When I was pregnant with my first son, I carefully tracked his development and the corresponding things I needed to do using one of the popular online pregnancy trackers.
At 12 weeks, we announced his impending arrival to our friends and extended family. At 16 weeks, we created a baby registry. At 24 weeks, we started compiling baby supplies and nursery basics and, at 30 weeks, we began the search for a pediatrician.
Relatively new to the city, I did my most of my research online. I asked around on the local mom’s boards and on my Facebook page. I checked out different offices websites and, after hearing recommendations for one particular doctor over and over again, I called the office and was excited to find that he was taking new patients.
When I told my OB who I’d selected, she gave me a big thumbs up and shared that he was always her top recommendation. As my due date approached, I felt comfortable that my babe would be well taken care of when he finally arrived.
My son was born on his due date after a fast and furious labor. He was unexpectedly large and expectedly adorable. The next two days in the hospital were a whirlwind of exhausted joy. We marveled at the little person we’d created, asked our nurses endless questions, and I practiced breastfeeding.
When the time came for our pediatrician to examine our baby and sign him out of the hospital, he was a no show. Instead, an on-call pediatrician from the hospital checked us out and told us our baby was as healthy as could be. Disappointed that we hadn’t met the pediatrician, I also understood that doctors keep busy schedules and often get caught up seeing more pressing patients.
At home, my husband and I quickly began to understand just how exhausting a newborn can be. We also noticed that our baby’s skin was starting to turn yellow. While we didn’t realize the severity of the issue at first, we soon understood that we needed to go to the doctor immediately.
Postpartum hormones had me in tears on and off as we made our way across town. Pain from a difficult delivery left me wincing with every step once we arrived. I was also painfully engorged and leaking milk down the front of my shirt. As we walked through the doors of the pediatrician’s office, I had every expectation that the doctor would help us. I needed reassurance that my baby was healthy and that I was doing a good job. I also needed some empathy for the pain and anxiety I was experiencing.
When the doctor walked into the exam room, he took one look at my boy and ordered a blood test. Then he turned to talk to my husband – and only my husband. He asked my husband how the baby was nursing. He asked my husband whether the baby was pooping. He asked my husband how long the baby was sleeping and whether or not his color had deepened over the last few hours.
When I asked questions, he directed his answers to my husband. When I learned that my boy’s jaundice could be dangerous and I started to cry in earnest, he stuck his head out the door and asked a nurse to bring me tissues without so much as a glance my way. He also mentioned (to my husband) that it was his job to make sure that I was “handling things okay” and that I wasn’t being “overzealous about exclusively breastfeeding.”
All of this as I sat on the exam table, tears streaming down my cheeks, trying my hardest to get my baby to latch.
When the nurse came in and the doctor left, she sat with me and held my hands. She told me that she remembered how hard early motherhood was and that it was okay to cry. She told me she was sure that I was doing a great job. And then she answered all the questions I’d asked the doctor again. Her care and comfort gave me the strength I needed to make it through the rest of the appointment.
Over the next few days, as I sat with my new baby in the Children’s Hospital (his jaundice had, in fact, been at a dangerous level), I began to feel both more confident as a mother and more angry at the pediatrician who had dismissed me. Had he not seen how much pain I was in? Did he not understand how rude it was to talk through me as if I wasn’t present? Did he not know how inexorably linked maternal and child health are?
Before we left the hospital, we had to make a follow-up appointment. When the scheduling nurse asked who his pediatrician was, I paused. I never wanted to see that doctor again, but I felt nervous about giving up a spot at a practice with a doctor who had come so highly recommended. In the end, I requested that my son’s files be switched to a new doctor who had just joined the practice.
During our next appointment, the new doctor was kind and empathetic and took the time to listen to all of my concerns. She asked about me and my goals. She understood how important breastfeeding was to me and talked through strategies to ensure that my little one was getting enough.
When I told her that I didn’t want to use the cry-it-out approach, she gave me resources to help me teach my baby to sleep without tears. As my boy grew, his pediatrician always started appointments by asking what was new, how my boy was doing, and what my concerns and hopes for the next few months were. Each time she asked these questions, I became more and more grateful that I’d switched my son’s care.
From time to time, when my kids have regular appointments or sick visits, I pass our first doctor in the hallway. When this happens, I always feel proud that one of my first decisions as a parent was to stand up for myself and for my son.