The word disability has quite a few definitions as outlined in Merriam-Webster Dictionary. We are most familiar with the definition that addresses, "a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition that impairs, interferes with, or limits a person's ability to engage in certain tasks or actions or participate in typical daily activities and interactions." Many of these disabilities are quickly seen or identified when interacting with individuals. "Disabled," wasn't a term I attributed to myself, I am an abled body individual that volunteered often, played softball and excelled in school. I am the wife of an active duty officer and mother to six wonderful, thriving children. Albeit a non-traditional student by anyone's standard (coming from life as a stay at home mom to the rigors of medical school) but it was my life so I did not give it much thought initially as I donned my white coat. Disabled was the furthest thought from my existence.
However, as I introduced myself and got to know my classmates, it became apparent how vastly different I was from the rest of my class. I was one of just two moms in my class, no dads. Many classmates would laugh and look at me like I had a horn growing from my forehead when I told them that I absolutely wanted to be a successful physician and a mom to a large, growing family. I was told I was outright delusional, selfish, crazy, misinformed, misled, ignorant and naive. I was asked intrusive questions like, "why couldn't you just wait until you were finished", "don't you know how to use birth control?" or my favorite of all, "are you and hubby pregnant again? you look a little bloated." Interacting with my medicinal colleagues I started to see that many treated me as if I had a disability of sorts and implied as much without ascribing the label per se, simply because I was a mom. A disability is also defined as a disqualification, restriction, unfavorable, inferior or prejudicial condition, a quality or circumstance that makes achievement unusually difficult. Bingo!!! And as I begin to look closely at the definition of disability I began to almost somewhat agree.
There were many times in medical school when in truth I just wanted to give up. There were flashcards during bath time while listening to their day, color time (me with my anatomy pictures and kids with Mickey mouse coloring books), brutal 12-hour emergency medicine rotation shifts in a Level I trauma center straight hours on my 8th month pregnant swollen feet, 2 am study sessions and countless other moments where it seemed like my achievement was near impossible. Cruising on US state road 1 at 5 am headed to my away rotation at Duke University, one hand on the stirring wheel and the other cupping my breast to the phlange of my manual breast pump has been some of the most peaceful times for me in medical school. I missed many family days in the park, birthdays and some of my children’s big firsts. Classmates organized group text and sent me invites to parties, study get-togethers, and other fun social medical student events to promote class camaraderie. But they became more and more sparse as nearly all were turned down with the excuse that I had to be "mom-only" on the weekend to soothe the guilt I felt from my Monday through Friday tireless academic vigor. And I struggled with each class and task but no achievement or pass (no matter how narrow the margin) was too little to celebrate because it brought me closer inch by inch to achieving the dream many said was impossible. Meanwhile, my classmates breezed through courses, board exams, rotations and shelf exams. I have had to turn a four-year degree into much longer taking time off to ensure my kids' morale, education, and psychological security was the priority while my husband was traversing foreign grounds littered with IEDs.
Having kids was a restriction, certainly unfavorable at times for me as a professional student and without a shadow of a doubt made my achievement unusually difficult at times. So yes some could say I was disabled by the weight and the responsibility of a young growing family and a career military officer. I thought back on challenges I faced raising our babies and juggling medical school sometimes completely alone with a husband deployed often and for as long as a year at a time. But there were countless more times that my choosing to be disabled during one of the most difficult and demanding periods of my professional and academic career was so very worth it. Hearing my children meticulously recite the journey of food through their gastrointestinal tract from beginning to end, finding sweet drawings/messages they would leave for me on the pages of my medical books but most importantly the sparkle of pride in their eyes as they tell a friend, family and even strangers that their mommy is a "real-life doctor". I have grown exponentially in every aspect and role of my life simply because I had no choice since giving up was not an option. Every step of this process for me I limped my way through, tired and many days with tears in my eyes as I learn the finesse of balancing work and family, professional and personal. It has truly been a labor of love and of true passion. One that has touched the little lives of every single child in our home. If my children learned nothing else from this process they know what hard work looks like and how to study (we often did so together), that they have no excuse to not achieve, that mommy never gave up and that nothing you truly want that sets you apart comes easy. As I prepare to celebrate my final achievement as a medical school student...conferring of my Doctorate of Medicine degree, I am excited by the testimony that my life full of bumps, bruises, wins, and losses creates for not only my children but other moms that assume this "disability" early and often in their medical career as I did. I have no regrets academically or personally and am completely fulfilled as a doc in training with a big, happy growing family.