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The juggling act
by Cynthia Furlong Reynolds
From the April, 2021 issue
Covid-19 put new demands on physicians and intensified family responsibilities for parents of young children. Physician moms faced both challenges at once.
Like many two-career couples, Mary and David Jarzebowski began an exhausting juggling act when Michigan’s lockdown began last year. Mary, an anesthesiologist, is on the U-M medical faculty and works in the ICU. David is a product manager who works from a home office and used to travel monthly. When their daughters’ elementary and preschools closed and extracurricular lessons were cancelled, the parents had to invent workarounds to manage their care and education–heightened by the fear that Mary could bring the virus home from the hospital.
To formulate a plan, she turned to two other physician moms whose husbands, both lawyers, were also struggling to balance work with their new parent-educator responsibilities. She says all agreed that “medical personnel shouldn’t quit their jobs during a pandemic.” If things got worse, the husbands would be the ones to stop working–despite fears about difficulties of reentering the workforce later.
It never came to that. As new infections declined, their younger daughter Lucy returned to preschool. Alice, the older, is still studying at home, but her formerly virtual ballet and violin classes are now held in person, helping make it possible for David to continue working full-time, though often late into the night. During the day, Mary says, he “holds meetings and takes phone calls through the constant interruptions, which he navigates with far more grace than I could.”
She’s noticed fewer publications by first-time female authors in the past year, and her own scholarly work has suffered. “As a mother and physician, I finally acknowledged that for the duration of the pandemic, I will not be my most productive,” she says. “I will sleep less. Our family will appear less well groomed. My children will not learn as well at home with a working father and an intensivist mother as they do in their classrooms with their talented teachers.”
But as vaccines promise an eventual return to “normal” stress levels, ‘Jarzebowski sees a silver lining. “We have a renewed perspective on what’s important,” she says. “We realize how overwhelmed we were with busyness before the pandemic. That stopped abruptly. Suddenly, our whole family began playing games and watching shows together. We’ll keep that change in mind when this is all over.”