How can we—as pediatricians and more broadly as people devoting our careers to medicine—work together to improve the interplay of personal and professional roles? As I set out to share my observations and thoughts about the importance of creating family-friendly workplaces for the future of pediatrics as a profession, let me start on a personal note, as personal is precisely the heart of the matter.
In October 1978 when my husband and I were both senior residents, our first daughter was born. Just weeks later, I was back in the hospital, resuming every fourth night call. I was breastfeeding, and despite our efforts my daughter refused to take anything from a bottle. So with youthful enthusiasm and inexperience, we hatched a plan: when I was on call, my husband (juggling his own call schedule) would drive to the hospital a few times a night with my daughter so she could nurse. We did have some concerns about this scheme but had neither better ideas nor anyone whom to ask for advice. My first night back on call was simply a disaster; I could not get back to my call room to nurse my hungry daughter. Patients kept arriving to be admitted and those already hospitalized demanded attention. As I hustled about, a cadre of students anxious for teaching were left as hungry as my child. Meanwhile, holed up in my hospital call room, my husband paged me repeatedly, eventually putting the phone next to our crying infant to emphasize the point that she was hungry. By the time I got to my room, my daughter was too overwrought to nurse. Although still new at this business, my husband and I were pretty sure that this did not constitute good parenting. By the early light of day when a moment of quiet finally arrived, I was stunned with disappointment in the complete failure of my first foray into combining my roles as parent, physician, spouse, and teacher—and overwhelmed with the loneliness of the position in which I found myself. This was not how I had expected young motherhood to feel.