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Live and learn blog

Challenges of a working mum

‘Clean me up, I’m sicky!’ 

My patient is small, demanding and not quite two years old. I have been on-call constantly for 24 hours, and am woken from sleep by her voice from the next room.

She stands up in her cot and proffers a glistening hand.  As I lift her up, she wipes vomit through my hair.  I give her a wash, take her to the living room and put on CBeebies, then go back to clean the bath and linen.  I throw on a T-shirt and some jeans before I am saved by the bell.

It is my mother-in-law, who has driven for an hour to get here.  I give her a brief verbal handover, wash the sick out of my hair, and put on my work clothes.  Within an hour, I am greeting my first patient in clinic.

Today is a relatively good day.

Although my daughter has yet another nursery-derived viral infection, I have a grandmother looking after her.  Much worse are the days when my phone rings and it’s her nursery.  Then it’s me or no one. My morning patients are redistributed among my colleagues, and my afternoon clinic is cancelled.  This is inconvenient.  The patients might breach.  And I’m going to catch it too, because since sticking my daughter in nursery I am going through my second immunological childhood.

‘Why don’t you get a nanny?’ ask my colleagues, sometimes out of sympathy and sometimes frustration.  The problem is, we can’t afford one.  I like my job, but I don’t want to pay to work, and I need my salary to pay the mortgage.

Having children meant I had the choice to work part-time.  My salary has halved, my training time has doubled.  I am a so-called flexible trainee.  Yet there is nothing flexible about me.  I can’t work on Monday this week and Tuesday the next, without paying for nursery places to cover both sessions.  And I need to give nursery a month’s notice about changing sessions.

I oscillate between thinking I have the best and the worst of both worlds.  I have an interesting, well-paid job that I really enjoy, and two beautiful children and the time to do things with them.  On a bad day, I feel as though I do neither role properly.

I envy colleagues who drop their kids round at the grandparents’ every morning, more so those who have grandma turning up every day at the house.  Is this the grown-up equivalent of the helicopter parent, parents supporting their children’s medical careers well into adulthood?  I am lucky to have on-call grandparents, but envy those with the full HEMS (Helicopter Emergency childMinding Service) at their disposal.  In some cases grandma has moved in.  One friend is in this situation.

I say: ‘You’re so lucky.'

He replies: ‘What do you mean? We have no choice. Do you think I really want to live with my mother-in-law?’

A specialty trainee