Not-So-Secret Secret #68: Doctors Cry Sometimes Too.

My baby was a crier. In the first months of his life, there were days when the crying felt endless- hour after hour of red in the face, screaming and bawling and breathlessness, hair and clothes soaked with tears. No amount of nursing or holding or diaper changes or naps ever seemed to do the trick. 

My clinical self knew about the newborn cry curve, that the amount and intensity of newborn crying naturally increases in the first weeks of life, and gradually decreases by 3 months of life. I tried to reassure myself. This is normal and healthy.

But my emotional self was a different story– I felt, well… sad. As if I was doing everything wrong, that I was failing him. I was doing a bad job and somehow he was telling me that.

A particularly harrowing day my guy cried for nearly 4 hours straight. We tried to go for a car ride (he was not having that car seat); I tried to nurse and cuddle and hug. I read somewhere that turning the lights off and on may do the trick…our house looked like a makeshift disco, but apparently my baby was in a crying mood, not a dancing mood.

He cried himself to sleep that night, and between the overnight nursings, my tossing and turning and worrying and (my) crying, I got 2 hours of sleep before it was time to get up again. Somehow I got it together enough drop my child off at daycare and head into work to see a full day’s worth of clinic patients.

I tried hard to put on a good face for my families– they have concerns of their own, they don’t need to be bothered with mine, I reasoned.

My last patient of the day was a babe about the same age as my son. She was her mom’s first baby. Her mom looked exhausted, just like me. As her mom began to apologize for being late– the babe had been crying all night and day and they tried their best to get here on time but they are just so tired– I felt my long held back tears rolling down my face. Thoughts of my crying baby, my sleepless nights, my feelings of self doubt again filled my head. I couldn’t control the emotions any longer.

I cried for a while in that exam room, face buried in my hands, trying desperately to put every tear back from where it came. I was ashamed that I had broken down at work. Between the tears, I stammered out my own apology: “I’m so sorry, I don’t know what happened, I guess it’s been a long day, my baby didn’t sleep either, I…”

I looked across the room to see the kindest face looking back at me.

“Being a mom is hard, isn’t it?” She knew.

Many tears and tissues later, we finished the visit. The babe was wonderful and healthy– her mom was happy to hear that. Before they left, the babe’s mom said, “Dr. Kuo, we’ll get through this together, right?”

Right– together.


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