Day 1 of Medical School:
I’m showered, made-up, and well-slept. As a newly wed in a new city embarking on an exciting journey, I possess a palpable eagerness akin to the first day of Kindergarten. Although I am somewhat intimidated and terrified, my mind is focused and eager to get going with this adventure to becoming a doctor.
I confidently write my specialties of choice on the welcome questionnaire.
- Pediatrics or
- Emergency Medicine
Fast Forward 4 Years to Match Day:
I’m nervous, lactating, and definitely not well-slept. As a new mom to twins in a familiar room holding an envelope encasing my future, I can’t help but feel nauseated. I open it to find relief in the contents and then see a large screen flash my “MS1 chosen specialties” alongside my ERAS picture and actual Match results revealing a totally different future than I envisioned in chapter 1.
It’s then I realize that only a very small minority of our class actually applied and matched into the specialty they came to medical school expecting to train for.
So, how’d I end up here?
Perhaps the most stressful decision we make as medical students is what specialty we will go into. I had distinct plans to avoid any surgical specialty, specifically including Ob/Gyn, mostly out of fear that surgical specialties were not compatible with having a family. I also had an underlying belief/worry that I did not possess the required moral fortitude or tactile skills to operate and lead in high-stress environments.
In fact, even after rotating through these specialties and realizing I enjoyed being in the OR, I still spent the next several months in a mental debate with myself creating reasons I should choose a non-surgical specialty I liked instead of this surgical one I loved. At the end of it all I simply could not justify choosing something I was less apt in and enjoyed less based purely on what turned out to be misguided fears…especially after all the time, money, and effort I had put in to simply being able to make that choice.
Ob/Gyn had several drawing factors for me, some of them I’ve written about in the past. One of those, what I call the “Happiness Factor” was particularly appealing. Despite crazier hours and more intense training than some of the “lifestyle” and “cognitive” specialities, I was happier on my Ob/Gyn rotation than any other. Additionally, I felt like the Obstetrics aspect was uniquely happy. Where else in a hospital are people EXCITED to get admitted?
That being said…
While Obstetrics actually is 90% YAY-BABY-DAY(!), one must not forget that there remains a less-discussed, ever-present 10% which is purely heart-wrenching. This field is usually good, but when it’s not good…it’s downright terrible.
- Delivering babies you know will never cry…holding your breath for the most deafening silence you’ll ever know.
- Cradling babies born living, but far too early for modern medicine to help.
- Telling a mom there is no heartbeat.
- Taking care of parents who know their baby will be born with life-threatening, limiting, or lethal anomalies.
- Hugging grieving parents after an unexpected newborn death.
These are all things I’ve done, most of them more than once. These are tragic circumstances which come with the territory. At one point in my life I thought this was made okay by the fact that they are bookended by lots of “He’s soooo cute” squeals to a lovely soundtrack of crying newborns. I’ve come to realize, this 10% is actually a sacred part of my job. Knowing I have the opportunity to guide these families through scary, uncharted waters and give them the tools to find a glimmer of happiness in the unthinkable is what makes this worth it. These women and their families deserve attentive, compassionate, focused care on their darkest day.
Taking care of women through their pregnancy, happy or sad, is not just a job, it’s a privilege. I am welcomed into the most exciting, scary, heartbreaking, wonderful, confusing and intimate of times. The physical, emotional, and social aspects of pregnancy, labor, & delivery make the obstetric part of my job continually exciting.
Maybe the new just hasn’t worn off yet, but even after hundreds, if not thousands, of birth days it still feels like a privilege every time I set foot in a delivery room.