The latest issue of The Endocrinologist explores some of the issues facing women in endocrinology. As an addendum to her article ‘Addressing the Challenges’, Anna Crown imparts her ‘hints and tips for those in the thick of it’…
Choosing a partner
When I got married, the vicar alluded to a panel on the Bayeux tapestry. The text states that ‘the bishop comforted the troops’, whilst the illustration shows the bishop with a big pointy spear, prodding the troops out into battle. This, he said, was a true interpretation of the term ‘comfort’ in the context of marriage; that each partner should encourage the other to take on new challenges. This is important. Pick a partner to ‘comfort’ you, but not one who deep down is looking for a ‘traditional wife’ (whatever their protestations).
The early post-partum weeks and months are hard. The pernicious combination of prolactin and sleep deprivation on cortical function cannot be over-stated. I took the opportunity of the annual SfE meeting to wean my children, stuffing spare breast pads into my suitcase as I waved good-bye, relieved when the ‘prolactin fog’ started to lift. As you juggle work and family life, particularly at vulnerable moments, you will get comments from some relatives and colleagues implying that you should really dedicate yourself to your children: do not let these undermine you. By the time you are thinking about having a family, you will have worked supremely hard to get to that point of your career. Your work is a vital part of your identity. Although initially, when you have paid for the best childcare you can afford, there will be little left of your salary, you have to focus on the long arc of your career, not the short term.
The ‘deadly sins’ of guilt and envy are the most likely to trip you up. Feeling like a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’, you can feel guilty about short-changing your colleagues and your family. You will over-indulge your children to make up for the perceived ‘semi-neglect’ they suffer. By why feel guilty if you create employment for child-minders and cleaners? If you are lucky enough to find someone to look after your child who loves them, why envy that relationship? You may miss some ‘events’ (first steps or first words), but you will be there for many more. You will experience double standards: when your male colleague disappears to watch their child compete at sports day, the nurses or secretaries will say what a fantastic involved Dad he is; when a woman slips off, the same people may make disparaging comments and wonder when the time’s going to be made up. You will also achieve quiet triumphs: I remember the secret satisfaction of arriving on time for my morning clinic, having de-loused the entire family (including my husband), with only a whiff of ‘Eau de Derbac’ emanating from my slightly crispy hair.
When children go to school, they realise that there is another model of motherhood, which involves standing at the gate, going into class to read, and baking cakes. Alison Pearson’s heroine (in her book ‘I don’t know how she does it’) describes creating ‘distressed mince pies’ for the School Christmas Fair, from M&S mince pies, battered slightly with a rolling pin to give them an ‘authentically home-made’ look! Your children also realise that they have to be far sicker to earn a day off school than their class-mates, and will usually be packed off dosed up with Calpol. But as they enter the peaceful ‘middle childhood’ era, they will become pleasingly independent, relieved not to have ‘helicopter parents’, quietly proud of their ‘working Mum’, and slightly disconcerted if you are at home in the late afternoon when they are used to fixing themselves a snack and watching mindless TV programmes. My kids are far more alarmed if I suddenly attack the kitchen cupboards, like a crazed 1950s house-wife: they would rather the pre-millennial tin of mixed pulses stayed at the back of the cupboard, wreathed in cobwebs.
Anna Crown – Consultant Endocrinologist and Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust
Anna’s article ‘Addressing the Challenges’ appears on page 27 of the summer issue of The Endocrinologist, the quarterly magazine from the Society for Endocrinology.