So I went back to work at 9 weeks postpartum. We are allowed 3 months’ paid leave, which here in the USA, even for doctors, is really good maternity leave. 2 months of that leave is completely covered,  meaning, by our productivity model, I don’t owe anything for those first 2 months. But the third month comes out of vacation, and I would need to pay that back, or not take any vacation for the rest of the year. With Babyboy, I took the 3 months, and I did kind of regret that. So this time, with Babygirl, I opted to go back early.

It wasn’t hard to go back, which surprised me, because the kids are so good, and so goddamned adorable.

We recognize that Babyboy, at 22 months of age, is just about the cutest little man you ever saw. The things he does, his facial expressions, his touchingly honest effort to understand the world, everything, is so precious. Yesterday hubby was chewing bubble gum, and blew a bubble, which then popped. Babyboy froze in astonished delight, and stared, enthralled. Hubby blew bubble after bubble, with Babyboy completely transfixed, eyes bright and grinning, then giggling; then brows furrowing and concentrating, trying so hard to move his mouth the same way, wanting to make a bubble too. We laughed so hard.

And Babygirl, well, hell, all babies are cute, but she is really damn cute. She is a chubster, but with a sweet femininity: she has that perfect smooth baby skin, and glittery dark almond eyes with long black eyelashes, and she smiles. Alot. We laugh to see her drooly grin, she is that cute.

And yet, it was not hard to leave. Mainly, because my mother, grandmother and Hubby all take care of the kids. If I had to leave them at daycare, things would not be so easy, I know. But also, it’s not hard to leave because I need to do something other than be a mom. Yes, days with them are peppered with snippets and sonnets of priceless, irreplaceable moments. But days with them are also heavy-handed with endless Sesame Street, Sprout cartoons, diaper changes, crying, spitups, toy clutter, chaos, mayhem, and no shower until evening. I can make this my thing if it’s a few times a week. But I can’t do it every day.

So I went back to work early, and it’s been 3 weeks. This week was my first fully booked week at my usual schedule. And man, was I fully booked. I was worried going into it: Can I do this? Will I be so exhausted, will I be an irritable fried mess at the end of the day?

Well, I’m kind of enjoying myself. Part of it is I’m just coming off of being a patient myself. How weird is it, as a doctor, to be admitted? It is weird, to be on the other side of the stethoscope. But, I think it’s a prerequisite to taking care of people. I know when we went to the hospital the second time, when I was REALLY in labor, I was one sorry specimen. I was walking down the hallway from L+D triage to the room, having just been confirmed to be at 6 centimeters, and I was howling, absolutely howling. I’m pretty sure some of the nurses on duty that night were my own patients, and I’m kind of embarrassed. The contractions were coming fast and furious and I couldn’t get that epidural fast enough. Right after they placed it, I was at 8 centimeters. And soooo happy. What did I learn? LOTS of empathy for people with pain.I WANT to help people in pain.

My bout with hives when Babygirl was only 10 days old; My husband’s  illness and hospitalization with diverticulitis when she was 6 weeks old; these experiences are adding up, and though they were tough experiences to have to deal with,  I’m almost glad we had to deal with them (especially given that the outcomes have all been positive). I find myself empathizing more with patients, listening harder, feeling their story, being more openminded, and less judgmental  than  before. In these past few weeks, I’ve been quicker to pick up the phone to call a patient back. I’m more willing to answer emails. I haven’t felt resentful, annoyed, suspicious, or angry with patients. This is including even the few that may be struggling with Benzo or pain med use, or the one who I suspect was using me to get a work excuse, or the one who was angry with me for documenting her high-risk sexual behavior in the chart. So far, even these tricky, loaded discussions have concluded emotionally and logistically well.

Even yesterday when I admitted my own patient at 7 am (spry older woman with hypertensive urgency), was seeing patients solid from 8:30 to 5 (with a lunch break), and I was also asked by two colleagues to step in and help them with their cases, I was sort of… exhilarated! Usually, if someone knocks on my door in the middle of a packed clinic day and asks me to “chat with this lady who I’m worried may be suicidal” or “check out this rash, I’m not sure what it is”, I would shrink with ill-concealed dread and snippily consent. But yesterday, I thought, “Bring it on.” And the depressed lady was lovely to talk with, and safe to go home. And the rash – it was hives, just like I had!

There’s still plenty of room for improvement. And maybe as the weeks churn on I’ll get tired again, and all of this recent personal sick experience will fade, I’ll get jaded, and the negative emotions will come creeping into my daily routine.

But I hope not. I’m really enjoying my job!