Friday, November 6, 2009

When Mother Knows Best

Before I had my first child, I was obsessed with motherhood. Trying to get pregnant, month after month, seeing babies and bellies everywhere, but it wasn't happening for me. ("Visualize," the books said, "and it will happen!" What a load of crap. As if it were that easy. Heck, Ill just visualize myself as a supermodel with 3 gorgeous kids and no stretch marks. Ain't gonna happen.) I knew something was wrong, but my doctor kept telling me to relax. Relax, my butt. I changed doctors, found out I had a hormone imbalance, and started taking progesterone.

Then I got pregnant. And I got heartburn, all-day-all-night sickness, stretch marks, varicose veins, migraines, carpal tunnel syndrome, pre-term labor, pre-eclampsia, every symptom under the sun. But I didn't care: I was finally pregnant! I was over the moon, elated, giddy with happiness, just the way an expectant mom is supposed to be.

When my daughter was born, I cried tears of joy. She was perfect, beautiful, healthy, AND a good sleeper. I hit the jackpot. I quit my job, I stayed home with my angel, and felt so lucky and so blessed. When she was six weeks old, I sat and cried, thinking how hard it would be to put her in daycare and go back to work.

And then we had a bad day. I mean, a REALLY bad day. The kind of day where you desperately need to go to the grocery store, but everytime you try to leave, you're drenched in spit up. You know, that projectile spit up that defies the laws of gravity, where you're sure she's dying of malnutrition because HOW could she be getting any breastmilk at all when SO MUCH is coming back out? It took an hour to feed her, then change her, then change myself, then change her again when she spit up all over herself, then on get the point.

When we finally got home, 4 hours after we started, the screaming began. She screamed for 7 hours straight. If she wasn't nursing, she was screaming. Of course, my husband was out of town, and of course it was after office hours, and the on-call pediatrician (a Doogie Howser look-a-like right out of medical school) was no help at all. (Yes, you idiot, I DID try feeding, burping, changing her; I DID look to see if she had a hair wrapped around a finger or a toe; I DID give her gas medicine. Do you even HAVE children? A medical degree? A CLUE?) His advice? Just lay down with her and try to get some sleep. Meanwhile I'm thinking that babies don't scream for that long unless something is wrong, so...something is wrong!

Finally, in desperation, I ignored him and drove to the ER - and she promptly fell sound asleep. Which meant that the nice triage nurse thought I was a psycho first-timer who had no idea what to do with a crying baby. "Oh, Honey, babies do cry, you know." Really? You think? I guess after SEVEN HOURS OF NONSTOP SCREAMING, you'd fall asleep, too, Nurse Ratchet!

But I guess I argued loud and long enough to merit an exam by the pediatrician on duty that night, if for no other reason than to get the weeping, leaking, crazy new mother out of the crowded waiting room. He diagnosed my infant with an allergy to my breastmilk, told me to use hypo-allergenic formula and follow up with my pediatrician the next day. I cried all the way home, my dreams of nursing my daughter until her first birthday shattered.

But then I started thinking: an allergy to breast milk? How? I may have been a new mom, but that made no sense to me. Something just felt wrong. How does a six-week-old suddenly develop such an allergy? And what do women in Third World countries do, buy formula? No, they breastfeed. So when she woke up again a few hours later, I nursed her. And in the morning, I nursed her. And then I called my own pediatrician, who said to bring her right in.

When I told the pediatrician, a mom of 3 and breastfeeding advocate, what the ER doctor had told me, she said, and I quote, "That is the MOST ridiculous thing I have EVER heard." She took one look at my baby and diagnosed her with a double ear infection and acid reflux. (And then, much to my amusement, she called the ER and yelled at that doctor for a good five minutes straight and told him he was never to treat any of "her" babies again. So there.)

I ended up nursing her until she was 13 months old. She never had a drop of formula.

Which leads me to this: I was right. I'm not advocating that we completely ignore medical advice, but if something feels wrong to us, we need to investigate a bit more. I'm sure that both the on-call pediatrician and the ER pediatrician are fine doctors who have helped many families, but, as my friend Jill says, it's called "practicing" medicine for a reason. No one is infallible. People, even experts, make mistakes. If I hadn't sought a second opinion, I'd have weaned my daughter 11 months earlier than I wanted to. I'd have spent thousands on formula. I'd have doubted myself and my ability as a mother. I have never doubted myself since. I KNOW when something is wrong. I KNOW my kids.

Slacker Mom Says...this is one area where we can't slack off. There is truth to the old adage: Mom knows best. We know our kids, and we need to trust ourselves. Seek professional help, to be sure, but use your mommy instincts when it comes to your kids. Follow your gut. Listen to that little voice inside. Argue and insist and make people listen to you when it comes to the well-being of your kids. Whether it's a doctor, a teacher, a coach, it doesn't matter - if we don't advocate for our children, who will? Don't let anyone blow you off. NO ONE knows better than Mommy.

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