One evening after a exhausting clinic day, I was again the last parent to pick up my two boys from daycare. My husband was working late, so I was on my own. We drove home and I fed and bathed my littles entirely on autopilot. They splashed like Shamu in their bubble bath, giggling as I slumped by their side, waiting for the day to be over. Massaging the dull headache out of my temples, I remember thinking, “This is not what my motherhood was supposed to be like.”
Being a mom held a very special place on my checklist of what a “successful” life would look like. From the moment I decided to go to med school, I had it all planned out. Diploma? Check. A supportive spouse who loves me as I am? Check. Kids, check. Big girl doctoring job that would save the world? On the surface this looked like the final checkmark, but it didn’t turn out quite how I expected.
The professional track that I had worked so long and hard for turned from dream to feeling like a nightmare. I felt like a robot, working day in and day out, while my dream of helping others and making a big impact slowly eroded. That feeling followed me home. It didn’t matter how loving my kids and husband tried to be, I never had enough energy to be fully present. And yet, I kept holding onto this version of my life because it was what I had planned. I wanted to keep believing this was my calling, even though deep down, it wasn’t serving me or my family.
Being a doctor was supposed to the pinnacle of all my hard work in med school and residency. It was supposed to bring me fulfillment and all the good feels. But I was running on fumes.
I’d drop the kids off at daycare, commute to work still exhausted from the day before, down several cups of coffee to get through the day, walk or jog during lunch (if I got a lunch) to blow off steam and then do the reverse 10-12 hours later. Rinse and repeat daily. The underlying truth here: Life changed but my plans didn’t. I had mastered the art of ignoring the signs and was slowly going numb except for the strongest of emotions.
Sunday night was the worst of it and came with feelings of dread and despair. I was frustrated with how the healthcare system tried to fold me into knots instead of just doing (and paying for) what was right for my patients. I was frustrated by my day-to-day office flow and the disregard I faced as a physician because I was the junior in the group. I felt completely unseen and misused. Mother or not, I was not meant to be an employed full-time PCP who didn’t ask questions. But, in my mind, this was a sacrifice I had to make for my family. These were my golden handcuffs. We had organized our lives so I could go to med school. We had loans from my education and little mouths to feed. It was the path I had chosen. How dare I turn back now?
Having children changed everything for me. They forced me to see that the path I was on was unsustainable. My son, and the two other little humans that I helped create, were my inspiration and motivation to get my ass out of the rut and pursue a career that felt right for me. I wanted them to grow up and remember, “Mom really liked what she did.”
At first, I thought that meant quitting clinical medicine all together. In addition to finding a coach, I started brainstorming alternatives. She started me off with a simple question: What did I really enjoy doing? Hmm. I honestly couldn’t think of more than 5 things. So I moved to a different list, which I entitled, “What I’m NEVER doing again (unless we are homeless and desperate for cash)!”
I decided that I never wanted to work on an RVU based pay system again. That led to other Nevers: I would never give over my autonomy and control of my office schedule and call calendar. I would never put myself in a place where I was minimized for being young, a woman or inexperienced. I would never work for an organization that didn’t value my opinion, listen to my concerns or refuse to make appropriate changes. I would never allow patients to treat me or my staff as less than. I realized my “Never Again” list didn’t include anything I actually did as a physician. I loved talking with patients, nurses, and other colleagues. I loved being able to help guide patients’ along their health journey. I loved working with my hands on procedures and OMT. I loved working on a team and I valued being able to help people with my knowledge. That was my eureka moment. I didn’t have to leave medicine to be happy! But I did realize that I needed to leave my full-time job. So that’s what I did. Not immediately, but with a plan. And guess what? We were totally fine as a family. If we weren’t, it would’ve been ok. In the wise words of Mr. Weisman, “There’s a doctor shortage. If things get bad, I bet you could always go back.”
Even with that fallback, making such a big career move was nerve-wracking. No one teaches you how to adapt, even though we have to keep doing it time and time again. When I finally embraced this challenge to change, my life did a complete 180. And, boy, am I glad it did. I learned that when you make big changes, you’re not only making them for you. By taking care of yourself and making money in a way that brings you energy, joy and control, you’re giving your kids a truly happy mom.
Now, instead of rushing my kids to bed at night and out of bed in the morning, I cuddle with them every chance I get. Instead of blowing up at little inconveniences, I honor my capacity to practice patience, understanding and forgiveness. I’m far from being a perfect mom (#thestruggleisreal). But making changes in my career allowed me to experience the joy of mothering. I’ve become the mom that I wanted to be. More importantly, I’ve become the person I wanted to be. And my kids see that. No paycheck is worth as much as having my son look me in the eyes and say what he said to me the other day. “I’m glad that you’re a happy mommy now.”
I had to go through… Cranky Mommy , Angry Mommy, Numb Mommy. Too-Flippin-Tired-Please-Don’t-Talk-to-Me-Right-Now Mommy, And Very, Very Alone Mommy. Sometimes these mommies show up again, but it’s in small doses.
Overall, I am truly a Happy Mommy now. I hope the same for you, friend. Make that change. Take a step away from what is causing you to feel wretched and towards what will help make your soul happier. You don’t have to know the whole plan, just the first step. Your family will thank you later.
Dr. Errin Weisman is a life coach, podcaster & all around badass doctor mom in southwestern Indiana. Besides being sassy, she enjoys getting mud on her shoes, teaching her children to catch tadpoles and reading a great fantasy novel. Her website is truthrxs.com or hang with her on instagram for laughs and encouragement @truthrxs