Thursday, July 10, 2014

on being married to a doctor

There is one book that gripped me and really spoke to me: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It must have spoken to many other people too, otherwise they would not have bothered to make a movie out of it. In it, there is a love story told by two separate parties, time apart. The husband spontaneously and unpredictably travels through time: one minute he is there, next minute he is gone to another time. Only a pile of clothes remains. The wife has to adjust to this schedule, live her life, as she has no way of knowing when he will be back. She also does not know which condition he will be in when he comes back. She has the most uncertainty, and she has to live with it.

This book really spoke to me as a wife of an Ob-Gyn, and especially as a frum wife. There are plenty of occasions in Jewish life when the presence of father is expected and eagerly awaited, and there are so many times that he is not there. Then there are all those times that he did finally come home, and just as you are adjusting to having each other around, switching from single person functioning to a couple, he gets called up, drops his clothes for scrubs, and is out the door for an unknown period of time. No weak protests that he is not on call, that you had plans, that things are supposed to be getting easier help. So you pick up leading your single person life, move the clothes, and keep on functioning until he returns and the dance starts all over again.

It is really lonely and really hard. I tried talking to other wives whose husbands travel. Most of then know exactly when the hubbies leave and when they come back. When those husbands come back, there is a usually a break for the mom: dad is around, he can take care of the kids, the house, mom can get out on her own, it is possible to plan a date, a family outing... while this life stinks in its own way, it is not the same. Over the years, I have met other wives of Ob-Gyns. Some do major retail therapy. Some do regular therapy. Some are depressed. But when it is just me, stuck in my house on a Shabbos afternoon because my husband got called up, and the baby is sleeping, and there are no neighbors popping in, it is just plain lonely. Moreover, I feel left out and misunderstood.

When my husband was in residency and I felt like the only person in my frum neighborhood who was making Sunday plans by herself, I looked for a support group for wives of frum residents. It did not exist back then. I even toyed with an idea of starting a message board myself, but I resigned myself to the fact that I will be dealing with my crazy life alone.

When we moved for my husband's fellowship, we met another couple where the husband was also an Ob-Gyn. Talking to the wife, a whole new world of empathy, compassion and understanding opened up. Here was a person who knew what I was going through! In fact, since her husband did not have a shomer shabbos residency, here was a person who had it worse! Oh, we chatted and chatted. Finally, I did not feel so alone. In fact, I used to pop by her on those Shabbos afternoons.

Since then we have moved, and they have moved. In my current location, I am back to being an odd bird. I often feel how hard life is, how unfair it is that I cannot plan anything and rely on my husband being there, or at least, helping me at the end of the day. There is a lot of resentment. Then there are kids, and homeschooling and life in general. At the end of the day, it is just freaking hard. Do not go on telling me about those kollel families: when they have marital issues, the rabbi tells the guy to take it easy, spend more time with your wife, relax, listen to a shiur, go on a retreat... When you are married to a doctor, people do not see you, they see dollar signs that your husband is supposedly making, and they assume that you are just stingy at buying your happiness.

Well, that same friend just alerted me to an existence of a group of frum women married to doctors. I asked her to get me in, and I found myself no longer alone. Many of these women have husbands still in residency, so some of their concerns and venting remind me of bygone days. But the matter still stands: it is freaking hard being married to a doctor while raising a frum family. It is hard financially (residents get a stipend which is usually barely enough to squeak by), it is hard physically (the husband gets little sleep, while the wive picks up more and more household duties), it is hard emotionally (husband and wife have to oscillate between functioning as a couple and as totally independent single beings, without reliance on each other). As I was reading through the topics, they all spoke to me. But the responses spoke to me even more: these women actually knew what the other one was going through, and they were offering support and reassurance to each other!

Becoming part of this group made my day. I often forget how much of my homeschooling stress is linked to my function as a wife of a doctor.

So to all the wonderful women out there raising their families while the husband is finishing his medical training or launching his career: you will get through this. You have so many others watching your back, ready to lend a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. It will get better; the children will get older, you will master the bedtime routine, the housekeeping standards will either relax or you will get a housekeeper, and husbands will move past the stress of essays and applications to actual practice. In the meanwhile, breathe, accept this new reality and know that there are others ready to listen.

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