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Partners and pregnancy

Dr Shah-naz Whitear wondered how her male partners would

take the news of her pregnancy

­ and how she would cope

ow on earth would they take it?

I was the first female partner in the practice and was suddenly expecting my third child after a seven-year gap. Naturally I was overjoyed but I was extremely apprehensive about work. Since I joined the practice the previous year they had been very good to me but I was concerned how they would react.

The partnership agreement contained no maternity clause and I hadn't a clue about maternity leave in general practice, as my other two children were born during my hospital jobs.

Sick at the thought

I felt extremely sick as I left for a two-week holiday to Madeira: morning sickness combined with nausea at the thought of having to sort things out when I returned. My life was hectic enough already; juggling full-time general practice with being a mother.

I was also in the process of becoming a GP trainer and had taken the lead developing the practice into a training practice and had started to train as a GP appraiser. How was I going to cope?

Biting the bullet

On my return I was as nauseated as ever, extremely tired and already putting on weight. I decided it was best to tell my partners immediately so we could plan my maternity leave. To my great surprise they took it really well. I contacted the BMA, who were helpful in amending my partnership agreement. Their help was invaluable as the documents were so complicated and difficult to understand. I spoke to a few GP friends who had recently had children to see how they had organised things.

My partners and I met to amend the partnership agreement and again, to my surprise, they were extremely accommodating and agreed to the BMA's recommendations which gave me 18 weeks' paid leave.

Coping with pregnancy at work

My experience of pregnancy at work was particularly unfortunate. I found work extremely tiring as the pregnancy progressed. It was difficult just trying to keep awake during the afternoons. Visits became harder, especially carrying my heavy doctor's bag up flights of stairs.

The heartburn and sickness were so bad I was practically swigging the Gaviscon during the consultations. I became forgetful and absent-minded, frustrated, and occasionally even depressed, that the workload was dragging me down and affecting my health.

My partners were extremely supportive. One even offered to do all my evening visits. I was terrified of picking up illnesses from my patients. I managed to pick up a nasty infection in my left eye. On the plus side I managed to organise my antenatal appointments at the surgery with our midwife to spare me from travelling to my registered surgery.

A good idea that backfired

The biggest obstacle was trying to recruit a maternity locum. As time went on it became clear there just weren't any around. To compound matters our senior partner was retiring and we had to find a replacement. We placed several adverts but had no applicants. We did eventually manage to attract a young, enthusiastic partner who agreed to do extra sessions to cover my absence. This backfired when the health authority refused to pay any money to cover my absence because they only reimburse maternity pay when the locum is employed from outside the practice.

Premature departure

At the end of January I had a nasty shock. Baby was threatening to come at 28 weeks and I was forced to stop work at very short notice. I decided to take this as holiday rather than maternity leave. Financially I had no choice.

It wasn't such a restful maternity leave. First I had to complete the 17-page training application form and undergo an inspection to be approved as a trainer. There were meetings to attend as well as appraisals to complete.

A happy ending

Oliver was born on March 29 at 37 weeks by normal delivery. He is truly beautiful and worth the enforced early maternity leave with confinement to the house. I am now busy trying to organise my life so that I can return to work. With the hours my husband and I work, a full-time nanny is the only option. At present each feed and nappy change blurs into the next. Sleep seems a precious commodity. I have just started doing GP appraisals and I am due to receive my first GP registrar in February.

Will I be able to cope? Time will tell.

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