Almost two years ago my son was born. As I think about how much has changed since he was born, I’m reminded of what we went through at his first checkup. Today I’d like to share the story of my very first pediatrician visit as a new mom.
When my son was born, we had a rough and rocky start, and I was just glad to get home where I felt more comfortable trying to figure out all the ins and outs of breastfeeding, caring for a newborn, and tackling my own recovery.
We delivered at 38 weeks, and I still hadn’t found a pediatrician that would take our insurance. At the hospital, the pediatrician who worked with us recommended we check out a pediatrician near our house that was conveniently in network, so we decided to just start there. A week after his delivery, we went to the new pediatrician’s office for our very first checkup. We walked into the small office to be greeted by a nurse with the doctor close behind her in the small entrance. She checked us in, gave us paperwork to fill out, and left us to our own devices as we filled out the papers. My husband worked to keep our newborn occupied in the car seat and made small talk with another couple whose baby was only slightly older than ours.
When we were called back, I was irritated as the nurse proceeded to refer to my son as “she” and “her.” We corrected her multiple times, but she never seemed to get it and continued to refer to our son as a girl. She checked his weight and length and asked some questions about his birth stats before leaving. Shortly afterward the doctor joined us. He introduced himself and shared how long he’d been practicing in the area. He seemed nice enough but was all business and immediately concerned about my son’s health. He did his own examination of my now-screaming infant, who was distressed from lying on a cold table and being poked and prodded.
After a few minutes of examination, the doctor stepped back and indicated I could take my son. He told us he was very concerned about my son’s weight loss and thought he might be dehydrated. I was horrified because I had no clue anything was wrong. I didn’t know what signs to look for and was still suffering from my own problems with recovery. The doctor zeroed in on me and began asking questions about how our feeding was going.
I’m honestly not sure if it was a miscommunication or difference in culture or even perhaps being stereotyped because we were on TennCare at the time. Whatever it was, the doctor’s demeanor changed from calmly polite to more demanding and brusque. He insisted that I nurse my son in front of him to see if I was doing something wrong.
I sat in the cold office with my husband next to me and unhooked my nursing bra. I brought my son up to my breast and tried to placate the doctor who stood opposite us, looking on with clinical detachment that seemed menacing to my sleep-deprived brain. But between the stressful circumstances and my son’s angry crying, the attempt was a complete failure.
Then the doctor said the words that stuck with me for months and exacerbated my postpartum depression and anxiety. He looked me in the eyes as I sat with my son against me and said, “You’re not feeding your baby. You have no milk.”
Immediately after that, he started making arrangements to send us to Children’s Hospital ER. However, during that time, he repeated those words two or three more times as I put myself back together, trying not to sob my eyes out about the whole situation. My husband, on the other hand, was getting visibly angry with the man for his treatment and complete dismissal of us. I had to get a handle on my emotions quickly because I could tell my husband felt like the doctor was attacking me, and he wanted to defend me from the man’s accusations.
Now in hindsight and even at the time, we understood from the doctor and the measurements we heard that our son was in danger. I’m so glad he sent me to Children’s Hospital to get professional help because we were having more problems than anyone realized. However in the moment, I was a very new mom with no clue what I was doing, trying to recover from a somewhat traumatic delivery, and this doctor had called into question the very essence of my parenting.
For months after that visit, I struggled with hearing those words over and over in my head. It was a battle to get my son to gain weight. We visited doctors, specialists, lactation consultants, and even a chiropractor to try to get to the root of our issues. And it all started from those two short sentences: “You’re not feeding your baby. You have no milk.”
I can say now that I’m grateful to that doctor for getting us to the emergency room that awful afternoon. I can’t say I appreciate his bedside manner with a new mom, and I’ll admit we never went back to him. We changed doctors as soon as we were released from Children’s Hospital, and I canceled his follow-up visit with that pediatrician. I couldn’t take the censure and judgment he laid at my door.