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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 273-274

Pregnancy and motherhood during residency

Department of Medical Oncology, Tata Memorial Hospital, Homi Bhabha National Institute, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Submission28-Jan-2020
Date of Decision29-Jan-2020
Date of Acceptance01-Feb-2020
Date of Web Publication19-Jun-2020

Correspondence Address:
Swaratika Majumdar
Department of Medical Oncology, Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CRST.CRST_45_20

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How to cite this article:
Majumdar S. Pregnancy and motherhood during residency. Cancer Res Stat Treat 2020;3:273-4

How to cite this URL:
Majumdar S. Pregnancy and motherhood during residency. Cancer Res Stat Treat [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Mar 1];3:273-4. Available from: https://www.crstonline.com/text.asp?2020/3/2/273/287248

At the outset, I must declare that I have been very fortunate – both residency in Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) and parenthood are distinct privileges that few are awarded. Before I describe my experience of “surviving” pregnancy during residency, I must also declare that nothing prepares a new mother for the trials of infant care more than residency in medical oncology in TMH!

I started my residency in TMH as an aspiring medical oncologist with great enthusiasm and fervor. In my initial months, I found the work exceedingly overwhelming. Perhaps, the unfamiliarity with medical oncology and the vastness of TMH contributed. Or perhaps, the responsibilities I felt on my inexperienced shoulders were immense. During this period, I realized the importance of two things. One, finding joy in what I do made it easier to get things done. Two, I valued the contributions of my colleagues, seniors, and teachers, and in whichever way even unintentionally, this made my day better. Receiving a passing compliment for a job well done or sharing jokes over coffee in the mess made a long day bearable. The learning during this period was not restricted to patient care alone. I learned a lot about people management, a skill I am sure is essential for marital bliss! I learned how to manage time and how to learn by observation. It was soft skills in patient care from one consultant, or zeal and efforts to publish from another. It was the efforts of a senior in taking interest in resident welfare or precise bed-side manners of another. All that I saw, I subconsciously absorbed. Introspecting now, I realize how much all of these have contributed to the kind of doctor and even the kind of person I am today. I was told that once I finished my 1st year and returned to TMH after my ACTREC posting,* nothing would scare me as a doctor. I would magically find the confidence to face every medical situation. Now, I can confirm, I do magically find the confidence to face any situation!

I learned that I was pregnant in the middle of my third and final year of residency. Elated as I was, I realized the next phase of my life would throw in unknown challenges. Parenthood is a lifetime commitment to self-improvement and responsibilities much like the life of a practicing doctor. Though parenting is a joint responsibility and I do acknowledge the contributions of both genders in raising a child, the physical and emotional act of carrying a child lies with women alone. Few things made me anxious. One was the effect of pregnancy and motherhood on my capacity to work and the other was that I would have to rely on the generosity and accommodation of my peers and seniors. Most women end up taking time off from their careers to accommodate a child; this time is usually leave without pay and at the cost of career advancement. The financial responsibility of the family during this time is entirely that of their spouse or family. Given that Section 5 (2) of the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017, grants up to 26 weeks of paid maternity leave and we doctors are aware of the importance of the initial 6 months to childcare as well, why do we not readily and officially grant the same to women doctors? Medical school (graduation to superspecialization) spans a period of nearly 12 years; expecting women to delay pregnancy seems illogical and unreasonable. Does a woman who chooses to get pregnant during residency necessarily have to delay her professional course or must she compromise on childcare?

Fortunately for me, I could complete my course and continue to give my best to my daughter. I have to thank only my peers and teachers for this. I did come to rely on their kindness in giving me the leave I needed. Whether it was posting me in a lighter outpatient department, excusing me from wards or night duties, accommodating my sick leave requests without bother, and generally being wonderful and concerned, help was always readily at hand. The event of the final examination was looming large, and my practicals coinciding with my due date was just the cherry on top of a very messy cake! I trudged along for 9 months facing hyperemesis, fatigue, and weight gain, with a doubtful disposition toward course completion. My batchmates were not only supportive but also encouraged me to appear for the examinations. They took on all my night calls and my dreaded casualty duties because I was too tired to work. And not once did they complain to me for having done so. That they would do so much so that I could have a comfortable pregnancy was amazing. Kindness extended without having to actually ask for it is very special. Of course, our teachers and seniors were equally wonderful. Accepting my absence from work, allowing me to work at my pace, and accommodating all inconveniences were just few of the many generosities extended toward me. In my case, neither the official rules nor law supported me through pregnancy. The understanding of my entire department did. Thus, an account of my experience cannot help but read like a gratitude list!

In June, in the sweltering heat of Mumbai, we were thankfully given a month off to prepare for our examinations. I waddled through doors to write my examination. Not only was sitting for three hours difficult but accommodating my huge belly between the chair and the table was nearly impossible! Last of the papers done, my batchmates were swiftly asked to resume work while I was excused. Five days prior to our practical examination, I delivered a healthy baby girl. The joy was boundless but overwhelming. I was left alone in the hospital for 5 days because Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) hospital did not allow the family to assist new mothers for fear of infection.* And I was reminded of my days as a young resident: new challenges and unfamiliar territory. But, this time, I had the confidence to face anything. I went for my practical examinations and everything was expertly arranged, so I could feed my child as she was just 6 days old!

But, when I thought the battle had been won, actually, the war had just begun! Now, there was a life that was solely dependent on me. The next few months went by in a haze that only new parents will experience. The 2-hourly waking up during casualty duty as a 1st-year resident really came in useful now. Given the circumstances, I had to join back within 2½ months as I could not afford to extend my stay in Mumbai. Even when I joined back and continuing till now, I have been given leeway to work as I find convenient. This, in addition to the immense help I receive daily from my mother and husband, I have cared for my child as best as I could have hoped.

She turned 6 months recently and life is at a new normal. I am a senior where I was once the junior most. I pass by the casualty even now dreading those duty nights and I sagely advise my juniors that this too shall pass! What I have survived, I remember very fondly.

Motherhood is a joy and one must not have to choose between a career and childcare. That I didn't have to choose was a privilege extended to me by my entire department. But are all women so fortunate? Many women are likely to pursue superspecialization. Is it not imperative to have directives which accommodate the biological role of women as well? Many hospitals give 6 weeks' maternity leave which I now recognize to be inadequate and require extreme dependence on external sources of help. Must a woman choosing to be a mother depend on kindness alone to be at par with her colleagues?

Residency has prepared me to be a mother in many subtle subconscious ways. Many qualities of a new mother make me a better resident as well. After all, we are in the art and science of managing dependent humans, aren't we?

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There are no conflicts of interest.


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