While in general I loved being an Emergency Medicine physician, I did not enjoy being a pregnant doctor. I disliked all the discomforts of pregnancy and having to work pregnant in the uncontrolled environment of the ER. I remember being pregnant for the first time as an attending physician working in the emergency room. I had seen so many women come in having miscarriages or with complications after giving birth that I wondered if the same would happen to me.
I couldn’t just be a happy and excited pregnant lady. Knowing too much and having seen so many unfortunate cases during my training were now working against me. I worried about all the radiation my unborn baby was being exposed to from the portable x-rays done in our ER, being around violent patients who sometimes attacked the staff, and of course about catching infections from patients.
One day, while I was pregnant and was inserting a chest tube into a patient with a collapsed lung, my glove broke while my finger was inside the patient’s chest cavity. I pulled my index finger out to find the patient’s blood on my skin. For months I followed up with our occupational health department to make sure I didn’t contract any blood-borne illnesses from the patient. Thankfully, neither I nor my baby were affected.
I remember being pregnant when H1N1 influenza hit our community and many patients came into the ER with flu symptoms. I worried I would catch it and became critically ill in the ICU as this was what we were seeing amongst pregnant women who caught this particular strain of influenza. I got my flu vaccine, donned a face mask for much of my shift, and washed my hands frequently; thankfully, all my measures were successful. I managed to avoid catching influenza. Next step: giving birth to my baby boy.
Even though I had seen and been a part of so many births and found delivering babies to be a joyous and rewarding job, going through labor and giving birth myself scared me the first time around. While the vast majority of deliveries went just fine, there were a few rare and exceptional cases where women needed emergency C-sections or where the baby was stillborn. Would the same happen to me? Although I was nervous, I couldn’t wait to have my baby and hold him in my arms, and when I did, I was grateful that everything turned out fine.
After the course of 12 hours in labor, I went from being a pregnant woman to a first time mother fumbling with diapers and swaddling while trying to figure out how to breastfeed my newborn. I still remember when the labor nurse said,
“Congratulations, Mom! Hold your beautiful baby,” and placed my newborn son in my arms for the very first time. I quickly glanced behind me to see if my mother was standing there because the only one I had heard called “Mom” around me was my own mother. Clearly, the nurse must have been referring to her and not me.
As I held my son for the first time and looked into his bright, sparkly eyes, it was then that I fully realized how this little baby boy was our divine gift and responsibility and that life going forward would never be the same. The birth of my first born was also the birth of my role as a mom. Other roles may come and go, but I would forever be mother to my children for the rest of our lives.
I quickly found that becoming a parent forever changes someone, much like becoming a doctor does. Unlike medical school, which came with courses, textbooks and lectures, there is no manual on how to be a good parent or how to raise great kids. No matter how many parenting books I read, how many other moms I spoke to, or how many times I babysat other people’s children, nothing prepared me completely for being a parent. Every minute of every day with my child needed to be accounted for, and life would never be the same.
Archana R. Shrestha is a practicing emergency physician in Chicago. She also has her own blog called MightyMomMD.com
This post has been edited for length and clarity from its original appearance in The Chronicles of Women In White Coats.