Updated: Jun 15
There is so much to be inspired by in the world. During my journey of TTC, I think back on my third year in veterinary school. Two final year veterinary students organized an inspirational gathering of women, called Women of the Round Table. They were inspired by an event they attended in the U.S. and wanted to bring it to the WCVM. In that year, a lot of the fourth year females were busy on rotations and could not attend, so the invitation was sent out by our Pawsitive Practice organizer inviting third year females to join.
Why was it a female only event? Because females encounter different challenges than male veterinarians. Women empower other women by sharing their experiences. I’m sharing these stories in hopes that it will empower women in veterinary medicine. But also to let other women in veterinary medicine know that they are not alone in their TTC journey.
Nowadays, 80% of veterinary students are women. Many of the challenges that women had 20 years ago in our profession are issues that members of the public have now accepted. Your large animal cow-calf or dairy cattle veterinarian is a woman like my friends ShortyBovineVetZheng and Dayman.DVM. Your swine veterinarians are colleagues of mine like JLaw_Bertie and MissPiggy365. And you guessed it, women love horses, and they are your horse veterinarians like my schoolmates Dr.RebeccaMcOnie and others (private instagrams not linked here). What I’m trying to get at is veterinary medicine in Canada prior to 1980’s was predominantly men. Now, roughly 50% of the working veterinarians are women, and with baby boomers entering retirement, we will see a shift of fewer male veterinarians in the workforce. In the early days, women in veterinary medicine were not given the same respect, not surprisingly, being smaller in stature and strength. However, nowadays, cattle producers and equine enthusiasts, at least in Canada, are used to seeing females on the farm. They are thankful to have someone come out to help with their difficult calving at 3 am.
Other than these early challenges for women in our industry, we still have another hurdle. That is working and establishing our careers during our fertile, childbearing years.
Even if you are not a reproduction specialist, you may already know that when women hit the age of 35, your fertility is declining. Now let’s play this out, you successfully get into veterinary school on your first try after completing a Bachelor's degree, let’s say starting at the age of 24, and four years later you graduate, now 28. You want to specialize, so you take a rotating internship, luckily your grades were superior and you get an internship in your specialty the following year. Now you’re 30, and you get your dream position as a resident in your specialty! You know it’s another 3 years but you’re driven and ambitious, so you’ve got this. Passing your boards, you are now 33 and you take your first ‘real’ job as an associate in a referral practice. Let's also say that your love life also went perfectly. Maybe you met your partner along the way, and got married in during one of those summers in between years, and your partner was able to travel with you to your new job location. But, you don’t want to start a family right away because you want to establish a client base in your referral practice, and your partner needs to establish their career so that you can afford a home for the family you want to build. So let’s say you decide to start building this family at the age of 35, two years into your career.
You try, thinking that since everything else lined up perfectly, why wouldn’t you get pregnant on your first try?
And you don’t.
Why aren't the stars aligning like they were for your career??
In 2015, tears flowed in the room during our session of Women of the Round Table. These mentors of ours who are strong, career-driven women shared their personal stories. Whether this was married, then re-married and unable to have children, through adoption, or health reasons that prevent them from building a family, or women who tried for several years and then it finally happened, or the lucky ones who didn’t need to try and successfully had children in their early 40’s. I know women who couldn’t find an appropriate partner so they vowed to do this on their own, spending $50k or so through IVF. I know friends, who struggled through numerous IUI and IVF trials to remain barren.
This is reality.
The majority of veterinarians are Type A individuals. We are planners. We analyze situations to predict every outcome. You make lists of tasks, setting goals, achieving these goals, then move on to newer goals. However, we cannot control our genetics or our reproductive organs. We can control our health or our stress levels, but if we put our careers before our family goals, or our family goals before our careers, one of them suffers.
In the words of Gary Vee however, CHOOSE HAPPINESS. Make a decision. Then be happy with that decision. Because, guess what, you won't actually know what would have happened if you chose the other one!
Update: April 9, 2020: I was compiling a list of Veterinary Student Blogs, when I remembered that VETgirl had posted about her own experience with TTC. So I thought I would also link it here. Dr. Lee's take on it is: stop pursuing your career to have children earlier, if you want to have them. Yes, it means prioritizing finding a partner or pursuing IVF on your own. I was going to do that if I hadn't found my husband. I actually last minute changed my mind to be in a larger city as a small animal veterinarian, instead of being in a small town as a mixed animal practitioner. I love cows! But, I also knew that the selection for decent eligible bachelors in a small town would be limited. You can always continue pursuing your specialty later in life! There are so many destinations and routes to those destinations, so try not to restrict yourself! Also, don't be worried about changing your mind. Be open to change!
For those who don't know:
TTC = Trying To Conceive
IVF = in vitro fertilization
IUI = intrauterine insemination
WCVM = the Western College of Veterinary Medicine