I have worn multiple hats in my life as a working woman and have had my career and life paths weave and wind to find me where I am now. I have worked part-time, fulltime and even not at all. I was a workaholic mom in my younger years, have become a balanced-career-and-home-life mom for the last several years, an empty-nester mom for the last few years, and actively chose to be a stay-at-home mom in between. Yes, I was a stay-at-home mom for over four years, and I have to admit it was the best thing I ever did as a mother of two children.
You may be surprised to know that I quit dermatology cold turkey in 2007, an indeterminate leave of absence of sorts. I decided that I wanted to be home with my kids when my son Nick was 14 and my daughter Jackie was 11. By no means was this an easy decision. I mulled over this possibility for more than five years before I actually did it. If you can imagine, I was such a workaholic that I took a maternity leave of only 3½ weeks when Nick was born, so the idea of not working was rather monumental and a little sacrilegious for me. When I was early in my career, I never gave myself the option of not working. I was driven. I was good at what I did. And I had studied, toiled, and sacrificed for years to get to where I was. My medical career encompassed four years of college, four years of medical school, three years of internal medicine training, one year of dermatology research fellowship, and three years of dermatology residency. These 15 years of education weren’t going to find me quitting on a whim. But I was gradually burning out. I felt that I was being pushed and pulled in too many directions. In 2007, I found myself ineffective, unfulfilled, and just plain exhausted emotionally and mentally at work and at home. I knew I wasn’t being the best mother I could be. I could always muster up the physical energy and put up a great front, but I found myself increasingly unfulfilled and unhappy on an emotional level when I was at work.
I am sure my husband was beyond sick and tired about hearing all of my mental machinations, indecision, and the pros and cons on my exhaustive lists about quitting or not quitting dermatology. If I quit, would I ever come back? Would I lose my skills if I wanted to practice again? How would my parents take the news? How would my children take it? How about my friends? What about my patients and how to tell them? The one constant is that my husband was supportive of me for whatever path I chose. I am lucky to have such a decidedly levelheaded, patient, and empathetic partner in life. I have to admit that he was never really useful in helping me actually make the decision, which is quite frustrating in and of itself, but I always knew that he would be happy, amenable, and supportive of me whatever I decided.
Those four years as a stay-at-home mom for my kids were some of the best four years of my life. They were not only enlightening to me as a career woman, but were entirely gratifying and fulfilling to me as Nick’s and Jackie’s mom. Those four years allowed me the flexibility and freedom to volunteer for every opportunity that came my way, from classroom mom, grade rep, mother’s council officer, to school charity events and school board of governors. I also did yoga, took cooking classes, weaving lessons, and art history classes, knitted, scrapbooked, cooked, gardened, interviewed kids for Yale admissions, and socialized to my heart’s content. You could say that I was a workaholic stay-at-home mom. I nearly made a career of it. But the inordinate amount of unscheduled time I had during the day was a pure, unadulterated luxury that I had not experienced before and in which I simply reveled. I took advantage of it with gusto. And my kids benefited immensely. I was available and present for them when they needed me the most. I was a stay-at-home mom for the four years until I got my daughter to high school and my son to college. I possessed the luxury of time to enjoy and know them as individuals and witnessed their emotional and physical growth during these formative years. I look back on that time, and it always gives me pause to reflect on how fortunate I was to have that time with my children. I have come to realize that this gift of time was certainly a most incredible one to give to myself and to my family. Would I do it again? Absolutely!
I came back to dermatology in 2011. And surprisingly, it was very, very easy to slip back into my doctor mode. My surgical skills and medical knowledge in my specialty did not suffer at all. It was like riding a bike. I did not forget. It was intuitive, natural, and effortless. I guess the biggest revelation is that at some point early on, I knew that going back to practicing dermatology again was completely the right decision to make. I felt secure with my decision. I felt grounded, confident, happy, and fulfilled, both at work and at home. I have felt so extremely secure and assured about being a practicing dermatologist that I actually opened my own solo practice in May 2015. When other practices were joining together in big groups or being bought out by corporations, I did the opposite. And I am certainly happy I did.
Although balance will always be a struggle for me because I tend to thrive and really enjoy being a workaholic and perfectionist at the exclusivity of other things, I realize that choosing to be selfish and “stay-at-home” during those years was really the best decision I could have made. Although not done easily or simply, I exercised my freedom of choice, which was all about being selfless in a way. Those wonderful four years were the most exquisite gift that I could give to myself and to my kids and a time in my life I will always treasure. I have learned from my stay-at-home years that being selfish and choosing to quit lent me the time and intellectual space to be healthier emotionally and physically. I was more effectively available for my children and my husband. I regrouped, refocused, and reenergized. And as I reflect, I realize that’s what life is all about anyway, that a fulfilled woman’s life is all about balance, like knowing when to stop and knowing when to start anew again. Such are the musings of this one working mom.
— Dr. HMusings of a Working Mom