I used to babysit for a doctor’s child, and it was a truly fascinating (and helpful) experience. At the time, I was newly pregnant with my own first baby and desperate to glean anything I possibly could from the wise and experienced parents around me. When their 15-month-old wasn’t feeling well one morning, his father the doctor ran through the symptoms with me. No fever, mild cough, kind of cranky… and the whites of his eyes weren’t gray (which was a good thing). I nodded, having heard the term passed around in parenting circles. He quickly followed up with, “That one’s not medical, it comes from my mum. But it’s one of the most consistent symptoms I’ve seen when babies really aren’t well.”
The exchange stuck in my mind many months later when I was nurturing my first-born child. As the mum of a newborn, there were so many times I wanted to call my paediatrician to check on a symptom. Or ask a question. Or express a concern. But, in my head, a battle raged on because the last thing I wanted to be greeted with at the doc’s office was an eyeroll. It seems that my former babysitting charge’s father (not a paediatrician, by the way…) is one of the few doctors I’ve known who actually gives any weight to a parent’s instinct.
When my daughter turned four months old, something changed in her, seemingly overnight. More specifically, in the middle of the night. Always a through-the-night sleeper since about six weeks old, she suddenly started waking every hour and a half all night long. Having recently fallen back into a pattern of exercise, work, and a mild social life amid full-time baby-duty, I was bereft. Everything stopped. I felt like I couldn’t catch a break and was constantly overwhelmed by the permeating exhaustion. I was breastfeeding ’round the clock, and by the time I lay my weary head down on the pillow around midnight, I knew I only had a good 90 minutes or so before the cycle would begin again. It was pretty extreme.
After about a week of this, I tapped into my social network to see if other mums had experienced it. Sure enough, the concept of the “4-month sleep regression” popped up in all my searches and Facebook groups. Other mums reached out to offer words of kindness and assistance, as well as tips and tricks for getting through it. But my daughter’s doctor? When I called one morning to reschedule an appointment because we had been up literally all night, my allusion to the regression was ignored. At the rescheduled appointment, I was chastised for getting up to actually feed my crying baby in the night, instead of offered the comfort and encouragement I sought. It was like to our medical community, the 4-month sleep regression was not a thing. I, apparently, was just a pushover. Great.
A few months later, my daughter spent the day in the care of our awesome sitter, but when she came home something just wasn’t right. She’d been running mild fevers for about a week and our doctor was on standby for an appointment if they continued. Her eyes had also gone pink overnight, only to clear up by morning. But on the fated Tuesday, Day Six of low-grade fevers gave way to a rash all over her entire body. We’ve seen some skin issues on her before, but this one was flat and purplish. It freaked me out, as it would any new mum.
My husband and I were clearly concerned, and since it was after-hours, we took her to the local emergency department to get checked out. Despite cheerful depictions of animals swinging from tree branches and high grass with purple creepy-crawlers all around, the hospital turned out not to be the best place to take a young baby. The waiting room was entirely empty, but our 7-month-old with the fever and rash was not seen for over an hour. Finally, the doctor came in and made us feel silly for having brought her in, citing her “good mood” as an indicator that the rash was nothing serious.
I know my child and I know her moods — she is a pretty quiet baby. If she’s sitting there and not whimpering in pain, it doesn’t mean she isn’t feeling it. Of course I was relieved when the flu test result came back negative and the fever and rash cleared up in the morning. Trust me, I wanted to be wrong about it potentially being something serious. But I didn’t appreciate being teased or chastised for bringing my 7-month-old in, especially on the advice of our actual doctor. It just felt mean — and unnecessary.
Here’s the thing: I am not anti-medicine at all. We choose to immunise our daughter and I am comfortable giving her pain medicine if she needs it. I will also say that we now (several tries later) have a fantastic primary doctor for her. But I’ve found since her first days of life that paediatricians can be so weird about shared experiences and intuition that mums explain to them, even when these are proven right.
I get that doctors, for the most part, have to go by the word of the medical community, but at least hear us out. Why do they act like mums just don’t know anything? Or that commonly discussed kids’ issues, like that infamous 4-month regression, don’t exist? As a first-time parent (though let’s face it, I’ll probably be this way with any future children, too), I accept that nine times out of ten my concerns over my child will be unfounded. But give me the respect of hearing me out and at least listening to the symptoms we’re experiencing before tsk-tsking me for bringing her in.
Whether it’s a commonly noted sleep regression, the notorious terrible twos, or kindergarten-related anxiety down the line, I’d appreciate a gentle nod of the head and some compassion when getting through it. Even though there might not be medical proof that what I’m experiencing is something to be concerned about, parenting is tough stuff, and it wouldn’t kill our doctors to listen and participate, just a little.