I Went Through Medical School For A Career I Loved -- And Put It To The Back Burner For My Kids

by Ritu Malani
Originally Published: 
I Gave Up My Professional Dreams For My Children, And I Have No Regrets: family smiling for photo
Courtesy of Ritu Malani

The clock was ticking steadily as I finished the last medical consultation for the day. It was already 58 minutes past 1pm, and I was looking at my watch nervously, hoping that this was the last of the long list of queries that the patient sitting in front of me had. I had already politely refused consultation to a couple of patients who were late, something that my receptionist could not fathom. I did not blame him, for not only was I facing a lot of aggressive competition in my field of medicine, but also my comeback to practice was very recent — that too for limited hours. And the message that his expressions always conveyed to me was: “Such an attitude towards work will take you nowhere!” An attitude that was clearly completely opposite to my colleague’s.

Was my love for medicine lesser than his? No … I don’t think so.

It had taken passion and loads of hard work to sift through those years in medical school, far away from family and friends. Experiencing innumerable instances of utter embarrassment at the hands of professors during clinical rotations in internship and going through the intense stress of medical examinations during post-graduation….oh, no…it had been no easy task. And I had loved every bit of it. The joy of dissecting a corpse, my first “friend” in this journey to becoming a doctor; buying my first anatomy kit of human bones and painfully learning the tongue-twisting Latin name for every bony landmark (I don’t understand why simple English has never worked in medicine; you have to be a complete sadist to make the subject more difficult than it already is!); trudging through the narrow lanes of the small village to the primary health care center for my community medicine posting; operating my first hernia under the expert guidance of a senior surgery resident; or delivering babies in a small crowded government obstetric set-up (no, I am not a gynecologist or a surgeon)…I enjoyed every bit of my journey towards achieving my goal.

And then came the residency and consultancy jobs in hospitals. The back-breaking night shifts, the medical rounds of patients that I admitted and re-assessed multiple times in the nights to make sure my treatment was helping them, the critical patients that we lost in spite of my team’s best efforts in the emergency room, the lengthy discussions I had with my colleagues about difficult cases, and the welcoming comfort of home that I reached back to — exhausted to the core, yet exalted — after a day’s worth of hard work. Yes, I had loved it all.

Courtesy of Ritu Malani

Yet, I was ready to give it all up when I became a mother.

Despite having a great academic record during medical school and loving my profession for what it was, my family and my relationships had always taken a precedence over my work. Was it right? I do not know. But when my daughter was born, I knew that her tiny being needed me the most in those early years; and I would not deny her what she rightly deserved.

Unwittingly, I became her constant companion, while my husband toiled at the hospital, equally, or maybe more passionate about his work than me. During those years, despite enjoying those joyful moments with my daughter, I had pangs of regret for breaking my career’s journey and intense longings for going back as well. But the thought of leaving her alone with nannies and maids in a city that was always in the news for its crimes, gave me the worst possible nightmares. And as usual, I gave my family a precedence over my work. When my son arrived, at a time when I had just started working a few hours at our clinic, the cycle repeated.

And even now, since I restarted my work two years ago, albeit with limited hours, I try to make sure that I reach my six- and four-year-olds on time to pick them up from school and be with them during their time at home. I see mothers (and fathers) who are passionately toiling away at their jobs, while their children are being picked up by nannies and being whisked away from one activity class to another, until their parents arrive back home in the wee hours of the evening. I am passing no judgement here; I know that not everyone has the option to pick their children up, and I’m privileged to have that ability. But the joy that you see in your child’s eyes when he catches a glimpse of you at the school gate, the contentment you feel when you pick him up safe and sound, the excitement in his voice when he chatters non-stop about his day at school (and believe me, the excitement is at a different level when parents are at the listening end), the satisfaction of seeing him eat his meal properly under your supervision, the joy of being able to spend some time with him playing or reading before he retires for the night … these little moments are irreplaceable and will never come back.

Courtesy of Ritu Malani

Do I miss my work? Oh yes! Tremendously! I see colleagues of mine doing so much more, and so much better, than me. I see cases landing in emergency that I would love to handle, but I am no longer a part of that department. I see mothers at school looking incredulously at me for being there every day, dropping and picking up my kids … what kind of doctor does that? And I wish tremendously that I could go back to full-time work at the hospital — a place I loved, a profession I loved, a job I slogged at for so many years. But I see much younger colleagues taking up the mantle and I wonder if I will ever fit the profile once again.

Not that it takes away anything from my present day work profile that entails outpatient consultations and outpatient procedures, and yet keeps things flexible for me. The procedures are specialized, done by only a few in India, where I live, and I had the opportunity to study and learn them during my full-time job of parenting. It has given me a niche area of expertise, and I love the few hours I can devote fully to the job I have presently chosen. It may not compare to what I had aspired for and loved so much, but I am grateful for it, hoping that these baby steps will lead me to more fulfilling heights. Because aspirations and passions never die … they always hunt you down!

Would I do things any differently if given a chance to turn back the clock? No, I don’t think so. I may have missed out a lot in my career, but my children’s growing years will never come back, and missing out on them would have been the biggest regret of my life. Seasons are often fleeting; they come as fast as they go. It is evident in the rapid pace at which babies grow up. We should embrace these seasons or else we miss out on the beauty of each one. After all, we only have a small window of opportunity to shape our children’s hearts and minds.

It’s a coincidence that all of us, my two sisters and I, have scaled down our full-time professions to take care of our families; maybe it’s the genes, or maybe it’s the sheer joy we felt to have our mother around us always.

There are days when one feels wasted and frustrated, days when one wants some relief from the constant responsibility of the family, days when one just wants to turn the clock back … but it takes a lot of love, passion, hard work and sacrifice to balance the things that are important to oneself.

I hope that someday we can go back to taking out time for ourselves, doing the things we love, going back to jobs that we cherish, being who we were without guilt or hesitation. But for today, the best thing we can give our children is time.

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