Few joys in my life compare to that moment in November of 2011 when I opened that fateful letter granting me a spot in medical school. As I hopped for joy, I had no idea that I was celebrating with the person who would provide me with immeasurable joy for the rest of my life — the kind of joy that does not lend itself to metaphor, literary nuance or even the best descriptive talents.
A few short weeks later, he became real and tangible. First, he was a little mass that I could not touch, but could feel growing within me. Then, he grew to an audible inhabitant with the help of ultrasound. Finally, over weeks and months, he was a tumbling, hiccuping creature that seemed to live an independent life inside of me.
As acceptance deadlines approached, I was faced with my first conflict between being a mom and a future doctor. Anxiously, I contacted my school, nervous whether they would retract my admission, thinking that they would feel duped when I deliver a baby a mere two weeks into first year. The voice on the other line, however, was warm and understanding, reassuring me with complete support in whatever decision I would make. I was officially invited to the universal, yet somehow still exclusive, club called “motherhood.” The decision was mine, the door was open, and my hard-earned spot would be there.
Much of that first year was spent with not enough sleep, covered in another human’s bodily fluids, and feeling chronically stressed. However, the greater majority of it was the most rewarding, beautiful time of my life. Deferring medical school to stay home with my son for perhaps the most formative years of his life was the best decision for our family. I cherished our walks in the park, seeing him crawl around our living room, and even taking turns with my husband pacing with the baby in the middle of the night. Most importantly, because I knew this time was limited, I learned to imbibe every moment, to love and treasure in the present.
The first year of medical school was much like that first year. Yes, still sleep deprived, covered in foreign bodily fluids (though less cute than those that come from a baby), and still very much stressed. Add a mix of separation anxiety, trying to cook dinner with finals looming and a cranky toddler, and a sky-high pile of laundry, papers, books and projects. One could imagine that there was a solitary functioning neuron left in my brain, and it was tired. Many a night, my husband, my parents or my friends were consoling me from yet another mental ledge. I was constantly torn between wanting to be with my family and needing to study.
I was always asking why I was doing this to myself; I could have chosen a simpler career. After all, no one forced me to go to medical school. I could have stayed at home longer, given more of myself to my son and the rest of my family. Maybe I was not as strong as my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and every female relative who had children while in medical school. However, at the end of the day, I knew that nothing could extinguish my desire to become a doctor. I knew that if I gave up, I would be a hypocrite telling my son to persevere when things got hard to achieve his dreams.
As I write this, now into my second year of medical school with my two-year-old comfortably sleeping next door, I am no longer teetering on that mental edge. I have since realized that who you are (mom, athlete, author) is never mutually exclusive with becoming a doctor. In fact, the more dimensions you can add to your medical career, the better you become. Being a mom made me more gentle, flexible and able to nurture in selfless ways I never understood before. Being a medical student makes me feel happy and fulfilled, something my child may only feel on some visceral level now, but will surely appreciate when he begins to pursue his own dreams. I still feel guilt pangs from time to time, but I just remind myself that becoming a better me, whether professionally or personally, will make me both a better doctor and a better mom.