Before posting my latest blog, I had a couple announcements. First, I am proud to say I am a contributor in the latest edition of Intima, A Journal of Narrative Medicine in the Field Notes section (www.theintima.org).
Secondly, I want to wish all of you a Happy Mother’s Day. Whether you are a mother, wish to be a mother, chosen not to be a mother, lost a mother, struggle with being a mother, we all – men and women – have “mothering” in us. So here is to the mother in all of us.
She delivered her daughter in September 1999. I delivered my daughter in October 1999. She was a single, black secretary living in Detroit. I was a married, white professional woman living in the suburbs. Her delivery was the last one I did before going on maternity leave.
Each year when we’d see each other for her annual check up, our conversation always turned to our daughters and the various milestones they were going through when they were two, three, six, seven years of age. We would commiserate about the trying days of being a mother and offer each other suggestions. Sometimes pictures even came out. Our obvious differences melted away as our shared experiences of being mothers of daughters bound us together.
Then one day, a new patient, a 15-year old, was on my schedule. Just before her appointment time, I began to wonder “is she sexually active, is she having problems with her periods?” My medical assistant brought her and her mother into my office while I was in another room. When I walked into my office, I saw the teen in sweats, fidgeting in her seat, tears staining her face. Her mother had her back to the door, her head down. The mother turned towards me as I entered and I realized it was this patient with her daughter that I delivered. The mother’s eyes were puffy and red, the tears starting up again when I walked in.
“I just found out my daughter is having sex,” the mom blurted out, “so I brought her to see you.” I looked back and forth, trying to get a sense of the tension between them. I turned towards the teen and said “I’m Dr. Eisenberg. Tell me why you are here to see me.” Luckily, that was all it took to engage her and she spoke for herself, glancing at her mom occasionally.
“I have a boyfriend and we have had sex,” she started. She didn’t seem ashamed or embarrassed to answer my questions or talk to me. Her mom would interject every once in awhile – “are you using condoms? You have to use condoms. I don’t care what that boy tells you, you can’t trust him.” I gave them time to have this back and forth, reinforcing what her mom told her about protecting herself. Sometimes the daughter would glare at her mom or sigh at her mom’s comments. But with me, she had steady eyes, and I hoped she felt we were both her allies.
She wanted her mother to come in during the exam. After she undressed, I came into the exam room. Both mom and daughter were more composed by this time. We were able to talk about some lighter subjects like school and sports while I went through her physical. They both were fairly chatty, relieved at the lightness of the conversation. I shared with her that I have a 15-year old daughter as well. When I was done and she was dressed, we talked about how to use the birth control pill and protect herself from STDs.
When all the formality of “doctoring” was done, I turned to the daughter and said “I’m glad you trusted your mother’s support and talked with her.” Then I told her mother ” your daughter was brave to confide in you.” And I shared with them how impressed I was with their relationship and their ability to have an honest dialogue. Although this was not the ideal situation they wanted to be in, they both handled it in a thoughtful, loving way.
Going home, I thought about my children. Do they feel comfortable confiding in me? Not just confiding, but telling me something they know will possibly hurt me or make me angry? Do they also know, underneath it all, that I will love them regardless? And in the following year, as my oldest confided in me she is really a he inside and believes he is transgender, I realized I have formed that relationship with my child. Beneath the discomfort of confiding in me, I had sewn a blanket of trust and safety for my child as my patient had sewn for her’s.
This was approved for a blog post by my oldest child.