What it’s like to be a doctor and a mother in the time of coronavirus | Mother’s Day essays
One is doctor is pregnant, one just gave birth, one has three small children at home, and one has three teens. Read their first-person essays.
On Mother's Day, doctors and mothers reflect on what it is to be both in the time of coronavirus.
On Mother's Day, doctors and mothers reflect on what it is to be both in the time of coronavirus. [ Shutterstock ]
Published May 10, 2020

Editor’s note: What is it like to be a doctor and a mother during the coronavirus pandemic? Women now make up the majority of students in U.S. medical schools, and many will become mothers. While two-thirds of the million doctors currently practicing in America are men, that’s rapidly changing. For instance, the large health-care company AthenaHealth surveyed doctors on its network and found that while 80 percent of doctors 65 and older are men, 60 percent younger than 35 are women. On this Mother’s Day, we invited some doctors who are mothers to tell their stories.

I’m a pediatric anesthesiologist with three small children at home.

Dr. Sona Mehta pictured with her husband, Ajay, and children, Arav, Avi and Aria.
Dr. Sona Mehta pictured with her husband, Ajay, and children, Arav, Avi and Aria. [ Provided ]

On this Mother’s Day, I can’t help but to reflect on how challenging it is this year to be both a mom and a physician. When I kiss my three young children everyday as I leave for work, I know that my occupation may put me at grave risk of contracting the novel coronavirus. I know that this year I will not be receiving the cute self-made trinkets my children—1, 3 and 5 years old—would normally bring home from school.

I did not know how much I looked forward to receiving these small gifts until I realized that with the children also dependent on me for their education, a Mother’s Day craft was not on the lesson plan. A typical Mother’s Day for me often involves working at the hospital, but my family will make me feel special by making me cards, flowers, breakfast and dinner. Normally, we make it a point to travel to our own mother’s homes and spend time with our families, a tradition that has also been halted by COVID-19.

Dr. Sonia Mehta
Dr. Sonia Mehta [ Provided ]

Balancing life as a physician and a mom has never been easy, but it’s also never been as hard as it’s been these past few weeks. I know that I am not alone. Parents are trying to balance the need to protect their families with the need to prepare them for what could happen if they get infected themselves.

As a pediatric anesthesiologist, I often explain scary things to children. I calmly express what happens when we place a mask on their face before surgery and they start to smell what I call “stinky” toots as they drift off to sleep. I am with them when they wake up from their surgery and are reunited with their families. It is challenging to not be able to reassure my own children when I leave for work every day that mommy will come home.

I would like to be using my off-time to read my children stories and play in our backyard, but when I have been away from the hospital, I have been spending my time thinking about supply shortages health care workers are facing. Communities have come together across the country to create masks for front-line healthcare workers. I knew this would be helpful and started creating masks with every extra moment I had.

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Now more than ever, I am juggling all day long. My husband is also a physician, and it’s hard not to talk in front of our children about our fears (and their hopes). Having to navigate this as a mom is tough because our children constantly hear us speak about it. They know more about the novel coronavirus than any young person should. I think it’s important that parents be honest with their kids about COVID-19. Although it can be challenging to put it into words, I encourage parents to use the available and often free resources out there to make sure they understand what is going on.

It’s scary, and there is lots of uncertainty. Our children are little. When mommy goes to work, she is being safe, we tell them. My children want me to come home every night, they tell me as I sneak away before breakfast. They tell me that they are proud of me. I want to be there for the future so that I can keep being proud of them.

We all need to bond together and help each other. There is a part for everyone to play. Wash your hands, practice social distancing, and stay home if you can. If not for yourself, do it for the children.

Dr. Sonia Mehta is a pediatric anesthesiologist and an assistant professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine who practices at UF Health Shands Hospital.

I’m an emergency room doctor, and I gave birth during the pandemic.

Dr. Nataly Saldana with her husband, Manuel, their daughter, Olivia, and their newborn son, Josiah, who was born just one month ago.
Dr. Nataly Saldana with her husband, Manuel, their daughter, Olivia, and their newborn son, Josiah, who was born just one month ago. [ Provided ]

It has been four weeks since I gave birth to my beautiful son. My pregnancy and birth were not what my husband and I had expected when we found out we were pregnant last year. What was such a joyous moment would be clouded by feelings of uncertainty and fear. As an emergency physician, I am accustomed to dealing with chaos, but all of my experience could not have prepared me to be pregnant during the first pandemic in the last century.

Last year when my husband and I found out we were pregnant we were both so excited. Who could have predicated how our world would quickly change. As an emergency physician, I knew it would be inevitable that I would have to take care of patients with COVID-19. I asked myself, could I risk the health of my unborn son? This is my job, but is it worth the risk? Will my husband be able to be in the delivery room with me? There was so much that was evolving daily.

Dr. Nataly Saldana
Dr. Nataly Saldana [ Provided ]

I immersed myself in reading about signs and symptoms of the virus so that I could prepare myself for what I would soon encounter. Due to the lack of information regarding the virus and its effects on pregnant women, my colleagues were voluntarily picking up all patients with fever so that I would not expose myself.

As we prepared for the possible surge of patients, I found myself feeling extreme guilt. How could my colleagues put their health and families at risk while I stand on the sidelines? Many of the physicians were living in separate households from their families, and my pregnancy should not be an added stress.

My patients also began to worry when I would walk into a room; many of them were telling me I should not be working. The stress and anxiety began to take its toll.

At 36 weeks into the pregnancy I wondered what would happen if I contracted COVID-19 or if I infected my family. I found myself undressing in the garage after my shifts while my husband distracted my daughter so she would not touch me as I ran inside to the shower.

One of my biggest fears was the thought of being separated from my son at birth should I contract the virus. My OB-GYN then advised me to try to reduce the number of remaining shifts. Immediately, all my colleagues took my shifts. I will never be able to repay them for their generosity and selflessness.

I suddenly found myself at home preparing for the birth of my son, caring for my toddler, but worried for the doctors and nurses at the ER who had become an extension of my family.

On April 11, my son was born. He came two days before my scheduled C-section. I waited for 12 hours after going into labor before going to the hospital. I wanted to ensure that I was truly in labor and would not potentially expose myself twice if it was a false alarm.

My husband could be with me at the hospital, but there were no visitors. After the delivery we were moved upstairs and were one of two couples on the floor. The eerie silence was a reminder of the tragic reality that the world was experiencing.

I am now living a life in quarantine as do others. Many of my family members have not met my son, and my grandmother constantly wonders when she might.

I am mentally preparing for my return to work during the first week of July. I will be there once again for my patients and my colleagues.

Dr. Nataly Saldana practices emergency medicine at BayCare’s St. Joseph’s Hospital-North in Lutz.

I’m an OB-GYN with three teens, and for once, I’m not rushing.

Dr. Catherine Roush with her children, from left, Quattro, Maya and Chloe, and her husband, Marvin, have found new closeness during the pandemic.
Dr. Catherine Roush with her children, from left, Quattro, Maya and Chloe, and her husband, Marvin, have found new closeness during the pandemic. [ Provided ]

You have all been on it. The hamster wheel. Some days it spins 100 mph, some days slower. But it is always spinning. I feel I have been on this hamster wheel all of my working mom life.

I am a full-time practicing obstetrician and gynecologist. So yes, that means a lot of sleepless nights on call. So many times in my children’s lives I would not see them for 36 to 48 hours depending on their sleep schedules and my work on call.

I had/have so much mom guilt. To make up for it, I would spin that hamster wheel faster. Rushing from the hospital after being up all night to do an early morning delivery to make it to a preschool Muffins with Mom event.

Rushing back to see patients in the office. Rushing out of the office for school pick-up or to make it to gymnastics class or a soccer practice or a volleyball game. Rushing home to make dinner. Rushing back to the hospital to triage a patient. Rushing home for bedtime.

Dr. Catherine Roush
Dr. Catherine Roush [ Provided ]

I have three children, now 15, 17 and 19. As my children got older, they got on their own hamster wheels — school, practice, games, volunteer hours, friends.

But everyone was on their own wheel. Everyone with different schedules, games, work hours, work travel. It was difficult to even get one family meal together a week with three active teenagers. Even though we all still lived in the same house, I missed my family. Although I missed them, I just thought this was how things were supposed to be.

And then came COVID-19. Schools went to online learning. Business travel ceased. We all were to shelter in place. My office hours were shortened. At first, I feared the downtime. Not knowing what to do with myself. Not knowing what my kids were going to do with themselves.

But the downtime has been a blessing to me and my family. We are now able to share a family meal every night. I don’t even mind doing the cooking and cleaning. We are able to share conversation beyond a discussion about our schedules and who has to be where and when.

My children have not spent this much time together since they were toddlers. They are forming adult relationships with each other that was not there before COVID. And if it were not for COVID, they would have never had this time and opportunity to do so.

Yes, COVID has been so harmful to so many for so many reasons. Yes, I am fearful each time I walk into the hospital and operate or do a delivery. Yes, my family worries about their exposure because of me. COVID has caused worry and fear.

But for me, COVID has also given me gratitude. Grateful for my health and my family’s health. Grateful for my colleagues for their intelligence and hard work. Grateful for my community and its boundless altruism. And so grateful for allowing me to get off that hamster wheel.

Dr. Catherine Roush is an OB-GYN who delivers at BayCare’s Joseph’s Women’s Hospital in Tampa.

I’m carrying a baby while working as an ER doctor.

Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne has been on front lines, working at three emergency rooms during the coronavirus pandemic. She’s due to give birth to a baby girl on June 18. Here she is gowned up with face shield and respirator during an ER shift before going on maternity leave this month.
Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne has been on front lines, working at three emergency rooms during the coronavirus pandemic. She’s due to give birth to a baby girl on June 18. Here she is gowned up with face shield and respirator during an ER shift before going on maternity leave this month. [ Provided ]

Emergency room physicians such as myself are adept at operating under demanding circumstances, but nothing could have prepared me for the onslaught of COVID-19. Especially because with a baby due in just over a month, I am not only protecting my life and the lives of those I serve — I am protecting my unborn child.

Every day, I walk into the hospital knowing that I am not alone. When I feel my baby kick while at work, it’s a sharp reminder of the responsibilities I hold both as a front-line provider and a mother. In addition to my baby girl on the way, I have an 18-month-old daughter at home. I am constantly preoccupied not only by my increased risk, but also the thought of my future child being born prematurely into a hospital full of very sick people, potentially with limited resources.

The stress of being a pregnant mother on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis can be overwhelming. Simple activities such as drinking enough water on a shift are more difficult as I am constantly wearing a mask or a respirator. Every day is a constant battle between my duty to patients and protecting my children at all costs. My plan now is to be as present and careful as possible until I reach a point that the risk is too great.

Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne
Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne [ Provided ]

In addition to protecting myself at work by remaining diligent with my personal protective equipment, I also have to think about if a health emergency does arise. I am helping my patients navigate this process by thinking about goals of care, what they would want done in a health crisis. I urge them to have honest and frank conversations with their families. As visitor access becomes increasingly restricted and our medical facilities and providers are overwhelmed with patients, advance care plans give patients a voice in their care, even if a time comes when they are unable to communicate with caregivers. These directives also help ER physicians like me make care decisions quickly, which allows us to provide expeditious, quality care when it matters most.

I am having to make these tough decisions for myself as well. The current crisis prompted me to sit down with my husband and tell him what is most important in my life, what I would want done if I were to become sick and how to protect our baby if I was critically ill. These are difficult conversations but must happen ahead of time and are something people of all ages should consider, especially as we combat this pandemic.

While the situation that I and my pregnant colleagues are in is unique, to simply be pregnant in this global crisis is a challenge in and of itself. Many mothers will not be able to have their loved ones beside them when they deliver. Hospitals have already banned visitors from sitting in on ultrasounds and checkups. Though this is for the best, it is still another tragic loss amid this pandemic. I hope these mothers know that the doctors and nurses caring for them understand the fears and anxiety surrounding pregnancy and labor, especially in this time of crisis.

Mothers like myself are strong, and we will survive bringing new life into this world, even during a pandemic, with strength and courage. Despite the many challenges coronavirus has brought on, it has not negatively impacted how I feel about my profession. I have been struck by the tenacity, compassion and community that has emerged as a result of us dropping everything to save fellow human beings.

People often ask me what it is like to work in an emergency room, and I tell them I see the extremes of human nature. We witness people in their lowest and most vulnerable moments but are also present for the beauty and infectious energy of hope, love and resilience. I am beyond blessed to have the love and support from family and friends who remind me that they are praying for me and that they are so proud of the work I am doing.

Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne, a faculty member at the University of Maryland School of Medicine Department of Emergency Medicine, has been on front lines, working at three emergency rooms during the coronavirus pandemic. She’s also due to give birth to a baby girl on June 18. She went on maternity leave at the beginning of the month. Her colleagues hosted a “clap out” for her as she reported for her last ER shift at the University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center. She wrote this essay for the Baltimore Sun.