Over the weekend, I got to meet my new nephew, Alexander. He was so sweet and amazing. I held him for a good 30 minutes and he stayed asleep and quiet the whole time. (Reminded me a lot of Hannah when she was born, but not so much Amelia.) I also got to hang out with my brother and sister-in-law, the new parents, during that time.
As a pediatrician, I have had the opportunity to meet and talk with a lot of first time parents. (One of my favorite parts of the job!) Each set of parents is always different. Some parents seem nervous and unsure, some have a lot of questions, some don’t ask a single question. There are even a few who are pretty confident, like they have been waiting their whole life for this moment and are ready for the challenge. Then there are those parents who have just a bit too much knowledge for their own good. Like say a pediatrician.
I remember when Susie and I first realized we were having a baby. It was the middle of my first year of residency. We were both very excited, but I don’t remember either of us being particularly nervous. The biggest worry that I had was a more abstract parenting question, along the lines of “How do I make sure to raise this kid right” (aka “How do I avoid raising the next Unabomber?”)
One thing I did not worry at all about were some of the technical questions of raising a child. I grew up the oldest of most of my cousins, so I had my share of changing diapers and holding babies, so I felt fine with those things. My year of pediatrics training had also added much experience in both holding babies and changing diapers (unfortunately not covered on the boards) as well as the finer points of sick child versus well child (covered very extensively on the boards.) I specifically remember Susie signing up for a “Taking Care of Baby” class, that I (successfully) begged out of. I was more than happy to take the Childbirth class and was a little less jazzed about the Breastfeeding class (not because of lack of respect for breastfeeding or not wanting to support my wife. It was because I had just gotten off of a rotation which essentially was Breastfeeding 101 and I felt like I could probably get up and teach the class. Which was totally not true (talk about foreshadowing!)) However, I drew the line at the class that taught all about giving baths, dressing the baby and so forth.
The big day finally came on the last day of August in 2005 and words cannot describe how amazing the experience ways. My life was completely changed for the better. I felt that I could move mountains and leap tall buildings. Our newly expanded family spent a few days in the hospital recovering and then we went home to truly start our new adventure. (Cue scary music….)
First, some backstory. During the hospital stay, Hannah started getting jaundiced. It was bad enough that all of our visitors would get a little quiet upon first meeting her. As soon as we mentioned the jaundice, said visitor would immediately remark that they noticed it and were glad that it was being monitored. (We also seemed to have an inordinate amount of visitors wearing bright orange or yellow, which seemed to make the jaundice even more noticeable.) Things got bad enough that Hannah got sent home on a biliblanket.
This is where everything fell apart for me. Jaundice is something that drives me insane, professionally. Whenever I am working with newborns, it is my greatest fear. (Jaundice is usually a benign condition, but if left alone and unchecked it can get extremely high and lead to brain damage. However, this is an EXTREMELY rare occurrence, in part because we are so vigilant about monitoring it.) Even now, I am petrified that I am going to discharge the babies home, the parents aren’t going to realize how bad things are getting, they won’t come back for care and then bad things will happen and it will be all my fault.
It turns out that jaundice also instills fear in me personally as well. Even before we came home with Hannah, I was pretty diligent about checking diapers for pee and poop (more of each would indicate that the jaundice was working its way out.) In retrospect, I was hyper-diligent. Checking the diaper seemingly every 20 minutes, I would be wishing, praying, hoping for just a few drops of urine. (Now that is a sentence I never thought I would write!) Things got infinitely worse when we got home. All I could think about was the jaundice! I was at my wit’s end.
I started thinking that only one person would survive, Mike the dad or Mike the doctor. (“Two men enter, one man leaves!”)
I had no control over the situation and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was going to be the pediatrician that stood idly by, while his daughter had horrible things happen to her brain and I should have known better. Should we started supplementing with formula or should we keep pushing ahead with breastfeeding? When should we go to the hospital? Should I call Dr. T. again? Is it getting worse? Is she becoming listless? Is she arching her back too much? (Both signs of the jaundice getting scary bad.) Are you sure you don’t want me to take her to the hospital?
In the end, Hannah started feeding well, the jaundice faded away, the biliblanket was turned off and Hannah seems to have suffered no ill-effects from the entire experience. Mike the dad and Mike the pediatrician both survived, barely. But that day I learned more about taking care of kids than I ever learned in medical school or residency. No matter what training or experience you have had before, you are never fully prepared to be a parent. You need to jump into the Thunderdome to truly know what it is all about.