A few weeks ago my wife and I welcomed our new baby boy into the world. Isn’t he adorable!
Although I have been involved with the prenatal care and delivery of many babies as part of the medical team, this was my first foray into baby delivery as part of the family team. As it turns out, there are lots of lessons and insights to be learned from going through the experience as a member of the family team. I’ll try to summarize some of these here.
1) Lots of advice, not a lot of consistency.
If those of you who have children hearken back to your first child, you will remember that everyone around you—doctors, nurses, siblings, parents, neighbors, acquaintances, and complete strangers—all knew exactly how you should raise your child, and they couldn’t help but share that information with you. You may have felt a little overwhelmed and defensive back then, but I hate to break it to you—you have almost definitely become the unsolicited giver of child-rearing advice that you once feared. And I’m sure I will do it too. It’s inevitable. Newton’s 7th law, I believe. Truly, though, while advice varies widely and is not always invited, we have appreciated other people’s ideas about how to raise a child. It’s not easy, as it turns out.
One surprise, however, was how much the advice given by our medical staff varied. Even though all of our nurses, physicians, and nursing aides were kind, competent, credentialed, caring, and great to work with, the advice they gave about breastfeeding, sleeping, dealing with fussiness, and other issues varied quite a lot. And when you couple that with the mother-in-law telling you, “Well, when I was having babies, my doctor told me sleeping on the tummy was best and that formula was safer than breastmilk,” it makes you realize why some people have a hard time following instruction from the medical team. Without a united voice from all current staff, and especially without a united message over time from the medical world, it makes it a little harder to have confidence in what your doctors are telling you. I imagine a similar lack of confidence in medical science and guidance grows into the type of blatant rejection of medical advice embraced by those who refuse vaccines.
Two lessons I gleaned as a physician from all of this inconsistent advice: 1) It’s important for me, my staff, and my colleagues to have a united, clear message to patients on important medical issues, and 2) I need to maintain a significant level of humility about what I know and remember that even the best current evidence could very well end up being wrong.
2) Modern medicine is incredible.
While we know it’s vogue to “go natural,” my wife happily chose to get an epidural. And boy was it worth doing! After about an hour of painful contractions, she got the epidural and was comfortable enough that we read a book, watched a TV show, and before we knew it they told us it was time for baby to come. How grateful we were that someone (or many someones) took the time and effort to discover, study, and perfect epidural anesthesia.
My wife also experienced the unfortunate event of a DVT during pregnancy. While this was a painful and difficult experience for her, we were able to get a relatively quick diagnosis and were able to do treatment at home with enoxaparin injections. Although my wife (as a hater of needles) may disagree with me about the virtues of home injections of any kind, it was wonderful to be able to get safe, effective treatment at home.
Despite the imperfect nature of medicine and medical knowledge, we really have accomplished so many remarkable things that have had a real and powerful impact on a lot of people.
3) While I have cheerfully informed many new parents they will not be sleeping for the first two months, there is nothing cheerful about the reality of not sleeping for two months.
4) Some things truly are miraculous.
With all of the understanding we have, with all of the advances we have made, when I step back and think about the process of a baby being formed with such precision, beauty, complexity, and perfection, it is awe-inspiring! It is a reminder to me that we are nowhere close to truly understanding the body—the How behind its formation and function. Our current best understanding seems so inadequate and rudimentary. For me, this strengthens my faith that there is a God behind it all who not only understands all of the medical knowledge we have discovered thus far, but also knows the ultimate How. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of a God, it’s still worth taking a step back to consider the intricacy, complexity, and beauty of a newborn baby and allow ourselves a moment of being humbled and awestruck by it all. That awe and the allure of the How is what drew me towards medicine in my childhood. As we go about the daily grind of discovering new knowledge in medicine and taking care of patients, I hope we can let these moments of awe reignite our passion for what we’re doing.
Benjamin Wilson, MD is a Clinical Instructor in the Department of Family & Preventive Medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine.