I can hear her giggling on the other side of the living room door as I turn my key. I open the door and she smiles as big as she can and runs over to me at full speed. I pick her up, hold her close and spin her in circles. Then I shower my toddler with kisses, compliments, and questions about her day. She babbles back in syllables I can’t understand, smiling all the while. This is our daily routine.
Our daughter Aniyah was born to my husband, Aidan, and I the day before my graduation from Weill Cornell Medical College. Starting residency with a newborn was overwhelming. I had endless fears about Aidan and I not having time with her during our matriculation through our surgical residencies; fears about being able to pump enough milk to nourish her; fears about her not feeling a connection towards me; fears about keeping up with the demands of surgical residency at an academic center. I spoke to many physician-mothers who shared these concerns about parenthood during residency prior to, and during my pregnancy. So many of us feel external and internal pressure to choose between a career and motherhood; a concern that tends to be validated by unsupportive programs and demanding work schedules; a concern that tends to be gender specific.
Fortunately for Aidan and I, these fears never became our reality. Not only did our parents rally behind us, but our programs did as well. My mother retired from teaching to be our full-time childcare provider. Before starting residency, three of my co-interns cooked a week’s worth of food for my family when I gave birth. Often, my co-residents would let me sign out first to night float, in order to facilitate me getting home to Aniyah sooner. On lighter services, seniors would release me home early when cases were done for the day so that I could spend afternoons with her. In the midst of the chaos of raising a small child, being a wife, a clinical surgery resident, weekly classes, journal clubs, presentations, exams, scientific meetings, and research projects, my support system never let me become overwhelmed.
This level of backing from my program came as a pleasant surprise to me. Training at a place where my colleagues supported me professionally and personally felt surreal. I grew up a resource poor black woman in the south. My differences in race, class, and gender have always left me marginalized in the academic community. Unlike many of my peers, my adolescence was spent focusing on graduating from a failing school on the brink of closure, helping my single mother pay bills, and burying young relatives and friends who died at the hands of violence, in addition to pursuing an education and career.
My program taught me that excellent mentorship extends beyond the workplace. It is most impactful when it helps people achieve their personal goals as well. I always planned to give back to communities like mine in an effort to foster a better and safer future for others from marginalized backgrounds. My experience of being championed in my obligations as a mother and a surgery resident, helped me define exactly how I plan to accomplish that goal. My experiences will allow me a unique opportunity to aid in the creation of educational and career opportunities for other individuals from marginalized upbringings. Ultimately, the good I do will benefit them, and her.