5 tips to start and grow a happy family during residency

Timothy M. Smith , Contributing News Writer

Residency often coincides with the time when many young physicians would like to start families, but undertaking these two life events simultaneously can be daunting. A third-year family medicine resident with three young children recently shared her tips for making it work with minimal stress.

When Chelsea Slade, MD, and her husband began talking about having kids, she was in medical school and he was in law school, and they decided it would be best to hold off on starting a family until after her residency. But as his third year of law school progressed with no job offer, their plans shifted. He agreed to stay home so they could start a family right away.

Third year resident with her family

“We got pregnant and then a couple weeks later, he got a job offer,” Dr. Slade said. “But we were then able to work things out with my parents, so for about nine months we lived with them. They helped take care of the baby when I went back to school, and it all went really well.”

And when Dr. Slade started her residency, at McKay-Dee Family Medicine Residency at Intermountain Healthcare, in Ogden, Utah, her husband was able to work from home, so they decided to have another child, who was delivered at the end of Dr. Slade’s intern year. That too went well, and they soon decided to have their third, who arrived eight weeks ago, at the start of Dr. Slade’s third year of residency.

“Each time, we thought it would work out if we had a kid sometime in the next 18 months, and then we got pregnant right away,” Dr. Slade said, “which was great, but at the same time it was kind of surprising.”

Despite the surprises, they were able to continue building their family and their careers because they had considered what it would take from the start. Dr. Slade shared their game plan, as well as advice for taking the stress and guesswork out of starting a family and maintaining a happy marriage during residency.

This includes communicating your plans. “We made sure we were using good contraception until we were ready to have a kid,” Dr. Slade said. “And we also planned how we would work it out logistically—really being conscious of when we were ready to start our family. That said, a lot of pregnancies don’t come when they are wanted, or take unexpected turns, so we were ready to be flexible too. “We communicated our wishes to my medical school advisors and, later, to my residency coordinator—keeping them updated when I did become pregnant or if there were other developments—just so we could work the logistics out as easily as possible.”

It will provide immediate peace of mind. “We made sure our health insurance, our finances, our rainy-day fund, my short-term disability and my FMLA paperwork were all in order,” she said. “So if we ran into a major complication in a pregnancy or otherwise, we wouldn’t be stressed about the financial side of things.”

Couples need to make and keep time to themselves. “We still go out on real dates where we’re by ourselves several times a month,” she said. “That’s been really important, because it’s easy to fall into the rut of just child care and work and not really nurturing your own marriage.”

Don’t worry about whose turn it is. “At home, it’s easy to pretend I don’t smell a poopy diaper and just wait for my husband to notice it and take care of it, but that leads to resentment towards one another and tensions,” Dr. Slade said. “So it’s better, when you notice something needs be done, to just do it. It leads to a happier home and a happier marriage.”

You don’t need extra stress. “Sometimes one of our parents will come stay with us, and our parenting philosophies don’t always totally mesh,” she said. “So I have to step back and think, ‘Okay, if someone gives my daughter a couple extra cookies after dinner, is that going to affect her negatively ten years from now? No, probably not. That’s fine. I can let it go.’”

Dr. Slade’s family’s plans extend well beyond her residency too.

“I’m planning on taking a position as a hospitalist, which is a little unconventional for family medicine, and working part time,” Dr. Slade said. “My husband is going to expand his legal practice and work part time to full time. We’d like to have more kids. And we’d like to move up somewhere we can have a little more land and start a family farm. We really like it here.”