MD RESIDENT’S COLUMN: Dear Charlie (Motherhood and Medicine)

Dear Charlie, 

You were born today.  I suppose one could say we met for the first time, but I have known you forever.  Since you were a little sesame seed, you have been mine. 

Nana and I sat on the floor of a bookstore browsing baby books.  I looked up at her, asking if she thought I could do it.  She simply asked if I was willing to change my life for you.  The answer came seamlessly as a smile across my lips.

Today, I become yours.



By Lani Kai Clinton, MD                                                                                                                                                                   UH  Pathology Resident 

When I was a medical student, an attending physician told me that she had four children during her Residency training and early years as an attending.  I looked at her with awe, wondering how that was possible.  I later found out that she was not even given maternity leave; she used her vacation time.  She returned to work when her baby was still a newborn.  On one occasion, she was out of vacation days when she went into labor; she gave birth on a Friday, and she returned to work on Monday.

Decades later, the improvements are meager at best.  As a first year medical student, a fellow classmate began the year with less than a month to her due date.  She was induced on a Friday and came back to class on a Monday.  She even found time to complete her assignments for the group.  As residents, we are afforded a glorious 12 weeks of maternity leave.  However, this “time off” comes at a price; it must be made up at the end of Residency.  Many Resident physicians continue sub-specialty training in their given field, and this training starts on July 1, as soon as Residency is complete.  Is taking maternity leave really a choice?  A woman must choose between furthering her career and becoming a mother.  Or she can just use her vacation time.

My little one was due near the end of my fourth year of medical school.  I planned to start Residency training when he was less than 2 months old.  He quickly changed my mind the night he was born.  I withdrew from my incumbent position as a Resident physician and spent the next fifteen months with Charlie.

Mom and Charlie.

Mom and Charlie.

As a woman in medicine, there is no good time to become a mother.  If you wait until you are established in your career, you will likely be given the charming diagnosis of “Advanced Maternal Age.”  This diagnosis is assigned to pregnant woman, age 35 and up.  Conception is increasingly difficult, stress builds, and the risk of birth defects is increased.  Of course, this is assuming that you have had time to find your life partner amidst becoming a doctor.  The list goes on.

Still, it can be done. A fellow resident has a 3-year-old and a 4-month-old at home.  She carries around bags of equipment, and diligently pumps breast-milk every few hours for her infant to drink the next day while she is at work.  She does both jobs with a smile, kindness, and effortless proficiency.

What would happen if we moved from tolerating to celebrating the women in medicine who choose to become mothers?

As for me, after a day of pretending to be a doctor, it is time for dinner, bath, and teeth brushing.  Then we name all of the Friends of Thomas the Tank Engine.  Finally, when the Cat-in-the-Hat has cleaned up his mess, and the Little Engine That Could has delivered all the toys to the good little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain, it is bedtime.  After tucking Charlie into bed, I settle in to read about the cases I saw at work that day.  I just hope my drool does not short-circuit my iPad.

About Dr. Clinton
`Iolani School, 1998
Williams College, BA, English and Biology, 2002
University of California at Irvine, PhD, Neuroscience, 2007
John A. Burns School of Medicine, MD, 2011

Born in Kahuku, Hawai`i, 1979
Mother of Charlie, age 2





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