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Month: October 2018

Women Supporting Women Part 2–FIX18 Edition

“We support, we amplify, we promote.”
–FIX18

 

Last week I traveled to New York for a conference. I was nervous, as I didn’t actually really know anyone going, and I was leaving my husband and toddler behind to travel across the country, and I am 25 weeks pregnant.

However, I was still more excited than I have been about ANY conference ever. It was hosted by the same women who broadcast the FemInEm podcast that I have been listening to for about a year. This podcast, which advertises itself as ‘discussing all things fem, a little bit of EM and everything in between,’ has opened my eyes in more ways than one. If I am totally honest, it has taught me a lot about being a female physician, recognizing the misogyny that exists, highlighting that we as individuals are not alone, and that every voice matters.

Soon after I started listening, I decided not only that I needed to write a blog, but that my perspective was important. I realized that my experiences mattered and they might actually help others get through their own challenges. Fast forward 9 months—I have successfully launched my blog, continue to find inspiration from FemInEm, and I am excitedly jumping on a plane to have a ‘live’ experience with a group of women whom I admire deeply.

The conference is called FIX, and is it abbreviation for the FemInEm Idea Exchange (FIX18) Conference. As I suspected, it wasn’t just a conference. In actuality, it was two days of women (and some men) sharing honest, horrific, informative and touching stories. Stories about living with disabilities, finding voices in advocacy, personal tragedies, and growing up with disadvantages.

Each speaker, each story had its own flavor of humanity, and they included the most honest and raw experiences I have seen shared on a large stage. The presenters were incredibly diverse—all ethnicities, male and female (mostly female), trainees and attendings, EM trained and not, tall and short, gay and straight. Each person’s uniqueness was highlighted, and I appreciated that our differences were celebrated, recognizing that in order for us to be better doctors, we need to embrace and honor these differences.

If I could, I would have bottled up each presentation to re-examine, listen to and quote later, because each story was inspiring, poignant, and authentic. Each person taught me something new and as a group we were shown that we are more resilient than we realize, more innovative than we admit, and that we each have potential to be great, and likely already are.

Despite my fears, the audience proved to be just as friendly and accepting as the presenters, and I networked, I made friends, I shared my own stories, and I basked in the love of 750 women.

I met wonderful, impressive women from all over the country who in our side conversations shared their personal stories of infertility, depression, divorce and sexual harassment. Maybe it was the atmosphere, maybe the conference just brought these kinds of people, but I felt deeply connected to the women all around me, and was so proud to be one of them.

The official/unofficial mascot of FemInEM is the otter. The otter was chosen because female otters are smart and resilient and they work together in groups to form ‘rafts.’ These rafts are created by the female otters linking paws and it is a way for them to float together so no one drifts away. They take care of one another that way, and there is always room for more on the edge of the raft.

In thinking how this applies to us as humans, it reminds me that we have an unending capacity to support one another, and that we should be like the otter, willing to take others along on our ‘raft,’ making sure no one floats away.

My experience made me realize that I needed to further the discussion of how women support one another. Not only have I become passionate about this, but I also have been having a lot of discussions after my most recent post, and I’m afraid that maybe I didn’t do a good enough job describing what it means to actually put this idea into action. It’s almost as though it is such a foreign concept to some, that not everyone fully received the point I was trying to make.

Since I just finished an experience that embodies this idea of support, it is a wonderful opportunity to provide some additional assistance to help others understand how to put this type of support into action.

First, I know that we are not conditioned or trained to support each other. We learn to do the exact opposite, so it can be extremely hard to change our whole way of ‘being,’ which includes doing an entire re-wiring of our brains around how we respond to the women in our lives. Here are a few more tips to help us all put this idea of actually supporting our female colleagues into practice.

1. Become a mentor—find female students, trainees, junior attendings and befriend them. Talk to them, tell them what you know, and tell them it’s ok to be imperfect. Boundaries are important, as no one else will make them for us. We need to tell these women that it’s ok to take time off, it’s ok to put your family first, and it sure is ok to take care of yourself. We all love our jobs, but at the end of the day it is still just a job. A job that can be incredibly rewarding, but also incredibly draining. I feel like in medicine we need this reminder.

2. Befriend your female colleagues and then support the SHIT out of them. Are they getting promoted? Encourage them, offer to write a letter, congratulate them on this milestone. Is a woman in your department doing something you find admirable? Are they volunteering with an organization you care about, or have they been asked to be a leader in an area of the hospital you find exciting? Tell them! Then tell others so they can benefit from knowing you REALLY think what they are doing is cool. One of my friends recently was asked to be an associate program director for the residency. To be honest, initially I was a bit envious, but quickly I allowed myself to transcend that feeling to being truly excited for her and the opportunities she was being given by this promotion. I chose to see her new leadership role as being profoundly important for all the people she was going to be able to influence and help by her role. I transcended into being not only proud for HER, but proud to be her friend as she entered this new role. Then I tried my best to celebrate her accomplishment.

3. Choose to see each and EVERY women as a sister instead of an enemy. Maybe you have a new colleague who may be doing work that is similar to yours? Don’t ignore her and hope she won’t be supported in her endeavors, but make a new friend, figure out how to collaborate. Find out how you can work together to make your voices louder. Maybe there is a trainee who you are having a hard time connecting with, maybe she is operating from, ‘I know it all, you don’t need to teach me anything.’ Try to see if you can understand where she is coming from and try to connect. A lot of time in these situations, students have a lot of fear of being wrong, of being perceived as ‘not knowing,’ so they are slow to reveal their vulnerabilities, and where they might need some help. Try to be non-judgmental and provide a safe place for her to learn. Remember my post on shame and the idea of ‘psychological safety?’ When we provide this environment, our trainees can feel much more comfortable in letting us know where they are struggling. When vulnerability has a place to enter, compassion naturally follows.

4. Take ourselves out of the equation. Are you angry by another woman’s actions? Most of the time, people don’t do things specifically to upset another person. They do it out of feeling ‘left out,’ feeling marginalized or ‘not enough.’ If you are finding yourself upset by another woman, before you get angry and say something hurtful, put yourself in her shoes. Try to understand why she may have done or said what she did. Then, if you can, forgive her and move on. It doesn’t help us to be angry at one another, anger is divisive and can often be counter-productive, especially if it results in gossiping and back-stabbing.

5. See every encounter and every relationship as an opportunity to support someone. Is there a woman who did something great (like was a BOSS at work, or treated a family really awesomely), send an email to your supervisor and cc your colleague. Is there a woman struggling with being a new mom, wife, leader? Encourage them, offer to meet for coffee to share how you handled something. Connect. Is there a woman who wants to do something different, like try a leadership position or volunteer activity. Encourage her, tell her you admire her for her passions, and then tell those in leadership positions how appropriate you think she is for the job. There are SO many ways to support one other.

6. For all the men out there…Find a way for you to embody the #HeforShe movement. Please don’t blatantly deny the existence of the gender pay gap. It exists, there is research. Instead, find a way to have your department engage in pay transparency. Understand that you have an advantage because of your gender. Figure out a way to promote the work of one of your female colleagues. Try to be a mentor, a cheerleader and an advocate for women in any way you can. Understand that we need you too.

I challenge my sisters to spend a week NOT criticizing your female colleagues or trainees. Instead, see it as a way to support them, counsel them, encourage them, connect with them. I promise your whole outlook will change, and you will develop more friendly interactions and relationships. I also believe you will see how our implicit biases cause us to be more critical than we should be. We are unnecessarily and inordinately hard on each other, but we don’t need to be.

Lastly, follow FemInEm. Dara Kass and Jenny Beck-Esmay put on the best conference I have ever been to, and they also have a fantastic podcast on iTunes. Then when you like what you hear, plan to come to FIX19, I promise you won’t regret it, and you will begin to build your own ‘raft of bitches.’

Women Supporting Women–Why Our Culture Needs to Change and Ways to Do it

“Be the woman who fixes another woman’s crown without telling the world it was crooked.”

–Anonymous

 

Last week was really hard. I feel like I watched the biggest public spectacle of gender politics in my life. Women bared their hearts and souls, bravely gathered enough courage to share horrific stories of abuse, marginalization and assault, and the men in power turned their heads. Not only did they look away, but they dismissed the pain as meaningless, they dismissed the stories as not important, and then turned themselves into the ‘real’ victims. Then we watched our own, those among us who should be the ones standing up for us, vote with the patriarchy. They voted with the ones who keep us marginalized, who abuse us, who mock and ridicule us for being ‘hysterical,’ or ‘childish,’ or liars.

My fury from the previous week has morphed into rage, and not only rage against those in power that allow my gender to feel so powerless, but rage against the 53%.  Fifty-three percent of white women helped to elect our current administration, 53% voted against a woman who would have shattered the glass ceiling. These women voted in a way that  ‘put their racial privilege ahead of their second-class gender status in 2016 by voting to uphold a system that values only their whiteness, just as they have for decades.’ New York Times Op-Ed.

This same demographic betrayed us last week.

What is going on, why is this happening, and what can we do to change it?

White women. I am one, and I am appalled that we are even having a discussion about how to get my gender to care about one another. I genuinely don’t understand how there is a subset of women of any race that could think differently on this, especially when it comes to our rights, our bodies, and the potential futures of our daughters.

I am angered and frustrated by the lack of ‘sisterhood’ that seems to be present in our current society. I wonder why we aren’t looking out for one another more. However, when I think about it, I realize that when women are discriminated against, our competition with one another as well as our consistent back-stabbing and betrayal of one another is allowed to proliferate. I also think about my own history, and I see how I have allowed these competitive feelings to shape how I feel about other women. I have had many instances where differences or rivalries have overridden friendship.

As long as I can recall, I have been competing against other women.  In high school I remember vying for the top spot in my graduating class. There were five other girls also competing for that same position. We were ruthless and spiteful during a time where we lacked the maturity to handle any conflict without hurt feelings.

In medical school, I was no longer near the top, but I still had a drive to do well. There was a group of girls in my class who would transcribe lecture notes. These ladies were not eager to share any of their data, even if there was good reason for missing class. I understood their reasoning to an extent, but the refusals were mean-spirited, there was no ‘we.’ In these moments I learned to fend for myself and not rely on a ‘girl code’ or ‘sisterhood’ that would have been a welcome reprieve from the daily grind.  I learned initiative, but I also felt like I had to rely solely on myself to succeed. I didn’t feel there were many I could trust.

In residency the trend of competition continued. I went into pediatrics, which seems like it would be good because of the larger percentage of women that make up our specialty. In actuality, I felt as though none of us had ever learned to fully support one another, so I didn’t reap any benefit.

I distinctly remember feeling proud to have gotten interviews for fellowship, but it meant I had to take some time from my PICU rotation in order to travel. It was my female colleague on that rotation that whispered behind my back, judging my decision to step away during a particularly challenging rotation, and complaining to all who would listen. I wondered, why do we do this to one another?

During my second year, I mis-scheduled one of my only week-long vacations to see my family. I did everything I could to still go. I pulled favors from many of my colleagues so all my shifts and clinics got miraculously covered. It was a female chief resident who made the decision that I wasn’t allowed to make the swap, and I couldn’t go. I was hurt and devastated during a particularly taxing time in my life emotionally, and both instances taught me not to trust my female colleagues.

As an attending I have become more fully able to understand how ingrained in my psyche this mistrust and competition is, but I have matured enough to realize that it is also harming me and the women I work with.

I’ve been actively trying to change this mindset. It isn’t serving me, and it definitely isn’t serving any woman who comes behind me, or any woman I currently work with. I have also been contemplating, how do we change our thinking? How do we change something we have learned to do for so long? Also, how can we turn the tables on this and make each woman our ally?

1. Recognize we are doing it. Implicit bias is everywhere. When I feel anger or frustration toward any woman at work I try to ask myself what about this person is invoking these feelings? Am I being challenged? Is someone not listening to me? I think I tend to get upset if I am questioned about something and then not listened to. I have learned to ask myself, how can I reframe the narrative? How can I see this person with more compassion, so I am not feeling as though they are judging me.

2. Acknowledge the threatening feeling and talk yourself down. Usually for me, I feel twinges of envy. Or a feeling of being ‘not good enough.’ Then I realize, ‘I don’t actually want what that person has.’ Or, ‘they are trying their best, just like me.’ Seeing myself in them, and recognizing that we all struggle helps to keep me grounded in reality. It also helps to quiet the jealousy that may erupt.

3. Make friends. Lots of female friends. I have found that the biggest antidote to my feelings of inadequacy and rivalry are to make my colleagues my friends, my advocates, my support system. When I arrived at my current job, I felt little to no cohesion among the female faculty. It was lonely and awkward to try to make friends and I struggled with fitting in, feeling like an imposter, and trying to be good at my job. As I have grown in my position and transitioned from a junior faculty to a senior faculty member, I have also brought with me a need to create a space where my junior female colleagues can feel supported. I created a ‘dinner club’ which started with a few women and has slowly increased in size as we have grown as a division. I want to model a behavior that will only result in all of the women feeling more connected to one another. I believe this connection is vital to all of our success.

4. Withhold judgement. I know, I talk about judgment a lot. Partially because it is an active issue for me, as I try very hard on a daily basis to withhold judgment in any given situation. I also realize that most challenges, difficult situations and interactions (especially with other females) result from the fear or presumption of being judged. The instant we allow ourselves to feel judged is the minute we also allow ourselves to see another person as ‘other.’ We then separate from the potential community we could be developing. Everyone is trying their best, and most people probably don’t judge you as harshly as you think they do.

We women deserve to be in big happy female groups of friends that support, champion, encourage and love one another. I know how good it feels when I have a friend I can call about my frustration with work, my kid, my husband. Female friends are essential. I think we could all be more successful if we had a group of women we could rely on to ‘have our back.’ I also think these relationships are essential to find more satisfaction in our jobs.

Society will be also be improved on so many levels when we as women start making it a point to see the humanity in each of us, to try to have compassion for our fellow women.  To see ourselves in the assault victims, to imagine what it would be like to have a child taken away for months on end after reaching the border, or to think about what it would be like if we didn’t have healthcare for our family. Women have the capacity to change the world, and it starts with us supporting one another.

Adventures in Parenting–Toddler Edition

“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.”
–Linda Wooten

 

I took my toddler to the dentist this week. He did really well last time, so I anticipated an easy experience. The minute we walked into the clinic, he started crying. It was manageable at that point with intermittent moments of quiet. I was thinking, as long as he gets something to distract him, we will be ok. The clinic was great, they brought us back to our room within minutes, but as soon as we were in the room and the door shut, he started screaming.

This quickly transitioned into a full-on temper tantrum that had no apparent cause other than him being in a place he didn’t want to be. Watching this all happen as if in slow motion, his face changing as his agitation increased, I knew I had virtually no chance of doing anything to stop it.

As his behavior escalated, I felt the judgement of everyone in the office. The watchful eyes of the other parents, the pitying and reproachful looks of the office staff that were telling me, “you sad, inexperienced mother, learn to discipline your child.” I also started judging myself, thinking, if this were someone else, I’d be snickering to myself, “my kid doesn’t act like THAT.”

As my internal monologue continued, I became increasingly anxious, and started profusely sweating. Which just worsened everything. I was also trying my best to calm him down, but to no avail. I even considered (momentarily) doing the one thing I have vowed to never do, which is give him my phone. It would have been my ‘Hail Mary,’ a last ditch attempt in the hopes I could pull up a video that might quiet him down.

I felt like a total parental fail. It was awful. Fortunately the dentist was pretty nice and tried his best to keep a neutral demeanor. He quickly examined JP as he screamed, talked to me for a quick minute and let me go so that the tantrum couldn’t continue in his office.

I was mortified. I left the office feeling like the world was not only judging my parenting, but also my child, and neither were good.

Then I thought to myself, why do I care? I know my husband and I are doing are best to provide discipline and are working diligently to reprimand behavior that we don’t like. Other people’s judgments don’t matter, right?

In addition, children are totally unpredictable. To think that I have complete control over my almost two-year-old’s behavior is crazy. For anyone. I realized in moments like these, I have to learn to give myself a break.

Right now in my life I am personally trying to interrupt my own judgmental tendencies. I am also trying to stop feeling as though others are constantly judging me. In this endeavor, I have felt more free than ever before and recognize the constraints we put on life when we operate from judgement.

Despite my good intentions, adding my son into this mix made my efforts much harder and it was more challenging to dismiss other’s judgments. It was now my kid, not just me, and I became much more reactionary. Wanting to defend him, explain myself and stop everyone from thinking ill of my (normally sweet) toddler.

This experience has led me to also acknowledge that I’m feeling a lot of pressure these days around parenting. I’m feeling it from almost everyone I encounter, from parents of small children to parents of older children, friends of ours and mere acquaintances.

There is so much pressure and expectations. Pressure to have my son be potty-trained, pressure to have him in pre-school. Expectations that he be involved in swimming classes or soccer or music lessons. I feel pressured to have him dressed in a cute outfit, to take away his pacifier, to count the number of words he says and report it proudly to all who will listen. It is as if these things are a reflection of how much I love him or how much I will do as his mother.

I realize this is the state of parenting these days. Every parent seems to be afraid that their child will be average, so they do everything in their power to avoid that possibility. Teach them to read early, get them to learn a foreign language, encourage athleticism, etc. Hopefully the result is that they are ahead of their peers, and their parents are subsequently rewarded with other’s approval. I feel like it’s asking them to grow up really fast. So everyone can marvel at how advanced they are.

So much pressure. JP is not even two.

For me, the most important things right now are to teach him boundaries, respect for others, and hopefully to manage his emotions so he doesn’t have a temper tantrum every time he goes to see the dentist. I want to teach him to love, be silly, to laugh at things, to be infinitely curious.

I realize that the pressure I am feeling comes from other parents who are likely feeling unsure or inadequate about their own parental choices, so they project those anxieties onto whoever will listen. The more anxious the parent, the more forceful they will be about their opinions about pre-school, or potty-training or pacifier removal. I am learning to listen and nod, and read my audience before I calmly explain that I have no intention to enroll him in pre-school any time soon.

The reality for us as parents is that each child is different, and each will have their own strengths and weaknesses. It is not my decision what those will be, regardless of how many classes I put him in. I’m finding myself struggling with all of it. I mean, I want my kid to grow up with opportunities, too. I want him to explore his interests, learn what it feels to be successful and learn to enjoy the process of learning.

But. I don’t want to impose my agenda, my wants and needs, as I want him to figure things for himself. I want him to learn to be his own individual, to learn what he likes to do, what his passions are.

I am constantly asking myself, ‘Do I have to do anything right now?’ Will his future trajectory be solely decided whether or not he learns to play soccer at 2?’

Or can I let us continue to luxuriate in the ‘unplanned play.’ To use our imaginations, to let each day we have together proceed in the most organic way.

I have learned that for me,  too much on the calendar is stressful. Could that be true for our children as well? Or am I being short-sighted—and the more chances they have to find passions, the more likely they will, which will set them on a trajectory for a purposeful life.

I think I am struggling so much  because I realize it is just the beginning. We have years of this coming, and I think it is only going to get worse. Soon our lives will become more complicated and he will have his own thoughts and opinions about what he wears, what he likes and what he wants to do. Each of these ‘seasons’ of our lives are going to be met with many other people’s expectations, judgments and an enormous amount of pressure.

I think for now I am going to hit ‘pause.’ Take a breath, and not actually DO anything right now. We have lots of time. 

 

What about you? Do any of you struggle with the pressures being placed by others?