THE BLOG
09/10/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Mommy Profiles: The Surgeon

Dr. Fabiola is an eye surgeon living in London . She entered medical school in Brazil at the age of 17 and at 27 she was performing cataract and retinal surgery as well as laser treatments. Her career was as successful as she could have dreamed.

Then, she and her Italian husband had Victor. And everything changed.

"Before, I thought having a baby was about sharing in the creation of another human being and that it would be easy to combine career and motherhood," she tells me over drinks near Piazza di Spagna one fine summer evening.

When Victor reached six months, she thought she'd get a full-time nanny and go back to work.

"But I soon realized that motherhood is about forming your own child and giving him your values. It's about more than just passing on genes. I wanted him to be emotionally mature and to have a secure base. I could only give him that by being close to him during the very first years."

Dr Fabiola had come across the psychology of Attachment Theory at university, but it was only at a medical course around the time of her son's birth that the importance of it kicked in.

"As psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth showed in their research, a child needs a 'secure base' in his early years before launching out to explore the world. A strong attachment to his parents in his first years will give a child emotional maturity and a healthy mental development. Otherwise, his social and emotional development will not be normal."

And how exactly is this secure attachment created?

"A child needs the presence and attention (ideally) of the mother. It needs a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with this person. There are many kinds of attachment, but the mother's absence definitely influences it negatively," she explains.

After reading that, the surgeon decided: Forget the nanny. But it was not an easy decision.

"Colleagues and relatives in Brazil pressured me a lot. Their views reflect contemporary society, which thinks a woman must be Super Woman (good surgeon, good wife, good mother...) and not allow children to change her life."

"You must be crazy! You're going to lose your surgical skills," some colleagues said. Others exclaimed, "What a waste of time," or "What a shame...someone as qualified and successful as you are, ending up simply being a mother. You can't give it up!"

The thing is, she was not giving up -- she was suspending her career to prioritize her son. Although she knew it would be difficult to return to surgery at pre-baby levels, Dr Fabiola attended medical meetings and courses to keep up-to-date in preparation for her return to work.

Without her husband's financial support, she would not have had such an option. But she says professional women need to break free of the "Super Woman" mold.

"I'm not talking about mothers that need to work for financial reasons. I'm talking about women who are so caught up in the pressures of society and in their ambitions that they are not brave enough to suspend their careers for their children's sake."

Now that Victor is almost three, she's going back to work -- but only part-time. She says she wants to continue being a big part of his life at least until his teenage years.

To young mothers or pregnant women who are torn between returning to their careers and doing what is best for their child, Dr. Fabiola advises:

"If your partner can provide temporary financial support, do not hesitate. Spend those first years close to your child. Childhood is a comparatively short time in one's career lifespan and even the most demanding professions can wait...

"But if you miss that period with your child, you will never have a second chance."