Bitterness and Ob/Gyn, alas, does seem to go hand-in-hand. I believe that, first and foremost, it is an incredibly important, busy, special, and stressful job. True, most of our patients are healthy, but when they get sick, they can get sick quickly, and when healthy young women or babies get sick, injured, or die on our watch? That's especially devastating.
I can't think of a single person that went into Ob/Gyn as a bitter person who hated women, but at the end 4 years of constant sleep deprivation, sometimes another pregnant woman in labor is no longer a miracle, it just means more time spent away from fulfilling basic human needs like using the bathroom, or eating, or, most elusive of all, sleep! It is also seeing women, not only at their best but at their very worst, hours of staring at monitor strips, worrying about when to pull the trigger on a cesarean delivery, wondering, if it is too early that we will be blamed for "unnecessary surgery" and trying to get to our golf game or (God forbid) home for dinner, or, if too late, we will, much worse, have a sick or damaged baby (and possibly be sued for everything we have).
Women can be very difficult patients, who require a lot of communication, not a problem for patients who are willing to return to discuss issues, more of a problem for people who wish to stuff a year's worth of problems into a 10 minute annual exam. It's persistent 36 hour shifts, often skipping breakfast and/or lunch, and 72 hour weekends. It's adrenaline burn-out, hours of nothing followed by a harrowing roller coaster. It's constantly being second-guessed, by our partners, other physicians, the L&D nurses, the patients, the internet, the media, ourselves, even when we *know* we are practicing to the *standard of care* for our profession.
It's the malpractice, multi-million dollar coverage premiums to pay yearly, the threat of lawsuits for up to 18 years after the fact, shrinking reimbursement (universal for all physicians), trying to pay our staff and our overhead, having to fit more patients into the same hours in the day, trying to be a good doctor for them, trying to at least support our family since we can seldom be there to see them. It's medicine, surgery, primary care, and caring for two patients all rolled into one, and sometimes it eats at your humanity.
Sometimes, you come home at the end of the day so emotionally exhausted that you have little to give to the rest of your family. Sometimes the sadness of discussing a cancer diagnosis, or miscarriage, or fetal death lasts for weeks or days. Sometimes it is impossible to *not* take your work home with you. Sometimes we care *too* much, causing us to start separating ourselves from our patients, building a wall, becoming callous, so the better to protect ourselves.
Sometimes we deal with the stress in inappropriate ways: too much wine, snarky humor, or snappish answers. Likely, many of us are clinically depressed. Many of us have little time to exercise. Because women Ob/Gyns are women too, and usually mothers and wives, who feel guilty when we are at work and guilty when we are at home, just like other working mothers. Because, despite how much it sucks, we still really love our jobs, think pregnancy and birth is amazing, and wouldn't do anything else (even if we wish we could); because we care about mothers, women, and babies.
Kelley Stoddard is the co-author of Baby City, and a practicing OB/GYN.
A version of this article was initially posted in Mothers in Medicine.
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