My vet school class was somewhat infamous for the number of women who became pregnant in school. I say infamous because it was not viewed as a good thing by many so much as a terrible, horrible mistake or affront to the rest of the profession.
Women who became pregnant were met with bafflement: Why would you do this?
Or indignation: Why does she get to sit down during surgery when the rest of us have to stand during our three hour spays?
Or, when the pressure and the schedule was too much and she would withdraw for a year, anger: She shouldn’t have taken this spot from someone who really wanted it, who wouldn’t have been so selfish as to gestate during school. We question her commitment.
Granted, there were also plenty of people who met my classmates with sympathy and support, and I imagine their friendship is the reason those women who did stick around made it through, but it wasn’t exactly the standard response. And sadly, that carries over to our work in a lot of ways: Moms make bad vet students and bad vets, so we are often told.
This is a love letter to all you bad mother doctors.
Now look, I don’t want this to turn into a parent versus non-parent or a mom versus dad or any of that garbage that got us to this impasse in the first place. The challenges of being a working mother are not going to be solved by individual practice owners; it is a reflection of a greater issue in American society. Today, I’m just here to acknowledge that you moms care, a lot, and you bust your butt. Because I don’t think people say that to you nearly enough.
The fact remains that for many mom DVMs, life feels like a constant circle of disappointing people.
The women in my class who became pregnant soldiered on out of sheer force of will. It wasn’t until I became a mother some years later that I understood the massive physical and emotional burden of pregnancy. Vet school and pregnancy are hard enough on their own; doing them together requires some Navy Seal level stamina. If you’ve never had to breathe through one of those crappy masks they make you wear during anesthetic procedures, I offer you the equivalent experience:
When I was pregnant, working in emergency practice with a toddler, I had to hire a nanny because no childcare could work with my insane hours. She was amazing. When I had a day off, my kids would cry because they missed her, and then I would cry too. Despite the fact that I took home about $150 a week after paying her, I kept working because I didn’t want to be a ‘quitter’ and somehow I felt like I was a better vet than mother, despite the subtle inferences that I was committed to neither, failing at both.
They laid me off anyway, shortly after the medical director told the staff of mostly young women that women who wanted babies had no place in emergency medicine. During the time I was there, I never missed a day of work- including first birthdays and every Mother’s Day, of which I was the only actual mother on staff. I did all I could short of not being a mother, but it’s never enough.
Someone’s Always Mad At You
The reality is, despite what you hear about how much mothers slack, they’re usually out there making sacrifice after sacrifice without complaint. This is the life of a working mother DVM, who panics at every child’s cough hoping this isn’t the day she has to choose between her kid’s illness and her clinic director’s ire. Someone is always mad at you and you are always feeling guilty about your shortcomings.
If you get enough time off to run to a school event, you face a bunch of women you’ve never met who know everything about your kid because they’re in class every day, and you don’t even remember the teacher’s name. Your cell phone goes off during the play and you hear someone sigh as you leave to answer it. You often, if statistics bear out, also do the majority of your household’s cooking and cleaning when you finally get home.
Yes, having a family is a choice, and most of us wouldn’t have it any other way. But if you find yourself questioning why it’s so much harder for you than everyone else, I’m here to tell you that it’s not. We’re all winging it. It’s hard for everyone because that’s the way the deck is stacked, and the fact that you’re still here pushing to do the best you can day after day means you are One Bad Mother Doctor, and I don’t mean that in the literal “bad” way, but in the Samuel L. Jackson/ Pulp Fiction kind of way.
Moms are tough. Mom DVMs are titanium. And in honor of the just passed mother’s day, as you’re throwing out your rotting flowers and getting back to the thankless grind, I present to you a different gift. A badge:
Cut it out. Stick it in your wallet. Give it to the BAMDs in your life. And remember this: you really ARE one Bad Mother Doctor, and I, for one, got your back.
Jessica Vogelsang is a San Diego veterinarian with Paws into Grace and the creator of the popular website pawcurious.com. Her writing is regularly featured on outlets such as dvm360, Vetstreet, and petmd. Her debut memoir All Dogs Go to Kevin is available in bookstores, online, and as an ebook from all major book retailers. For more information about the book and Dr. Vogelsang, visit drjessicavogelsang.com.