Dr. Vaishali Zamre
A Mother’s Day special
I am a middle-aged working mother of two. I am also a doctor. My story is not thrilling or full of suspense. But since the day I became a mother, my life has been a rollercoaster ride. I am sure my story resonates with every working mother in the world.
I vividly remember my first day in medical college. Sitting in a huge lecture hall with 200 other students in white coats, I dreamt of a bright career. I saw myself magically curing every patient who came to me, felt pats on the back and heard applause from my colleagues. The Hippocratic oath filled my heart with responsibility. I did not know then what lay ahead of me in the future!
I don’t remember what made me decide to become a surgeon, but when I saw my name on the list of surgical residents and entered the surgical ward as a first-year resident, I became acutely aware of what lay ahead of me. Back then, surgery was a male-dominated field. They would say, ‘Surgery is not for girls!’ I was told by my male friends that I would soon run away from the surgical ward. But I stayed determined.
During my post-graduate residency, I got married to an engineer who was working in a different city.
Thus began my parallel life of being a long-distance wife and a post-graduate medical student. Those days we had only landlines and talking to my husband and family on the phone between my clinical duties was very frustrating. All festivals were spent in emergency duty in attending to patients with serious injuries.
I can still distinctly remember, on the first Diwali after my wedding, a 7-year-old boy was brought in with a crush injury of the thigh and needed an amputation. Trying to save his life I forgot all about Diwali. When the whole world is celebrating, we doctors are quietly doing our duties. After three years of running around the hospital, all while enduring sexist jokes and burning the midnight oil to study, I finally achieved my Mastery of Surgery degree. My male friends, who could not pass the examination, scornfully remarked that I had made it only because the examiner pitied me for being a girl.
Soon after, I joined my husband in his workplace.
The next few months were spent in travelling in buses and auto rickshaws, looking for a senior residency. In a city like Delhi, finding one was a mammoth task. Back then, we could not afford a vehicle of our own and thus began my journey to and from the hospital and home on DTC buses. Motherhood soon followed. Unlike me, my non-doctor friends were getting pampered with baby showers, while I was juggling night duties and the nausea of early pregnancy. I had to continue to work while worrying about how I would need to work until the day of delivery to earn every day of my three-month maternity leave. It was heart-breaking to hand my new-born daughter over to a nanny at the end of my maternity leave.
While managing the gruelling hospital night duties,
I used to call home endlessly to ensure that she was being looked after. Every day, doing my duty meant leaving behind a crying baby. I often had to make frantic calls to colleagues to fill in for me after realising that the nanny had taken the day off. Sometimes, I had to take my child to the hospital when there was no one to look after her at home. She was adored by everyone there, but I always worried about her safety when she was left on her own as I went to check on my patients.
Being a doctor means working every day of the week.
I envy my friends who chose other careers and get to enjoy weekends with family. My children got used to my unplanned work schedule—there were times when birthday parties were interrupted as I had to visit the hospital to attend emergency calls. They would grumble but gradually understood my responsibilities. They missed my presence at parent-teacher meetings, sports days, and stage performances. I felt guilty when my son once asked me why I couldn’t pick him up from the bus stop every day like other mothers, and when my daughter’s class teacher refused to hand me her report card because she had not met me before.
Being a working mother, I missed the joys that these small moments bring to your life. My biggest concern had been how my children would grow up to be since I had not been able to spend enough time with them.
However, being a working mother also has its blessings. My children learnt to interact with others with ease, be independent, help me around the house. They are pleasantly surprised if someday I reach home early. We, as a family have learnt to make the most of these moments.
I have learnt to prioritise in my day-to-day life after many hits and misses
I manage to spend some quality time with my family every day. My financial independence has made me confident in handling many tough situations in my life. I have come to realise that it’s impossible to be a perfect mother—and that’s okay. What is important is to maintain an emotional connection with your family and lead by example. A stable home that runs on high moral values is the biggest gift you can give to your children.