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Commentary: Maternity, motherhood and veterinary medicine
DEK: Parenthood evolves our careers, it doesnt end themeven if some of us choose to quit the profession altogether.
“Being a mom is exactly what I imagined it would be,” said no parent, ever. One friend of mine, who has chosen not to have children, recently said, “Being a mom is not that different than having a dog.” To be fair, we all understand this sentiment as caregivers in the veterinary field, but having a human child fundamentally evolves us in ways most of us never predicted. Priorities shift from being a good diagnostician to being home for dinner, career aspirations evolve from practice ownership to “making just enough.” And yet through this path of becoming a mother, I feel that as veterinarians we aren't simply changing into parents, so much as we are truly becoming the caretakers we all strive to be in the first place.
Yes, parenthood changed my life as a veterinarian …
Before having my own children, I never considered myself a “kid” person. I felt completely inept talking to small humans in my early 20s, maybe because I turned down babysitting jobs as a teenager, preferring the companionship of adults or animals. The first diaper I ever changed was my own son's. In fact, we purposefully had our first child during veterinary school (planned between semesters) so that I could graduate and have time to practice before having a second child. Yes, I considered not having children at all, but I felt it would be an irreversible decision I would regret as an old (and hopefully, wise) woman.
Now that my oldest son is 10 years old, I realize how much of my career has been shaped by him and his sister (now 8 years old). And with a third child on the way, my decisions constantly revolve around being the best mother and wife I can be, which includes modeling a balanced and purpose-driven life.
I've made career and business decisions I never would have imagined as a younger, ambitious woman, turning down large speaking engagements for small school events and holding remote meetings from my car in the school pick-up line. And still the most meaningful comments I hear are not about business acumen or case management, but rather about being a good mother. After many discussions with other parents, I'm not the only one who finds herself prioritizing children and family over a career I worked so desperately hard to achieve.
... but it was evolution and growth, not frustration and loss
As doctors we give most of our 20s to the pursuit of a veterinary degree. We study, take tests, attend to patients and eventually graduate. We think we know what we want. And for many of us, we find our world completely reprioritized when our children are born. Late-night research on the latest treatment protocols turns into late-night feedings, then late-night discussions on schools, then late-night worrying or planning for tomorrow's lunches. We thought we were OK with being a working parent, then completely second-guess that decision when we hand over our baby to a caretaker.
So many women I've spoken to have, before giving birth to their first child, commented that, “I'm just not the stay-at-home-type” or “Daycare really doesn't bother me” or “I could never stop working/not make an income/not use my degree.” But once that baby arrives, everything changes. Many women (and men) cut back on hours, change to less demanding jobs or take time off.
For veterinarians, this follows a particularly interesting path. In general, we choose a career in veterinary medicine because at least on some level, we are caretakers who aren't intensely financially motivated. For those of us who chose to then welcome human children into our home, something gets “turned on” in our brains. We may not have been very maternal or kid-friendly before, but we find ourselves lit up with purpose when expanding our family.
A close friend and brilliant veterinary oncologist recently had her first baby at the age of 37. Her husband commented to me, “I've never seen her like this. A part of her has been woken up by our daughter. She's always been so motivated by science and her work, and now she's just as motivated by caring for our little girl.”
Having kids may appear to change us, but I believe it actually evolves us further and more deeply into the dedicated, passionate caretakers we already are as veterinarians. Our hearts become deeper, our minds more acutely tuned to the world around us, and we experience a heightened empathy for other beings (that can manifest as crying during commercials).
So, if you think that being a veterinarian and being a mother are incompatible, please think again. The world needs more mothers and fathers like us, ones who are passionate, dedicated and immensely caring about the children in our society as much as we care about the animals.
Dr. Dani McVety is owner of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and In-Home Euthanasia headquartered in Lutz, Florida.