As of today, I have been back at work for about a month. I use the term “back at work” loosely because I have only been in the office one full day per week, with plans to add another day in August. My son is almost three months old. As the day of my return approached, I was worried about so many things. Would I feel incredibly guilty for leaving my newborn too early, even if it was just for one day? Would I be too tired to work during the day since the quality of my sleep is not what it used to be? I felt like I was going to have to make the hard choice of choosing my son over my career or vice versa.
I was reading a comment on an anesthesiologist’s blog. She is a mother of three and is working part time. The post was about making the decision to work part time or not work at all, even though she has years of medical training under her belt and is extremely overqualified for days of cycling through the general playing, feeding, and diapering routine. The commenter, a physician herself, explained that at work, anyone could do her job. Another doctor can see her patient, and she would be just fine with that. At home, SHE was the only one that could be a mother to her child. I understand this, but I don’t believe that anyone can do my job.
As dentists, we see most of our patients more often and for longer durations than most doctors. Every dentist does things differently, and most feel like their way is the best for their patients. We develop these relationships and we feel a responsibility for our work and to our patients. I have not been practicing for decades, but at this point, a decent amount of my work is walking around. What if something happens and a patient needs me? I am sure those of you that have your own practices can agree. This is why I tried to return to work as soon as possible, even if it was for a small amount of time. I want to available to my patients.
I am still working on finding permanent childcare. I have been fortunate enough to live close to family, and that has been extremely helpful so far. This is when I become envious of my male colleagues that have wives who choose to become stay-at-home moms. When they have a baby, they can go back to their office and not think twice about the type of care that baby is getting, because he is with his mother, the best possible caregiver. It is easier for them to stay late in the office, or leave town for conferences and CE courses because they have that peace of mind. I anticipate it getting easier as he gets older, but returning to my pre-baby work/travel schedule is going to take time.
Overall, being back at work has been great. I realized just how much I love my job and I appreciate it more now. I look forward to my weekly day at work and my days at home with my son, and feel fortunate to be able to do both. I know that in the future, I can make my schedule flexible to accommodate my child’s needs. Dentistry is a career that really does give working moms the option to “have it all,” though it does take a bit of a balancing act. On my first day back, one of my patients asked me if I still remembered what teeth were. I did not say this to him, but part of me was a little worried my hand skills needed a bit of a refresher. Luckily for myself (and the patient!), the muscle memory kicked in and it was like I had never left.
Are any of you currently, or were you at some point, working dentist moms and dads with small children? How did you handle it?
Have a great week!
Lilya Horowitz, DDS