Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Daddy Track

Earlier I wrote about childbearing. One commenter asked about the effect our kids had on my husband's career (Jim is sitting on the deck of the USS Missouri during our January vacation in Oahu).

We were married 6 months before he graduated from medical school. My final year we lived in different cities. It was difficult, but I did several electives in Chicago, where he was, and we got through it. He then had to do a year after residency to allow me to "catch up" so we could start our fellowships in Minnesota together. He was a research fellow with his endocrine section. He got a paper out of the year and had no call for the first 9 months of our daughter's life. This worked out well since I was still overnight in the hospital at least every fourth day.

Then we were in our fellowships with home call, but with a child with recurrent otitis media, AKA ear infections. I can still remember awakening at 4:30am to see if she had a fever. If she did, we could give the Tylenol and get it low enough to drop her off at daycare. By the time it went up again, one of us would have seen enough patients to go get her. We often did parking ramp hand-offs. Needless to say, the first 6 months of non-stop clinical service were brutal for us. We had a home daycare provider who we are friends with to this day, and she was often the saving grace for our sanity.

Time crunches were a bit less problematic once our research endeavors started, at least for me. I usually had something I could work on at home if Jen got sick, and her ear infections began to let up a bit. I found the lab wonderful, like Dorothy stepping into the colorful world of Oz after that dusty, B&W Kansas. My husband ended up in a molecular biology lab whose taskmaster demanded meetings first thing Monday morning and on Friday afternoons. At 5pm. Jim lost his desire to do basic science quickly.

When the end of our training approached, I found a faculty position and he went into private practice. It was during this period that we had our son. Jim's hospital had on-site daycare with extended hours to support nurses on 12 hour shifts. He often got to lunch with the kids. On the other hand, my daughter got really good at photocopying articles in the library on snow days. Her school had before and after school programs on site. We could usually drop her off and pick her up without much difficulty between the two of us.

After 7 years, we were invited to University of Nebraska. My husband is in academia again, doing clinical research. I have continued doing lab work as well as patient care, teaching, and administrative work. My schedule has remained flexible enough that a nanny who had to leave early every Wednesday or a school day starting at 8:30 could be accomodated. I was also older - old enough to realize that no one was going to fire me because I had to leave by 4:15 every Wednesday! That was the way it was. I got work done and produced papers and everyone else could just deal with it! Having half of your group get up and leave because they have to pick up the kids sends a clear message to those in charge. It also helps that I am in pediatrics; our annual meeting has long had sponsored childcare and lactation support services because we are "kid-friendly."

Did children delay my husband's career? It is hard to know what his accomplishments would have been without the kids, and the impact of the 7 years of private practice is bigger than anything we could probably attribute to the offspring.

I guess the bottom line is that you have to be flexible when you have kids. This is true whether you are in academia or a stay-at-home parent, whether you are male or female. Children are separate beings who will not necessarily repect your own plans! When it comes to career paths, we each make our own. In the end, having a fulfilling life on all fronts is what matters.

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  1. Great post!

    I'm adding you (and Jim) to my role models list...

    I sure hope I can look back in 10-15 years and say I managed to get through these challenging years balancing all fronts!

  2. You never feel balanced at the time it's happening. It's only in retrospect that I realize everything worked out alright. Even our kids believe things were good. They still bitch about one of their before & after school programs, but they were safe and got where they needed to be...