Fecundity

“Mommy, when I have a little sister, I want to name her Leia.”

“Leia?” I swelled with pride at my young padawan’s name choice.

“No! Not Star Wars. Lee-yah!”

Oh.

“Hey, Mom, I want a little brother…”

Every evening, my daughter says a prayer asking God for a baby sister. Then she punches her brother when he prays for a baby brother.

The kids are ganging up on my poor uterus. What’s left of it, anyway. Between us, I think the hot flashes are its retaliation. The kids just don’t understand, no matter how many ways I try to explain it, that the physiology is impossible and I am not ever adopting another baby. 

No way. 

No how. 

I was asked by DearLilyJune, “In what ways does being a doctor help you in being a mother? Vice versa?” And HotplateKate asked, “As far as questions, mine would be about the struggles you (or others) face combining medicine and motherhood.”

There definitely pluses and minuses. 

For instance, I now understand the funny looks moms gave me when I asked if they were brushing their toddler’s teeth twice a day. Yeah. Twice a day. Hell, once a day is generally all you can manage when you work full time. And you know what? That is just fine. 

Also, I now understand the whole first time mom pathology. I have felt that craziness myself and I am so much more forgiving and patient than I used to be.

When I have a sucky day, I can get some good hugs and kisses that make it 95% better. The kids make enduring the crap so much more worthwhile.

That being said, the kiddos also make things more stressful. I have to pick them up by 5:30 every evening, no matter what is going on at the clinic. I have to get them ready and drop them off every morning. I have no extended family that can help out at this point if the kids are sick or if they are off of school for a holiday. Their father steps in a bunch and is a huge help but there are times he simply can’t.

Why don’t you just get a nanny? I get asked that a lot. To be honest, that is a difficult proposition but even if I could arrange it easily, I want to be a parent. I want to be a mom. So I choose to engage in a precarious balancing act. So far, I am making it work. I love medicine and I love my kids. I am glad that I have enough flexibility that I can do both. 

The Pregnant Pause

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When I was pregnant with my son, I ran away to Switzerland. 

I rode the trains all over the country and climbed to the top of the Klein Matterhorn, keeping track of all of the public toilets along the way.

To be honest, I was terrified. I thought it might be easier in some ways to just die. Not that I had a plan but if I could just die, it would all be over.

Fall asleep and not wake up….

I was not prepared at all for being pregnant. It was the last thing I wanted at that point in my life. I was under a huge amount of personal stress and I worried about whether or not I should even carry on with the pregnancy. As I sat around wracked with indecision, the weeks ticked by…. It was clear I was not going to have a miscarriage.

Then, an early ultrasound determined that the baby might have something wrong with the kidneys and something snapped.

Suddenly, I wanted a baby. I wanted that baby more than I wanted anything else in the entire world.

To get him, though, I was going to have to make some other very major, very painful sacrifices and rather than make them right then, I ran away. 

To Switzerland.

Away from everyone. Away from the pressure, the shame, the fear. Away from everything.

It was the best time of my life. 

So, Belladonna Took asked about the meaning behind my moniker, my gravatar name…. Victo Dolore. In truth, it has many meanings and I struggled with what to write about it.

There is the Latin meaning: “Pain Conquered.”

There is the historical meaning. Victo Dolore was written on the family crest of Dr. James Simpson. He discovered chloroform and was the first to use it in childbirth. Anesthesia in childbirth is something that is near and dear to my heart.

There is the historical implication. Many opposed the use of anesthesia during childbirth, arguing that women should suffer as much as possible in childbirth as it would bring them closer to God. Some argued that without the great pain involved in bringing babies into the world, mothers would not love their children as much. (It should be noted that these were arguments posed by men.) 

And then, there is the personal meaning. Life is about conquering pain. Sometimes that pain is physical. Sometimes the pain is something more. 

Much more. 

Switzerland helped get my feet back under me. There are plenty of things that have happened in my life that have caused me great pain. There are just as many things that have helped me find my center again. I write about some of those here. If I wait long enough, I can always get up again. Pain diminishes, it never goes away, but we can learn to control how much influence it has on our lives. 

Victo Dolore.

Flashes of Understanding

worn green interior of an old train car

My hands ran over the surface of the baby swing, clearing off the layer of dust. It had been in storage for a few years. Only now, as I was pulling things out for a yard sale, had I seen and touched it again. What I felt, what I saw in my mind, made me pull back in shock.

Memories. Feelings. But not good ones.

I had expected happy, nostalgic baby thoughts to come flooding back. Not this. It is strange and uncanny, how much emotion an object can carry. An inanimate thing creating such a visceral reaction. Boggles the mind.

I am so glad that is over.

It struck me then, right there in my driveway, five years later.

Postpartum depression?

Or something. 

I was not right in the head, I do know that. 

Could it be possible?

I think back on that period now and the stress was overwhelming. I had a locum that was barely competent covering my new practice while on leave. Maternity was going to put my clinic tens of thousands of dollars in the hole. Then, I hired the partner from hell who made every day back a living nightmare until she finally left a year later. Family and social stresses were beyond measure. I remember how erratic and sometimes irrational my behavior was at the time but in the midst of it I truly believed that everything I was doing seemed reasonable and right.

Truthfully, I consider myself to be a fairly strong person. I never even entertained the possibility of something wrong with me emotionally. I am not weak. Nothing like that could ever happen to ME, you understand…..

Which then makes me wonder, who steps in to tell the doctor that she needs help? People around me thought I was crazy, I am sure, but no one took me by the shoulders, looked me in the eye, and said, “Hey, you need help.” 

Would I have even listened?

And, just so you know, in case you were curious, I’m not talking about the colic baby. She came along after, but most definitely before I had “recovered” my faculties. THAT prolonged my issues for sure.

What had I been thinking, believing I could have two under two? How do women with twins survive? I cannot even imagine.

So.

Here we are. I am in a much better place now. Probably. At the very least I am less crazy and that is a thing of beauty.

Let’s see if I can get $5 for that baby swing… To be honest, though, I would be willing to give it away. I don’t ever want to see or touch it again.

Scarfing  

two birds painted on a pink scarf 

“Doc, I think this is the first time I have ever seen you without a scarf!” she exclaimed as I walked into the exam room.

I pondered this for a moment.

She comes in an awful lot. Is it possible that I wear scarves that often? 

It had not really occurred to me before….

I started wearing scarves in earnest after my first child was born. Baby drool and upchuck do not look good on a professional woman but especially not when that woman works in the medical profession. Appearing dirty in any way is an instant black mark against you. With a mere flip and a twist I could hide any stains in a matter of seconds. It saved me more times than I care to admit.

Further, I could conceivably wear the same shirt five days in a row with a different scarf each day and everyone would think it is a completely different outfit… Not that I ever *did* that, you understand. Maybe two days in a week when I could not get laundry done or three days when I was backpacking through Europe. Still, in the event of a collapse of modern society, I have my wardrobe wrapped up. 

Are YOU prepared?

Admittedly, I have a vast collection of scarves that spans decades. I hate to throw them out so they accumulate in my closet even if they are not being actively worn. I even have some ancient silk ones that once belonged to my grandmother…

Now that my kids are well past the spit up phase I think these scarves have become a security blanket I can wear around my neck. I used to hide behind a white coat. Before that, I hid behind a short, red London Fog type jacket with the sleeves pushed up that I wore in all weather, rain or shine, even in 100 degree weather. 

Time to dial back the scarf use, I guess.

Black And White And Blurry All Over

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There it was. The second pink line.

Pregnant.

My heart sank.

I stood outside the exam room and took a deep breath. She was thirteen. 

She knew as soon as she saw my face when I entered after knocking softly. She started sobbing uncontrollably. Her mother sat in the corner and looked sea sick. She was holding onto the edge of her chair for dear life, knuckles white, waiting for the world to turn upside down and topple her over.

“You are pregnant.”

Her mother dissolved into angry shouts about her whore of a daughter. 

Not an auspicious beginning at all. Babies should be greeted with joy and love and excitement. My heart hurt.

“I know it seems unfair for me to ask, but have you thought about what you want to do with this pregnancy?”

Her mother spoke up before the patient could, her voice charged with bitterness. “She will have this baby and put it up for adoption. She made her bed, now she has to lie in it. We don’t believe in abortion.”

The girl glanced over at her mother then back at me, helplessness in her eyes. Any discussion about other options was met with a stoney glare from her mother. 

She died during the childbirth.

Should she have had an abortion? I don’t know. It is not my place to decide. 

The world used to be a stark black and white for me before medical school and residency. Everyone is welcome to their own personal opinions about abortion. I respect and will defend your right to believe any way you wish. But before you make decisions for anyone else about their access, I implore you to walk with me for a while in the blurry fringes where the gray resides. 

It is such a polarizing subject and it makes me very nervous to speak up on it but I am bothered by some of the political rhetoric of late. I hear the hate spewing forth from both sides of the fence and wonder if and when love will ever win.

Cycling

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My baby girl is turning five soon.

It is bitter sweet. On the one hand, I love watching her grow up, becoming her own woman. Sure, she has already formulated detailed plans to marginalized me and cut me from her life but for now she is still dependent upon me. We have fun together.

On the more sinister side of things, though, now momma needs a new IUD.

(insert groan of agony)

I have dreaded this day since the IUD was placed. I have enjoyed not having periods and not having to worry about pregnancy, having sex whenever I want. 

BUT….

Insurance changes say I cannot see the woman who placed my last IUD (she did a terrific job) and delivered my last baby. I am only allowed to see someone that is employed directly by the corporation I work for. Aside from the fact my patients are not particularly fond of the OB/Gyn’s employed by the system and the fact that I run into these people at meetings, the records will be in the EHR that I and everyone else in the system use every day. 

This makes me exceedingly uncomfortable. 

Intellectually I know that anyone who is messing with my hoo-hah in a clinical setting is not going to remember what it looks like when they run into me at a meeting. They are not going to care if the area is hairy or smooth or if the hair color matches what is on my head, or if I have stretch marks from babies. I also know that, in theory, anyone accessing my chart will be documented and recorded and will have to account for why they are there.

Still. 

How many sexual partners have I had? You can be dang well sure that I am not going to be honest about that question, no matter what the real number is. Am I engaging in risky sexual behavior? If I was, I sure as hell am not going to tell them. What about screening for STD’s? If I were in a situation where that needed to be done, would I be honest about THAT? No frickin’ way.

So, I continue to agonize daily over which physician I will end up have to spread my legs for. 

Decisions, decisions.

At least I have choices. Many women do not. 

Multiples

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“Push!”

There was a guttural grunt.

“Come on, honey, push!”

Another grunt and a groan of pain and frustration.

“Harder?”

“Look, I’m trying, OK? Shut the hell up. You want to make this baby?”

She backed up, sheepishly.

“No, you go ahead. I’m just excited…”

He finally got the machine out of the box and plugged it into the outlet in the wall. He hit what looked like the power button. 

Nothing.

“It’s not working. Let me try this one.” Clicking. “Hmmmm.” More clicking. He stabbed at the control panel with his finger over and over again, hitting multiple random buttons in frustration.

“Have your read the directions? Maybe we should ask for some help.” She peered into the box and located the instruction booklet. “There’s a phone number in here…” 

He flashed her THE look.

“Wait! Look. Something is happening!” He turned his attention back to the console.

The 3-D printer was making a soft whirring sound. 

“How long is it supposed to take?”

“I don’t know…”

The whirring continued for a few more minutes. Then there was a gentle coo from behind the panel door.

“Oh, my God.”

She slid the panel open, scooped up the perfect naked baby boy, and held him to her chest. 

“Hello, James,” she murmured into the little ear as she turned, “Meet your daddy.” 

He reached out to touch the soft, newborn skin tentatively. “He’s real.” 

Suddenly, the machine started whirring again.

“Is it supposed to do that?” She looked up, alarmed. 

“Uh, I don’t know…” He shrugged.

They both stood there staring as they heard another coo. He pulled open the panel again. There was another baby.

“Did we order twins?”

“No….”

He picked up the baby.

The machine started whirring again.

“Sean.” Panic crept into her voice. “Is it making another baby?”

“I don’t know!”

“Make it stop. Make it stop right now.”

In short order there was a third baby. The whirring started again.

“Plug. Pull the plug!” She was yelling now.

He was frantically pushing buttons again but stopped to fumble behind the machine and pulled out the power chord from the socket in the wall.

The whirring did not stop.

There was another baby. It seemed to be moving faster with each one.

“You hit something you weren’t supposed to,” she accused, still yelling. “Did you even read the directions?”

She lined the babies up in a row in the floor, including the new fifth one. They were identical.

“Never let a man to do a woman’s job…” she muttered as she grabbed the baseball bat from the hall closet. “…making babies…” She cursed loudly.

Within seconds she was bashing the hell out of the machine with all her might.

“There isn’t a baby inside is there?” He shouted. “Don’t kill it!”

She kept swinging the bat until the machine was a crumpled pile of metal bits and fluids of various colors dripped onto the floor. She finally stopped, out of breath, surveying the damage then stared in disbelief and at the babies. 

What to do next? she wondered, the heavy, wooden bat still in her hand…

Pop over to Teagan’s place and read about her 3-D party/challenge…

Kicked Out

 Mother tombstone 
“Mommy, when I am grown up, I am going to live in this house.” She smiled up at me brightly, beaming.

Flashes of grown children not leaving the nest flashed before my eyes. The palpitations started… 

Dizziness… 

Shortness of breath….

“No you’re not!” I replied, firmly. 

“Yes, I am,” she answered calmly. “I am going to be the mommy and I will have my own babies here.”

Confused, I asked, “Where am I living, then? Here?”

“Oh, no mommy. You will have a special apartment somewhere. You’ll live there.” Another sweet smile as she danced off to play with her dolls.

I guess * special apartments* are what they are calling nursing homes now, huh? 

One of the things about focusing on your career first and having kids so much later in life than everyone you grew up with is that you find yourself extra sensitive to this sort of thing…. I will probably be using a walker at their high school graduation as it is.

I think I am doomed.

She already has plans for taking over my clinic. I guess my home was a natural next step.

Polio

486There were more victims of polio than just those who were struck down with the disease…

I did not realize that today was World Polio Day until I saw Elyse’s post yesterday.

“Mommy!” my daughter wailed. Her voice carried through the clinic. “Why are you making me gets shots? I don’t want shots! Please, please don’t let her give me shots…” She looked at me as if I had betrayed her as tears poured down her four year old face. 

“Remember how grandpa has to use a wheelchair and crutches and leg braces because he had polio?”

She nodded, pausing her sobbing for a moment.

“This is so you don’t have to get sick like that.”

“Oh.” She wiped the tears from her face. There was a resigned sigh and a little hiccup. “Ok, mommy. I’ll be brave.”

And she was.

Surprised 

 Little boy playing with a dandilion on a hillside. 
For years… for many, many years… I was dead set against ever having kids. ME ever having kids. From my own body.

I had all sorts of great excuses: Too busy working on my career. Too selfish. Little League ball games and soccer leagues are terrible boring torture. I didn’t want the stretch marks. Birth is a bloody, awful, painful mess. I could go on. But I won’t. They all boiled down to one single thing. 

I was terrified. 

I was afraid of loving something that fiercely and then having to let go.

One day, I discovered that I was pregnant. It was a shock to be sure but truthfully, at this stage in my life, I was getting careless. Hasn’t happened yet, it probably won’t…..

Well, it did.

I felt like this baby was probably going to be a girl. I dreamed of pink for weeks, imagined all of the beautiful frilly dresses I would buy.

But it wasn’t a girl.

Life does not always hand us what we expect. 

Not only did the ultrasound show a very clear penis, it also showed something was wrong with one of his kidneys. So it was off to to the maternal fetal medicine specialist for the high risk screening and to hear if everything else was ok.

A quick word of advice here. Never, ever, ever listen to a genetic counselor before you have that high level ultrasound. Wait until after. I have a degree in genetics and she had me ready to bury the kid before he even reached his third trimester….

Now, one of the risks of being a physician is that you get over treated: She knows what we are doing! We can’t play smoke and mirrors. So let’s do EVERYTHING! 

It is very hard when you are struggling to not be THAT bad patient, the difficult one who thinks they know everything. I had resolved that I would not worry, or interfere, that I would let everyone do their jobs. In the end that meant high level ultrasounds every two weeks, crazy amounts of blood work, and a consultation with pediatric urology before he was born. All while working full time in a solo practice by myself. 

CRAZY!

In the end, he is fine. It was like winning the lottery, this kid. Who knew how cool having kids would be? In the end, it was good that he had such a troubled beginning. The possibility that I might lose him made me want him all the more and forced me stop focusing on all of my doubt and fear.

Which then brings me to the point that babies are such little miracles. Every last one of them. There is so, so much that can go wrong. Every single one of those cells has to perform its part of the ballet exactly perfect at exactly the right time or the whole thing gets screwed up beyond recognition. From a purely clinical standpoint, it is a miracle that more does not go wrong given all of the opportunities for errors. 

In the process of all of this, however, I discovered the secret miracle. Kids are the embodiment of our love. Even when they puke on us (God help me). Or wipe snot on my sleeve. Or give us strep. Or hit that perfectly painful howling pitch that leaves the ears ringing for a few minutes (How do they do that?). They give you a hug or a kiss on the cheek and everything else melts away… It even makes Little League baseball and unpleasant patients tolerable. 

Sneaky little buggers…