stage of labor called transition. Most women transition in the hospital. I was transitioning at home.
I could hardly speak. “Call. Thunga.” That’s all I could utter, one staccato word at a time. My husband had no clue what I was saying. I was asking him to call my colleague in anesthesia. I needed an epidural, now. A freight train was moving through me, every few minutes. I’d been trained to record the interval between contractions, but I could hardly manage this myself. My husband quickly packed the car. It was the middle of the night, and it was time.
These were telltale signs of the onset of active labor. We made it just in time to be leisurely greeted by the staff on L&D. I was a primipara, a first-time mom, so they didn’t take me too seriously. I began bleeding as I changed into my hospital gown for the nurse to check my dilatation. My cervix was fully dilated, and they rushed me to the delivery room. My water burst with a strong contraction, as though someone had pelted me with a water balloon. It was 2 am, and I was relieved my OB made it in time to catch the birth.
I’d hoped for a natural birth, or natural-ish. Epidurals could slow labor, I’d heard, and I didn’t want to be in labor for days. As it turns out, I was way too late for an epidural. I’d planned to bounce on an exercise ball to pass the hours. But our suitcases never made it out of the car. The power of unmedicated birth felt like a freight train. It’s a power I’ll never forget.
I’d survived human resources… and natural childbirth.
I’m 37 years and 10 months old– an age at which I can no longer take my fertility for granted. As my three-year-old blossoms into a chatty delight, and even when he challenges me, I’m beyond grateful for him. In the first couple of years of my parenting journey, I couldn’t fathom having another child (though it seemed like anyone and everyone felt free to ask about my plans for a second kid!). I was still learning to mother the first. But lately, I want my boy to have a sibling. I’ve been thinking about my own pregnancy journey, as I contemplate going through it again. Pregnancy is not for the faint of heart!
Before we made a decision to proceed, I’d ask my husband this question: “Are you ready?” He would nervously laugh and say no. It’s not that we didn’t want to go ahead, but the thought of opening ourselves to the possibility of a pregnancy felt like jumping off a cliff. It would change everything– and are you ever really ready for that? So even though I knew he wanted a kid/ kids too, he would nervously laugh and say no, whenever I’d ask. Finally, we were as ready as we were ever going to be.
The first time I got pregnant, I felt pregnant. The hormones circulating in the ether weren’t quite mine. It was the feeling of progesterone. I’d felt something similar on oral contraceptives before. It was a bit of a dulled feeling, which left me just a little calmer, compared to my usual energy. My close friend who’d given birth the year prior suffered bleeding throughout her otherwise healthy pregnancy. So when I didn’t suffer any bleeding myself, I assumed we were doing well. I figured I was having a normal pregnancy. I even scanned myself at work, glimpsing the flutter of the baby’s tiny heart. Or so I thought.
When it came to the first official ultrasound a few weeks later, all we saw was a sac with some membranes. It looked like cobwebs. The image, projected on a large flat-screen TV on the wall surprised me, and I began to cry.
When my beta HCG didn’t fall to zero, it raised the alarm bells that something else might be going on, like a molar pregnancy. I underwent a D&C to make sure there was no retained tissue or other abnormality. In the end, there was no evidence of mole, and we chalked it up to a blighted ovum.
Months later, I became pregnant again, and this time, it was smooth sailing. There was nausea but no vomiting. I was able to work pretty normally. I used an acupressure band on my wrist and chewed anti-nausea tabs. To mitigate my symptoms, I’d sit during procedures when I could, like for thyroid biopsies, as an example.
For fluoro-guided interventions, I added an extra piece of lead around my waist to double down on radiation protection. Confidentially, I got a fetal dosimeter. After the first pregnancy misfire, I wasn’t ready to announce my pregnancy to everyone just yet.
At an early ultrasound for nuchal translucency, the technologist noticed that my cervix looked short. Even as a radiologist, I didn’t realize we could catch a short cervix so early in pregnancy. And so began my high-risk pregnancy. From then on, I reported to the local high-risk OB for frequent cervical measurements, in addition to my usual prenatal appointments. I felt cared for, but concerned. Why did this happen? I had no risk factors for this condition. Would I have a pre-term baby? The thought was terrifying.
Meanwhile, my husband had seized a golden opportunity: he signed on with a traveling jazz ensemble called Postmodern Jukebox. He would be away for 4-8 weeks at a time, for three tours during that year. It was a scary time, and I tried not to dwell on the thought that I might suddenly need an ambulance while he was on the road. Thankfully, that horrid vision never became a reality.
In order to reduce the risk of pre-term birth, I was placed on bed rest. I could get up and make myself a sandwich, but I was not to walk around the block. This severely restricted my activities, and I became essentially housebound.
To make matters worse, the summer in the Southwest is scorching. I’d be homebound while the temperatures soared into the one-teens, occasionally hitting 120 degrees in August. I floated in my pool, whose waters rose to over 90 degrees. I was floating in water nearly the temperature of amniotic fluid. For hours, I floated there, reading about birth and baby care.
Thankfully, I did not have to go on disability. At the time, I was already doing a week of teleradiology here and there. That became my gig for five months. I sat at home, reading diagnostic images. My doctors would not allow me to work in the hospital, with its long hallways, barium studies, and other procedures that would keep me on my feet. It was no longer safe.
I was so grateful to be able to continue working, as I’m not sure how I’d have managed otherwise, mentally and emotionally. The structure work made me feel I was still contributing to the practice, rather than a burden on anyone. Who knows who I’d be a burden on, but I think it’s just human nature or doctor-nature to think that way.
As I dictated hour after hour, I imagined my little baby was listening to me, getting smarter, or at least learning the sound of my voice. While other women fretted about going into labor in the operating room or in front of a patient, here I was, sitting at home at a pretty early stage of pregnancy. For someone so used to living at the hospital much of the time, it felt strange!
I will say, everyone at my (former) company was extremely supportive of the high-risk nature of the pregnancy. They had no maternity leave policy, but that’s a story for another day.
I’m so thankful I was able to keep working in a telehealth capacity. If I’d needed to take a longer period of disability, I suppose my long-term disability insurance may have kicked in. I’m not sure.
In the end, I got steroid shots just in case baby was premature. I was elated to make it out of the 20-29 week stage and into the thirties, where baby would have a fighting chance. Doing what I was told, with medications and precautions, we made it to 38 weeks and zero days. He was perfect, and I got my greatest wish: avoiding the NICU.
That last week of pregnancy was tough. I suffered waves of severe nausea so strong, I presented to my OB and broke down crying. Previously wanting to try natural childbirth methods, I sobbed, “If this is what birth is like, please put me OUT. I can’t take it!”
She sweetly smiled with a glimmer in her eye and told me, “That means he’s coming soon.”
I worked from home through that week, taking an hour off here or there as needed.
The pregnancy experience is really what you make of it. In many ways, I was tremendously supported, and other times, I was disappointed by my experience. It was anxiety-provoking and lonely. I was a prisoner on house arrest, in my gilded cage. But would I do it again??
Tune in for part 2, and I’ll share how I nearly gave birth at home. By accident.
Is that TMI? Maybe. But I’m betting some of you might wonder what the gestating journey can look like in a surgically-oriented field like IR. No matter who you are or what you do for a living, pregnancy is not for the faint of heart!
By the way, if you want to hear from me weekly, make sure to jump on my mailing list. I’ll share all the gems I’ve learned in my first 7 years in practice, and show you how to slay in a male-dominated field.
This post is inspired by Twitter and the silly threads you’ll see there featuring “wrong answers only.” This kind of thread is often inspired by a funny picture… or one that could have many possible explanations. If you’re not on Twitter yet, head over there to see what I mean, and get a dose of humor. It’s true, some use Twitter like a living curriculum vitae (CV). That’s certainly the case in my field of interventional radiology. The platform lends itself to sharing interesting cases and learning points, especially image-based ones. Even if you’re in a less image-oriented field, there is plenty of #MedEd to be had. Physicians and other healthcare workers post about thought-provoking patient encounters, dealing with difficult situations, and all kinds of advocacy. To be honest, it can be a lot to take in. It’s a cacophony of voices. But those are a couple of reasons Twitter keeps me engaged from time to time, and why you might want to jump on that bird app yourself. And as promised, here are some reasons why I’m successful at work (wrong answers only).
I never have a complication (they happen).
I never miss a diagnosis (we all do).
My perfect hair (it has a different personality each day, and I don’t spend a lot of time fighting it).
My people skills (I try, but I’m still learning).
I smile at staff for no reason (I can’t smile my way through life. It’s not naturally me.)
I floss my teeth at work (…it has to be done, but I try not to get caught)!
You’ll never see me lose my cool. (Um, have you heard practicing medicine can come with some inherent frustrations?)
Everyone likes me (really, some just tolerate me).
I get along with everyone. (I try to find some way to make some small connection with those on my team.)
I’m kind and patient in the IR suite. (In reality, everything is time-sensitive. And you just kinked my wire again, newbie…)
Gender bias is a thing of the past (…sadly, it’s alive and well, but I don’t let it stifle me anymore).
So the next time you think you need to be perfect to succeed in medicine, think of me! I’m proof there’s no need for perfection. We are succeeding when we’re doing the best we can each day (truly). If you need a reminder, make sure you listen to my recording, 7 things to keep you going strong on the path to becoming a doctor. I share some secrets and foibles there.
Hungry for more encouragement and connection? That’s the aim of my new podcast, Save Lives, Enjoy Your Own, which you can consume anywhere you get your podcasts! I’m a fan of the Overcast app, but I’ve used the Apple podcasts app as well. It’s even on Spotify, so now, you can instruct Alexa to fire up an episode of “Save Lives, Enjoy Your Own!”
Please take a moment to drop a comment below, about why you’re successful at work. Wrong answers optional!
You can leave a comment by clicking “hide/show comments” below this post. I love hearing your reactions, thoughts and experiences.
‘Till next time, keep thriving!
What is someone like me, a full-time interventional radiologist, mom, and blogger– what am I doing starting a podcast?? I never thought I would do start one, even when my friends told me I should. A podcast is so much more accessible than a blog because you can listen on the go, they told me. I knew they were right, but to be honest, I was intimidated by the learning curve. And the extra work. But here’s the thing. Hearing the sound of someone else’s trusted voice has helped ME at times when I’ve felt so lonely. And listening to podcasters and leaders has made me feel so connected to others. It’s a powerful medium. And we need connection now more than ever. So I started a podcast. According to my personal mantra, it’s called Save Lives, Enjoy Your Own.
Another driver behind the podcast is that I see LONELINESS in training as a problem. I think this is particularly true for those aspiring to competitive fields, and/ or fields in which there is a prevalent “bro” culture. If you’re a woman, you might feel left out in that kind of environment. That’s why I think projects designed to stamp out loneliness and isolation are the key to thriving in medicine. As an example, check out the Stanford Story Rounds. It’s a regular meeting on campus for students, trainees, and attendings to tell their stories, as a way to build community and support each other. That is what I’m trying to accomplish here, in a way. I think this platform can support women in the traditionally male-dominated fields of medicine.
One day, pre-COVID, I was asked to present a talk at the Medical Students’ Scholars Dinner at the annual meeting of the Society of Interventional Radiology. I was so excited to address some of my future colleagues in this forum. But it was in Seattle, in March of 2020. Let’s just say I was relieved when the meeting was canceled. I didn’t want to risk getting sick, or worse, bringing back the virus to my elderly and infirm patients in Southern California.
So I recorded that talk (here). It featured some of my most awkward failures, and what they taught me. And the feedback from that recording touched me. One medical student, an aspiring plastic surgeon, told me how she listened to my talk again and again, even as she fell asleep. I do that too… sometimes with guided meditation, other times with an audiobook. Often, I drift off to the voice of someone I admire. And it’s an honor to be able to play that role in your life: to be one of your guides as you traverse your own heroine’s tale.
This podcast will provide a backstage pass to my book. Every other week, I will work my way through the book, introducing each chapter and a personal story around it. I’ll share excerpts of the book, and my own answers to the Spill Your Guts exercises at the end of each chapter. My aim is to remind you, through the sound of my voice, that women not only exist but can thrive in their chosen specialties, even those traditionally known to be boys’ clubs.
The podcast is unedited. It’s real talk. And for now, it’s just me.
Check it out here!
If you like what you hear, please share with a friend, subscribe, and leave a 5-star review!
I hope you enjoy your own.
Let me know how you aim to do that this week in the comments below!
How many awkward comments will you receive, and how many awkward questions will you endure as a woman in a male-dominated field? So many. And sometimes they’ll be prefaced with the cringe-worthy, “I’m not trying to be sexist but…” How do you field them gracefully, so as not to alienate those around you?
The latter question adds insult to injury, doesn’t it? The biased and even blatantly sexist remarks women face in the workplace can be compounded by the backlash they can receive when they (you) respond. Being in an attending role, I’m asked how to handle these kinds of incidents. Here’s a recent example, from a mentee, a medical student traversing her clinical rotations.
She reported: “I’ve enjoyed vascular surgery so far, and they’ve involved me in a lot of procedures! I got to cut a metatarsal this week! I’ve also seen several IR procedures this week, like thrombolysis and an EVAR. It’s been interesting to see how we think through the decision to approach a case at surgery versus in interventional radiology (IR). I mentioned to one of the vascular surgeons that I was interested in IR. He replied “I’m not trying to be sexist but…” then proceeded to tell me that as a woman I shouldn’t choose a surgical specialty and asked how I’d be able to have kids if I pursued IR…”
My response initially was…
That’s why I wrote this book…
And basically… I don’t know if you can change him, or if it’s worth your time.
But (I’m sad to say,) I’d expect to hear more comments like that in the future.
You could reply or try to stand up for womankind, but depending on how it’s received, you could face backlash, like a lackluster grade on that rotation.
Here are some possible responses. I’ll leave it up to you whether you say them in your head or out loud.
But don’t let them derail your dreams either. That’s the tightrope you’ll walk as a woman in training. You can do it. You can probably do it backward in high heels, like Ginger Rogers, or in awkward clogs on 3 hours of sleep. Despite these sexist comments that fly at you, you are strong, and you are worthy. It’s these comments that are all wrong. They’re trash; a product of lazy thinking.
How you choose to respond to sexist behavior is up to you. You don’t have to die on this hill, and you don’t have to verbally slap anyone across the face. But in the right moment, if you find a receptive ear, you might just find an opportunity to examine the bias you find and stomp it out.
Is it hopeless? No. If I thought it was, I wouldn’t spend all my free time here writing about how you all should join me in male-dominated fields. I think once we as women, (minorities, and non-binary identity folks) reach a critical mass, our presence will become the new normal, and things will continue to slowly change.
It’s not your job to fix anyone. You already have the burden of doing your best every day and learning as much as you possibly can. In the end, it doesn’t matter what some guy (who is wrong) thinks. It’s your plan! They’re your dreams!
I’m not trying to be sexist but… I think women are often better than the guys, because they’re required to work harder for the same level of respect. And when I need a surgeon or specialist one day, I’ll be praying it’s a lady.
...and perfect is the enemy of good.
These concepts in medicine & parenting are parallel.
How many awkward comments will you receive, and how many awkward questions will you endure as a woman in a male-dominated field? So many. And sometimes they’ll be prefaced with the cringe-worthy, “I’m not trying to be sexist but…” How do you field them gracefully, so as not to alienate those around you? The latter […]
The TiredSuperheroine blog is all about building your career capital and thriving in a male-dominated field.
As a female physician, are you allowed to be confident? Are you allowing yourself to be confident?
What does self-care, parenting, and life outside the hospital look like for a parent in a high-octane field?