I get fewer of those looks now that I’m a pediatrician, which is perhaps why I studied medicine in the first place, my interactions with others scaffolded within the confines of the doctor-patient relationship. I’ve always been good with roles, the affirmation of a job well done providing the validation I never felt I deserved. And children often see roles more than people — father, mother, stranger, friend — which is maybe why I feel so comfortable around them.
At times, I feel like I’m a better clinician for my ability to focus on my role more than myself, to see the child as a patient, their tears and screaming symptoms of an illness rather than emotions of distress. But there are other times, usually small moments in a quiet day, when it hits me, the emptiness from having ignored myself for so long, times when I recognize the life before me, a newborn baby small enough to fit in my hands, and I imagine a future where something so precious and so loved could possibly feel at home with someone like me.
It has been harder for me to want to have children since becoming a pediatrician. Admittedly, my perspective is skewed. I have been trained to expect bronchiolitis at every corner, pneumonia and sepsis a constant threat. I have seen skin broken too many times for chest tubes, burr holes, wound packing and nerve blocks, pudgy arms and legs poked for blood draws, fluids and antibiotics.
My niece and nephew are toddlers, both unstoppable, and it’s always an adjustment when I see them, how little they need me, how capable they are, how fragile they aren’t.
Especially after starting my fellowship in pediatric emergency medicine, experience has taught me to anticipate disaster. There’s a running joke among my colleagues that takes the form of a growing list of all the things we’ll never let our children do: eating uncut grapes or hot dogs, riding ATVs and visiting a trampoline park.
It’s a joke because we take it to an unfathomable extreme, each item laughable only when it is far enough removed from the tragedy it came from, the lesson learned too late that nothing — no one — is ever truly ours.