Photo of Dr. Fairlee

Long before I wanted to be a dentist, I dreamt of being a mother

Photo of Dr. Fairlee with her kids

Dr. Amberena Fairlee with her kids, Jasper and Fiona.

Looking back, my vision of motherhood was definitely tainted with the unrealistic optimism that comes when you’ve never actually had a child. I became pregnant with my son during my second year of dental school, and gave birth in the fall of my third year. Taking a “maternity leave” during dental school is not exactly traditional, and put a lot of pressure on me to not only master motherhood, but to also graduate on time. After a number of sleepless nights, thanks in part to both my son Jasper and dental school, I managed to finally get that DMD and start real life.

Photo of Dr. Fairlee

Dr. Fairlee

It turns out I’m a glutton for punishment, though. I became pregnant with my daughter the month that I graduated from dental school. This meant that I went on maternity leave only 6 months into working at my first job as a dentist. There were a number of things I did to prepare for maternity leave, and there were also a few lessons I learned along the way.

I began my career with very open conversations with hiring dentists about my plans to have more children. As a woman, it’s risky to talk to potential bosses about anything related to future pregnancies. Hiring dentists likely don’t want to imagine their new associate dentist having to leave for a few months shortly after being hired. I was confident in the value I would add to any practice, though, and felt that if someone didn’t want to hire me because I wanted to expand my family, they were not an office I wanted to work at.

I announced my pregnancy to the owner dentist and office manager of the practice I was working at when I was around 12 weeks pregnant. I chose this point in time because it meant the weeks where miscarriage risk was higher were behind me. Basically, I didn’t want to announce a pregnancy and then have to announce a miscarriage shortly after.

I had to think about the amount of time I wanted to spend on maternity leave. Because I was a new grad, I wasn’t financially able to take more than two months of a maternity leave. In a dream world I would have stayed on leave for three months, just to have my baby’s schedule more stable upon returning to work. My office ended up hiring a temporary dentist to cover while I was out, which helped take care of my patient’s emergency needs. My due date was March 17, but my first baby arrived about a week early. I planned on starting my maternity leave on March 1, for ease of payroll and for overall physical comfort. When March rolled around, I was also rolling around because of how large and round I was. My daughter ended up being born on March 7, which meant I got one week of “relaxation” before the hard work of having a new baby started.

One thing that I was unable to do with this pregnancy that I would recommend others do, is to look into a short-term disability insurance plan that covers your income during maternity leave. These plans have to be signed up for PRIOR to getting pregnant, which is why it wasn’t an option for me. Often, these plans only cover income for six to 12 weeks of maternity leave, but having any income during your leave is hugely helpful, especially as a new grad.

All in all, the transition into motherhood is a challenging one. My advice for new grads who are thinking of getting pregnant or who already are pregnant, is to be mindful of what’s really important. When we graduate dental school, we have a tendency of feeling like dentistry is the biggest thing we need to be focusing on. In my experience, I have absolutely no regrets about “stalling” my new career to focus on expanding my family. I became a dentist because it’s a career that can easily fit with my domestic goals. Now I get to do work that is fulfilling, while also getting to spend ample time with my kids. The hard work really does pay off!

Dr. Amberena Fairlee is a New Dentist Now guest blogger. She grew up in Bend, Oregon, and graduated from Oregon Health and Sciences School of Dentistry in 2017. Dr. Fairlee is an associate general dentist in Redmond, Oregon. When she’s not working or serving on the Oregon Dental Association’s Board of Trustees, she can be found drinking lattes, cuddling her husband, Nathan, and playing with her kids, Jasper and Fiona.

3 comments

  • This was a really good read and very informational. Thank you so much for sharing your story and letting those who are wanting to expand their families about the options they have for maternity leave.

  • Great information. Thanks for sharing us

  • Fantastic article! I’m a 30-year-old female about to begin my first year of dental school next month and family planning is also something I stress about.

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