EPISODE #38

Pediatricians, They're Just Like Us

Pediatricians, they’re just like us.

They take out the trash. They carve jack-o’-lanterns. They even feel lost when it comes to having a baby.

That’s how it was for Jessica Franklin. Jessica’s a pediatrician and an internist and when she got pregnant, she figured she had this whole new mom thing covered. But pretty much everything about having a baby left Jessica feeling utterly out of control.

Jessica smiling through her HELLP syndrome, trying to be a good patient

Jessica smiling through her HELLP syndrome, trying to be a good patient

From childbirth (she had preeclampsia and eventually HELLP syndrome) to nursing (low supply) to her baby’s reflux (never-ending spit-up), Jessica felt like the medical experts that she’d hand-picked were not taking her problems seriously. Becoming a mother, for Jessica, also meant becoming a patient for the first time in her life, and that experience fundamentally changed the way she approached her job.

jessica-marco-kneeling-squarejessica-marco-kiss-square

Jessica says that medical school does its best to help doctors understand what it’s like to be on the other side of the stethoscope, but some of the most valuable lessons she learned about parenting she found 1) by trusting her gut and 2) by scouring the self-help aisle at the library. Especially how to handle her son Marco’s (above) “spirited” temperament, which baffled her at first.

Preeclampsia Resources
Jessica was diagnosed with preeclampsia when she arrived at the hospital in labor—a life threatening condition to the mother if it is not treated. The Preeclampsia Foundation is an organization that advocates for better prevention and management of the disorder.

Jessica’s preeclampsia later morphed into HELLP syndrome, which was not at first caught by the hospital staff (or her doctor husband). HELLP has about a 25% mortality rate, and is reportedly extremely traumatic to women who experience it. The HELLP Syndrome Survivors Facebook group is a place for people who have lived through HELLP to connect and commiserate.

What do YOU think doctors can do to understand patients and parents better?
Ideas, please. In the comments.

Kneeling photo: Ink Anchor Photography; Kiss photo: Cheryl Fils-Aime

32 thoughts on “EPISODE #38: Pediatricians, They’re Just Like Us

  1. Dr. Jessica, I so enjoyed the honesty of your interview and how vulnerable and human it made you sound. I have nothing but praise for our pediatrician, a solo practitioner that listens to me, sees the wonders of my children, and spends time with us at every visit. When my oldest daughter got diagnosed with an undocumented chromosomal disorder, we called her and she asked to see us to acknowledge the heartbreak we must have gone a day earlier at the geneticist office. She saw us to provide support and check on our daughter for a few minutes. The message I got then was that she would understand our struggles. At well-baby visit, she would not insist on talking about milestones because we all knew she was delayed. Many years later, she asked me (she asked me!) how I cleared clogged ear tubes (not peroxide, it hurts like hell and I do not want my child to suffer with peroxide ever again), she welcomed my suggestion of adding antibiotics drop in the ear, asking the kid to blow her nose, block nostrils, and let pressure propel the goo from the ear. The best thing she ever said to me though? That her teacher once called to say her son was the most ill-behaved kid she had ever seen in her career (the teacher had has a bad day.)

  2. Thank you so much for your kind words. I am so glad that your pediatrician was WITH YOU during your struggles. So often, we can’t make things better, but we can be with people and support them. Your pediatrician was wise to learn from your experiences! And, for the record, my son nearly got kicked out of preschool for some awful behavior, but we worked through it.

  3. Hi there. I love your podcast! I just started listening a few weeks ago and have been binge listening on my morning and evening commutes ever since!

    I’ve felt a huge connection with many of the topics and guests that you’ve had on, but particularly, your question as to what doctors can do to better understand patients and parents really got me thinking.

    I have a 15 month old son and live in Pittsburgh, Pa. I’m not from Pittsburgh. I’ve lived here about 5 years, and I have no family closer than a 5 hour drive from me. But I could not be more grateful that this is where I became a mother. Just because of one thing: New Mom’s Coffee.
    My pediatrician’s practice hosts the most wonderful new mom’s group ever. It’s three times a week, it’s free, it’s come as you are, and it’s facilitated by the most wonderful woman ever. She is a doula and she specializes in counseling moms who have had traumatic births. Her name is Kathy McGrath. Anyway, we all sit in a circle with our babies for two hours and talk about how things are going for us. We can breastfeed or formula feed our babies. We can tell our birth stories if we want. And we can cry, if we need to. There is absolutely no judgement, and there is absolutely no bullshit. It’s totally real and honest.

    New Mom’s Coffee was SUCH a lifesaver when my son was a newborn. So much so that I make it a point to tell every pregnant woman I see in Pittsburgh about it. Yep, I am that annoying person giving unsolicited advice. But I think in this case its okay. Ha ha.

    I know there are a lot of mom’s groups out there, but there is seriously something magical about this one. Maybe the fact that this one is affiliated with a pediatrician, and facilitated by a childbirth expert, somehow makes it work so much better. (oh, and by the way, you don’t even have to use this specific pediatrician to attend the mom’s group!)

    Anyway, I think this could be an amazing way for pediatricians, especially ones who haven’t had kids, or haven’t had birth related trauma themselves to gain a little more empathy and understanding for what it’s like for some women in those early months. If more pediatricians or hospitals provided free services like this, it would be a wonderful support network for new moms. And perhaps if doctors, OBGYNs, and pediatricians sat in sometimes for observation, and listened to our honest stories, maybe we’d all be a little better off.

    Thanks for the great podcast and keep it up!

  4. This story felt so familiar. I am not a physician and I did not have the same medical complications. However there were many problems that led to me passing out after childbirth. It started with forceps being used and sewing up tears which was followed by feeling sick and then passing out. I was informed later that there had been significant blood loss and an epidural that was left in too long. Breastfeeding was a nightmare. She would want to nurse or use me as a pacifier for nearly 45 minutes, then only sleep for 45 minutes (if that), and then it would start again. When I added pumping to the routine there was no sleep and no milk. It took a while before we supplemented with formula. I figured she wasn’t sleeping because she was hungry. Turns out she hates sleep. She also spit up constantly. When I voiced my concerns to the doctor they would look at her and tell me she is fine and all this is normal. I have taken care of a lot of babies and my daughter was not normal. When I heard Jessica describe her son as intense that is when I realized we were really in the same boat. My daughter still gets described as intense and she is 4 now. I think it would have been easier if I had known it was her personality and not her trying to kill me. My mom who has watched dozens of kids over the years could not watch my daughter for more than an hour. She couldn’t make the crying stop. I remember my mom calling me in tears telling me that my daughter hated her. I now work in my church’s nursery and I am the only one that can calm some of the children. I can see the relief in the parents eyes when they hand me their children. I have let them know that I have been where they are and I listen as they tell me their struggles.

  5. I know that I’m late to this board – I just discovered this podcast and while I listened to this episode, I found myself suddenly crying – this experience sounded so much like my own, and I didn’t know anyone else who had experienced lasting and intense postpartum pain like this. I think that by acknowledging that pregnancy and delivery and postpartum recovery and parenting a newborn are part of one big process, doctors could better connect with mothers. For example, OB’s could talk with pregnant women about postpartum recovery – how moms may feel, and how it will affect caring for a newborn. And pediatricians should consider a mom’s condition as well as the baby’s. A lactation consultant at my son’s dr.’s practice (who is a mom) saw immediately how uncomfortable I was sitting in her office chair and offered to let me stand for the appointment, talked to me about side-lying nursing, and discussed pain killers while nursing. It made me feel understood and was very helpful. Anyway – I guess my overall thought is that doctors – especially those without kids, who haven’t experienced those first weeks/months at home with a newborn – should be encouraged to view mom’s health and baby’s health as one big picture.

    1. This might stop OB’s from making maddening suggestions like to refrain from sitting or lifting while recovering…and nursing and caring for a newborn…

  6. I’m also late to the party — I just discovered LST and am catching up on episodes going a couple years back. I was really moved by this episode; it made me feel like all of us “non-doctors” are not crazy after all, if a DOCTOR can be treated like this, and can have these experiences.

  7. I also had a hemotoma with childbirth. This whole episode from the birth to breastfeeding problems to reflux is my story. I’m 4 mos postpardum and still can feel my hematoma. I was never told it could be HELLP, but preeclampsia was a concern although I was never told I had it. I’m trying to find others with similar stories to gather as much info as possible. I feel like I am still searching for my answer as to why this traumatic thing happened to me. I feel cheated from the birth experience since I was passed out on pain meds the majority of the time I was in the hospital. The first day of my baby’s life brings me painful memories. I was in so much pain for so long that I feel I missed out on her newborn phase and the bonding we should have had (we now have a great bond).
    Jessica, thank you for your story. I have listened to it a couple times now and I feel like it has helped me grieve from my tramatic experience and helped me begin mentally healing from it. I have spent so much time googling hematomas in childbirth and I feel I have finally found some closure. If you have any more info on it, please let me know. I am gathering info not only for my healing process both physically and mentally, but also for my potential future pregnancies. My doctor did not have any patients that had ever had a hematoma from childbirth, so we did not have a blueprint on how the healing should go. I would love to pick your brain with more questions on your injury and how you healed.

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