When I started in medicine, I thought it might make me a better mother, were I lucky enough to marry and have children. And it has, sort of. But I never expected that being a mother would make me a better doctor.
Six months ago, I organized the 5 Trimesters Clinic, offering psychiatric evaluations to women with problems related to fertility, pregnancy, and childbirth. My co-founder has three young children, the chief resident is pregnant, and the resident who does the work is about to get married. Together our decades of mothering experience have given us a perspective on the whole range of issues that the medical literature on women’s health covers in little Balkanized buckets. (Are you imagining leather buckets with gypsy embroidered covers? I am). Seeing pregnancy and childbirth within the context of an adult life, not as a medical/mechanical problem, seems quite novel to my obgyn colleagues. Seeing psychiatric difficulty as a normal element of pregnancy has been equally intriguing to my psychiatry peers.
Having been there, done that, bought the tee shirt and had to wash baby fluids out of it, I have an interest in many problems that are simply off the medical radar. I am, for example, interested in “Motherbrain,” the transient cognitive impairment some women experience after childbirth. The medical literature pooh-poohs this, but I believe it is real, because I had it. More importantly, it needs to be acknowledged so that we don’t expect new mothers to pass high stakes exams or the equivalent before their babies sleep more than 2 hours at a time. (The scientific studies of this problem excluded mothers who were depressed, the population most at risk for sleeplessness and poor concentration—duh.)
Our clinic pays attention to many matters—the role of fathers and grandmothers, women’s anxieties about bonding during pregnancy, new mothers’ loneliness—that come directly from the experience of those who run it. To integrate mothering with doctoring brings me enormous satisfaction. The greatest joy is passing this wisdom on to the resident embarking on the same journey. My kids are grown, but I am and will be until retirement, a mother in medicine.