When it came time to choose my unborn son’s pediatrician, I didn’t spend much time looking. A local pediatrician was recommended by an older mom I respected and whose advice I trusted. I didn’t know what I wanted or needed in a pediatrician, so I took my friend at her word, waiting until the day my son was born to meet the doctor who would hopefully care for him over the next 18 years. I never dreamed I would fire her before he reached his first birthday.
But then this pediatrician didn't show up to the hospital after he was born. Apparently, she didn't make hospital visits, so we were left with students from the medical school to poke and prod my newborn. In fact, we were left with students from the medical school for the whole first month of his life, while I struggled to get an appointment with his pediatrician.
It would be worth it, though, I thought. She must be good.
I was a young first-time mom, and I had so many questions. I was constantly worried about SIDS and thrush and all manner of horrors I read about in my new baby books. I was over-researched, overcautious and hopelessly lacking in confidence as a new mother. I needed someone I could trust to help me navigate the scary territory of new motherhood.
Instead of calming my fears and validating my concerns as normal, however, when we finally got a face-to-face meeting with the doctor, she took one look at my husband and me and immediately started talking down to us. We were both 22 when our son was born, and our pediatrician made certain to mention straight away how incredibly young we were to be starting a family. Her comment served no purpose other than to make me feel extremely self-conscious as I struggled to remember the long list of things I had hoped to ask about.
While I started to ask about breastfeeding frequency, she stopped me mid-sentence to inform me that my car keys (which my baby had grabbed while I held him on my lap) were not a suitable toy. She began to speak very slowly to us as she explained the obvious, that car key metal and plastic is not held to the same testing standard as actual toys marketed for infants.
I wanted to scream. I was not, as she assumed, some sort of uneducated idiot, and even if I had been, she didn’t need to talk to me as if I were a child. I was throwing myself into motherhood with all that I had, and she was treating me in a way that made me question myself. Even so, I felt like I could leave the practice without feeling like a bad mother. Her disregarding tone kept me quiet. I felt uncomfortable speaking up to her, because I knew she didn’t respect me.
It wasn’t until much later, nearing my son’s first birthday, that I finally decided to switch pediatricians. The way she made me feel "less than" was actually one of the reasons I stayed so long.
I felt I had no voice and no choice. It wasn’t until I settled into motherhood and became more confident in myself and my choices that I felt free enough to let go of her judgements and find someone who would view me as a partner in the health decisions regarding my child.
When I took to Facebook to ask more friends for recommendations on a new pediatrician, I was shocked to find that I wasn’t alone in feeling bullied by our pediatrician. There were lots of other mothers who felt they had little choice once they had chosen a pediatrician. They felt too timid to change practices, as if it was rude to speak up when they felt uncomfortable. I chose a new pediatrician who was recommended by women of varying ages and experience, and he was a wonderful match. He was warm and trusting of my instincts from the moment we met, not to mention my son didn’t cry every time he saw him.
While I know I still wouldn’t like our original pediatrician if I met her for the first time today, I feel as if our experience would be different. I wouldn’t cower at her offhand comments, and I would feel comfortable stating my opinion and needs. I wish I had known the powerful feeling of being confident in my own skin as a mother before I ever stepped foot in her office. Because if I had, I would have turned around and walked right back out.
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