Labor & Medical Degree
“Push! Common, you can do it! Big push right here. Let’s go! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and relax for a second. Big deep breath right into the next one. Let’s go!”
It was five in the morning when Tessa became ten cm dilated and was ready to begin pushing. After four first trimester miscarriages, she was finally about to have a baby.
Tessa’s labor course was not easy. She pushed for nearly two hours, and the top of her baby’s head was barely starting to crown. Despite having an epidural placed, Tessa was still in excruciating pain. She wanted to quit so many times, begging for a C-section. We had FaceTimed in her family members, all of whom were cheering her on. Any time her partner stepped in to give her words of encouragement, however, she would tell him to “shut up!” and jokingly threatening to punch him in the face. Her partner was unflappable though and stood by her side through it all.
Time eventually came around for a shift change. The morning team residents, attendings, and nurses came in to relieve their night team counterparts of their duty. I saw a classmate of mine peak their head through the door gesturing to me if I needed a sub, but I wanted to see this through (no matter how tired I was). Tessa, still pushing, had seen all these people packing up and leaving, and this time she had had enough. She insisted that we do a C-section. As I looked around for someone to convince her otherwise, I realized it was up to me to do so. “Tess you’ve fought so hard to get to this point. You can’t give up now. You have to keep pushing!”
For whatever reason, Tessa seemed to respond to my voice. Some random medical student whose only purpose was to hold up her leg and count to ten. Time and again, no matter how much she fought us, when another round of contractions came and I said “alright let’s go,” she would take another deep breath and bare down with all her strength until I counted to ten again. Someone from the morning team took over counting for me at some point, but Tessa asked them to let me keep counting. I don’t consider my voice particularly soothing, but I was happy to fill that role for my patient.
Later that morning, in my tired stupor, I began to think about how going through medical school can feel a lot like giving birth sometimes. The day of my white coat ceremony marked day one of gestation. In the beginning, you start to feel some growing pains. Maybe put on a little weight and lose sleep. Some people may even experience morning sickness (particularly during anatomy). In all seriousness though, medical school is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to go through. Each day is like another contraction where I bare down and count down the seconds until I get to the next one.
There are some days when I feel so exhausted from pushing and I just want to shout at the top of my lungs, “I GIVE UP!” I wish for some magical caesarian where someone could cut me open and rip this medical degree out of me. The only thing that keeps me pushing are the people around me. Whether it is my family reminding me how hard I worked to get to this point, friends and loved ones singing words of encouragement, or mentors and faculty reassuring me that everything will be ok. I need someone, anyone to shout back at me “keep pushing!”
Everyone in the delivery room breathed a sigh of relief when Tessa gave birth to a beautiful healthy baby. Tessa was crying tears of joy at the sight of new life that she had brought into the world. Swarms of people came rushing into the room checking on the baby and on Tessa. My exhaustion now catching up with me; I disappeared into the crowd and escaped to my bed. On my next shift later than evening, I went to check back in on Tessa and her family. I was pleasantly surprised when they remembered who I was amongst the sea of people that day. Tessa looked at me and said, “Thank you for not letting me give up on myself and for getting me to keep pushing!”
Standing there looking at Tessa holding her new baby, I flashed forward to a day when I can hold my medical degree in my hands. The day when I can see the product of my difficult labor and (hopefully) look back with fond memories. I will not come out of this unscathed; I will proudly sport the stretch marks of my hard-fought journey. I will remember all those who were there to support me. Even those that just held my hand for a time and counted me through the contractions.