I have a 1 year old daughter. She is feisty and strong willed. She knows what she wants and will stop at nothing to get it. She regularly bites off more than she can chew - not always a good idea when the meal is the arm of a big brother with 3 more years combat experience. My wish is that this determination never leaves her. But how to keep my little fighter fighting?
Growing up, I was told I would never become a doctor. They told me I couldn’t and I did. It was as simple as that. For most of my life, it genuinely baffled me why women could simply not just achieve anything a man could. We are both human. What was the difference? The difference, I was told, was that as a woman, I could never “have it all”. A demanding career combined with raising children, meeting their needs and running a household were incompatible. Something had to be sacrificed. Again, they told me I couldn’t and I did.
Having children is the best choice I have ever made but in my rush to prove the doubters wrong, to have it all and to do it all, I wonder if perhaps I am doing nothing well. Am I consigned to a fate of always disappointing someone, at work or at home? Or is doing my best enough? In my experience, working mothers are some of the most reliable and hardworking colleagues. They have more to prove and more to lose. To work and be a mother means sacrifice. It means missing out on those important milestones, those small moments that make your heart sing. As a working mother there is a heart-wrenching choice of desperately wanting to be at home with my babies and desperately wanting to do what I love and what I trained for. Both make me feel alive, both make me tick.
I work in an overwhelmingly male-dominated area of medicine: cardiac anaesthesia and pre-hospital medicine. Pre-hospital medicine requires a physical and mental fitness that is not required in the hospital arena. I can be working in hostile environments, forced to think and act in moments, seconds. I am required to make decisions quickly and with very little information. Decisions which can potentially have a lasting impact on a patient’s life. And lets face it - I don’t work in one of the safest environments...
My work on the rescue helicopters has invoked much judgement, none more so than when I became a mother. “Are you sure you want to do that now that you have a family?” and “What about your kids, it’s so dangerous, isn’t that irresponsible?” Well yes, as I am perched on the ledge of a helicopter 200 feet in the air ready to step out and have a piece of wire lower me to the ground, I do wonder why. Why am I placing my children’s mother at risk?
But then, as I am lowered down to meet a stranger having the worst day of their life, I am reminded that I am not just the “children’s mother”. I am that girl that was told she couldn’t and did. I am that girl that from the age of 4 desperately wanted to be a doctor and was unwavered in her approach until she achieved what she needed to achieve. I am that girl that wants to inspire my daughter to reach her dreams.
And as I am working back late for the third night in a row, for reasons beyond my control, the voices of those around me are ringing in my ears: “your children are little for such a short time, you are going to live to regret this” “you cannot have it all” “at the end of the day, kids are always going to want their mum” BUT I have never met a patient in cardiac arrest who is wanting to discuss my life choices and when I come home, eventually, I am greeted by four little feet running up to me, throwing their arms around me and are happy to have me in that moment. And in that moment, I am enough.