I had a doula-friend ask me a question about one of the babies she saw born a few weeks ago, a baby that she can’t stop thinking about, so she finally decided to ask me what she should have done and if there’s anything she should do now.
The baby was born, had some stress during the birth (meconium, needing a little bit of resuscitation), but did okay afterwards. The baby looked sort of odd to the doula and one of the nurses confided in her she thought so, too. There were a couple of reasons the baby could stay in the NICU for a couple of days, so he did and some tests were run. Infection? Nope. Omething physical? Nothing they could find. He’s home now with his parents, nursing is going so-so, but how unusual is that, right?
The doula wanted to know if she should tell the mom that something is bothering her, that she still thinks something’s going on with the kid. This is my answer.
Sometimes it can be hard to decide what to say and not say. And saying it as a doula is totally different than as a midwife who was hired to care for the mom and baby. Since the hospital’s seen the kid and he’s doing well so far, this is the place of watchful waiting. Or, a better attitude perhaps, one of release.
Because I know you’re considering midwifery, I’ll speak to that, too. It’s great you’re worrying about the baby, wondering if you should tell the mom your thoughts and concerns. But, I encourage you to stay in the “What would I do if I were the care provider?” place instead of becoming the care provider. I know it can be frustrating as all get out when the hospital and pediatrician sends a baby home without answering the initial (and subsequent) question/s, but we have to believe they’ve looked at the most obvious causes and ruled them out. Could they have missed something? Of course. Might something come up they should have found earlier? Of course. But, NICUs are pretty thorough. Too thorough for many of the babies we’ve seen in there, right?
I’ve had a couple of babies I’ve referred to Children’s with distinct problems who left with exactly the same problems, but no cause for it being found. I still remember gasping when they told me the newborn with the heart rate of 70 was going home fine and dandy. What do I say to those parents who got so scared when I was responsible for their child’s hospitalization? Those bills? When the hospital insinuates, “You really didn’t need to come in for that.”? My pat answer is: I’d much rather they say, “You didn’t need to come in” than “Why the hell didn’t you come in?” (“Hell” wasn’t what I wanted to say.) And it is that belief that certainly made my transport rate higher than some/many other midwives, but erring on the side of caution was important to me.
For now, however, as the doula, you don’t have to worry about those things. Embrace this time! Taking that responsibility can be very tough. Right now, as a doula, you can be there as a doula, loving and supporting the mom where she is and how she needs you to help her right now. Even if that means nothing more than supporting her desire or need to do nothing.
If you’re in the child’s life for any length of time, you will learn if there is something wrong or, better yet, see that nothing is wrong at all. If there is something wrong with the baby, the mom will eventually see it and take the kid in. But, perhaps there’s nothing more wrong than the baby not being fully “in his body” yet and he just needs to climb in and things will be better. Know, though, that some kids are just FLKs – Funny-Looking Kids. (Yes, this is a term many midwives use.) Nothing at all wrong with them that we can see or test for, just a quirk of biology.
But, what do we do with those feelings that something isn’t quite right? Why do we have them in the first place. I’ve written before about premonitions versus fear (Premonitions, from June 8, 2006.) and how we can only say it was premonition in retrospect. Intuition is much the same; we can only have the intuition validated after the fact. What do we do with it? As I said above, as the doula, you get to sit on it and let mom and baby unfold their own story.
Knowing nothing about this baby other than what you’ve shared with me, and I have zero premonition about what’s going to happen, but I wanted to mention something that was taught to me early in my midwifery training.
At the birth center where I was, a baby was born that was obviously very deformed and probably not long for the world if the outer body was any indication of the inner workings. We all saw the problems immediately, but the mom was in total bliss about her new baby! She was all over her, kissing her, cooing, touching her all over… loving on her, obviously oblivious to the baby’s probable incompatibilities with life. I was in a position to pull someone out of the room and ask why the heck no one was telling mom they needed to take the baby to the hospital? Why were they letting her be in ignorance instead of telling her there was something seriously wrong with her baby?
I was told that sometimes, the best thing a midwife can do is leave moms in their place of ignorant bliss so they can bond with their babies deeply and without prejudice (i.e. seeing their kid very sick or even gone already). That this “pure” bonding time will only last until someone bursts the bubble with “Your baby is quite ill,” and that time is so very precious and should be preserved and protected as long as possible. I’ve never forgotten that lesson.
But what of those feelings you have that something isn't quite right? Maybe they are about something on a deeper, more spiritual level. Perhaps he's going to be schizophrenic, but that won't appear until he's 22 years old. Perhaps he's going to be profoundly autistic. Perhaps he has a cancer cell already that's going to take him when he's 6. And maybe there's nothing you will ever know about this child, but that, on some level, you are aware of. I really have learned to just let some things lie and let them unfold in their own time. Patience is the hallmark of a midwife, now isn’t it. We never know all the answers. And that can be very frustrating, but can also be extremely freeing if we let it be.
One last thing. As you play the What Would I Do game, be careful not to get too wrapped up in someone else not doing what you would do. That’s another part of the letting go of the situation. Everyone, ourselves included, are allowed to make our own choices… and mistakes. As a parent, you know this lesson very well. It is the same with clients; letting go and watching them make different choices teaches us our own lessons… on many, many levels.
Take care of your Self through all of this.