Being A Doctor And A Mom During COVID-19

As part of Northwell Health Physician Partners, we at Westchester Health would like to share the following article from Northwell Health written by Stephanie McNally, MD, OB/GYN, Katz Institute for Women’s Health, concerning aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

In brief, the article discusses:

  • The joys and challenges of being a mom and a doctor during the pandemic
  • Putting in place new safety procedures at home
  • Often working from home doing telehealth visits
  • Juggling all the different, and competing, roles

The full article is reproduced below.

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Being A Doctor And A Mom In The Time Of COVID

Balancing the needs of my patients, my passion, and my family.

Mother. Wife. Doctor. These are just three of the titles that make up who I am—hats that I wear with honor. And until March of this year, they were all parts of me that, I felt, were pretty balanced. But being an OB/GYN, wife, and mom during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a wild, emotional ride that’s put each part of my identity to the test.

It’s been filled with incredible moments of joy and connection—both with my patients and with my family. But it has also been filled with so much fear, isolation, and guilt that—as a working mom in today’s society—there is no way to meet everyone’s needs. And yet, many of us, myself included, put these unrealistic expectations on ourselves.

Back in March, when New York began to go on lockdown, I asked my husband to stop commuting to the city. From a health perspective, I saw what was coming. It wasn’t long before our schools followed suit, moving to virtual, at-home learning. As a front-line worker, my husband and I knew I would be in the hospital, because babies don’t wait. So, we strategized how to balance our current and new roles together, and put some new policies and procedures in place at home.

Every night I performed “the essential worker strip down.” When I came home from work, I took off all my clothes in the garage, put them in a bag, and popped them right into the laundry. Then I jumped into the shower before even seeing my family. Once I was all clean, I still kept 6 feet away from my kids.

No hugs at the end of the day, no kisses goodnight. It was the hardest part of every day.

When my family was eating, I ate in another room. I slept in a separate room from my husband. I felt isolated and in constant fear—the fear of going to work and the fear of coming home and getting my family sick. But I also knew I was doing everything I could to keep them safe.

Now, months into our new normal (and post-peak levels in New York), I still do the strip down but it’s definitely more communal in the house. We eat together as a family, and my husband and I are sleeping in the same room again. Still, there remain a lot of unknowns in terms of testing, infectious window, and recurrence. I sit with a heavy heart and watch as the numbers in other parts of the country and around the world continue to rise.

Part of my new routine also includes working from home when I don’t have to be at the hospital or in my office. And while it’s wonderful, it can also be terrible in its own way. It’s great to be more present with my kids, but I’ve realized that being physically present doesn’t always mean you’re emotionally present.

Instead, I am busy on work calls and doing telehealth visits. Even though I’m thrilled to be able to stay connected with colleagues and patients, there are days when my poor kids are begging at the door, “Mom, when are you going to be done?”

It’s in those moments that the “mom” and “doctor” parts of me feel most at odds and out of sync.

In the beginning of lockdown, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt as I scrolled through friends’ posts about “maximizing” time with their kids and going full-blown Mary Poppins with them. (And, yes, that spoonful of sugar is less sweet four months in—they’re singing a different tune now.)

But the point remains, I can’t be there for my kids seven days a week. And I don’t know if I want to be. It’s the constant juggling act—the same old story with a new twist. How to be mother, wife, partner, daughter, sister, friend, and professional. Only now we’ve added teacher, protector, and Instacart champion.

Sometimes I handle the guilt of not being present for my family with tears, and sometimes I channel that energy into crazy, creative projects. During stay-at-home orders, we built a “Hallway Nail and Spa” and splashed around with the newest Olympic sport: sumo water wrestling.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Stephanie McNally

But even when I’m in “mom mode,” I find myself thinking about my patients and the many worries of their own. There are the health care workers who are pregnant and wearing their personal protective equipment (PPE) and worrying about getting sick. There are the new moms who—even though we have no evidence of transmission from mom to baby—worry that if they get sick, their babies will too. There are the new parents who face the unprecedented stress of childbirth and going home with a newborn amid a pandemic.

This whole experience has made me reflect on the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves as women. You don’t need to be everything to everyone all the time. And yet, we’re still trying. If there’s one thing that I hope comes out of all of this it’s that we can not only change the expectations we place on ourselves, but also put in place real supports for working moms and families.

At the beginning, I was just in survival mode. Now, I have the space and time to think about what’s really important.

I love my job—it is an absolute calling and I know there’s nothing else I should be doing. I am focusing on the things I am passionate about, spending more time talking with patients, creating innovative ways to get patients to digital platforms for education, and advocating for better mental health support in the health care system for new moms.

And then, when I come home, I hang up my “doctor” hat and allow myself to really enjoy being present physically and emotionally with my family. It’s getting all the parts of myself back to a place of balance that allow me to fully appreciate days like today. I was on call for 24 hours, delivered five babies, and was able to come home, eat a family meal together, tell them about it, and plan our weekend fun.

Learn what Westchester Health is doing to protect our patients and staff against COVID-19

We are here to provide the care you need, when you need it. To learn what precautions we’re taking to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and keep you safe, visit our Coronavirus Digital Resource Center. To learn how we’re responding to the outbreak and what to do if you’re feeling sick, visit our FAQ page (frequently asked questions). Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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