Galit Alter, PhD: A Systems Approach to Vaccine Design
Episode #57 of the Charged podcast
PodcastMay | 12 | 2021
Happy Mother’s Day from the Charged team at Massachusetts General Hospital! In honor of this special day, we are celebrating the many amazing mothers at Mass General.
In this episode, we asked a few of our most recent guests to share their stories about parenting, the importance of having a community of support and how healthy habits can help to ensure that working parents (moms and dads!) do not miss the small moments of joy.
We hope you enjoy this special episode with the mothers of Charged!
This Mother’s Day, we are celebrating the amazing mothers in medicine. We asked some of our past guests how they’ve learned to juggle the demands of parenthood and career, and if it is possible to achieve the illusive work-life balance. For many, it has required leaning on a community of unexpected role models, developing helpful rituals to ensure there is dedicated family time, and appreciating the small moments of joy.
When reflecting on what it means to be a parent, Christine Ritchie, geriatrician and palliative care specialist, says that she has been surprised by how understanding and proud her children are of the work that she does, and has found them to be an incredible source of support.
Christine Ritchie: I will never forget the time when my son said to me, “I am so glad that you do the work that you do. And I respect you so much for it.” And I remember just being so surprised at that time, you know. He was probably, I don’t know, seven or eight, that those were his feelings. And felt deeply grateful for his generosity of spirit towards my work.
My children have been incredible sources of joy and strength to me throughout their entire lives. And I would say that the one thing that I never anticipated with children would be how much we could find joy in each other and in our individual senses of mission and purpose, and also in our shared sense of mission and purpose.
Similarly, Inga Lennes, medical oncologist, acknowledges that appreciating every moment with her children has fueled her in many ways.
Inga Lennes: My wife Amy and I have two children. And my kids are the joy of my life. So I like to tell people that we worked hard to have these kids. It takes a lot of special effort for two women to have children. And so we really appreciate them every day.
They add a lot of humor and grounding. And that has been something that's really important for me, I think, is that they provide the things in life that make life worth living, and are so important. And they're a lot of fun.
When thinking about role models, Luana Marques, clinical psychologist, says that she drew inspiration from watching her single mother, her grandmother and a good friend demonstrate perseverance, resilience and an unwavering commitment to family.
Luana Marques: My mom is an incredible role model on going and getting enjoyment. My mother doesn’t stop. She doesn’t take no for an answer. She reinvented herself to make sure we are fed[?].
My grandmother is one that really loves me to think about balance She really is big in this idea that the world is going too fast. And, if you don’t stop and really focus on your family for a little bit, you're missing that moment.
And then my friend, too, who I had the privilege of helping her raise her own kids. She had kids much earlier than I did. Really, her ability to sort of witness her kids, and be present, and be curious as a mother, is the third person that really helps me sort of put it all together. Knowing that I'm doing the best I can, and it’s not perfect.
Q: While many have looked to their own parents as examples of how to parent, some have found role models in unlikely places, like Dr. Ritchie.
Christine Ritchie: I would say that the person that I think about the most is a woman who was a great source of inspiration and strength to me. She also took care of her aging father growing up. And I got to see that.
She was one of these individuals who was deeply grounded, had profound amounts of patience and kindness and generosity, and demonstrated that on a daily basis to whomever she encountered. Her loving kindness to her children, and to all of us who were friends of her children, was something I never forgot.
For Dr. Lennes, her little brother has provided incredible inspiration for how to be a good parent—much to her surprise!
Inga Lennes: You know, I have to say that my brother is a really good parent.
And you know younger brothers. Sometimes you think that they're kind of goofy. And my brother definitely was. And so, when he had children, I think all of us sort of watched to see, like, how this would work out as a father. And I have to say, I stand corrected. I had made some assumptions about what my brother might be like as a father. And I was completely wrong.
And it just proved to me that, you know, many people can surprise you. He's very patient with his kids. And he's a great listener. And one thing I noticed, from an early age, is that he would listen intently to his toddlers and to his preschoolers, in a way that I hadn't imagined.
And what I saw was that he had this great connection with his girls, and that they talked to him. They shared a lot with my brother. And they listened to him when he spoke.
For Joan Quinlan, vice president for community health, seeking out a community of peers to lean on and learn from has been key.
Joan Quinlan: I have a set of peers. And I always sought those women out in the workplace. And we shared the journey together, and our struggles, and our stress, and our guilt, and all of those things. And we learned from each other.
And like many parents, moms in medicine acknowledge the challenges of parenting. For Dr. Ritchie, it’s been learning to carve her own path and shedding expectations about what it means to be a perfect parent.
Christine Ritchie: The biggest challenge of being a mom, I think, are the expectations we put, as mothers, put on ourselves. The greatest opportunity for liberation, I think, in motherhood, is to take your own path and take the path that you think is most important for your children to be their best selves. And not to own other people’s way of being a mother.
Similarly, Dr. Marques reflects on the importance of accepting yourself wherever you are and staying in the present.
Luana Marques: I think the biggest challenge of being a mom is to be able to accept that I'm trying my best, but that 20 years from now, I'm going to look back and go, “Hmm. That wasn’t really how I should have done that.”
And so not jumping ahead, and trying to stay in the present, and trying to do the best I can to develop Diego’s brain, and give him opportunities, without overdoing it, letting him be himself. And so I really always have to anchor myself back in the present moment. Otherwise, I'm way too ahead.
Q: For both Dr. Lennes and Erica Shenoy, associate chief of infection control, with challenges come opportunities for learning and developing habits to overcome them.
Inga Lennes: The biggest challenge for me is that there's not enough hours in the day. I think I wish sometimes that I had more time with them. So there's some sort of sacred hours for me. I try to shut everything down and be done with work by dinnertime.
And then, between dinnertime and bedtime, when they go to bed, I spend time with them exclusively. And I try not to look at my phone. I have also an internal rule that I try not to look too much at my email before bed, because then I am awake, and I can't get to sleep. I don't function well if I haven't had a good night's sleep.
Erica Shenoy: I really try to keep things organized, so that, you know, we are where we need to be at different times, or they are where they need to be.
But I think also, just sitting back and trying to enjoy those, like, really great moments. I had this book, where I was as trying to write down the hilarious like crazy things that they were saying. And I just have not kept up with it. So I keep telling myself, like, I write it down, but I need to put them in one place, because then I can't remember, like exactly what the words were.
So I think one of the challenges, and one of my goals, is to be better about that, and really just appreciate those, like, those moments, where you just enjoy having those kids, and the wonderful things that they do.
Inga Lennes: And then, I also think, too, that preplanning as much as possible with the kids is really important. I make a list every season, spring, summer, fall, winter, of a bucket list of things that I want to do, either with the family or the kids.
When we get past the season, I say, “Did we go sledding? Did we make hot chocolate? Did I make a gingerbread house?” These are some of the things that I do to make sure that they're getting the experiences with us as parents, that I want them to have, and to remember.
Dr. Marques dedicates much of her success to the equitable team that she has created with her husband and the permission she has given herself to not have to be perfect.
Luana Marques: It’s a team approach. I'm very fortunate to have a very supportive husband who’s also a professional. And we believe the balance is not aesthetic. And so we really look at our lives together, and think about if one of us stepping on the gas, the other one has to step on the brake. And we need to think about who is stepping on the gas versus the brake, so that the system works, right.
But it’s conscious. It’s not static, and it’s not perfect. There's no such a thing. Everybody ever tells you that they're balancing perfectly, there's not such a thing. There are days that you do better, there are days that you do worse. And I think the thing is to allow yourself to—like a pendulum, sort of find your sort of own momentum here.
Dr. Shenoy believes that things might never be fully balanced, but there is a way to prioritize both work and family. She realized the importance of communicating with her children about her work which, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, can involve her being away from home for many hours of the day.
Erica Shenoy: I don’t know how anybody really balances things. You know, sometimes things are a little bit off balance. And then you compensate for that. Family will always come first. It’s hard to explain to a kid like why you're not there that often, or why you're like getting home past when they were in bed.
I think, what we tried to show them, is that, you know, there's a role for what I'm doing, and why what I'm doing is helpful to the people I work with, and then others. And I think that that helped a little bit for them to understand why I wasn’t there, and why I'm so busy a lot of the time.
Similarly, Dr. Lennes views her partnership with her wife as a team, in which one person supports the other and helps the other to succeed.
Inga Lennes: Even though I'm in a non-traditional family, I joke around a lot that I've gotten a lot of traditional advice. And I remember an uncle of mine, when I got married, he came to our wedding ceremony. And he told me that the most important decision I'll ever make for my career is choosing my spouse.
You know, the person that you have supporting you when are home is important for all parts of your life. And Amy and I are a team. And our family comes first.
And I'm not able to do what I do without her help and support. And I also hope that I am very helpful to her. She has a career as well. So some of the things that I've learned over the years are that it's important to make sure that you have the right supports, and to realize that you can't do everything
Joan shares one simple piece of advice with parents everywhere.
Joan Quinlan: Make sure you have the time to experience the joy. And I know that sounds hokey and trite. But it’s really true. Because sometimes it’s those times when you're just in the house. You're doing something. And that’s when the kids wander up and start talking.
Those are the precious times. And so treasure them, really.
Happy Mothers’ Day from all of us at Charged.
Charged is a podcast devoted to uncovering the stories of the women at Mass General who break boundaries and provide exceptional care.
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