World-renowned burns specialist Fiona Wood has urged women not to judge others for how they juggle motherhood and work, saying women had been her harshest critics as she balanced her career and six children.
The former Australian of the Year opened up on the eve of International Women's Day about the criticism and guilt she faced as a working mother, saying "the guilt is something you mature out of but it takes a while".
"The worst people that have tried to nobble me have been women," Dr Wood said.
She said it was up to individual mothers whether they wanted to work or not and other women should respect that.
Dr Wood's comments were made at a Perth function yesterday where she fielded questions on everything from whether women can "have it all" to her perspective on an incident where a stay-at-home mother told a working mother she "loved her children too much to work".
"For the mum who 'loves her kids too much to work' that's her individual ethos," she said. "Fantastic for her. I wouldn't choose to criticise her in a fit, so don't criticise me.
"That is a really important point: facilitate each other rather than criticise."
Dr Wood said the experience of working and raising children with her surgeon husband had, at times, left her feeling trapped.
"I felt very strongly that I couldn't be criticised at work for leaving work and I couldn't be criticised at home for leaving home so I felt like I was trapped," she said.
"The greatest achievement in my life is my kids. Both my husband and I have been strong on the fact that they are first . . . that's our personal philosophy and if that's not obvious to everyone else then it doesn't matter.
"But it took me a long while to mature into that. I have known many people who've criticised me who've had less contact (with their children) than I have."
Dr Wood later told _The West Australian _ her hope was to encourage women to be more positive towards each other and avoid criticism that did not include a solution.
"Just take two seconds to think before you open your mouth," she said. "Criticism is very valuable if it promotes robust debate. If you're just criticising and walking away then I don't engage.
"It's a question of, before you criticise, think what gain is going to come out of that criticism and sometimes maybe you keep it in the think bubble instead of a speech bubble."
As to the question of whether women can have it all, Dr Wood's answer was a personal one: "I feel I have had it all, for me."
Her hectic lifestyle while raising her children, who are now all adults, included routine dashes between work at Princess Margaret Hospital and their lessons at John XXIII College in Mt Claremont.
"I would get from PMH between cases to John XXIII, do a reading roster and get back by the time the next case was on the list," Dr Wood said.
"They didn't know where I was. Mobile phones are beautiful things."
Dr Wood said her advice to younger women hoping to follow in her footsteps was "boring" but simple: eat well, get some sleep, exercise and look after your health.
Events to mark International Women's Day will be held across the State today.
'The guilt is something you mature out of but it takes a while.'"Burns specialist * Dr * *Fiona Wood *