September 25, 2009

When's the Best Time to Have a Baby?

Female students, residents, and physicians ponder this ALL the time!

From a pure medical standpoint, before age 30 is when you can reduce a risk factor for breast cancer. 35 and beyond is when the label "advanced maternal age" gets placed on your chart and it's like wearing a scarlet letter.

Professors in medical school know that most women come out of training in their 30s, and yet they still throw that danged chart on the big screen to make all of us cringe in the lecture hall. It's like you can feel your ovaries drying as you contemplate the curve.

So what's a female doctor to do? Most of us ask around, and the usual answer is: "there is no good time to have a baby." That's pretty true if you consider:
  • Years 1-2 of med school: All work and no play. Study, study, study. If you goof up your scores in this time period, you'll never get a desirable residency position. -This could mean the difference between matching at a program that is family-friendly versus indentured servitude. Don't forget that you finish this section with an 8-hr exam (try that with a baby sitting on your bladder!).

  • Year 3: A lot like the previous years, but all clinical. Put another way, you're studying AND have physical demands. Good luck having morning sickness and making it to your surgery rotation at 5AM.

  • *Year 4*: Easiest year of medical school. Many women opt to have a baby at this time. . . BUT there are drawbacks. This is interview time, and illegal or not, if you show up with a big bump to a potential residency program that will most likely be a strike against you. -Being honest. Also, no pregnancy is predictable and should anything happen that puts off graduation that will conflict with the start of intern year. Keep in mind that having the baby is one thing, being able to be there for your child when you're about to start one of the most demanding careers in the planet is another.

  • Intern Year: NO!!!! NOOOOOOOOOO!!! It's been done, but not without torture. I don't care what your specialty is, having a baby at this time is insanity. Usually 80+ hours/week, not including commute time is what you're looking at. My friend did this, her water broke during morning rounds and as she was wheeled away her senior resident asked "are you coming back soon?!"

  • *Post-intern Residency*: Feasible if your hours drop from 80/week. If you haven't taken the third board licensing exam, that's TWO days in a row of 8hr exams waiting for you. This is when I had my baby. I was a lot sicker than I had hoped, which really put me behind in my studies. Maternity leave ate up all my vacation and sick days for two years. . . There were times I'd see a patient, excuse myself for a moment to vomit in a nearby sink, and go back to finish my work because I knew that any time I took off for myself would be time taken away from the post-partum period.

    Something else to think about are workplace hazards such as radiation and infectious disease exposure.

  • Attending Physician: Now in the work force, you're probably part of a group that expects 'dynamic performance.' It's all about bringing in the money to pay off all those school loans. Can you really afford (figuratively and literally) to have a baby at this time?
Rough stuff, huh? I'm hoping to collect data on other professions and when their 'windows for fertility' occur. If anyone finds the perfect solution, do tell.


Just Add Walter said...

Visiting from SITS... wow what a great post... I think its hard in any profession... but definitely you have a harder time than most... I am currently going BACK to school to become a RN and am waiting until school is over to have any babies! I am 27.

Silvia said...

Great post! having a baby requires ALL the time you can have, I honestly don't know how you great women Doctors do it!! Congrats to you :)

I'm following you from MBC

Nick and Jesse Coleman said...

Thanks so much for the info! I'm a second-year med student with a daughter who is almost 4, and I'm getting antsy for #2. Looks like I will be waiting awhile :)

Anonymous said...

Dang, I was hoping for an easy answer. Thanks for the blog!

Anonymous said...

Really want to be a doctor but omg when am i ever going to have the time to have a child??! i dont wantr to wait til im done with residency i'll be 29-30 i dont want to have kids so late :(

Monique said...

Dear Anonymous,

Here is my 'final answer':

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous... 29-30 is old? Give us a break.