“Mamaaaa. Heyyy Mamaaa! I need fresh water with ice! HEY MAMAAA! It’s morning time!”
I glanced at my phone and saw that it was indeed morning time. In fact it was already 6:10 a.m., which meant that I had overslept, though I hardly felt refreshed since I had been up studying until almost 2:00 a.m.
After a few minutes of silence, I heard the soft thudding of feet on the hallway carpet. A moment later, a smiling face surrounded by a halo of wild curly hair appeared at the end of my bed.
“I opened the door all by myself!” my daughter announced, beaming with smug self-satisfaction.
While this development had some undesirable implications for my privacy, I knew it was another critical step toward independence for her, and perhaps for me as well. Juggling a young toddler’s needs alongside the demands of medical school is no easy task, and I have come to appreciate even the smallest acts of self-sufficiency whenever they appear.
Thinking back to this time a year ago, my daughter and I had just arrived in Portland. She was 14 months old and though she could walk and talk, she was still a baby in most respects: she needed multiple naps a day, she nursed every few hours, she dissolved into tears at the slightest provocation. Returning to school meant that I would no longer be around to cater to her needs 24/7, a fact which filled me with anxiety and guilt at the time. What if she was traumatized by the abrupt separation? What if she hated daycare? What if she loved daycare and didn’t want to come home? What if she liked her caretakers more than me?
In addition to concerns about my baby, I had serious doubts about my own ability to survive in this new environment. I had spent so much time reassuring everyone else in my life about my plans that I hadn’t had the chance to reflect on whether this was still really what I wanted to do. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that I wasn’t qualified to go to medical school, let alone to go to medical school while singlehandedly caring for a small child. As a stay-at-home mom with a background in psychology and special education research I hardly seemed prepared for such a big undertaking.
Now as I enter MS2, I am happy to report that most of those worries have subsided. Over the past year I watched as my daughter blossomed from a clingy baby into a vivacious little girl who can open doors and do jigsaw puzzles and give startlingly specific instructions on how she wants her oatmeal prepared (hint: don’t even THINK about putting bananas in there). One need only spend a few minutes with her to see that she hasn’t been traumatized by this transition; in fact, she’s thriving.
As for me, I managed to pass my first year courses and gained a profound new self-confidence in the process. Overlooking the chronic sleep deprivation and occasional lapse in personal hygiene, I actually think my first year of medical school was among the most rewarding in my academic career.
I know that I have only just started down the road to becoming a physician and that the worst is likely yet to come given that I still have rotations and residency looming on the horizon. Even so, I will continue on this giant leap of faith because I am confident now that the net will appear, even if I have to make it myself.