Hey everyone! For those who don’t know me (which is probably most of you), I’m Megan Lord, one of the editors here at Firecracker, and I’ve been asked to take a minute to talk to you about one of the most unique aspects of my medical school experience: having a baby in medical school.
If you are in the “single person hitting the bars every night, there’s no way I would have a baby” phase of your life, I would recommend hitting the “next post” button right now, but if you’re more in the “settling down, OMG all of my friends are having babies and I want one, too” phase of your life, why don’t you grab a cup of the beverage of your choice and stay for a while?
Here’s what we’ll be discussing today:
- Background on who I am and why I have any right to tell you about this
- Factors to consider when you decide to have a baby
- The bottom line: if you only have 5 seconds, read this last part first!
Let me start by giving you a bit of background information. I just matched into OB/GYN, and I have a beautiful 2-year-old daughter (born towards the end of my M2 year) whom my husband had to take to the hardware store so I could have some uninterrupted time with my laptop to write this post. I’m a girl (just in case the name Megan wasn’t enough of a give-away), and I’m on the Air Force Health Professions Scholarship, so I don’t have any student loans.
When I started medical school, I had been married for 10 months to a great guy who also happens to be a disabled veteran. We had a dog and a small house with a yard, and around mid-way through my first year of medical school, we started thinking about maybe starting a family. After all, the first two years of med school are spent sitting on your butt in a classroom. I knew I wanted to be a surgeon, and I liked the idea of sitting on my butt while 9-months pregnant listening to lectures (with bathroom breaks every hour) a lot more than I liked the idea of standing in the OR for 8 hours at a time while schlepping around 25 lbs. of extra weight and only occasionally being able to see my own feet.
Realistically speaking, if you’re in medical school you probably have a pretty good idea how to prevent pregnancy. So let’s assume that you are contemplating making an intentional choice to get pregnant and have a baby while in medical school, and let’s look at a few important things to consider, ok?
Make sure you think about
- Career goals
- Post-partum recovery
- What if something goes wrong?
- Can you afford to take time off?
First, think about your career goals. Do you want to go into family medicine, or dermatology? What kinds of grades and USMLE scores do you need in order to be competitive? Do you need to be AOA? You see, I LOVE my daughter. I really do. I love the time that I spend with her. But there is no denying that it is a LOT harder to study with an infant (or toddler) in the house than without one. It’s even hard to study when you’re pregnant - I was exhausted all the time. It’s hard work growing a person, and of course there’s the dilutional anemia, restrictive lung disease (i.e. baby in your diaphragm), the extra work of carrying around the weight of baby+placenta+amniotic fluid, and the fact that it’s hard to sleep at night when there is a tiny ninja practicing the fight scenes from Kill Bill on your internal organs.
Once she was born, it took a few weeks to recover, and several more weeks to get back on track. My school was extremely accommodating, but I still felt like I was scrambling to catch up with my classmates and study for boards. I still wasn’t sleeping well because the baby needed feeding and changing every 2 hours around the clock, and your brain just doesn’t process information all that well when you’re running on 4 hours of sleep a night, every night, for weeks on end. My daughter was an adorable study buddy, though!
What if something goes wrong?
And that is all just the normal pregnancy and new baby routine. What if something goes wrong, or even just less-than-perfect? I was unlucky enough to have hyperemesis gravidarum, so my bathroom floor and I were quite well-acquainted for about the first 4 months of my pregnancy. I may have done some Firecracker questions on the bathroom floor at times… Don’t judge…
Can you take time off?
In the grand scheme of things that can go badly with a pregnancy, that was really tame. I recovered, and my daughter is happy and healthy. A classmate of mine was not so lucky, and ended up having to take a year off to deal with a complicated pregnancy and a sick newborn in the NICU. She had a husband with a full-time job and good health insurance to take care of her, but if that had happened to me, I would have been in a very tight spot. My husband couldn’t support our family by himself, and my school’s health insurance wouldn’t have paid for 3 months in the NICU.
All of that being said, I have a classmate who had a baby during her 4th year, and she seemed much less concerned about it. I can’t speak to her experience, though, so I’ll just say that it probably does matter when you have your baby! We will talk about details of planning your third and fourth year with a pregnancy in a later post.
The bottom line
I’m not saying any of this to scare anyone, I’m saying it because I was the first female MD student at my school to get pregnant during the first three years of school. They were used to people having babies during their last year, and male students’ wives having babies in the other years, but I struggled to find information about what it might be like to be pregnant and in school. So what’s the bottom line?
- It can be done! You can have a baby during school and still match into a reasonably competitive specialty.
- It’s hard! Having a baby is hard work for anyone, and especially so if you are already working your tail off.
- Timing matters! I spent week 4 to 18 of my pregnancy vomiting several times per day. Luckily, I was in my pre-clinical years. I’m not sure how well that would have gone over in the OR, but I bet it would have impacted my clinical education if it had happened during my clinical years. On the other hand, a fourth-year baby would have meant plenty of maternity leave.
- Being a female and HAVING a baby isn’t the same as being a male whose wife has a baby. The physical toll that pregnancy exacts on your body is nothing to joke about, and you had better be prepared.
- It’s all about priorities. If you HAVE to be a dermatologist to be happy, having a baby during med school might not be the right choice. There are only so many hours in a day, and after you eat and sleep you have to decide whether to spend the remaining hours studying or with your child. Are you prepared to give up a cool extra-curricular opportunity to be with your child? Are you willing to cut back on your research?