Why I am befriending my inner bitch.
Hey all. For context, this is a personal story that is not intended to alienate my male colleagues. Rather, I tell my story to empower men and women to effect cultural change. We all need to pay attention. Especially now that CoVID 19 has revealed chasms between tetonic plates when it come to diversity, human rights, and human health. Be well friends.
Why? I have a story to tell. A long, long time ago, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, there was a woman in medical school and training who was badass. You might even call her a bitch.
I claim all of the virtues below, except for being a canine. I do not remember ever acting maliciously, or being lewd, but I did have malicious thoughts towards my program director in residency, and I don’t recall being lewd, but it’s possible I was during any number of alcohol numbing sessions at the local bar.
- a female dog: The bitch won first place in the sporting dogs’ category.
- a female of canines generally.
- a malicious, unpleasant, selfish person, especially a woman.
- a lewd woman.
- Disparaging and Offensive. any woman.
a person who is submissive or subservient to someone, usually in a humiliating way.
It took her being a bitch; to her husband, her mother, her noisy neighbors, her old college pals, and her competition- particularly female competition, to accomplish graduating from medical school and getting through residency. This bitch still wants to pound some ass, particularly her program director, and about another dozen patriarchs of medicine. But, here’s the deal. The badass bitch who was powerful and badass got slowly pounded out of the woman. If she didn’t have that inner bitch, she would have lost her mind a lot sooner than she eventually did. IF she didn’t have to learn and practice being nice to the males around her, the professors, the attendings, the department chairs, the deans, and and that program director, she might have retained her badassness. But, there is a chance she would not be the Ob/Gyn she worked so hard to be. Be nice, polite, kiss ass, shrink to not be noticed. These are the lessons she learned. It was a matter of survival.
Of course, she started out as little miss perfect for her whole life. Perfectionism is a requirement for good and safe medicine, isn’t it? It was a shock for her to find out medicine was less than perfect, the people in medicine were less than perfect, and no ones as very supportive. It was a lonely proposition. Oh, of course, she thought she could not fail. Doctors don’t fail, do they? To fail at anything would be the end of her career or worse, a patient life. Of course, she already felt like an imposter because she was so unworthy. Imposter-ism is somehow bred into women from birth into the wrong gender, to growing up trying to keep up with and be like the boys. She lost her inner bitch. Instead, she had babies, made a string of poor decisions, and secretly hate on people that annoyed her. She had to be better than someone for gosh sake. Like I said, she lost her bitch. The bitch was the passionate, smart, articulate, determined, successful, on top of the world, making a difference, mindful, resilient starlet. Where did her bitch go?
She eventually, as is the case with so many women (even today) burned out, crispy friend, one nerve left. The woman eventually burnt out that one nerve when she suffered postpartum depression after the birth of third babe. Really, when you think about it, who wouldn’t get depressed after working an average of 100+ hours a week. One week right before she was scheduled to deliver, she worked 120 hours because she could not be a burden to her male colleagues. Someone had to do the work and it was only fair that she had to make up the 8 calls/month she would owe if she planned on taking a month off. She also had to keep her growing family on track, fed, and relatively clean.
After one month of maternity leave, she tried to go back to the end of her second year of residency. At that time, there was absolutely no accommodation for being a mother of three with a newborn or for breast feeding or a little less duties because she was awake nights with the new baby and adjusting father and siblings. She was on that program director’s gyn/onc service with her least favorite medical patriarch, called program director, and the very day she returned, Dr. Patriarch called her a nurse in front of his patient.
She was sure Dr. Patriarch thought he was pleasant enough and that it was not big deal. For how could he know her life from the comfort of his maleness? His generation of doctors were the best and the brightest. He had a wife who had his babies, cook his meals, and take care of everything to support the man. She wondered how he could he ever relate to having to be the badass bitch and claw your way through a competitive residency – when all she wants or can think about is a full night’s sleep and her swollen, dripping breasts. “Perhaps he was thinking about me nursing the baby and “nurse” just kept slipping out of his mouth. Or, perhaps it was a Freudian slip that expressed his true feelings about women in his program”, or she thought, “Maybe he had been thinking about a particular nurse. Or, it could be an innocent enough mistake? Really?”. She would never know. He probably didn’t even notice the error. He died before she could ask him.
The first day back “nurse” debacle, Dr. Patriarch innocent secondary to his ignorance, or not, had the effect of snuffing a large ember of passion for her beloved profession and dreams. He had stabbed at her uterus – and it bled. She felt it in her gut and her heart. No time to think about it, though because she had a patient who was very ill with cancer and Dr. Patriarch wanted labwork right away. “I got this!” she thought, and ordered the lab. When she saw the results, she saw that she forgot to order the CBC with diff with the labwork. Dr. Patriarch was furious, and worse, in addition to her suffering, she had to be stuck twice because the resident couldn’t get her shit together to think straight. She panicked. If you have been pregnant, or around a lot of pregnant women, you know that feeling of ‘brain fog’ she had. The perfectionist, imposter, and hugely sleep-deprived resident doctor was, within her mind was going ballistic at herself for the failure to be perfect and very real prospect of making a serious medical error. She didn’t tell anyone the details of her error because she was so embarrassed and ashamed – for having forgotten a CBC. It felt like her whole life could be ruined. She was already a trouble- making, baby-making female problem, so she never discussed it. She, instead, decided it was futile to think she could do it all like she believed up to that day. Shame at defeat kept her silent. Why wasn’t there anyone she could trust and confide in that could have talked her down from this mental ledge she thought she was on. All it would have taken is an “Are you alright?” “It’s your first day back, how can I support you?” “Do you need anything?” That would have made all the difference in the world. The simple act of relating to her as human, not an object or cog, and have the presence of mind to check in with her when she said she wasn’t ready and was taking 6 more weeks off. Was it hormonal? Sure. You would think an Ob/Gyn Program Director would think of that. Was it absolute fatigue, exhaustion and worries about doing it all? It would have been nice if he asked. Instead, she was left ashamed that she needed help; ashamed of being weak. From then on, shame and trying to stay out of shame took on a life of its own in her life. Where was her badass bitch? Who was this puddle of a person? She needed her inner bitch. But, she didn’t know it.
It doesn’t take much to accommodate physicians as human beings. It doesn’t take much to care for each other. It really doesn’t take much for attendings to at least ask how you their residents are. “How are you, really?” has such healing power, if our humanity is remembered. Is it too much to ask to not work residents to burnout, depression, and suicide? This author is sick when she hears that over 25 years later, this shit still happens to women in medicine. It is NOT okay! Eventually, women will be the majority, but, unless what is not working now is evaluated, studied, and addressed by individuals and institutions, no one is made to wake out of the resignation that is rampant and take responsibility. Perhaps an apology or two might make a difference. It would at least affirm that burnout, hazing, harassment, bullying, and unreasonable hours and expectations of all medical students and residents, is real. This is really happening – still. Do you think our heroine will ever get an apology from the Ob/Gyn program or the others that participated in the demise of her career? The author doubts it.
This author has a powerful and rehabilitated inner bitch. She knows how resilient and strong women in medicine and particularly mama docs truly are and promises to continue to tell bitch stories for the education of the next generation of leaders and for the relatedness, support, and empowerment of every one of those bitches.
My ideal client has probably been called a bitch a time or two!
-She has been told or thinks she is a/being a bitch.
-She might be temporarily disempowered, or looking for a way back to her powerful self after experiencing medicine as female.
-She may feel like training and life are happening to her, rather than as her creation, life commitment, and will.
-She may have experienced feeling broken of spirit, suppressed, repressed, second guessing, getting smaller, feelings of inadequacy, not confident, super hard on herself,
-She is powerful in certain areas of her life while powerless in others, perhaps stopped by previous events, traumas,
She wants to grow, transform, develop, improve circumstances.
-She recognizes her power, yet knows she holds back.
-She may have trouble tempering and applying her power; as judged by herself; as judged by others
-She is a recovering perfectionist- she relates to the concept.
-She is a creative
-She desires spiritual nourishment and energy
-She wants excellence in communication and relationships
-She is open to a journey and a process
-She is up to something, always growing and expanding
She wants to speak her truth and let the chips fall where they may