When my partner and I were deciding on a pediatrician for our kids, we picked the one that most parents in our new neighborhood used and was close to our apartment. We didn’t vet the doctors with a barrage of questions, and that probably has to do with where we live: in New York City, we have a lot of options (who would take our health insurance, at the time). But I didn’t think about questions the pediatrician would ask me, as the new mom. Some of the questions were simple (“Are there pets in the home? Does anyone smoke in the house?”), but others kind of made me feel guilty, either because I didn’t know the answers, didn't completely feel comfortable in my new role as a mother, or because I didn’t know the correct answers, which really went against the grain of my Type A personality.
I was not a very anxious new mom, but my confidence in my parenting abilities was pretty low. I had never been somebody’s mother before and there were so many ways I could mess up. So in the examining room, with a 3-day-old child in my arms, I felt so vulnerable as the pediatrician went through her list of questions at our first visit. Her bedside manner was wonderful, but I couldn’t help but feel nervous that my responses would fall short of what a “proper” mom would say.
Now that my kids are older, I can anticipate the questions their doctor will probably ask, and I’m truthful, but less susceptible to feeling guilty. Not only has my self-confidence grown a bit in the decade since first becoming a mother, but I realize that pediatricians are not interested in judging parents. Truly, they only want to help us raise healthy children.
Thinking back on my “newer mom” self, though, here are some questions our pediatrician asked that made me feel guilty:
“When Was The Last Time She Ate?”
This question regarding my newborn at her first pediatrician appointment requires me to have full function of my short-term memory. That is damn-near impossible, as I had not slept or really processed this whole “new mom” thing yet. Luckily, I saw this one coming when I had my second kid, so I didn’t have to deal with the guilt of not remembering my child’s recent meal history.
“Did You Notice His Yellow Skin At The Hospital?”
Apparently my second baby had a hint of jaundice, which our pediatrician detected at our first visit to the office. The doctor who checked him at the hospital mentioned nothing about it. I felt terrible that I couldn’t tell that my kid’s skin had a yellowish tinge. I thought it was just the terrible fluorescent lighting in the examination room.
“Are You Breastfeeding?”
This is a loaded question. Not everyone who wants to breastfeed, can. Not everyone who can breastfeed, wants to. It’s hard not to feel judged for your choices as a new mom. I had never been a mom before, so I never felt truly confident that my kid was getting the best from me. I had no point of comparison. While I did breastfeed my kids, I still felt apprehensive when I was asked this question. I would have preferred the doctor simply noting, as she took my child’s weight, which fell within a healthy range, that it seemed the baby was growing well and to just keep up the good work. I could have used that boost of confidence.
“Do You Want To Spread The Vaccinations Out?”
I hated when my kids were babies and had to get their shots. But I believed they had to get their shots because, you know, science. There were a couple of visits where they were due for multiple vaccinations and the pediatrician offered to do one or two at that appointment, and then we could come back for the remaining one or two a week or so later.
I was a full-time working parent, though, and our pediatrician’s business hours were the same as my business hours, which meant I had to miss work to take our kids to their well visits. I felt so guilty for having the baby get more than one shot per appointment, but in the end, I can’t regret that decision too much. My kids have no memory of getting multiple shots. Their wailing, however, is forever burned into my memory.
“Are They Drinking Milk?”
Um, can we possibly rephrase this one? How about, “Are the kids ingesting some foods that, by the end of the week, deliver roughly the proper amount of nutrients?” My children are not milk drinkers and one of them absolutely hates dairy (even removes cheese from her pizza, if you can believe it). But they do eat leafy greens (as in, the occasional lettuce leaf), that contain calcium. I realize it’s not the same as getting a couple of glasses of reduced fat milk, but it’s something, and right now the “something is better than nothing” approach to parenting is working for our family.
“Are They At Least Taking A Calcium Supplement?”
Oh right. I was asked this at their last check-up and made a mental note to pick up some vitamins with calcium. Maybe now I’ll actually go ahead and do it.
My kids do take vitamins, with Vitamin D and calcium, but not every day because we all forget. I might gloss over this fact in conversation with their doctor.
“Did You Take Her Temperature?”
I have no faith that thermometers work. I never seemed to get an accurate reading when I stuck it under my baby’s arm, and I didn’t have the guts to take it rectally. I could have purchased one of those forehead readers, but what if the batteries were dead when I actually got around to needing it?
When I called my pediatrician, concerned that the baby might be running a fever, I used my gut to measure the temperature. I know this is not at all scientific or a good way to gauge how sick my kid might be, but using a thermometer was more frustrating than using the back of my hand to feel her forehead. I wasn’t being lazy, people. I was just tapping in to my maternal instincts.
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