My pregnancy was far from picture perfect. I’ve written before about the struggle to conceive and touched briefly on the laundry list of pregnancy-related medical issues I endured for 37 weeks until I was finally induced. Due to experiencing a high-risk pregnancy, I was used to weekly medical appointments and spending more time sitting in waiting rooms than doing basically anything else. So, when my son was born healthy but with a mild left clubfoot (a minor congenital deformity), I suspected we would be in for plenty more medical appointments. Coupled with the fact I was induced at 37 weeks and thus he was jaundiced and considered premature, I quickly became my newborn’s booking agent, scrambling to keep track of his ever-growing “social calendar” as best I could, on very little sleep and copious amounts of coffee. From the weekly trips to the Orthopaedic Clinic at Children’s Hospital to have his leg cast changed, to the blood work, pediatrician visits and kidney ultrasounds “just to be sure”, the first few months of his new life were largely spent in the car driving from appointment to appointment.
Hence, when my phone beeped to alert me of our upcoming 3 month check-up with our new family doctor, I was less than thrilled to be reminded of yet another medical appointment. Not only was I a first-time mom, this was a brand new doctor, one I knew very little about but whom I was grateful had agreed to take us on as new patients at my OBGYN’s request. Despite my gratitude, I still wasn’t looking forward to the appointment, having to answer all the same questions I had likely answered already, just the day before.
As I parked and made my way up the small staircase of the medical building and climbed into the elevator, grateful for the opportunity to put down the heavy car seat cradling my sweet baby boy, I braced myself for what I was certain would be another tedious meeting. When I got inside my doctor’s office and seated in the first waiting room, I was pleasantly surprised to see from the large antique clock on the wall that I had managed to get there, fully dressed with makeup on, not only on-time, but with 5 minutes to spare. As any new mother can attest, getting out of the house and arriving anywhere on-time with a baby in tow was a feat unto itself. My pleasure grew as I was almost immediately called to move into the examining room, and I silently hoped this to be the fastest appointment yet.
Less than 5 minutes later, the door opened and the doctor entered, greeting me pleasantly and gushing over how big my son had gotten since his last appointment with her. She began asking the usual questions, all easy to answer, with no causes for concern. As far as growth and development milestones went, my son was right on track. I proceeded to ask some questions I had about feeding and sleep schedules, to which she answered happily and honestly in what I had quickly learned was her usual down-to-earth manner. I thanked her and just as I was beginning to gather the million and one things you seem to drag along with you when you have a newborn, she stood up and said brightly: “You’re doing a great job!”.
I stopped what I was doing and looked up at her. “Umm, thanks” I mumbled.
She took her hand off the door knob and sat back down, reaching for the receiving blanket that had fallen out of my overstuffed diaper bag, handing it to me with a genuine smile. “Really” she said, “you are doing a great job with him!”. I sheepishly thanked her again and she began asking me about how I was feeling, sussing out any signs of post-partum depression or anxiety. We concluded our talk and I walked out into the parking lot to begin loading my son, who had fallen back to sleep soundly, into the car. Sitting behind the wheel, as I buckled myself in, I replayed the doctor’s words in my head. Suddenly, my lips upturned into a small smile and tears started streaming down my face. Crying had become a fairly regular occurrence these days, what with the sleep-deprivation, medical visits and constant worrying about the well-being of my son, but unlike the other times that I wept, these were not tears of sadness or fear. The tears spilling out my eyes and running down my cheeks, were tears of relief. The tears were the result of those five simple words uttered by the doctor, releasing me from the trap of self-doubt and second-guessing, even if just for a day. After a minute or so, I wiped my face and began the drive home, feeling stronger, in-control and more confident than I had in months.
I didn’t think any more about the doctor’s visit until much later that evening when my husband asked me about how the baby’s check-up went. I told him it went well and rattled off the measurements, confirming our son was on track in growth and development. He apologized for not being able to accompany me to the appointment and asked if the doctor had said anything else important. I sank back into the couch and closed my eyes. “You’re doing a great job” I said.
“Huh?” my husband replied and gave me a puzzled look from the kitchen, where he was reheating Chinese food left-overs for our dinner. “No! Not you, Me! That’s what she said. To Me. The new family doctor. She said I was ‘doing a great job’ with the baby and taking care of him and everything.”
“Umm..OK. Well, you are! You are doing a great job!” he said as he turned back to the microwave. I rolled my eyes, thanked my husband and let the conversation closure, not wanting to expend the little energy I had left at the end of the day trying to make him understand the gravity of what the doctor’s words had meant to me.
And it was true, my sweet, caring, oblivious husband did tell me all the time that I was doing a good job but it wasn’t the same. The magnitude of the words from my new found ally, who was not only a doctor but a mother herself, was unexplainable. I often think back on that time and wonder if she really did know the power she had by saying those five little words. To this day, even 3 years later, she still remains someone I look up to. Not just because she manages to juggle a thriving medical practice, raise 2 young kids and still manage to keep a warm and funny bedside manner, but because she, whether intentional or not, quashed my self-doubt and lifted my mood with one little sentence.
Truly cognizant now of the power of a few words, I now make it my mission, whenever I see a new mom struggling with an overfilled diaper bag as her child screams bloody murder from its car seat, or pacing the grocery aisle, bouncing and shushing an overtired baby in her arms, to tell her as I am passing that she is doing a great job. Every mother, especially new mothers at their wits’ end, at some point, deserves to be uplifted from the cloud of self-doubt, panic and anxiety, which seems to accompany us as soon as we drive out of the parking lot of the maternity ward. Every mother deserves to be treated the luxury of not only hearing but absorbing those five little words.