Doctor moms across the country have found the support they need through Facebook, especially during the pandemic. Here’s why they encourage every parent to find their own virtual support group.

By Emily Shiffer
June 29, 2020
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Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

Giving birth to twins while raising a toddler and working as a family medicine physician, Megan Babb was in need of a strong support system. "I needed a network of women who knew what it was like to balance the often difficult tasks of being a physician and a mom," she says. That's when a fellow colleague added her to the Facebook group Physician Moms Group (PMG), an online community founded in 2014 for parents in the medical field. The group, which now has more than 74,000 members, is a safe place Dr. Babb turns to for comfort, to ask questions, and have what she calls "healthy discussions among colleagues."

Several years later, in the midst of COVID-19, the online group became even more important. PMG founder, Hala Sabry, a Los Angeles-based emergency medicine physician, launched a subgroup, COVID-PMG, so these physicians can discuss the unprecedented challenges they've dealt with because of the pandemic, both professionally and personally. "I have always tried to maintain a healthy distance between my children and my work," says Dr. Babb, now a mother of four. "Since COVID, my kids understand it has brought everything in their life to a halt. As a result, they have clearly put two and two together and are more fearful of my work."

The difficult time has also put a strain on the mental health of many physician parents. "We have been receiving calls from physician moms that though they themselves have anxieties about contracting COVID, they were more worried about bringing it home to their children," says Mona Masood, D.O., general outpatient psychiatrist and founder and chief organizer of the Physician Support Line in Philadelphia. "Some of them have lived in different parts of their homes, wearing masks at home, isolating themselves from family, which only makes their mental health more at risk."

Turning to social media for extra support has become a much-needed lifeline. Online communities are a great place for parents, especially those part of a niche community, to connect and find support they may be missing from loved ones. "Virtual support, whether it be from Facebook or from any number of peer support programs, is very important, as it normalizes a shared experience," says Dr. Masood.

The group is a place where these women can be themselves and speak openly about their current work experiences and the impacts it has on their personal lives and families. "Here, it is OK to be vulnerable. You don't have to meet anyone's expectations of being a hero. You are speaking/sharing with women who already understand the journey and can more readily guide/support/validate your concerns," adds Dr. Masood.

Alaleh Akhavan, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist starting a new practice, Joyful Dermatology, in Dobbs Ferry, New York, agrees. When the pandemic hit, Dr. Akhavan pressed pause on the construction plans for her new practice and began seeing patients remotely via a telehealth platform. Her husband, also a physician, has been working with some of the sickest patients at some of the hardest hit hospitals in New York City.

Parenting their three daughters, ages 2, 4, and, 8, became a bit more challenging. "We are spending so much time together now, and it's been a delicate balance of allowing them to witness our current struggles and how we talk and persevere through them, while also making sure that we give ourselves the space to just experience the simple joys of being together," says Dr. Akhavan, who has been a member of PMG since 2015.

She turned to her online group, which she says has been an immeasurable source of support and community for her through her years of medical training and parenting. "We are a group of strong, smart, empathetic women that come together to make the little things a bit easier, from selecting baby gear to work attire, to supporting each other when heartache or tragedy strikes one of our members, and to laughing together at the funny stories and memes that we share," she says. "It has allowed me to have an intimate look at the lives of women that are in some ways so different from me—they live in places far away; are from varied cultural backgrounds; and have different family structures—but with whom I share an undeniable connection born of our common experiences. I am a better woman, mother, and doctor for having heard their stories."

How Parents Can Find Their Own Virtual Support Group

Finding a virtual support group during this time, regardless of your profession, can be an incredible asset to keep you healthy. "There is great value in peer support. There are journeys, trials, and accomplishments unique to being in a support group that can provide validation and encouragement that people who didn't share that journey would not be able to," says Dr. Masood. "You may be going through a particular experience as a parent for the first time, but so many others have been there and done that. It normalizes and grounds you to know you are not alone."

If you are looking to find a virtual support group, asking trusted friends, family, or medical or mental health professional can also lead you to the right group.

"PMG was found by most members by word of mouth and being invited to join by an existing member. Social media has changed the directory style of finding support or organizations," says Dr. Masood. "We tend to trust services and especially mental health services when someone we know has personally benefited from it or someone we trust recommends it."

National organizations have also stepped up to address mental health during COVID-19. The American Psychological Association has created a COVID-19 resource page, as has the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), has created a listing of virtual and telephone support groups.

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