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The FemInEM Focus: The Unspoken Reason EP-Moms Can Work

Kass, Dara MD

doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000512769.00506.43
The FemInEM Focus

Dr. Kass is the editor-in-chief of www.feminem.org and an assistant professor in emergency medicine at New York University/Bellevue Hospital. Follow her on Twitter @feminemtweets and @darakass. Read her past columns at http://bit.ly/EMN-FemInEM.

New York Magazine published a commentary, “Ivanka Trump Should Show Us the Women Who Work to Make Her Life Possible.” (Nov. 15, 2016; http://thecut.io/2hZDckV.) The article called out Ivanka Trump, a businesswoman who frequently uses the hashtag #womenwhowork with her pictures on Instagram and Facebook. These images of Ivanka's perfectly manicured hands putting the finishing touches on her daughter's hair or of her jetting off to preschool drop-off in high heels are supposed to inspire working women to “have it all.” The article's author wonders, though, where are the women who help Ivanka take care of her children every day? The ones who “must work very hard to keep it all so clean, to keep it all running smoothly.” They weren't ever in these pictures.

Amy Poehler was honored in 2011 as one of the 100 most influential people of the year by TIME Magazine and was asked to give a toast at the TIME 100 gala. “I have thought very hard and long about what has influenced me ... besides Madam Secretary Clinton and Lorne Michaels..., and it was the women who helped me take care of my children,” Ms. Poehler said. “It is Jackie Johnson from Trinidad and it is Dawa Chodon from Tibet, who come to my house and help me raise my children. And for you working women who are out there tonight who get to do what you get to do because there are wonderful people who help you at home, I would like to take a moment to thank those people, some of whom are watching your children right now while you're at this event. Those people who love your children as much as you do and who inspire them and influence them. So on behalf of every sister and mother and person who stands in your kitchen and helps you love your child, I say thank you and I celebrate you tonight.” (New York Magazine. April 27, 2011; http://bit.ly/2hZvZl5.)

The last line chokes me up. She stands in your kitchen and helps you love your child. Can you see it? She may not always be a she, but many of us have someone who stands in our kitchen as we head off to work. She makes it possible for us to go work. She makes it possible for us to take care of other people's children when they are sick.

We also have two women who help take care of our three children. My husband's full-time finance career and my erratic EP schedule make it very difficult to give one nanny a regular schedule. Ruth and Laura are an amazing team. They are warm and loving, and pitch in seamlessly when my husband or I can't be home or at school.

We also have our parents nearby, a great housekeeper, Elizabeth, and lots of neighborhood friends who shuffle play dates. Yes, it takes a village, and our village feels more like a city.

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It Takes a Village

I recently asked other FemInEMs who made their work lives possible. These are some of the responses from our Facebook group:

* I have an au pair, a housekeeper, FreshDirect, and babysitters (my husband is an EM doc, too).

* The fantastic staff at our day care center, house cleaners, yard workers, high school babysitters, and a great family.

* Au pair, cleaning service, lawn and snow service, Blue Apron, and my wonderful parents.

* My fabulous husband, my nanny, a team of women who clean my house.

* Molly Maids, stay-at-home husband, my mom, sister, and best friend who babysit.

* Our nanny, Olivia, my husband, my mother and sister.

There weren't two identical lineups. Many women had partners with flexible careers, nearby family, or worked all nights. Others patched together babysitters, part-time help, and local day care. No matter the response, it was refreshing to see so many types of solutions. Almost all were mentioned in “Childcare Options: The Good, The Bad, and The Costs,” one of our first articles on FemInEM. (March 4, 2016; http://bit.ly/2hZBEay.) The article reviewed the most common child care options for emergency physicians, noting that no single solution was better or worse than another.

So why would Ivanka be reluctant to highlight the women who help her work? As mothers, we know how valuable these women are, and we love them deeply. We admire them for their tireless dedication to our children and by extension, our careers.

Unfortunately, I think these women also trigger unconscious guilt. “I always feel bad how much support we have,” said one EP-mom in our Facebook group. Publicly acknowledging how much help we have somehow underscores how we see ourselves, that needing child care or household help somehow makes us less capable to “do it all.” So we avoid saying their names. We sometimes pretend they don't exist. I think that's why there are no pictures of Ivanka's nannies on Instagram and Twitter.

Don't feel guilty. Celebrate your people. Say their names. Show their pictures. Tell your story, and be honest. We want to know who helps #EMdocswhowork.

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