“You’ll understand when you have kids.” Even if you’re a pediatrician.
Dr. Mom: How motherhood changed me as a pediatrician
After completing 24 years of schooling and medical training, you’d think that once I graduated from pediatric residency, I’d know a thing or two about the health of children. And I did. I knew a lot. I knew that breastfeeding provided the best nutrition for babies. I knew that car seats should be rear-facing until age 2. I knew that sleep training and a nap schedule was vital to a small child’s livelihood. I knew that pacifiers were okay…for a little while. I knew that well-rounded meals were important, and that strong-willed children could eventually be trained to eat their vegetables and proteins.
Then, I was blessed to have a beautiful son...
….who decided that I needed to be re-taught a few things about children.
And by a few things, I mean everything.
Don’t get me wrong – you don’t have to be a parent to be an excellent doctor. I still dish out the same advice. The books and studies are spot-on and I’m going to give it to you straight. Breastfeeding does provide the best nutrition for babies. But I understand the pain you’re going through to meet that goal. And I understand the frustration of having a child who just won’t latch on. And I understand now why you look at me, with a crazy twitch in your eye, when I tell you to try an extra pumping session a day to build up your supply, mama. I hated that thing, too. Can anyone say “dairy cow”? And guess what – formula isn’t poisonous. I wasn’t physically able to meet my full breastfeeding goals with my kid – there’s no judgement here if you grab that can. And it’s okay if it makes your relationship with your child happier, healthier and more fulfilling.
Our car seat remains rear-facing at 18 months. It’s been proven to be five times safer than forward-facing. I’m sorry for my lecture during your little one’s checkup. And oh yes, I too want to rip my hair out when I can’t reach over far enough to give my kid that 400th toy to keep them quiet on the trip to grandma’s.
“Crying it out” was a tough one for me. Pre-child, it was so easy to coach parents - encourage them to drop the constant rocking, the running into the nursery at all hours of the night, the fear of allowing their child to cry in order to learn put themselves to sleep. Then I went through it with my son. Let’s just say I give the same advice now (it really does work) …and recommend a glass of wine for every 15 minutes of crying. I probably cried more than my kid did. Motherhood helped me give this advice with a much softer tone. I get it, mom and dad. And I feel your pain (and exhaustion).
Pacifiers – I missed that thing so much. So, so much. Oh man I missed that thing when it had to go. I think I needed one myself when the time came to get rid of it.
As for the well-rounded, healthy meals I recommend offering your child throughout the day – I now understand why there are food shortages in some parts of the world. It’s because all that food is currently on the floor of my kitchen. Where my son threw it. I get it. And I’m here to help you find tricks to make things better. Tried and tested in my own home.
In all seriousness, motherhood has been the most exhausting, challenging, humbling thing I’ve ever experienced. But I can say without a doubt that it’s made me a better doctor for your child. Because helping you get through those everyday challenges is a huge part of what being a pediatrician is all about.
I recently polled some physician mom colleagues to get their take on how motherhood changed them:
- “I am that much more in awe of the composure, patience, faith, resolve my patients' families have, especially considering how chronically sick the kids are that I see, and how too not-infrequently, limited the treatments are. I see my son in every patient. Everything is different. Every heartache is my heartache. Each illness, each story seems to hit home that much harder. I am so so appreciative.”
- “I am much more empathetic and practical in some advice. I think that I am much more emotionally available post having kids and can understand a variety of stresses parents who go through NICU may encounter.”
- “You come to understand that "by the book" is not always what is possible in real life!”
- “I feel like when the kids have a tougher diagnosis - cancer- it hits closer to home and I hold my kids a bit tighter. Likewise, little pearls and tricks that I used help make it more of a village caring mentality for the family which has been lost over the last 30-40 years.”
- “My medical advice is not too different, but I understand the unspoken worry so much better now. So I try to address the emotional stuff first in ways that would not have occurred to me pre-kids. Now I'll directly say things like "you are a good mother even if you need to use formula," or "this lymphadenitis/rectal bleeding/etc is NOT cancer," or "they are not dangerous, but constant viral illnesses all winter TOTALLY SUCK.” I think it has made me a much better pediatrician.”
- “One of my favorite attendings in peds residency told me, as I was a mess after coming back from maternity leave with my first, that a little part of your heart will always be on the outside, dangling like a vulnerable little wisp in the wind that is parenting- and that little wisp makes you so much stronger and so much softer- all for the good....it's so true.”
Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!