Now, I have two friends and one relative whose husbands are stay at home dads. And these are all educated men who could have had successful careers. A total of three. This is the first time in my working life (which has now spanned about two decades) that I have heard a man expressing the solution to the work-life struggle as going to work part-time. It seemed to be a decision he did not take likely, having to come to terms with the ways others may or may not be looking at him. I know how he feels. I have quit medicine before as well.
When my husband and I first moved to Baltimore, we had our sixteen month old Isabel and I was pregnant with Maddie, our second. I took a fellowship position (which is a three year post-residency speciality training, for those not in medicine) in pediatric intensive care - taking care of children that are so sick, they are frequently depending on you to keep them alive. It was something very meaningful to me. I took that particular spot because there was promise of being "family friendly." Unfortunately, we had different definitions of what "family friendly."
My husband was doing an adult medicine fellowship at a different hospital. He was working about 80 hours per week, which is the standard for a fellow. The five weeks I spent at my program, my work week was anywhere between 90 and 110 hours per week. Yup. I would have to be there by 5:30 or 6am and leave at 6 or 6:30pm. Every second or third night, I was required to stay in the hospital. So, I would get to work at 6 am, and not leave until about 5pm the next day, return the following morning and do the same thing. In was inhumane. My daughter, who had been the happiest, most well adjusted child (I used to work weekends and nights so she hardly needed any child care at all), became depressed. Yes, 16 month old babies can be depressed. And as soon as I saw the signs, that was the straw that broke the camels back.
I had to do the inconceivable for a doctor - quit. We are so type A, so committed; it is an insane culture. I mean, I have had a friend cross country ski to work 4 miles during a snow storm! If you are able to walk, you drag yourself in - no matter if you just had surgery, can barely breath, or whatever else you can think of that seems ludicrous to come to work with.
I will never forget the moment I did it - I cried the whole time! I had planned on being an intensivist for many years and now, I was rejecting something that was central to my self-identity. The director of the unit told me I would never find work in Balitmore again, that I would be "black balled." "Everyone will hear about this, and no one will want to hire a quitter." It was awful. "Oh well," I thought. "At least I can live with myself as a mother."
Not even once have I regretted that decision. It has led me to an amazing place in life. I don't think I would have arrived here any other way. I hope the same for my co-worker who is leaving us. It will be an awesome adventure, one that should inspire other men who feel stuck due to whatever they feel society has imposed on them. Is there anything more important then being abIe to stick up for what's right for your family? I know he won't regret it. Here's your shout out!