When you’re a mom of twins, life is busy. When you’re a mom of two sets of twins (one set by marriage) and a trauma anesthesiologist during a pandemic, life goes nonstop. But Dr. Tiffany Moon is still trying to use this time to slow down. “It was a little bit of a forced pause, which I think a lot of people experienced—but especially for me because I was going at, like, break-neck speed,” she says. “I basically went from like 80 miles per hour to 20.” And for Moon, that’s a silver lining in a dark cloud: “I think if it didn’t happen, I probably would’ve just kept going 80.”
Moon has spent her whole life racing toward the next big thing, but it seems she’s finally hitting her stride. “When I stop and think about it,” she muses, “I have everything that as a little girl or as a teenager I could’ve ever dreamed of having.”
Your time must be a hot commodity. How do you balance it all? I think this work-life balance is probably a myth. At any given time, the seesaw of work and life is tilted one way or the other. There’s no perfect balance. There are some days where I’m more doctor, and then there are some days where I’m more mom.
Do you ever find that it hard to “turn off” the doctor side, especially during COVID-19? I would say it was hard even pre-pandemic, because it’s not something I can just turn off. I’m always seeing everything through the lens of being a doctor. Everything looks like a deathtrap or an injury waiting to happen.
My older kids wanted to get a trampoline and I was like, “Absolutely not. Do you know how many spinal cord injuries I’ve seen on the trampoline?” And they’re like, “You’re no fun.” I’ve seen too much.
Bedside manner is so important for doctors. How do you help reassure the patients you’re putting under anesthesia? So many times, we assume things and do things. But did you ask the patient? And we talk about patients in their room as if they weren’t there. There are medical students who say, “Well, today, Mrs. Smith presents with abdominal pain. She’s a 46-year-old blah, blah, blah.” And I’m like, “She’s right there; she can hear you. Don’t talk about her like she’s an object.”
I’m trying to inject a little bit more of that humanistic side into a profession that is science, medicine. I’m a doctor, not a robot.
What is it like to be on the front lines of the pandemic? When the pandemic first started, it was very, very scary because we didn’t know anything. It was just like: There is this virus; it came from China, went to Europe, and now it’s here. I was scared. There were times when I thought maybe I shouldn’t go home, so that I don’t get my husband or my nanny or my kids sick.
I am an anxious person by nature; it generally serves me well because I’m able to sort of keep it at a level where I’m on alert, and then it helps me. But sometimes you get this level of anxiety that’s no longer helpful. Then you’re just a crazy person.
Some days [during the beginning of the pandemic], that’s the level of anxiety that I had, and I just had to stop, take a moment to breathe, turn off the television. I just had to get on the phone with a friend and say, “Let’s talk about something that’s not coronavirus. Tell me who Becky’s sleeping with. Tell me about your drunk uncle. Tell me anything.”
Several months in, is it still as bad? I’ve at least learned how to deal with it and not get to those high levels of anxiety where I’m no longer useful. I would literally sit on the couch and worry, and my husband would walk in. He would tell me that I needed to get it together and be part of the family. And I’m like, “OK. OK. I’m getting it together.”
Did you always know you’d be a working mom? I’ve always planned to work. When I got married, and then got pregnant and found out it was twins, it was a big surprise. There were circumstances where my friends and some family members said, “Well, you’re not going to go back to work after your twins are born, are you?” I’m like, What kind of question is that?
You’ve worked so hard to become a doctor. Why would having twins change that? I got some comments like, “Well, how do you expect to continue being a good doctor and care for your newborns?”—these sort of loaded questions coming from mostly well-meaning people. There’s this conflict that you have to choose one: your career or your family.
If you choose your career, then Oh, God. If you choose your family, it’s—“She must be a terrible doctor.” I have friends that went to Yale’s business school and they stay home with their children. They feel so judged.
People are like, “Well, what about that Yale business degree? How helpful is that for carpool and sandwich making?” It’s like there’s this dichotomy, this sort of working mom versus stay-at-home mom. It’s exhausting. There are choices, and I just hate that we get pitted against each other.
What was the biggest challenge to becoming a doctor? I would say it’s that when you choose to go into medicine, that decision excludes other things. You have to study a lot. You have to take all these biology prerequisites, and by having to do those things, you sometimes miss out on other things.
I was so focused on doing my pre-reqs and graduating from Cornell in two years that I never took any art history classes. A bunch of my friends did a semester abroad. I never did any of that stuff. I missed a lot of my friends’ life events, birthday parties, graduations because I was like, “Oh, I can’t go. I have finals this week.” Everything was always about reaching that finish line of graduating in the top 10% of my medical school class.
I feel like I had blinders on during that time. So I missed things I can’t go back and attend. I missed my best friend’s graduation from business school because I was studying for finals. Back then, studying for finals was so important and I was like, “Girl, I’m going to make it up to you.” I sent flowers, and all that kind of stuff, but now I know I should’ve gone to her graduation.
Does that experience help you have a better “big picture” vision as a parent? Yes, for sure. Now that I’m a mom, I’m trying to sort of relive my childhood through their lens. I didn’t necessarily have a great childhood myself.
Where were you born? I was born in China, in a small town outside Beijing. My parents immigrated to the United States when I was 3 years old, but I didn’t come until I was 6. I came to America in 1990.
You must have been overwhelmed. Yeah. I was reuniting with my mom and dad who were basically strangers to me. I had not seen or really spoken to them in three years. Being in a completely new culture, new school, speaking no English, going to ESL … “overwhelmed” would be an understatement.
How does the way you were raised affect the way you parent? I think the good things that I picked up from my parents are that they always prioritized my education. When I got home from school, it was, “Have a snack, do your homework and then you can play.” I do that with my kids. My parents instilled in me a very good work ethic. I always saw them working hard, struggling and persevering.
Some of the things that they maybe didn’t do so well is that they kind of also had blinders on. They were so singularly focused on a goal that they sort of didn’t teach me to enjoy the path toward the goal. I know I have been [that way] in the past, but now, I’m like, “Let’s enjoy the road, the journey—not just be focused on crossing the finish line.”
Did your childhood impact your desire to be present for your own children? That is a very good question, because my parents were never at any of my things. I felt a sort of emptiness, wishing that they were there, but I also felt guilty for that. I knew that my dad wasn’t watching a baseball game and having a beer. He wasn’t at my skating event because he was at work, and it wasn’t flexible for him to ask for that off.
The corollary of that is that I try to go to all my kids’ things. I can either work the night before or work that night, so that I can go to the thing. Or I’ll take a vacation day.
It sounds like you’re trying to make sure your kids don’t feel the way that you did. I try to make it to all of their things, but still, I miss some. Before the pandemic, we were going to gymnastics. Some of the moms drop off and leave. I sit there, open my laptop and answer emails and phone calls and schedule things. They come out of class, and Maddy says, “Mommy, I did my first cartwheel today, but you didn’t see because you were working on your computer.”
And what she said is true. I’m just like, “But I was here.” And then, I’m like, Oh, was I here?
What has been your best learning experience as a mom? I would say it’s probably patience, because I’m not a very patient person. When I want things done, I want it now and done correctly, and if it’s not, you’re going to hear about it. When you have children, that’s not how it works. I have learned that perfection is not the goal with children.
Hails from A small town outside of Beijing, China
Lives in Dallas
Education Cornell University, UT Southwestern Medical School
Occupation Anesthesiologist, educator and clinician
Significant other Daniel Moon, vice president and general counsel for Sam Moon
Children Chloe and Madison, 6, and stepchildren Nathan and Nicole, 16
Dream job as a child Doctor
Photo courtesy of Carter Rose.