Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Show Your Real: Rachel H.

You all know I have a soft spot for working mamas, right? (Don't stress too much about that terminology. I'm patently uninterested in fueling any sort of mommy-war. I know all mamas work. Hard, too. I just especially relate to those mamas in my boat. The boat that sails away from the kiddos each day, navigating the rocky career seas, and races back again to the safe- and busy- harbor of family time.) So I'm over the moon to share today's Show Your Real guest post, from my good mostly-online, but fortunately-a-little-in-person-too friend Rachel. She is smart, you guys. Like, ridiculously smart. And that has translated into a super successful career as a doctor, but beyond that, it causes her to see things with a fascinating perspective, and allows her to express that perspective in such an eloquent way. Oh- and she is smitten with her daughter. Like, stop the world, I was made to live in this sweet simple moment, kind of smitten, which is inspiring to watch. I knew she would have something awesome to share here, but when she emailed me her post, I was blown away. Quite simply, I wish I wrote it. It's like she somehow jumped into my brain, and told my story better than I ever could. I am so, so grateful and proud to be able to include this in the Show Your Real series. 


So hi. I’m Rachel. Unlike many of the Show Your Real guests – talented and accomplished bloggers all – I’m not in much danger of portraying an impossibly put-together internet persona to an adoring public (though I do keep a blog), it’s mostly because it’s easier than sending email updates to my parents and because I can’t remember what I did last week otherwise, so unless you’re my Aunt Elaine or you love being bored, I’d advise you not to click the link. (You clicked it, didn’t you? It was lame, right, just like I told you? Well, at least now you know you can trust me to tell the truth). Nonetheless, I’m really delighted that Courtney has given me an opportunity to show my real today. Even without a Pinterest-perfect Instagram persona to debunk, I’m always armoring myself with defenses designed to make sure friends and strangers alike never get the crazy idea that I might be full of fear, pride, self-doubt, unbridled girlish glee, shame – you know, humanity. I think it’s such an incredibly valuable community Courtney is building here – giving us the chance to be vulnerable together, to see that our struggles and triumphs really bind us together in more fundamental ways than we ever imagined. Anyway, let’s get down to it.

If I had a motto*, at least for this stage in my life it would be, “Working mama. Emphasis on the mama. And the working.” That’s my real – my real is Both. I think it is a crime that we’ve been acculturated to accept the false dichotomy that you’re either This Thing or That Thing, your life is either This One Way or That Other Way. That kind of thinking stifles the boundless creativity that people – women in particular, I think – have to invent wonderful new ways to make the parts of their lives work.

*How does one get to be the type of person who gets to have a motto? I mean, without being a candidate for national office or a boxer? Better yet, how do we arrange to have “stepping-up-to-the-plate” music? Like baseball players do. Wouldn’t that be awesome? You’re getting ready to do what you do, whatever that is, and you get to hear your little snippet of some cool song to amp up the crowd and make them know you mean business. Yes, please.

Real: Reading E a book I loathe.

So what does Both look like for me? Well, I’m first and foremost the mother of a spirited and joyful and amazing two year old daughter, and the wife of her kind and wry and steadfast stay-at-home daddy. I make awesome homemade mac ‘n’ cheese (but it still gets rejected in favor of Annie’s), cut crusts off toast, read the same damn books 15 times in a row, kiss dolls’ owies, and endure nonsensical tantrums because I didn’t zip a coat correctly. I hold a tiny miracle in my arms each night as she falls asleep, bury my face in her impossibly soft hair, and just marvel at how I could possibly be so lucky as to be her mommy. I also have another job that I consider to be tremendously important and rewarding – I am a physician specializing in pulmonary diseases and critical care medicine. I do this tiring and (I think) extraordinary job on a part-time basis, on average 8-9 days and 3-4 nights per month. During those times, I yearn for my home and family, and I also love what I do and throw myself wholeheartedly into caring for my patients who depend on me. I consult with primary physicians about complex lung diseases, perform bronchoscopy procedures to diagnose infections, lung cancers, and exotic conditions, and provide comprehensive care to the sickest and most fragile patients in the hospital, as well as to their stricken families.

Real: Cutting giving E her first haircut looking half alive after a night of work

I have boundless gratitude at my undeserved good fortune in being able to provide for my family on such a schedule, so that my husband is able to be home with our daughter when I am not, yet I still spend the majority of my time with them (it was not this way when I was still in my training fellowship, when our little girl was going to daycare). Even so, it’s hard in ways I probably could have predicted, but somehow didn’t. I’m exhausted. Exhausted in a way that I have no words to express, and this is from someone who completed a medical residency and fellowship. I have exceeding difficulty in making time for myself, both from an actual-hours-in-the-week perspective, and from an emotional perspective – I’m already away from my daughter all day for almost half the month, how can I justify spending an hour getting my nails done? My daughter is hyper-aware of the time I spend at work, probably because it isn’t part of a normal everyday routine – she can identify whether it is a work day or not by what I’m wearing (“Mommy wearing work shirt” versus “Mommy wearing home shirt”). And her blossoming verbal skills and emotional intelligence means she can tell me in her heart-rending toddler way how sad she feels when I am at work. It’s absolutely impossible to keep my two worlds from colliding and blending and my inability to control that is both infuriating and freeing. Yes, I’m going to work with jam and an eye booger on my sleeve. Yes, I’ll read you that Richard Scarry alphabet book even though I just worked 7 pm to 7 am while you and Daddy slept and I’m so tired I think I might throw up. Yes, I’ll be at the Children’s Museum at 3:00 and the staff meeting at 5:00. My life is built on Yes almost as much as it’s built on Both.

 Real: Nursing E at my parents' house (toddler nursing: as real as it gets!)

I’m a veteran disciple of the gospel of Both: Hanukkah and Christmas, baseball and football, salty and sweet. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, I’m excruciatingly vulnerable to the commentators on each side who, knowingly or not, seek to undermine the validity of Both. Every throwaway comment is an instant activator to the ultimate saboteur – my own self doubt. My colleagues say, “My son always wanted me to be home more, but I can’t get everything done in less than 12 hours a day,” or “It would have been nice to work part time, but that just wasn’t an option when I went into practice. It still isn’t for me.” And immediately I feel like less of a doctor – to work less than 12 hours a day, to consider part-time work “an option,” mustn’t I be a selfish, uncommitted shift worker who doesn’t care about her patients? Or stay-at-home moms say, “I wish I could work, but I just can’t leave my babies!” and there goes my inner monologue again – surely I’m less of a mother, because I’m the kind of person who can just leave my baby (unlike Good Moms, who just can’t). It’s the scary flip side of Both – what if I’m not Both, but Neither?

So what’s the remedy? Well, Theodore Roosevelt said “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and it is clearly true when you think of how quickly comparing ourselves with other mamas can suck the wind right out of our sails. I think that’s what’s so compelling about the process of showing our real – it is an antidote to the poison of comparing our lives unfavorably to what someone is trying to convince us her life is like. We see that while our lives aren’t the same, we all have struggles and beauty and fear and tiny little triumphs, and all that shiny phony Instagram stuff is just covering the same doubts and insecurities we have too.

So cheers to Real, and cheers to Both, and cheers to Courtney and her sweet family and her kick-ass job, and happy holidays to every one of us.

I'd like to dedicate this essay to the memory of Dr. Andrew Fisher, my colleague and friend. His unending enthusiasm for and commitment to his wife and two beautiful children as well as his work as a physician served as an example to me.


Show Your Real is a bi-weekly series of guest posts centered around the concept of authenticity. The goal is to encourage each other to expose the reality of our lives- good and bad- and to foster a sense of community that goes beyond the often suface-cy interactions of social media. We invite all of you to participate! Please comment, link, and hashtag to spread the showyourreal love. If you would like to contribute a guest post in this series, please email me! 

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