December 2, 2016
No one tells you to put your veterinary career on hold to have kids, right?
After all, we're supposed to forge ahead and get through veterinary school, go on to our internship and residency, or go build ourselves up in private practice (or academia), right? We're supposed to buy that small business to help pay off our loans, while balancing work-life balance despite our workaholic personalities, correct? We're suppose to Lean In and be great, hardworking professionals while balancing it all, right?
Well, no one tells you this, so VETgirl is going to.
Stop what you're doing and consider having kids now.
What?! Nobody says that out loud. Well, let me fill you in on the trials and tribulations of being a female. Obviously, this is based on my own struggle with infertility, stress, losses, and getting old quickly.
After veterinary school, I went straight into my internship at Angell. That was definitely one of the hardest years of my life, as I worked 100+ hours a week (I don't recommend getting pregnant during an internship!). After that, I did my emergency critical care residency at University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. I will still pretty young during this time - in my late 20's. I then joined the faculty at University of Minnesota in a clinical teaching position. I loved this job, as it gave me the opportunity to work with veterinary students, teach interns and residents, and work with a top-notch staff of veterinary specialists. Before I knew it, I was in my early 30's living in a new state (Minnesota, that I now call home).
Now, I should step back and say that I believe life is all about timing. Most things are out of our hands when it comes to timing or circumstances, right? Whether you call it "fate," "the universe," "God's will," etc. we can't plan our life as much as our control-freak veterinary selves want to. Sure, I was supposed to get married in my early 30s and have a kid by then, but being that I was still single or dating (in a committed relationship but not married), it was hard to plan on family planning. Our workaholic personalities think that if we work harder, we can make it happen, right? After all, we're scientists and will just work hard to family plan later.
Well, not so with fertility...
Fast forward a few years later, where I finally met the man of my dreams. We got married by 40 (Woohoo!). Hey, I'm a late bloomer, so everything takes me slightly longer in life. But, we instantly started trying to have kids. Several pregnancies and losses later, we decided to try IVF. After all, we see all these old mid-40 year old career women with kids from IVF, right, so it can't be too hard - just expensive right? WRONG. Little did I know, as a scientist, that the statistics for a live birth from IVF rapidly diminishes to almost 0-2.5% once you hit 42 years of age. That's with IVF! How can these numbers be so low?! But what about all those older women with twins from IVF? Well, hate to break it to you, but nobody tells you that they are from egg donors. That's right - other (younger) women's eggs. Which is great! And totally fine, if you and your partner want to go that route. But we elected not to. So, after 3 years of trying, we finally came to peace with our parent-less destiny.
What did I learn through this journey?
First, the chronic effect of stress on your body is overwhelming.
While we were trying to have kids, I tried everything to alleviate my life of stress. I tried meditating. I tried yoga. I triaged all my business trips away. I implemented great self-care techniques (like a monthly massage or facial). I kept in great shape and ate well (I even quit caffeine!). But it didn't matter. Of course, I was going through a lot of stress during those three years of trying... both personal and professional trials that really challenged the capacity of what one can handle. This was overwhelming, and I definitely contributed that stress towards our battle with infertility and losses. Despite trying not to "stress out," the chronic toll of stress on your body is hard to account for. We don't realize how stress really does affect our body.
Second, I should have frozen my eggs.
Years ago, in my young 30's, my cousin recommended that I freeze my eggs. That's crazy talk, I thought. I'm on the plan for marriage and family planning by my mid-30s (Wait, I'm still single). I was too cheap to even think of this option, as I'd basically have to go through all the expensive IVF hormones, drug therapy, egg retrival, sedation costs, freezer storage costs for the eggs, etc. Well, before you know it, time flew by and attempts at IVF proved my cousin right. Your egg count dramatically plummets in your mid-30s and is almost decimated by the time you hit 40. And 40 is closer than you think. Interestingly, large companies like Facebook and Apple are actually paying for their employees to freeze their eggs, as they want the best, workaholic you now! While I'm not sure I agree with the ethics of this, the drive for a woman's career path often prioritizes her realization that she's getting old.
Third, stop, drop and roll.
We're all taught this saying in elementary school - what to do in case of a fire, right? Well, I'm going to advocate it for you as you get too far along in your veterinary career. There's never a good time to take a break, get off birth control, get pregnancy and start a family right? While I don't advocate for it during your internship and residency (We all collectively hated our internmate who got pregnant during the hardest year of our life, making us pick up all her overnight shifts from her maternity leave), I'm going to advocate that you do it SOONER than later... before you have to go through the devastating, painful experience of the battle of infertility or losses. Keep in mind that it takes the average couple - regardless of age - 18 months before they become pregnant. So, my advice? Get off birth control at least 18 months before you even think about trying.
If you're still single, chill out. Well, kind of. You also have to stop, drop and roll. What do I mean by that? Finding a soulmate is like applying to get into vet school... it's a job, man. Take the time to invest in this. I'll admit it, I met mine on Match.com, and couldn't be happier. But I had to strategically write a great, tight ad, triage losers away, and interrogate people like the FBI. But it worked for me.
More importantly, come to peace with what you want. If you're okay with the chance of not having kids, then delay family planning. But if you really want to have kids, and it's a high priority in your life, take the time to prioritize it.
Life just happens
Ultimately, life just happens. After trying for 3 years, we couldn't deal with the emotional turmoil, stress, financial drain, and stress. We finally came to peace with being parentless and decided to enjoy our life together in our 40s.
And then it happened...
We were fortunate. I'm going to chalk it up to God's crazy timing, but 6 months later, after giving up, we got pregnant at the old age of 43. And this one stuck...
So, our Thanksgiving-baby is our reminder to be thankful in life. Ever grateful. Feeling blessed and thankful. Welcome to the world, VETboy!
I was honored to have the gift of my birthing captured by a local Minneapolis photographer, Meredith Westin. Her beautiful, artistic eye captured our special day in such a professional, loving way. (You can also find her work on Facebook and Instagram). For you local Minneapolis-St. Paul people interested in having your birth captured, ping Meredith for a 20% discount by just mentioning this VETgirl blog - she'll hook you up! You can check it out here: Birth Story: Justine and Jason.
Most importantly, if I had to do it all over again, I would have taken the advice above. Have the crucial conversation with your partner now, and figure out what your priorities are. Because you know what? No one in the veterinary world - not your vet school professors, mentors, resident mates, colleagues, academicians, boss, practice owner, or industry mentors - are going to tell you to stop what you're doing to take the time to have a kid now. But you need to as you approach your 30s.
Because you know what? You can still be an awesome veterinarian, continue your career path, buy a veterinary clinic, be a specialist, and take over the world, one dog-day at a time... while being a parent.
So, any advice on how to balance work-life balance? Motherhood with being a veterinary clinic owner or small business owner? Comment below!
P.S. Another contributing factor that helped us get pregnant? Spending lots of money after we decided to "give up." After all, we figured we were DINKS! (Double-Income-No-Kids). We bought a new house! A boat! I got Invisalign! We bought first class tickets to Fiji! We spent it all, and then it happened...