I love my kids’ pediatrician. He’s friendly and treats me like I know what I’m doing (which I damn well ought to, three kids in). I can always get an appointment when I need one. He has a great staff. He lies to my daughter about the lollipops she knows are hidden behind the stickers so I don’t have to deal with a sticky sugar-high monster by the time we return home. However, the reason I choose to stay with our pediatrician goes way beyond good bedside manner and customer service. I love my kids’ pediatrician because he refuses to skinny-shame my babies.
When my oldest son was born, I chose a pediatrician I had never met before, going on the advice of another mom I knew, and this pediatrician made me feel like insecure about my son's weight right from the moment I met her. The biggest mistake I made was staying with her for months — years even. As he dipped from his perfectly normal birth weight of 7 pounds, 4 ounces to the bottom of the 10 percentile, she made me feel incompetent and like I'd done something wrong. We had a rough start with breastfeeding, and I was constantly concerned that I wasn’t producing enough milk for him. His pediatrician did nothing to soothe my fears, and instead gawked at how tiny he was at every check-up.
And she seemed amazed all over again by how small he was every time we went in. She would make comments about how she could tell he "didn’t eat much" once he started solid foods, and my feelings of insecurities bloomed from slight worry to full-blown panic. I became so distressed over my son's bird-like eating habits that I'd cry as I shoveled baby food in his face to no avail. I'd size him up against other babies and wonder what, exactly, I was doing wrong. And all the while, my pediatrician did nothing to soothe my fears. Instead, she fanned the flame.
Of course, there was nothing at all wrong with him, but his pediatrician’s constant skinny-shaming made me feel like I should have had a roly-poly baby, when in reality, that simply wasn’t in his gene pool. I was a tiny 6 pounds when I was born, and stayed on the small side of the growth chart all the way into adulthood. My mother would constantly worry about how I wasn’t eating enough, convinced that I was clearly going to die as a baby. She took a photograph to commemorate the first time I ate an entire bowl of Kraft macaroni and cheese. Her constant, unrelenting worry looked and felt incredibly similar to my own.
“They’ll grow,” she told me. “You did.”
As soon as I became pregnant with my third child, I searched for a new pediatrician. I was tired of her skinny-shaming my babies. Tired of her constantly making me feel like I should be doing a better job as a mother.
Even with her faith in me as firm as ever, I couldn’t help but worry over my baby’s size and his lack of appetite. Then I had another baby, who ate even less, eschewed baby foods completely, and self-weaned at six months. Again, their pediatrician continued to comment on the size of my babies, marveling at how they could be healthy while still being so tiny.
As soon as I became pregnant with my third child, I searched for a new pediatrician. I was tired of her skinny-shaming my babies. Tired of her constantly making me feel like I should be doing a better job as a mother. As I grew into motherhood, I could see that her comments weren't helping me. Her strident need for my babies to follow the middle-of-the-line expectations for growth were never going to happen.
By the time I switched to our current pediatrician, I'd become so frazzled by the comments made about my children's sizes that I was practically apologizing as we walked through the door for our third son's two-month checkups. I knew he'd fallen down into the lower percentiles, just like his brother and sister before him. He'd come into the world at 8 pounds, 8 ounces, and was now sitting in the fifth percentile. As the doctor read his weight from the chart, I cut him off like a bad reflex, defensively telling him: "He’s a little guy. All my babies were."
I said it as if he needed justification for being so small. In my mind, his low weight required an explanation. His pediatrician shrugged. He said,
He’s perfectly healthy. That’s all that matters.
I was so relieved to hear his words that I nearly hugged him on the spot. Even though I was less concerned after having two small babies and seeing that they would indeed grow, picky-eating habits and all, it was still so validating to hear someone tell me that my baby was all right. He was healthy. That was all that mattered.
He might've been "so tiny," but he was still healthy. The fact that he was in the fifth percentile didn’t matter to his pediatrician at all, and even when he dipped below the fifth percentile when he was sick, there was still no cause for alarm. His pediatrician would tell me to keep on breastfeeding, get him back on a routine, and he would be healthy again in no time. Healthy was all that mattered. And you know what? It worked.
Our current pediatrician doesn’t know how much it means to me that he doesn’t skinny-shame my kids. To him, he's probably just doing his job. It’s clearly not in his nature to make judgements or off-hand comments about his patients’ weights, no matter how innocuous they may seem. However, I will always appreciate the things he doesn’t say, because I know how heavy a “tiny” comment can feel.