Sunday, February 24, 2013

Another story: LBC

I continue to be surprised by the responses I have received from my recent posts. I have to say that I have felt so alone with this in the past, yet I continue to get comments from friends, old acquaintances, classmates, and family, both LDS and not LDS who have had similar experiences or feelings in their struggle to juggle their roles as women in this often unforgiving world. It is so nice to see that we are not alone, even though it sadly means there is a lot of this kind of negativity going around. It makes me even more desirous to be supportive to all of my sisters out there! I think we are all just “doing it” the best we can, as my MIL would say ever so wisely. I hope we can try that much more to be helpful and supportive of each other as women.

I received this message through Facebook from an old friend from BYU. She was one of my first six roommates at BYU my freshman year. I thought her message was so inspiring I asked for her permission to share and she graciously accepted. I also pirated this adorable picture from her profile.


From Lindsay Blonquist Chesser:

Hey Erin! I've loved reading your story on your blog lately! I wanted to write to you and tell you my experience...

I didn't ever really want to be a stay-at-home-mom. I wanted to be a scientist. I wanted to discover things and make a huge impact on the world. However, I also really loved little kids. During my senior year of high school, we had to go around the room and tell what we planned to do as a career. When it got to me, I said I thought I wanted to be a preschool teacher. The whole class belittled me! They said I should do something more with myself and my life! (A back-handed compliment maybe, but made me feel stupid). So, I entered BYU determined to major in Microbiology and carry out that science dream.

After a semester, though, it just felt wrong. I know that sounds ridiculous...I wasn't really even into major classes...but I just couldn't shake the feeling that it wasn't what I was supposed to do. After a meeting with my microbiology advisor, and lots of prayers, I switched to Early Childhood Education. I then experienced a whole different scenario at BYU (compared to yours)...I was labeled as someone who was just hoping to get married...who would spend my life at home with a bunch of kids so I didn't really need to study...what could be that hard about being a teacher? Didn't they give us classes in laminating and writing on the chalkboard? ...the list could go on...drove me crazy.

I left BYU unmarried (what!? an education major unmarried!) but I was happy because it meant I could go back to Texas and I didn't have to follow a husband somewhere. I chose to teach in an urban district about 30 minutes from my parents' home. I was interviewed by an alternative school in that district and took a huge leap and accepted their offer to teach there. I didn't fully understand what I had gotten myself into...but basically, I had agreed to teach children in grades 1-4 that had such difficult behavior issues that they had either a) failed all of the other behavior programs in the district, b) broken the law in a very serious way and had to be removed from the general population, or c) did something very serious and violent to a classmate or teacher and had to be removed from the general population.

Oh the stories I could tell you! A first grader that came to me because he was using who threatened to kill their teachers, a kid who kicked another kid so hard that he had permanent testicle damage, kids who had mental health issues, kids who lived in shacks and only ever got the chance to eat at school, kids who thought it was a regular part of life to go to jail (everyone they knew had been at least once...), etc. The things that these kids would say and do should never be part of a young child's life! And as a side note, I often had multiple, if not, all of the grades at the same time and I was supposed to teach them the regular curriculum and help them get back on track and fill all of their learning gaps so they could pass the standardized tests. Ha! (Those classes in laminating and chalkboard writing-which I didn't have-would not have prepared me for that!)

I got married after my first year of teaching and continued to teach for 4 more years after that. At that point we decided to start our family and had a baby girl. I decided to stop teaching. I got a lot of comments from my coworkers about that...that they wish they could just quit...that I would be wasting my life...that I didn't understand how bored I would be...that I was throwing my career away. Honestly, there is no way I could have continued that job and been any kind of good parent to a child. It drained me emotionally and physically. It was a dark cloud always hanging over my head. I enjoyed helping the kids and doing everything I could for them, but to be immersed in so much sadness and violence and anger is difficult. I had a really difficult adjustment (turns out I'm just not that good at life transitions) and hated staying home for the first 6 months. Then I figured out I needed to treat this just like a career--do my best, use all of my skills, find a way to be happy even during the hard days.

So, here we are today, my daughter is just about 16 months old, and I am loving staying at home with her. We have so many adventures together and I love using my skills and knowledge for her benefit. I don't regret my decision. However, I do still get remarks from people (especially since a lot of people I know are not LDS) neighbor, a working woman with a masters degree is always asking me when I'm going back to work...when I'm going to stop taking my break...or saying that I'm spoiled or 'so lucky.' That really makes me mad. We are making BIG sacrifices for me to stay home. We live in a small house, we drive really old cars, we have a strict budget for everything, etc., etc...Or when I'm out and about places and meeting people for the first time and they ask what I do...and I tell them I'm a mom...they are completely turned off by it and subsequently treat me like I'm dumb. Not a great feeling. The straw that broke the camels back, though, was a young BYU kid calling the other night asking for us to donate to the Annual Fund. He was calling for my husband, but chatted with me since I was available and asked if I had also graduated from BYU. When I told him I had, he asked what I had studied...I told him...and then he laughed and in a very belittling tone said, "I bet you're still really using that...heh heh." I wanted to reach through the phone and punch him in the face. What an idiot. He didn't even ask if we had kids or if I stayed at home or anything...he just assumed...and I hate that part of the LDS culture.

Anyway, sorry this is so long...I just wanted to say that I admire what you are doing. I love strong women. I want my daughter to be strong and know/believe that she can do anything she wants to do...and that she is smart and capable and all of that still applies whether she chooses to be a dentist, doctor, lawyer, teacher, or SAHM, etc...we are all important and should support each other no matter what!

    The flu

    I don't recall any fainting episodes once I was in dental school. I found myself quite nervous on the day we had to practice IVs on each other but I ended up okay. I've had multiple blood draws since then and usually do fine. I take precautions like sitting down or even lying down during blood testing and I recognize when a fainting spell is coming on (the biggest being the desire to flee to the bathroom, which I tend to avoid now).

    During my oral surgery rotation I did have a close call. I was in the OR and was actually scrubbed (wearing the sterile gown and gloves for surgery), assisting with a surgery. I began to feel very ill. I sat down for a few minutes but this did not seem to help. I ended up in the hallway, sitting down on the floor. I waited many minutes and did not feel better. I ended up going home to bed. Turns out I had influenza and was home sicker than I've ever been in bed for days. But, I didn't faint!

    Later during application time, I heard that one of the oral surgery staff at the college of dentistry was reviewing with another student who in our class was interested in oral surgery. When my name was pointed out, she told them I wasn't going to get in because I "fainted in the OR."

    I was mortified! I wondered how she had known since she didn't even work at the hospital. And for once, I hadn't fainted--I was actually truely quite ill. It seemed ironic to me that although I am a fainter, this time I hadn't actually fainted and I was worried it would have some bearing as she said on my chances. Luckily she had little to no bearing on the application process.

    Saturday, February 23, 2013


    The second time I fainted I was in my sister's dorm my Freshman year of college at BYU. I had to have blood drawn for a life insurance application. I warned the visiting nurse that I get a little faint with blood draws. She drew one vial as I sat with her at the table. I was relieved when she finished as I was just starting to feel dizzy. Then she pulled out the next vial to fill and BAM. Next thing I remember, I was on the ground with my feet all caught under the chairs. Luckily this time I didn't hit my head or lose my bladder! I am a little surprised she didn't take more precautions, like have me sit on the soft couch instead of on hard chairs next to a hard table, but luckily I wasn't hurt.

    Maybe you've caught on that my fainting incidences tend revolve around blood, particularly my own. During dental school I was in a pre-dental class. An oral surgeon was showing us pictures of the cool things he has done. I was amazed at the gunshot wound repairs (pretty gory pictures) and some of the other surgeries he had performed without any signs of squeamishness. But when he turned out the lights and started showing a video of wisdom tooth extractions I began to feel very sick (ironic, I's embarrassing to admit this). All I could think of was, "I can't believe they did that to ME!" Of course, I ran to the bathroom just outside our classroom after debating with myself what to do. I sat on the bathroom floor against the wall in the entry way, hoping this would prevent me from passing out.

    Too bad that didn't work! Next thing I knew, I was waking up from a very deep sleep, unsure where I was, only to find that I was lying in the bathroom of the MARB at BYU (a busy classroom building) with a girl holding my feet straight up in the air (treating me for shock, I guess) and a bunch of girls huddled around me.

    This time, I knew immediately what had happened. I said to myself, "Not again!" I felt very exhausted and hot and tired. And the big tip off was I had again relieved my bladder all over my pants. Someone called the ambulance. I told them I really didn't want to go by ambulance, I had just fainted and this had happened before. But I had hit my head (evidently as I fainted, I fell forward and bonked my forehead so loud it brought the other girls in the room running) and there was some questionable seizure activity again. I wasn't conscious enough to request someone just call my roommates or sister or friend (all who ended up being very close by, even one trying to come into the bathroom but not being able to due to the commotion and not knowing it was me and another waiting by the ambulance to see what was going on) to take me to the ER. I cried as they wheeled me into the ambulance as I was super embarrassed (almost all of my biology major friends were on their way there at that time for a class) and unhappy this had happened again.

    Unfortunately, this time they were more worried about a seizure. I was placed on dilantin (anti-seizure medication) and given seizure restrictions like not driving. This was very tricky as I had to find people to drive me to work, hospital appointments, etc. I started taking the bus more often, bummed rides off of friends of friends for things like hospital tests, and felt very unlike myself. It was like I was walking around in a haze, I had daily headaches, and the medication made me very emotional.

    I had to undergo EEG brainwave testing. After staying up all night except a few hours, I would report early the next morning. The first time a friend stayed up all night with me to keep me company, only for me to miss my alarm when I went to bed the few hours I was allowed. Oops!

    When I finally made it to my test after rescheduling, they hooked me up to a bunch of electrodes on my head (I looked a little like Medusa), put me in a bed, and told me to sleep. You aren't supposed to move during the test unless you are actually sleeping and of course I was unable to fall asleep. Instead, I seemed to itch everywhere! When I would give in and try to scratch they would kindly remind me, "Try not to move Erin!" When it was all done, they gave me a brush and wished me luck getting all the sticky stuff out of my hair.

    Luckily after a few weeks I was able to go off the medication and get back to my regular activities. But this experience really shook me. I was worried I wouldn't be able to become a dentist if I was such a fainter. It also left me with a $1000 ambulance bill (for a 2 block ride) that ruined my credit for years when it was inadvertently not paid immediately in full -- my bills got lost in the mail when I moved and I was unaware they were unpaid by my insurance.

    It did help me learn to swallow my pride and ask for help when I needed it. And it made me grateful for my mind and my ability to be independent and quick witted. It was really disconcerting to feel like I wasn't able to think clearly, go places alone without being worried something would happen to me, or be able to do simple tasks like walk to school or go to work without needing someone else's help. And I decided to not worry about it and continue my applications to dental school.

    Friday, February 22, 2013

    Feeling faint

    I'm a surgeon. But I admit it, I'm also a fainter. Unfortunately, this can be at tricky combination.

    My first fainting episode occurred my senior year of high school. We (the student council) were planning a blood drive. We were watching a video describing this awesome and charitable act of donation. As a council we decided we would all donate. I was terrified. Maybe it had to do "with a bad experience as a child" that I had during a blood draw. Regardless of the cause, just thinking about the blood leaving my body was enough to make me run to the bathroom. The video didn't even show any blood.

    I've learned over the years that the desire to flee to the bathroom is a warning sign for syncope. I didn't know that then. I did know I felt hot and sweaty. And then I felt sick. I ran to the women's room. I remember crouching over the toilet thinking I was going to vomit. 

    Then I woke up lying flat on the bathroom floor (gross!). I felt sweaty and confused, really sleepy and dazed. There was a girl with curly brown hair in there washing her hands at the sink. I guess she didn't think it was weird to see a girl lying on the floor? I later asked her about it but she denied ever seeing me. I wondered if she was too embarrassed to admit it because I remember being right in the way to the door.

    I felt so tired I had a hard time getting up. Finally, I walked out of the bathroom and ran into my good friend Miranda. She was leaving early for a doctor's appointment and strangely enough just happened to walk by at the exact right time. I think she could tell something was wrong. She asked what I was doing and I told her, "It is the funniest thing...I feel asleep on the bathroom floor!"

    She walked me back to my classroom and my teacher called my mom to come get me. Unfortunately, I not only was confused, but had hit my head (with some minor bleeding) and had lost control of my bladder (sorry for whomever had to clean that up in the bathroom or who came upon it--I never thought of that until now) which was kind of embarrassing looking back on it. I think the student council members kept asking me if I peed my pants. I told them I think I just fell asleep in a puddle of water. I really believed it (so wasn't ashamed then), but they weren't buying it.  (Thanks for being so gracious you guys! Maybe in high school your brain isn't developed enough to have compassion on someone with a head injury? Somehow to a bunch of 17 year olds, urine soaked pants was more concerning than my bleeding head. This makes me laugh now.) I feel lucky I was clueless and concussed at the time because I would have been mortified.

    I went to the doctor and they thought I could have potentially had a seizure but they weren't sure since no one saw the incident. Everything else seemed okay. I still have a bump on my head from that day and I had a bald spot there for years.

    I gathered up all my courage a few days later for the blood drive. I was even more worried after my fall and I felt equally horrible afterward. My sister, my friend Cami, and I all felt pretty sick. I think each of us took turns lying on the ground to prevent another fainting episode while trying to walk home until I think someone called our parents. 

    Luckily I made it through high school without any more incidences.

    Thursday, February 21, 2013

    On a lighter note…

    It’s been a lot of deep thoughts and feelings on the ole’ blog lately. Here’s something to hopefully lighten the mood a bit…

    I found this picture and couldn’t help but laugh. I know at first glance it is just a picture of two sleeping beauties taken about 9 months ago.


    At first I agreed. But after a second glance I couldn’t help but smile. Sometimes Amber and I feel like “we aren’t twins anymore.” This picture confirmed to me that we don’t have to worry about that. Not only are we wearing almost the same outfit (weird how we do that a lot without coordinating or even living close by), but our posture is almost identical down to the crossed heels and arms.

    I guess all that is left to do, Amber, is decide who gets to be the evil twin. Maybe we can switch off…


    It’s probably your turn.


    And a blast from the past:

    I guess we’ve been sharing a bed for a LONG time…


    *Looks like someone has an extra pacifier. I can’t tell, but I bet that’s you so you def get the nomination for now. Like I said, as you can tell from my last posts, I’ve had more than my fair share of wickedness (real or perceived).

    Wednesday, February 20, 2013

    The end of this long series: Just the two of us, we can make it if we try!


    I think we’ve about reached the end of this thread. First I want to say thanks for all of the blog and facebook comments. I keep hearing that people are reading but it is nice to see some evidence of that and to stimulate some discussion and new thoughts for me as well (even though it is MY blog it is nice to not do all the talking sometimes). I really appreciated the supportive comments from old and new friends and the reminder that other women have had similar experiences. It is always nice to know I am not alone and I am so happy to hear about other perspectives and ways of doing things. Please feel free to comment in the future, even if you feel we aren’t great friends or it’s been awhile. It was so nice to hear from you.

    So what comes next? Contrary to what I said earlier in jest, I knew once I got into dental school that this was not a back-up plan. I knew I was in for the long haul. I knew I was crossing over from full-time SAHM to at least part time working mom territory. I knew this isn’t a career where you get your degree, take time off while your kids are young, and return in 15 years without a hang-up. This was something I would have to either keep up or probably give up completely.

    I wasn’t willing to give it up.

    Unlike my choice to go to dental school which I made on my own, I did have a husband to consult when I decided to pursue residency. I didn’t always plan on specializing but again, I felt very strongly about continuing my training when I got closer to graduation. Yes, I had recurring and fresh concerns about how I would make this work as the goal of a family was even more tangible as a married person. But it still felt right. It was helpful to have someone to make the decision with this time around and he was very supportive. I don’t remember him once questioning me. He has been patient and helpful during this time. I feel so lucky to have a husband who does dishes (he is doing them right now!), laundry, makes lunches, gives me early morning rides, and isn’t afraid to do “woman’s work” if it means making our family work. I know he looks forward to the day he will be a parent and I appreciate his willingness to put that off while I complete my training. Just like I expected to be a SAHM, I bet he expected to marry a SAHM (he would never say that…he wouldn’t want to risk hurting my feelings, but I suspect it must be true). I think about that sometimes and hope our new life will be even better than what he expected, even if some of his goals are delayed .

    People often ask me about my timeline for children. It really is hard to say. Up to this point I just haven’t felt the inspiration that it is the right time. I hope when it is I will know. They also ask me how it will work. Right now I really am unsure. I hope eventually it will mean a flexible schedule where my husband and I are both able to find time to be home with our children. I hope it will mean having some days off or even working strange hours (7-3 to pick up kids from school?). And I am sure it will mean some combination of babysitters/nannies/daycare. The good thing is that we can do it however we want! I am lucky to have a husband who is flexible and helpful and doesn’t feel constrained to stick to the traditional family model of man working, woman at home. I can see us both being part time stay-at-home parents!

    In the meantime, I am trying to enjoy our time together, just us!

    P.S. I would love to hear how you make it work in your family! I’m always looking for new ideas for the future.

    Tuesday, February 19, 2013

    The back up plan

    261429_10101153417124779_213633427_n[1]  photo

    This is the hardest post so far in this series. I have been fiddling through drafts for days and was going to write a long post about all of my superior thoughts on the subject and why you should agree with me. But I’ve come to realize, it really doesn’t matter what I think--at least not to you. What matters is what each woman thinks and decides to do in her own situation. I value stay-at-home-moms. I think the work they are doing is exceedingly important and certainly admirable. I am also impressed and pleased to see women being strong leaders and (sometimes more visible) role models in their communities through their careers. I think we can learn a lot from each other. I wish we could be better as women in building each other up, working together, and coming together to advance the cause of women. Too bad we are often our own worst enemies, and often in the way of cattiness, gossip, and passing judgment.

    So what’s the big deal? Where did this whole conversation come from? If you aren’t LDS you may be puzzled. In my perspective, I feel there have been two potentially contradictory philosophies in our church. One is for women to stay home as the primary nurturers of children whenever possible. The other is that women should get as much education as they can. I think this is a big grey area where each woman (and family) needs to do her best to figure out what is right for her. Unfortunately, some people see this as very black and white. Women who choose to work are being selfish and not following the prophets…unless they absolutely have to work as in the case of a single mom. It can make it seem like “Education is great as long as you aren’t married yet or you don’t have children.” (Certainly I don’t speak for the church or all women in the church but these were some of the concepts I gathered from the blog comments and have heard over the years.)

    I used to get very frustrated with the judgmental comments that arise from these ideas. As I said, I was quite defensive and this was something I thought about a lot in the past. Strangely enough, I had to find a blog to remember that people even think this way! Maybe that means I have grown up. Maybe it means I am more confident. Or maybe I was just hoping that everyone else progressed, too.

    Regardless, it doesn’t really matter any more.

    I feel confident in what I am doing.

    I know it is right for me and my family.

    I don’t really care what other people are thinking or even saying about me (at least in regard to this topic) anymore. Go ahead, ask me if I am going to be a dental hygienist. I will smile and politely say, “No, actually I am a dentist. (Yeah, like a dentist-dentist, not a hygienist or assistant)” or ” Ask me how I am going to manage my family and a career and I’ll tell you, “I’m not sure” or “We’ll take it one day at a time.” I may even ask for suggestions.

    The only real issue I want to discuss is the concept of education as merely “the backup plan.” I think education is crucial and for more than just having a career path “in case” you don’t marry or your husband can no longer provide for your family. I want women to educate themselves for a simple selfish reason…to improve!  To find empowerment through knowledge and new skills. To be enlightened to new viewpoints. To experience. And I think this not only improves the mother, but her children.

    At some point, for many of us, the “back up plan” becomes “the plan.” I don’t know what I would be doing if I didn’t decide to follow through with my inspiration as a 20 year old single woman from Utah. I know I wouldn’t be married to Abe and maybe not married at all. I obviously wouldn’t be a dentist—would I be a stay-at-home-mom? Regardless of what I may have been, I don’t think that after all of that time, money, and work that God wants me to quit now.

    I hope you can support me in this choice just as I will strive to support you without judgment.


    I found a list of conversation starters. I thought these could be good blog post ideas. Here’s the first one:
    What TV shows are you embarrassed about watching?
    I am actually embarrassed that I watch as much TV as I do! I feel like I should be one of those really interesting and cultured people who “don’t have time for TV” and only have time for classic books, organic asian cooking, and/or marathon training. But I find that TV really can be an escape for me. I wonder if this is because watching TV burns less calories than sleeping? I figure this must mean it is more relaxing than sleep—no wonder I VEG out after work in front of the boob tube (why is it called that, anyway?). Or maybe it is because I get enmeshed in the stories. I am definitely one of the yell at the TV at the end of a cliffhanger, “NOOOO!!!!” people.
    From a “Who would ever watch that show?” standpoint, I am ashamed to admit I am hooked on The Bachelor. I really did start watching on accident (the TV was on and the channel didn’t get changed and next thing I know, I was hooked). It really is awful! Such an unnatural system of finding a spouse and totally designed for TV drama and as much heartbreak as possible. For example, at the end when they “have three (great) girls” left, they can choose to give them an overnight date. This means they (usually) have sex with three people. The next day they break up with one of them. The next week (not sure what this time frame is in real life) they expect the two people left to be ready to accept a proposal from someone who just had two one night stands, or in the case of The Bachelorette, expect both men to be ready to propose (and then turn one down on national TV). And then they have the opportunity to watch the show later, only to see their future spouse making out with and dating 25 other people while he was also dating her. Talk about making anyone insecure! Not to mention the fact that you have to listen to them talk about their “journey” and “the process” which basically means taking helicopter rides around beautiful places and making girls jump from high places in bikinis as a way to prove their “love.” But I got hooked and am now on my third season.
    And from a guilty pleasure standpoint, I love The Walking Dead. Abe doesn’t really like the show (maybe that is part of my guilt). We tend to watch it at his parents’ house or a friend’s (we don’t have AMC!). His family tries to be friendly and social with me but unfortunately, always seem to come down to watch at the most inopportune moment (like when a zombie is getting his head bashed in). They are always like, “Oh! Wow. What are you watching?!” And then there is the awkwardness of the younger sisters getting interested but not really allowed to watch it while I am down there being a bad example. On Sunday.
    I find myself thinking about zombies a lot when the show is in full swing. “I wonder what would happen if there were zombies there?” and certainly I dream about zombies on a regular basis. I feel a little bad about the gore but I rationalize with, “It’s not like I don’t see similar kinds of things (only alive) at work.” It’s a stretch, I know, but it works for me.
    Anyone else willing to fess up?

    Sunday, February 17, 2013

    Working Moms part 3: The big plan


    Ironically, I ended up at the University of Iowa for dental school, right back to that professor’s old stomping grounds, and appropriately, where he had first been tempted by the devil to make his own evil career choice. I moved few weeks before my 21st birthday, so I officially became an old maid just in the nick of time to get started on my way to the career bliss I so clearly “chose” over my family.

    But what my religion professor didn’t understand was that part of my pact with the devil was if the devil helped me get into dental school he would help me find a husband. Maybe the good professor would have been more okay with my decision had he known that part.

    I know working with the devil isn’t usually an acceptable way to achieve your goals (especially for religious people), but in this instance, if it was leading me towards marriage, my ultimate goal, I figured it would probably be okay. A means to an end, as they say. One can always repent later, right?

    So, my plan was to find a husband early on and get out! I figured my likelihood of meeting another dentist or doctor would be higher as a student there myself. Yes, Iowa was a gamble as there was a relatively small LDS population there, but I was willing to give it a try. I knew it was an investment and I figured if I found him in the first year it would be a $50K investment well spent if it meant I was marrying a dentist.

    Unfortunately, deals with the devil don’t always pan out exactly right. Yes, I did meet my husband, and even right away (he was one of the first people I met in Iowa). But, we weren’t married until I was half way done with school. At that point I felt like I was so close to being done, it made sense just to finish.


    This is the young Abe I met my first few days in Iowa

    Luckily, Iowa was a breath of fresh air. Suddenly I was going to church with women PhDs, masters candidates, and MD students. They were women in math and music and education and science. I was still unique and people often had “heard about me” as the girl dental student from Utah, but people seemed much more supportive, at least in the singles scene. I did get occasional comments, “So are you going to actually work when you are done?” or even an idea that I was a big flirt at school with the LDS husbands. But these were vary rare. Except for the, “So are you going to be a hygienist or an assistant?” questions which I was asked all the time. I was grateful to have met a man who never once questioned my decision to go into dentistry or if that meant I wasn’t interested in a family, and actually seemed impressed by the skills I was developing.

    When we got married we started going to a congregation (known as a ward in the LDS church) with other married students. Although I have heard a lot of comments from the other women at church, they tend to focus more on how intimidated they are by me (don’t be scared!) or that they think what I am doing is “really cool.” In fact, it has been so long from my negative experiences back home, I have forgotten that what I am doing is sometimes frowned upon.

    I didn’t remember until I happened upon a blog that prompted this whole story just a few days ago. There were hoards of comments from other women who look upon other women who choose to work in a judgmental way. I was surprised. And of course, you know I have something to say about that next time.

    Next up, part 4…getting bored yet?

    Working Moms part 2: Selling my soul

    I HATE babies…can you tell?
    It was my last year at BYU and I was taking a marriage and family class (sounds kind of funny now and so BYU!) from a well known faculty member, an “expert” on the subject who has even published a number of books. One of our assignments in the class was to write papers periodically throughout the semester on marriage and family topics (duh). I wrote a paper on the topic at hand…my pull to go into dentistry, a demanding career, and my fears about balancing this with marriage and children in the future.
    One day in class shortly after I wrote the paper, my teacher stood in front of the class. He mentioned, “One of your classmates wrote in her paper how she wants to be a dentist. You know (as he laughed in a snarky way), if she never gets married, that’s great! Be a dentist! Get all the education you can. But only if no one wants to marry her. HA HA HA!” Although this wasn’t exactly what was said (except the part about “no one wanting to marry her”), his comments were very much to the effect that as long as “she” was an old maid this was an okay way to go. But only until this was proven.
    I was very upset as I felt he was calling me out in front of the whole class. Yes, I knew I was basically anonymous but I felt betrayed and embarrassed that he would use my paper in a public way to humiliate me. I felt like he was implying I had to be unmarriageable or I was making a wrong choice-- the only possible way to follow my prompting to further my education was to be an old maid. And I was angry that he acted like the choice I was making was a big joke. At this point I felt very confident spiritually that I had been led to follow through with my dental school applications. I emailed him stating that I was upset he would use me as an example in that way in front of the class and that he seemed to be implying I was making an inappropriate choice which wasn’t his place. I told him that I was grateful I knew he didn’t receive spiritual inspiration for me but that I was worried other women would disregard their own personal revelations because of something they felt an “authority” said in the wrong.
    He emailed me back and “apologized.” He said he wasn’t talking about me but another girl who wanted to be a dentist, “But now that we are talking about you” he had spoken to some of his colleagues and they agreed that “Why would God tell a 20 year old girl to go to dental school?” (Evidently the belief that God appeared to Joseph Smith, a 14 year old boy, is totally within the realm of possibilities but Him giving revelation to a young woman about her career was out of the question?) He said I should “continue on the dental path” another few years (I was already at the end!) and THEN if I wasn’t married to go for it (I guess at that point I would be unmarriageable? at age 21 or 22). He told me about how when he was a missionary in Iowa (ironic to me now, as at this point I had no idea I would end up in Iowa), Chiropractics was really en vogue and he thought he should be a chiropractor. But now that he is in his career that fulfills his patriarchal blessing (a blessing we get in our church with guidance about our lives) he knows that the idea to be a chiropractor was from Satan, and I should seriously consider where I was receiving my inspiration. Yeah, the prophets have said to “get all the education you can” but I was obviously being misguided. Oh, and I really should make a big decision like this with my husband. (So I can’t go to dental school if I am married, but I also need to find him so I could ask him if it was okay?) It would be unfair to him to not have input in such a big decision.
    Unfortunately, I didn’t have a husband to ask.
    So I was left with no choice but to ask Beelzebub himself!
    And my teacher, being so inspired, was on to me.
    Good thing he didn’t know that I had to make a pact with the evil one himself to get in. He may have got me kicked out of BYU a few weeks shy of graduation!

    Next Time: My plan to end up on top!

    Saturday, February 16, 2013

    Working, Moms: Part 1

    I’ve been thinking a lot about my life as a woman, a surgeon, and a Mormon as you can tell from my recent postings. I happened upon a blog which was discussing a similar thread, women working outside of the home, and particularly, Mormon women working outside of the home.

    As I mentioned before, a large number of LDS families continue to follow the model of dad going to work and mom staying home with the children. I think this is wonderful. I have friends who are both LDS and not LDS who do this. Some have given up lucrative or impressive careers to do so. Growing up I always planned to do this myself.

    But as life often goes, things don’t always end up as expected. This has the potential to be a really long post so I’ll keep you in suspense and break it into multiple postings.

    We’ll start with a picture of me from the time shortly after this first installment. I can’t seem to find any of my college pictures so I guess you get this one instead. I gave up on the idea of marine biology but decided to live in Honduras after graduation to become a SCUBA Dive Master. Can you pick me out on the boat? I’m wearing the red bandana.

    Snails and Such

    During my time at BYU, I was studying biology with an emphasis in marine biology. I spent a summer in Monterey, CA taking classes with a BYU professor at the Hopkins Marine Station (run by Stanford University). Our building was right on the water. We had baby octopi in our classroom, caught from the ocean by our SCUBA diving TAs. We watched starfish babies under the microscope daily as they showed the different stages of cellular growth. During lectures I would look out at the beautiful ocean with the sea lions teasing me in the bay and watch the Stanford scientists emerge from the water: the first hint of their presence a mass of bubbles at the surface, next a black hooded head with that eerie mask peering over the top of the water, until finally I’d see them walking out onto the shore in heavy black wetsuits looking very much like the sea lions that seemed to be following them, just out of arms’ reach.

    I wanted to do that. I wanted to be the one in the deep sea submersible catching the images of never seen before specimens with no eyes or glowing bodies. I wanted to spend my days diving into the ocean collecting specimens before class. But I also spent a lot of time in the library researching the feeding habits of the gumboot chiton. And watching snails in our aquarium to see if there was any relation to the chiton. I came home from California depressed. I felt like I had a slim chance of getting to be one of the few in the deep see ROVs at Woods Hole, MA (a marine biology hub) and would probably end up in a lab and I had a sneaking suspicion that snails weren’t the key to my happiness. It just felt too lonely. And even though I knew I would be a stay at home mom, I felt like I needed to have a clear career path until then.

    That’s when my sister and my dad encouraged me to look into dentistry. I laughed it off. I had never met a female dentist. The suggestion was akin to being told I should be a machinist or a urologist. These were things I knew a woman could do, but just not something I had ever thought to do. As I started looking into dentistry I actually became more interested. Shortly thereafter, I officially declared myself pre-dent. I was afraid of the whole process—the applications and certainly the school. I secretly hoped I would get married (I still had about 1.5 years left at BYU so I thought this was totally do-able) so I wouldn’t have to go through with it.

    As I neared graduation, marriage wasn’t in the books. By then I was committed to the idea of dental school and feeling pretty good about it. I joined the pre-dental club and had the prestigious position of “Women in Dentistry Club President.” I had been interviewing and getting positive feedback at the schools I was visiting. I got a lot of interviews and I got a number of acceptances. And no proposals.

    Being pre-dental at BYU as a woman was hard at times. I received a lot of unsupportive comments. Dates would ask how I could possibly be a dentist if I was going to have kids. A dentist I met asked if I was “just applying to see it I would get in.” Yes, I spent thousands of dollars on applications and had to move home so I could afford to live to satisfy my pride! There were hundreds of men who were applying to dental school but I only found a few other women (strangely enough, I later learned one was actually Abe’s cousin, Ashley Sheffield). Some of the men would make snarky comments to me about how they wouldn’t be studying if they were me because as a woman I would get in for sure regardless of my grades (they must have had no idea that about 50% of applicants at that time were women). They implied that I would be taking away a spot from men who deserved to get in because they would be caring for their families. I was being selfish for not only choosing a career over family but for taking away a spot from a man who was choosing this career for the right reasons.

    Needless to say, I left BYU with a little chip on my shoulder. Certainly not everyone was this way. There were supportive people who weren’t threatened or confused by my choices, but I left feeling quite defensive.

    The religion teacher incident sure didn’t help with that.

    Next time: How I got into dental school: my pact with the devil

    Friday, February 15, 2013

    Blueberry Girl


    I am terrified of the whole pregnancy process. I should have bore all of my children when I was young and naive because the older I get the more complications I have seen or learned about from friends and loved ones. Things like my twin sister’s carpal tunnel (which would be great to experience as an oral surgeon), or her HELLP syndrome which almost killed her (and is much more likely to occur to me as a close relative), or friends on months bedrest or with early deliveries and complications, etc.

    But sometimes the thing that really freaks me out is the body changes. Vain I know! I probably shouldn’t admit that and I’m not sure why it makes me so worried but I get depressed just thinking about it. Maybe it is because it is easy to say, “I wont be THAT girl” with the 9 months of morning sickness or the pre-eclampsia.  But I can’t shake the feeling that I WILL be that girl this time.

    Or maybe it is because I feel like I’m trying so hard to get my body to a place I am happy with now, that I am afraid to “mess it up.” I feel like there is now a new cultural phenomenon of “supermodel mom” where you are expected to be an uber-fashionable, thin, beautiful pregnant woman. Gone are the days of eating whatever you wanted for nine months, wearing sweats, and getting a free pass on your looks. Now, the norm seems to be adorable tiny women with their little basketball bellies, running marathons in their 8th month, and of course, documenting it with shots of them looking beautiful and cuddling that belly with all the emotion they can muster. And of course, looking like they stepped out of the salon in their hospital bed in the post delivery pictures and looking great in a bikini a month later. It doesn’t help that celebrities are back in the movies or walking the runways looking just as fit as ever within months (and sometimes weeks) of childbirth, sans stretch marks. I must not be the only one noticing this trend as I just found this article the other day about moms hating their bodies. 

    I haven’t been pregnant yet so maybe it is silly to worry about this as I don’t really know what my pregnancy will be like. But deep down I do. I am terrified I will be one of the “Blueberries.”

    I remember Abe and I were at church one day when a very pregnant mother came in wearing a very blue dress. She looked so round and blue that Abe and I couldn’t help but think of a single large blueberry (think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Since that time, “Blueberry” has been our catch phrase for the women who really are taking the pregnancy thing with all it has to offer – swollen feet, faces, and bellies (including the matching button)! You know who I’m talking about, the Brittany Spears and Jessica Simpsons of the world. And one day, me: Blueberry Girl.

    I want to brush this idea off. If a woman is ever allowed to look fat or tired or simply not her best, than shouldn’t this be the time? Instead I feel an incredible sense of dread. I hope when I have that little baby bobbing around inside me I will feel the wonder of new life and the excitement of being a parent. Instead, I worry I wont be gorgeous like my friend Amber above (who was nice enough to let me showcase her amazing picture—thanks Amber!) and my mind wanders to the many otherwise in-shape and attractive women on my plastic surgery rotation seeking tummy tucks and boob jobs to augment their stretch marks and saggy skin—the toll of motherhood on their otherwise great bodies.

    I try to remember my sister Amber’s perspective. Although she is my “younger” sister, she is very wise. I stole this picture and caption from her blog. She could have died during her pregnancy with her first child and you can see it in her face in this picture (she normally is much more beautiful). But I love the mentality that it is “evidence of the best sacrifice I ever made.” I hope I can remember that, even if I do become like a swollen fruit while pregnant or am left hoping for a tummy tuck after!


    Sunday, February 10, 2013

    PSA: Dr. Sheffield’s 8 simple steps for avoiding a mandibular fracture

    2012-08-02 001 2012-08-02 006

    I usually post more trivial things on my blog, but every so often, I feel it my duty as a health care provider to provide some helpful information to the general public. I’ve been seeing a lot of mandibular fractures lately, so thought I could share some ways to avoid a broken jaw. This information is gathered from my experiences after almost four years of residency and seeing hundreds of broken faces.

    1. Be a woman. Testosterone is hazardous to the integrity of your jaws.

    2. Don’t drink, stay out past midnight, or go to bars. If you can avoid one, two, or even better, all three of these situations, your odds of fracture go down to almost 0%. Some say, “The Holy Ghost goes to bed at midnight.” Well, so does the Guardian Angel of Faces.

    3. If you find you must drink alcohol, you got stuck out too late, or in a bar, make sure you are very involved in other people’s lives/business. People who are “minding their own business” tend to get “sucker punched” almost uniformly. But, don’t be too friendly and offer another man a drink. For some reason they don’t like free beer from a friendly guy and you may end up with a mal-occlusion (bad bite).

    4. Brush your teeth. People who have no teeth, who need to have no teeth and haven’t got around to extractions yet, or will one day likely have no teeth seem to break their jaws more often than their toothed peers.

    5. Beware of people in steel-toed boots. They are sure to stomp you. People in normal-toed boots don’t seem compelled to do this like their steel-toed counterparts.

    6. Be especially vigilant around roving groups of men. A jaw fracture rarely occurs in a fair fight. If you find yourself outnumbered, make sure you aren’t minding your own business because you are sure to be jumped, sucker punched, and likely stomped (and yes, by steel-toed boots).

    7. Never let your friends roll you in a carpet. And if you happen to be a college freshman and this simply cannot be avoided, don’t let them stand you up vertically. Keep lying down to avoid breaking your inevitable fall with your chin.

    8. If you are a nice/kind/sweet person who has managed to avoid all of the dangers listed above, you might consider keeping your distance from horses. They like to kick or head-butt nice people, often girls, who normally wouldn’t break their jaws and it seems that jaws and teeth are their favorite targets.

    It is possible to break your jaw in other ways, but if you can follow these few simple suggestions odds are your face will remain relatively intact!

    Saturday, February 9, 2013

    I have a question


    My student loans have yet again been transferred to another company/department/servicer. It is a little disconcerting that I owe SOMEONE hundreds of thousands of dollars and that SOMEONE can change at any time without any input from me.

    But that’s just a side note for today’s post.

    When I was trying to get settled in with this new servicer I had to set up my log in. The standard stuff like choosing a user name and password, one of those funky ID pictures of either a stapler or a colorful frog (things that are supposed to speak to you enough to remember, right?), and the security questions.

    I have a hard time with the security questions. If they aren’t the right question I can never remember my answer – I can hardly remember my username and password, let alone my first favorite color. My mother’s maiden name luckily never changes but that’s not always an option. My favorite band often does (change), if I can even think of one in the first place. And even simple questions like, “What was your high school mascot?” can be tricky. Did I put “Tigers,” or “Orem Tigers,” or “Golden Tigers,” or “tigers,” or “Orem tigers” or even “orem Tigers,” etc.

    I was doing pretty well in this log in process until I came to security question #2. I got 5 options:

    1. What is your first niece’s name?

    2. What is your paternal grandfather’s nickname?

    3. Where is your vacation home?

    4. What was your maternal grandmother’s favorite food? (okay, I can’t remember this one exactly but it seemed like a detail I wouldn’t likely know about my grandmother)

    5. What was the name of your first pet?

    I felt like these were horrible question options! Luckily I have a niece but I didn’t until just recently. And who does the Dept of Education think I am to have a vacation home? I’m not sure if my grandpa has a nickname unless they merely mean what I call him, which is simple “grandpa.” Another grandparent question which feels like it is rubbing in the fact that some people never knew their grandparents, and finally, what if I never had a pet growing up? I did, but I had so many I can’t remember which was the first!

    I felt lucky I have a niece and was luckily able to move on.

    Then there are those security picture/phrases you have to put in for buying things online or commenting on blogs, etc (pictured above). I know I have to prove I’m not a computer, but sometimes I really cannot figure out what the phrase is to type. And it’s usually ALMOST a word, something like “Bat1leshape” or “luv3rly,” and of course written all catty-wampus (love that word but have no idea how to spell it!) and scribbled on or blurry. I’ve had times where I’ve had to try four or five times before I can get it right. Sometimes I think it would help if I WAS a robot to decipher the code!


    Peppers from our hanging planter IMG_0407 IMG_0405 5th Anniversary!

    Erin made lots of frozen meals as life gets busier. 2012-02-23 001 2012-02-23 001 Sandcastles in Iowa City

    And maybe I could be a photographer for the security pictures. I think I have access to some good ones already. Who wouldn’t want to see a sand Taj Mahal, pancakes, or pretty chilis when they log in to pay a lot of money for little progress to no progress on loan repayment? Or you could choose a more romantic one like a costco anniversary cake or feel accomplished by seeing made ahead freezer meals…I think they are at least better than the stapler. Then again, staplers do hold things together, which has some metaphorical value I suppose.

    Tuesday, February 5, 2013

    Women in Oral Surgery

    Dr. Erin Sheffield

    In college I was the “Women in Dentistry” club president. This consisted of me getting excited if I ever found another woman interested in dentistry while at BYU and having  a few meetings with anywhere from about 2-6 girls. I think we even went out to lunch once. It probably cost all of $20.

    I was inspired by the Women in Otolaryngology Club that some of my ENT colleagues participate in. From what I have gathered, this consists of having meetings with cake and talking about important issues for women surgeons like salary discrepancies and giving each other free botox injections. Great, right?

    So, I’ve decided to start my own version, the (Iowa) Wom(a)n in OMFS Club. And as I recently found out I will remain the lone woman in my residency program after this year’s MATCH DAY for the fifth year in a row, we will have meetings every day! In fact these meetings will last all day for the next year and a half. I may not be able to provide perks like free botox but some of the frequent activities can be fun womanly things like getting ready for work in the morning, thinking about my place in the world as a woman surgeon (less than 3% of women who participate in the OMFS society are women), and even occasional nail polish parties (we can do cosmetic procedures, too)! Of course, there will be some hazing events like nights on call, cleaning the bathroom, and shaving my legs.

    On a serious note, I have been lucky to have a female mentor. I am sure that Dr. Morgan has had some effect on me even choosing oral surgery. She has been a great example of being a great surgeon as well as a wonderful mother who seems to do a good job balancing both worlds. I am sad to say that after she expands her family further this next year she will be going very part time and I will essentially truly be the only woman in our department at the hospital (except when she is taking call).

    Better get going, there will be nightly meetings and the next one starts in 5 minutes (under my covers)!

    Monday, February 4, 2013

    Who wears the pants

    I wore pants to church yesterday.

    (I like pants. I own lots of pants. I wear them a lot. Actually, I wear them almost every day and often at night. Funny how it can suddenly be hard to find pictures of pants when you are looking for them. I evidently I also like crouching down in this position while wearing pants!)

    2011-10-16 001 2011-10-16 002  2012-02-01 001 2012-02-01 001 2012-05-09 001 2012-05-09 001

    Normally I wear a skirt or a dress to church, but I finished a case in the OR earlier than expected. I changed out of my scrubs and into my dingiest jeans (which I just happened to be wearing on my way to the hospital that day). I figured I could catch the tail end of church but it meant I would have to wear my jeans if I was going to make it. I didn’t worry about what people would think. I didn’t feel like I was making a statement. I put on the best of what I had hoping to receive a little spiritual pick-me-up. I felt a little bad about what I was wearing, but only because of how dirty my pant legs looked after trudging around in the melting snow outside. Not because the fact they were pants…


    This reminded me of a post I started a few weeks ago but never finished. Maybe it is time to post it…


    There was recently a bit of a stir in the Latter-day Saint community. Strangely enough, it had to do with something that most people do without a second thought: wear pants to church.

    Okay, that needs some clarification, WOMEN wearing pants to church.

    (To clarify, these are my own opinions. I don’t mean to sound judgemental or self righteous or like I have all of the answers. I don’t feel threatened if you disagree with me and I actually probably understand your point of view, maybe agree with you at least partly. But here are my thoughts on the subject weeks later, hopefully after some of the emotion died down.)

    Unfortunately, there are evidently a number of women in my church who feel they aren’t “allowed” to wear pants to church. Sure, there are no rules that state you can’t wear pants to church (in fact, I don’t think there are any official rules about what clothes are worn to church, as long as they are worn), but the culture has overwhelmingly been one of women wearing dresses or skirts. I don’t find this strange or alarming as women in the US often wear dresses to events where they are supposed to look nice (prom, weddings, funerals, …the oscars). I may not choose to wear pants to church regularly but I certainly wouldn’t feel bad if I did.

    Evidently there is a feminist undercurrent that feels the women in our church are discriminated against or treated unfairly. I know this is a common perception of others on the outside looking in. I think this has a lot to do with the large number of stay-at-home moms and a more traditional family view in our church which may seem “old fashioned” and for some perhaps even “oppressive.” I have heard a lot of comments from others wondering if women are forced to stay home or why more women don’t work. This certainly appears strange to some but it is usually (or at least hopefully) something the couple has decided together. It also has to do with the fact that the Priesthood (what we believe is the power of God on earth to perform His work) is only given to men in our church. However, while I have had my fair share of wondering my place with God as a woman (especially after reading the Old Testament), I feel very strongly that I am in equal standing with the men in my church. There are surely examples of bigotry and prejudice in any congregation but in my experience I have found and hope these to be fairly isolated.

    It seems so few men these days want to grow up. There are articles all over the internet and the news about the Peter Pan complex complex of boys who want to remain forever in Never Never Land. Men who play “Call of Duty” all day and live in their parents’ basement. Men who aren’t willing to take on the responsibility of work and a family. With this in mind, I don’t feel threatened by a church that asks men to GROW UP. To be a man and to look outside of himself and to help others. I am proud that my husband has extra opportunities to be nurturing and to serve others which is what the Priesthood requires and I don’t think I need to take that role away from him to feel better about myself.

    In an age where women “can have it all” and do/be whatever she wants without a man (including in some instances make a baby with test tube sperm and no real man in her life—something that in the past always “took two”), I am happy to hit snooze on Sunday morning while my  husband is up early performing his “Priesthood duties.”

    No one wants to feel unimportant and unneeded and I think letting the men have one job that we don’t get to take away maybe isn’t such a bad thing after all.

    2012-10-04 001 2012-10-04 078

    And maybe when I get up, I’ll put on a pair of pants.