In any career, one of the main issue for women who want to have children is how to achieve the balance between personal and professional life. They do not want to give up their profession and much less of the family moments, especially their obligations to their children. The female neurosurgeon Alessandra Gorgulho is direct in the answer to this doubt: “There is no balance. Whoever finds out, please give me the formula”, she says with a lot of laughs.
At the age of 45, the specialist, along with her husband, also a Neurosurgeon, founded the HCor Neuro Center for Neuroscience, when they returned to Brazil in 2012. They have an 11-year-old son, to whom she attributes the bigger change of her life. After the medical school in 1996, Dr. Alessandra finished her residency in Neurosurgery at UNIFESP (São Paulo Federal University) in 2002 and her specialization in Pain Neurosurgery at the University of São Paulo’s School of Medicine. She was interested in an area in Neurosurgery not developed at the time in Brazil and sought to differentiate into two sub-specializations in the United States. She became a Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. There she met her husband, the Neurosurgeon Antonio De Salles, M.D. “My husband and I have the same subspecialty as if it were not enough to be the two neurosurgeons! This has been a great professional revelation for both of us, as we share the same enthusiasm for the latest scientific developments and research, as well as complement each other regarding patient care. We are two brains to help each of the people who rely on our work at the most difficult time of their lives when health fails”, she says. Two years after the wedding, the couple decided to have a child. “I felt it was the right timing, because I had already achieved the goals I had set for my professional training, so I decided to prioritize the family. My mother helped us a lot because she moved from Brazil to the United States to help with the baby. I was very fortunate in that sense, no one better than my mother to take care of my son when I have a profession that demands so much.
The difficulty in engaging on both functions being a Neurosurgeon is that the specialty does not accept partial dedication. Either you are in the game or you are not. That way, it is important to define what “kind of game to play”, i.e. what will be the focus of neurosurgical practice in your career. The female neurosurgeon and mother, in my opinion, must find a niche and focus, with total dedication. In this respect, men can be more ambitious in their professional objectives because they suffer less pressure from familiar aspects, although, of course, many men are involved and participate in it. Antônio is very present in the education, raising and recreation of our son. But the female role is different, and I myself believe in this distribution of things. Again, it’s great luck that we work so hard because I have the support and understanding of the whole family, including my mother, in the “distribution” of tasks. However, I always think that I am doing “less” now and then in one aspect or another, I always try to improve. It gives me great satisfaction to be so busy even though I have not yet found the balance as you asked me just now. But it would not be enough for me to have a “quieter” life”, she says. After the birth of her son, the neurosurgeon continued to carry out her work with all the determination she had always had, but she realized that other matters had become priorities in her life. For her, the well-being of her child has become as important as her professional goals. “I love what I do, and I dedicate myself to all patients, but I started not only having professional success as a goal, but success as a mother”, she explains. It was because of little Lucas that Dr. Alessandra returned to Brazil. “The United States of America is a very lonely country. Although there are many possibilities for study and growth, I would like to raise my child close to our families. He certainly accelerated our return to Brazil”, she said. The specialist says that the routine is crazy and the feeling of guilt at not being able to follow the child at many times is almost daily. “But I believe in educating by example. I make the moments that I have with him pleasurable. I try to give quality to our contact. There are mothers who spend almost all hours of the day with their children and do not follow their academic development nor do they have as open a dialogue with their children as I have with mine”. Educating by example is also one of the phrases of the neurosurgeon and member of the Board and the BSN Advisory Board, Marise Augusto Fernandes Audi, mother of three children. The specialist faced a challenge: she had her first child while still in neurosurgery residency. “I entered the residence in early 1985, at age 23, when I would spend 1 year in clinical neurology and 3, exclusively in neurosurgery. I was dating an engineer from Petrobras for 4 years and we decided to get married. In March 1985, after 22 days of preparation, I became pregnant 3 months later”, she recalls. The couple lived on the coast of São Paulo State, in the city of Santos, and had a rather busy routine. At 5:30 AM, Dr. Marise used to leave her house and go to São Paulo to work, returning only around 10:00 PM. “I worked all the time, until the last day, when I operated during the day and went in labor at dawn. I was away for the minimum of time, without my vacation period, to not damage my training”, she says. In the case of Dr. Marise, it was her mother who also helped her with the baby care. The specialist also felt the lack of time with her daughter. “I remember that every day my mother told me: what a pity, today she started doing this or that and you lost it. It was very difficult, but I overcame it”, she says. At the end of the neurosurgery residency, which lasted four years, the couple had a second girl. “I worked hard all through the gestation and I just stopped on the last day. The baby was 18 days old when, as I insisted, I took distance duties and visited the inpatients at the weekend that was predetermined for me, to not affect the team. She took the baby to the daycare, with several bottles of frozen breast milk, milked previously overnight. I went back to work in 2 months and 1 day and whenever possible, I would spend in the daycare to breastfeed the baby”, she says. The couple’s third daughter arrived four years later, when Dr. Marise managed to make her routine a bit more comfortable. Off duty, she could spend the evenings and the weekends with the girls and her husband. When the balance seemed to have reached the neurosurgeon’s career, life brought her further challenges. “In 1994, my father passed away suddenly, and I had to take over the family businesses for part-time. So, I worked as a doctor in the morning, alternating surgical days with days of medical consultation and in the afternoon I was an entrepreneur”, she recalls. Five years later, her mother died and two years after mourning, the neurosurgeon was affected by breast cancer. “I never stopped working, except for the 3 days after the chemotherapy, when it was very bad. I was able to work normally during radiotherapies. I was bald, without eyelashes or eyebrows, for a year. It was horrible”, she recalls. As she recovered from her illness and separated from her husband because of overwork, she realized that she needed to work less and give more time to herself. So, she reduced her workload. “In 2006 I divorced and in 2007 I married the same husband again. During the divorce, he stayed with the children, and in shared custody, they spent 2 days of the week with me and alternate weekends. After getting married again, I started to have more time for myself, started to workout and to take better care of my health, eating habits and even became vainer”, she explains. For the neurosurgeon, it is impossible not to lose anything of personal or professional life when you choose to devote to both, but you can be happy in both areas. “Today I am 57 years old, married and proud of my family and our achievements. For the women who want to start a family: do not neglect their husbands. Redouble care and attention to them. Not everyone supports this pace and the absence of the wife at home, for such long periods”, she concludes.