She Can Still Be A Doctor

WordPress tells me I’ve hit Publish 334 times now. But of all the posts I’ve written, this one is probably my favourite. I first published it back in June 2021, but I think about this story regularly. It came out of a relatively forgettable moment – a single comment from a friend – but the memory of it has remained vivid.

And even now, all these years later, I sometimes need to remind myself that she can still be a doctor…

When Abby was born life turned upside down – literally. Delivery required far more medical intervention than I had expected and my vision of motherhood – rocking a contented baby, having hours just melt away while I watched her delicate little features in sweet slumber – couldn’t have been further from reality.

I’d pour a bowl of cereal at 8 a.m. and, if I was lucky, eat it by noon. The first few months were a haze of sleepless nights and days filled with tears (hers and mine) while we navigated infections, colic, and seemingly endless feeding challenges.

The biggest sticking point? I’d always planned to nurse my children. It was healthy, economical, convenient. It was also what a good mother would do. Not only did I want to do it, I was inundated by messaging that championed and elevated this aspect of mothering.

I was also surrounded by mothers that could do it. Baby-hour at the library was basically a lesson in how to feed and nurture your little one naturally; you could find me wallowing in a corner covertly wielding a bottle.

I dealt with these things – as one does – by cycling through stages of denial, anger, depression, and pseudo-acceptance (there wasn’t much bargaining to do, she was only 2 months old after all). I researched techniques, bought supplements, and consulted experts before officially conceding defeat.

She got older and things got easier. By 9 months she was pure joy – full of all the spunk and personality we cherish today. She was happy and well fed. Though the crying was behind us, guilt lingered. And then a new friend entered my life and helped to shift my entire perspective with just one sentence.

This friend and I were out for an evening walk. Somehow I had circled back to discussions of feeling less-than because of my inability to naturally deliver and feed my (now toddler) daughter. This friend paused for a minute and said wisely: “You know, Elisabeth, she can still be a doctor.

What she meant – and what I needed to hear – was that the future was unwritten. The unexpected complications of the past, which were completely out of my control, didn’t mean Abby was doomed to a life of illness, missed opportunities, and continual disadvantages. If she wants, she can still be a doctor. Or a stay-at-home mom. Or a physicist, a mechanic, an artist or anything else her determined self wants to pursue.

When Levi was born several years later, I met with a lactation consultant proactively, bought new supplements and did all the “right” things. I gave it my all for a week. When the nurse told me, gently, it simply wasn’t working…I cried. The second time around it was still sad and disappointing. But I also knew: he can still be a doctor. Or a pro-surfer. Or a stay-at-home dad. Or an electrician. Or a teacher, or a financial analyst, or a playwright. The sky is the limit.

It really is – after all, he could still be an astronaut.

Your turn. Did anyone else find certain (or all!) aspects of the transition to motherhood different from your original expectations? The subtle irony in all of this is that I was a formula-fed baby and I don’t think it hasn’t slowed me down too much in life?

18 thoughts on “She Can Still Be A Doctor”

  1. Oh the breastfeeding expectations! I have read a few scholarly books about this, and from a feminist theory perspective, I am skeptical that the breastfeeding craze is really about (or even mostly about) infant nutrition. But as a mom in this current world, of course I got swept up in it. Such a complicated mess of emotions to untangle.

    1. I also think I was very young and naive and assumed that “Of course everything is going to go exactly the way I expect it to.” Somehow that made it harder, too. It had never once crossed my mind I might end up with an emergency C-section…and then it happened and I wasn’t sure how to process the reality with what I had been envisioning!

      But we all survived the experience and perspective gives me a new view of how emotionally charged it all was at the time – both personally but then also collectively as a society (at least where I live) where if you’re not successful with breastfeeding you’re either doing something wrong (technique) or you’re willfully denying your child a basic human right (decision based out of convenience).

  2. I think the transition to motherhood is different from EVERYONE’S expectations! There’s just no way to be prepared for it. I love this post- and it’s funny that you were formula-fed yourself! It didn’t ruin your life and it won’t ruin their’s- they could still be astronauts!

    1. I can’t even remember what I expected motherhood to look like in full, but just about every single thing turned out to be so much more intense than I expected. Loving feelings were more charged and deep than I imagined…but on the flip side, feelings of helplessness and exhaustion literally seeped into the very core of my body and soul!

  3. In those prenatal classes, I kind of felt like every little thing would indicate the trajectory of my child’s life. Like, breastfeeding or, I don’t know what. Tummy time? Solid food introduction? Everything feels DIRE at that age. The truth of course is, as you know, life is a long and winding road. There are so many opportunities in life!

    1. Oh man, I remember tummy time! And thinking through purees vs. baby-led weaning.
      I met up with a friend who has grandchildren recently and she said: I am so glad I didn’t have babies in the age of Google! There is just so much more to think about! When I had kids, everyone was just winging it together…

  4. I struggled with breastfeeding, too, and I was heartbroken when he wouldn’t nurse despite all the interventions. I was able to pump exclusively for Paul and had enough milk at 10 months to last him until he was 13 or 14 months. But wow did it take a toll on my mental and physical health So when I was pregnant with my 2nd, I made my husband and best friend promise me that they wouldn’t let me talk myself into exclusively pumping if Will didn’t latch. We put so much pressure on ourselves as moms and when there is so little in your control in those early days (or ever really but especially in the infant stage) we can become hyperfocused on one little thing. And then everyone is asking ‘are you breast feeding’? So it puts even more focus on it! It’s ridiculous. And that extends to a lot of other things like, ‘is baby sleeping through the night?’ ‘is he walking yet?’ And most of the time, people are probably just trying to make conversation but those questions feed into some of worries we have as moms that we are ‘failing’.

    This is part of the reason I am off social media. The comparison trap is just not healthy for me personally. I do not need to see what other families are doing or how fast the mom has lost the baby weight, etc. I came to motherhood later than nearly all of my friends – I was 37 when I had Paul. So I think I had more realistic expectations than I would have if I had kids alongside my peers. But you still can’t forsee how much you will wonder if you are messing things up. My most recent example is that Will has not been interested in books at all. Paul was interested from a very young age and I thought maybe I did something “right” but I think he is the exception. I have tried and tried to get Will interested in books and sent a note to a children’s books substack newsletter writer asking if I messed something up, like maybe I was too busy with Paul to read enough to Will or maybe he got too much ‘second hand’ reading. She sent me the nicest response. And sure enough, he’s gradually becoming more interested in reading. I did not break him or mess up. He just has a different disposition from Paul and less of an ability to sit still – like most toddlers!

    1. My issue was always low supply; no amount of pumping or supplements did the trick. Pumping was torture! I hated it so much and, with low supply, it took forever to get almost nothing. But we all survived the experience!

      I felt the SAME way about books. Abby loved reading and books from the time she was a baby, and Levi took SO much longer. I remember reading to a friend’s child who was slightly older than Levi and almost being in tears because she would sit and listen and I just could not get Levi to be interested. And, then, it just happened. He started to like books and loves to be read to now. I can almost guarantee the same thing will happen with Will!!

      1. I too struggled with the low supply. I produced like 5 ml when my baby required 60 ml, and i kept pumping and doing all the “right things” and diving into circles of frustration, exhaustion, and anger. I was pumping about 40 min 2-3 times a night for 4 months to get those 5 ml, while the breastfeeding moms were telling me how they peacefully go back to sleep after the night feedings. I stopped after about 4 months, but boy was my mental health shaking at that point. I clearly remember crying all the time. I just wished i would have an older, more mature and experienced woman in my life back then who could just offer some support and advise. Thanks for creating a safe discussion place here, i think it is important to hear different stories about motherhood.

        1. I’m so sorry your journey with pumping was so physically and mentally exhausting. I pumped for about 2 months with Abby (after I got mastitis she was never able to nurse again)…and that was all I could take. It was too exhausting and I had such low supply.
          Pumping is exhausting at the best of times, but pumping that long and having almost nothing to show for it (when I pumped after Levi the most I EVER got in a pumping session was 1 ml. 1 ml!!!!) simply wasn’t sustainable!

  5. I actually am a doctor and my mother tells me I was on formula from the beginning. I think there was almost less mom-shaming about stuff like that when I was born (early 1980s). Your daughter and your son are gorgeous children and sure seem to be thriving- they will do great!
    I had no trouble breastfeeding my own kids but have failed miserably at sleep routines, vegetables, and screen time. They have not flunked out of school yet though…

    1. Just the proof I needed – a formula-fed doctor!

      My Mom also struggled with low supply and said when I came along (many years after my older siblings) she thought it was AMAZING to be able to access good formula. I don’t think there was any guilt or shame at all. But this also reflects the cultural mode at that time when formula was seen as a form of liberation. For my Mom it was also just a much more pleasant feeding experience since when she had nursed my older sisters, she was never able to produce enough…

      And yes – our kiddos are thriving. I’ll admit when they were little every time they got an ear infection or cold bug I thought: “This would never have happened if I’d been able to supercharge their immune system.” Since then, I’ve met many, many children who were exclusively breastfed who seem to get sick all the time…and I have to admit it makes me feel a bit better!

  6. I don’t have any of my own motherhood stories to share… but if it makes you feel any better: my twin sister and I were bottle babies (my Mom had major complications delivering us (we were preemies, too) and she couldn’t nurse) and we both turned out just fine. (I think LOL)

  7. this is a lovely post. Motherhood teaches us more than we would ever expected, to surrender, to love unconditionally, to learn to be a better person, to adjust our expectations. I love when you say future is unwritten, so true.
    one unexpected thing about motherhood for me is that I feel still myself, not turning into a mom only role, against what many people told me before and still tell me now, that their life changed from them to a mother. It could be that I have two easy girls, that I kept working full time and pursue my hobbies, that I have a supportive husband to let me be myself other than a mom, or I just got lucky to have the chance to protect my pre-motherhood identify, while still enjoying to be their mom.

    1. Aww. Thanks, Coco.

      What an interesting point about still feeling “yourself.” Motherhood was a HUGE shift for me, but I was also very young when I had Abby (23) and I think that does impact the experience. I went right from university to motherhood and it feels like I’m only really reconsidering my own likes/dislikes now that the kids are a bit older as I hadn’t established many hobbies or even a career before kids entered our family!

  8. As someone without children, I simply cannot imagine the stress and pressure parents experience today… the lack of empathy and understanding for those who simply cannot do something (like breastfeeding) is appalling. You needed to feed your baby. You needed help doing that. That should have been the end of it! Anyway, I just hate that you – and clearly, others – experienced this. Motherhood should be a wonderful experience – not an experience of feeling excluded, or like you’re, I don’t know, not measuring up. Sigh. (Sorry, this is just a hot button kind of thing for me – not everyone is the same! No one will have the same experiences! Why do some people value one approach above others? ARGH.)

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