*Buzz*. Most of us can relate to that alarm going off way earlier than we would like. Wake up, make coffee, throw the clothes in the washer or dryer, clean up the kitchen, put on your office attire or scrubs, and run out the door to start the day taking care of patients, reading nuclear studies, reviewing echocardiograms, or doing catheterizations. For many, this sort of routine is comforting. Enter motherhood or pregnancy to start. This topic in cardiology, a field dominated by men who make up 85% of the workforce, can be an exciting topic to navigate.
The Pregnant Cardiologist
Pregnancy is supposed to be one of the most joyous celebrations in life. I often reminded myself of this while recently pregnant with my second child as I squeezed in OB appointments between patients while simultaneously reassuring them that I would be back after eight weeks. Women in cardiology face obstacles that their male counterparts do not have to use mental bandwidth on. We finish training in our early 30s keenly aware that our “biological clock” is ticking. We try to decide when the right time is to have children whilst trying to grow our own practice and make our footprint. Many questions zoom through our brains. When is the “right” time to take off anywhere from six to twelve weeks with our employer and partners accepting it, covering call, and caring for our patients? How will pregnancy and motherhood affect my career? Is there a maternity leave policy? What if I have complications during pregnancy? Will my partners assume I am going to scale back after I have a child and give preferential treatment to the men? How will pregnancy impact my salary? We sacrifice some of our professional growth to achieve one of the most joyous life events. Or do we? Dr. Martha Gulati, et al recently surveyed women who were members of the American College of Cardiology Women in Cardiology section to assess real life experiences during pregnancy. 341 responded they had children as a practicing cardiologist. Of these, most notified their chair, chief, or practice that they were pregnant in the late first or early second trimester. The most common reason for waiting to report was due to concern of adverse treatment or perception (37.5%). Maternity leave varied dramatically among respondents. The most common leave time was three months (48.9%) followed by less than six weeks (22.6%). 41.2% of respondents had a salary decrease during pregnancy. 37.2% reported performing extra calls or service while pregnant “making up” for being on maternity leave. 21.5% of women thought that taking extra calls or service contributed to pregnancy complications. I must share that I am fortunate to work with some of the most wonderful, understanding, partners and bosses. This was reflected in my pregnancy and leave experience. Not all of us will have a positive experience, but we should. The lack of consistency in maternity leave and support for childbearing is not only a problem in cardiology. We hear this among colleagues of all specialties. Cardiology just so happens to pose a unique challenge given the historical lack of women in the specialty and the rigorous schedule for many. Efforts to create a more uniform maternity leave policy and welcoming pre and post-natal experience are more than past due.
Wonderwomen in Cardiology
Getting back to work after having a child can be overwhelming. The “routine” has changed to a less “routine” routine. That alarm clock buzz is most likely replaced by a crying baby and cold coffee left on the counter somewhere around the house. You are tired. When the sun comes up it is time to feed the baby, get them ready for whatever care you have arranged, and, if breastfeeding, pumping JUST before you leave so you can maximize work time when you arrive. Pumping while doing charts or on zoom calls has become a norm. The concerns about perception at work continue. You wonder, “will I be perceived as fragile or more interested in home life now?”. Struggling to “prove” that motherhood has not taken away your passion for work is almost inevitable. An inherent bias exists. While we juggle motherhood, being a wife (which for many includes cooking, laundry, nighttime routine), and work, we try to convince our colleagues that we are still the same. But are we? I would argue we return better. Finding a group to work with who thinks the same might be hard, but it is attainable. I can attest to that. Raising children as a cardiologist is a busy new journey. Working together with your spouse is a must. Finally admitting that maybe you cannot do it all at home is okay. Asking for help is okay. “Subcontracting” household tasks is sometimes necessary to get back to being you: a woman—no, a Wonder Woman both in cardiology and at home. Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms, soon-to-be moms, and those hoping to be moms one day.
Footnote: This was 50% written while pumping and 50% while the children were napping.
- Gulati M, Korn R, Wood M, et al. Childbearing Among Women Cardiologists. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2022 Mar, 79 (11) 1076–1087. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2021.12.034
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