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Zivile Roche is a 2nd year STP Trainee Embryologist at Guy’s Assisted Conception Unit, London

‘A job as a Clinical Embryologist, my husband, 4 children and 2 sausage dogs’; that’s how I used to describe what happiness looked like (I don’t ask for much!). However, I never really imagined that most of this would come around the same time, and I would have to learn to juggle it all. 

Sofia, my eldest, was born as I made multiple attempts to get onto the Scientist Training Programme (STP). She was 3 years old by the time I finally got onto it, and it wasn’t easy leaving her behind for a 6-week teaching block in Manchester. My second one, Maya, was sending me on countless trips to the toilet whilst I tried to pass my exams during our February session at Uni (the joys of pregnancy!). And if that wasn’t enough, the Covid pandemic came along soon after, leaving me pregnant and confined with a very active toddler and a husband working from home for what turned out to be about 30 weeks. 

Maya eventually came into this world in October 2020.  Whilst enjoying my new baby on maternity leave, I still thought lots about the STP. The pandemic had meant that I wasn’t able to complete 3 out of 4 of my rotations, and I knew how unpredictable life can get when you have a child (let alone two), so I just wanted to be as ready as possible for when I returned. 

‘Being organised is key’ I recalled some friends from a year above me saying. I loved using my iPad I received from the school.  I invested in a simple pen and a keyboard suitable for iPads and started making digital notes during lectures in my first year – I was able to write directly on the handouts using an app, and I even recorded lectures on to the iPad. Having a pen also meant that I could just draw some diagrams in my competencies rather than use words and long texts to describe signalling pathways – this way I got a bit more excited about studying and it also saved me some precious time.

I also knew that I would have to develop a new habit of writing my portfolio and doing my assignments everywhere I went, and using every opportunity I had to study and revise. I made numerous quizzes on a different app whilst preparing for MCQs which helped me to pass exams easily. Having all my scientific papers, assignments, notes and competencies across all my devices (laptop, iPad and phone) meant I could practice and revise everywhere I went, as my digital notes came with me.

Being a mum, a student, an employee, a wife and my usual self actually taught me to prioritise things, select activities, delegate my energy wisely, and plan my week and days

Maternity leave flew by so quickly – one minute there was me cuddling my tiny baby and the next, I was catching a train to get to my first day at work.

I was just in time for the beginning of the second year (even my children were helping me to plan well!). The second year proved not to be easy. I returned to work part time (80%), but on top of that I also had to complete all my missed rotations from a year 1.

Big changes in the clinic also meant that I was not as familiar with the techniques and processes as I was before the leave. Most of the time I felt that I was fighting against the clock. Every time my phone pinged, I was worried to see a message from a school or a nursery saying my child has chicken pox or Covid – these two were particularly worrisome because they have the longest self-isolation time, so I wouldn’t have been able to attend work or studies, putting me further behind schedule.

I also realised that my husband and I were now competing not only with ‘who got more sleep last night’, but also ‘who stayed at home with a sick child last time and whose turn is it now’. However, I must say, with lots of his patience and support, I was able to attend my most important meetings and days in the clinic, and I also have a few hours on Saturday mornings to catch up with work whilst he took the girls out. I feel grateful – I could not do this alone, without his support!

Being a mum, a student, an employee, a wife (and my usual self) actually taught me to prioritise things, select activities, delegate my energy wisely, and plan my week and days. I caught myself saying phrases like ‘where your focus goes, the energy flows’, so avoided spending too much time moaning about things that could be better or fairer. Change things you can, and leave the ones you cannot.

Trips to Manchester for the STP were something I both looked forward to and also worried about most. My first one in the second year was cancelled at the last minute as all of my family managed to catch a tummy bug. For the second one, I was still breastfeeding Maya at the time and I knew that by the end of the trip it was likely that the breastfeeding journey will come to an end a bit sooner than me and her would have liked – which turned out to be the case. 

However, staying in Manchester also gave me the opportunity to experience life without family demands (I could finally stop googling ‘when will I die from a lack of sleep?’) and put myself first a little. I enjoyed meeting clinical staff who delivered lectures, discussing some issues with them, and felt privileged that they were able to share their time and knowledge with me. I also met lovely course mates (between the two years I met 50+ new peers!), and that is a privilege in itself. And whilst the time away was always bitter sweet and challenging at times, I am glad I got to experience it.

I sometimes feel absolutely exhausted and drowning in work, commitments and deadlines. However, I try to remember that I am on course to having everything I always wanted and whilst it is incredibly hard – I can do it!  And  when I am cuddling my lovely, strong and courageous family, I think it’s fair to say: a job as a Clinical Embryologist, my husband, two children and 4 sausage dogs’ might be a better ‘recipe’ for happiness after all :)