The words sting every time I hear them. The guilt flows like a broken dam and pulls at my heartstrings, making me feel so heavy inside…
But, I can’t make that promise. I can’t make that commitment.
Why? I probably shouldn’t explain to my patient the real reason.
Why not? Because it’s not about her … it’s about me. It’s about my family. It’s about my physical health. It’s about my mental health.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we obstetricians could be present for the birth of each and every one of our patients with whom we spent nine months caring for in the clinic?
I’ve done it before. I remember those days. Just out of my residency training. Full of energy. So incredibly passionate, almost possessive about my patients. Connected in such a way that if I missed a birth or a special moment, I felt a sense of loss. My patients needed me, and only me. I made it to almost ninety percent of their births. I only missed the ones when I was out of town or stuck in the operating room while the baby fell out.
My patients loved me. My OB panel was so full, that I had to turn people away. I was so proud to provide that personalized care my patients craved. I was “there” for them. I was in my element and mastering my trade…
And then it happened.
I came home one day from work and my fourteen month-old son screamed when I picked him up and the nanny left. That was it. I had to ask myself. Are there other people in this world capable of doctoring my patients? … Do I really want to mother my children? It was an epiphany of sorts. And I realized something had to change.
So, I started to let go. And it was hard, almost painful from an emotional perspective. I started to make boundaries and say “no”. I educated my patients about the group of providers I worked with and shared on-call duties with. Some of my patients understood, others were angry, a few … just sad.
A friend of mine mentioned to me the other day that she really enjoyed her first birth experience because her doctor that cared for her throughout her pregnancy delivered her baby. Her second delivery was with “some random doctor” that she never met before. She was disappointed. She probably didn’t realize that her doctor was disappointed as well. It is the sacrifice we make. Not being there is a sacrifice. A sacrifice we make for the sake of our families and our children.
I ask myself. What is worse? Missing the delivery of my patient and trusting a colleague to attend … or missing the dance recital at my daughter’s preschool? Who will have the long lasting scars? Who will be most affected? A birth is a moment in time. Motherhood is a lifetime.
So, I talk to my patients, openly. I explain to them, with frank honesty, why I may or may not be there. I express my understanding if they choose to look elsewhere. I can only offer them what I have to give. But, I fully and wholeheartedly trust my team. For this, I sleep at night. We are all in the same boat and we want the same things … balance.
I leave you with a great excerpt from a letter from one of my most adorable patients.
“I gave birth in about 2 hours with no notice and no pain meds of any sort, we didn’t freak out and just went with it because we knew that with you as our doctor, even though you were not there, we were in great hands and we had everything under control … Thank you so much for truly caring and treating us like family.”
Peace. Redemption. Harmony.