An intern recently presented to me a premature baby discharged from a two-month NICU stay to her 15-year-old mom. The intern’s eyes were wide as she read the pages and pages of NICU jargon that she was expected to synthesize into a plan for this baby. After we discussed the primary care of a premature baby in general terms, I held up the discharge summary and said, “If this overwhelms you, imagine how this mom feels bringing home this baby.” This pile of papers translates into a very tiny baby, who has already had an eventful life, and his young mother who has to learn how to meet his needs while maintaining her own identity. “You need to go back in there and give this mom some encouragement and support. That is the most important thing you can do today.” This is how I feel about most newborn well visits. After making sure the baby is healthy and safe, much of what I do is partnering with the mothers (and fathers) about how difficult, and yet amazing, their job is. There is so much about those first few weeks that makes you barely able to recognize yourself or your former life and while you love your new baby more than anything, you dream about a full night of sleep and the freedom you once knew. It helps to hear someone who has survived it all tell you that you will too.
I recently read another blog post about moms allowing themselves to be photographed with their children, despite their insecurities and lapses in hygiene. I wrote earlier about how to dress your post-baby body, but I’ll admit that there aren’t a plethora of photos of me and my son to choose from for exactly the reasons that Allison Tate mentions, including putting my son’s grooming and fashion before my own. However, I was asked for work to submit a photo of myself and my son for a newsletter and while scrolling through thousands of photos on my iPhone, I scarcely found any featuring myself. I imagined that someday my presence in my son’s life would be undocumented (besides this blog!) and since then have tried to hand off the camera more often so that we can capture these moments. I want my son to see the joy on my face when I am holding him, the bags under my eyes because we were up together all night, the pucker of my kisses all over his head, and the body that gave him life.
Every so often, a family asks if they can take a photograph of me with their baby– usually to document their first exam. I love these requests because it reminds me how special my work is when it starts to feel routine. Lately though I have been the one asking families if I can photograph them. One mother of nine had seven of her children in my office and while we were talking they had all managed to climb onto the exam table, sitting there with legs dangling like the photo of the men atop the skyscraper, so I asked if I could capture this on her camera. How often could this mom possibly get photographed with her children?
For all the moms I see in my clinic who don’t have the ability to hand off their camera to others, or don’t have the mommy friends that I have to share their feelings, and can’t imagine that one day things will get easier and that the sleep and freedom they once knew will return, albeit in a different way, I try to offer them small pieces of that in 15-minute increments. As mothers, we need to support each other and create a community that highlights the important work we do every day. And while sometimes I am not sure what pearls I have to offer the brilliant residents with whom I work, my experiences from the trenches of motherhood are always freely shared because I think these are some of the most important things a young pediatrician can learn.