Physician Mothers Unite

Women supporting women as physicians and mothers

Posted Feb 03, 2019

Today, February 3, is National Women Physicians Day. There also happens to be a football game scheduled. Happily, this day also aligns with the final day of a ski trip for me. A ski trip comprised of physician mothers united by a virtual workout platform, the Peloton bike. We gathered in real life in Aspen. The group was astounding. To hold onto the good feeling I challenge myself to remember gratitude, as we know that expression of thanks makes us better, more compassionate people, parents, and doctors.

The ages of our motley crew range from early 30s to 60.  We range in specialty from orthopedics to general surgery to radiology to obstetrics and gynecology to plastic surgery. Some have babies not yet a year old, and some have adult children. We are straight and gay, married and single. We gathered geographically from the East Coast to the West Coast.  et it is eerie how much we have in common.

The struggle stories flowed, not as complaint opportunities but as normalization opportunities. I heard about pay, call distribution, title and promotion disparities between my new friends and their male colleagues. Comments on appearance, sometimes unwanted as compliments and sometimes hurtful as critique. The support was palpable. And the laughter flowed with the moguls.

Here is the surprise. There were no complaints about life partners, husbands, wives, or significant others. This group of women enjoy professional, spiritual, emotional, and even financial independence in every way.  Another thing that we all share is people in our lives supporting this independence, allowing us the privileged luxury of a long weekend away skiing in one of the fanciest towns in the world. And I did not hear a single woman take this for granted. Some of us have partnered with other physicians, but many have not. These partners of ours took care of children and pets and household chores this weekend, as they do regularly in our lives. As I fly home to my husband, I am struck by what a special breed he belongs to: a man willing to be the husband of a woman surgeon.

As I grow older, I become clearer that being one of the 6 percent of women in orthopedics shapes me more and more. As I role model for my children, especially my daughters, I am thankful to live in an era that deems it socially acceptable for me to do what I do. I also feel less satisfied by being a lone unicorn. I crave the presence of my peers, of my people, of women to share tips and tricks about how to juggle ballet recitals and soccer games with surgical schedules and the heavy emotions and obligation that sometimes accompany excellence in patient care. I did not think I needed a “helper club.”  But it turns out that I WANT the helper club!

None of the women that I gathered with this weekend are as much of a minority in their field as I am.  I gained words of wisdom from a brilliant young surgeon who chose gender neutral names for her adorable little ones, not wanting them to someday be pigeon-holed by gender perceptions when their resumes are reviewed 20 to 30 years from now.  I witnessed phone conversations between moms and their older teenagers supporting them from afar, with tender words and grace in many years of practice in this thing called motherhood. My own husband juggled a dance convention for my two daughters, an impromptu playdate for my 7-year-old son, and an unfortunate golden retriever barfing event related to brownies related to the aforementioned 7-year-old boy playdate.

I leave this weekend full of gratitude for these strong women physicians supported by their loved ones able to support one another. I go home and back to my family and work as a surgeon ready to give and not feel depleted. Thank you, strong mamas! May my written words of gratitude serve as a touchstone to remind me that I took this time to take care of myself, to put on my oxygen mask, so that I can continue to help everyone around me as a mom, a wife, a friend, a sister, a daughter and a surgeon.