(Last week I brought my daughter to the pediatrician for her checkup. Yesterday, I brought my son. Our pediatrician is a professor of pediatric medicine–cause neurotic mama wanted the very BEST for her kids–and so we get different residents at the beginning of our appointment. Then, our pediatrician, who I love, comes in. This letter is to them collectively, and not to anyone in particular, based on an amalgamation of my recent experiences)
Dear Pediatric Resident,
Remember how I told you I have OCD at the beginning of the appointment? I wasn’t telling you because I am some great advocate for mental health (though some day I hope to be…), and I wasn’t telling you because I like to make small talk about my disorder. I was telling you because I hope, one day, knowing this fact will shape the way you deal with me and my children. I hope it will shape the way you deal with any other parent who has OCD.
I know that a great deal of your job involves catering to the lowest common denominator. I know that you need to go over everything possible, not only because you’re still learning, but also because parents make mistakes. There are parents who are either willfully or unwittingly neglectful–in ways that can put their children at risk.
I want to begin by thanking you. I know you chose this job and ask these questions because you genuinely care about children. You genuinely care about my children and their well-being. Thank you for being another lifeguard for my babies. Thank you for your diligence. Thank you for making sure they grow up to be happy, healthy, and secure.
Now, having assured you of my gratitude, I want to offer what I hope is some helpful criticism.
Please be careful about saying “be careful” to someone like me.
I know that not all parents are careful. I know you need to say this because you don’t know going in if a parent is careful or not. I know most parents who hear “be careful” either need to hear that or don’t need to hear it and are secure enough in their parenting to smile good-naturedly and give themselves a mental pat on the back.
I, however, am not that parent.
When I had to stop breastfeeding (something I agonized over), and you told me to be careful about how we mixed the formula, I know you were just making sure I actually read the formula canister to get the ratio right, but OCD took that and ran with it. I measured bottles more carefully than I did solutions in chemistry class. I poured out and remeasured bottles over and over again. I wasted more formula than I care to admit because I was terrified I had an air pocket in the scoop, or I was worri d I miscounted the number of scoops I put in, or I just plain didn’t trust that I had measured properly the first (or second…or third) time.
When you told me to be careful about putting loose blankets in the crib with my newborn son, you had no way of knowing that two years later, I’d still be terrified of letting my son have a blanket in the crib and would be buying the biggest sleep sacks on the planet, but I am and I do.
When you told me to be careful when it comes to properly buckling my children in their car seats, you had no way of knowing that would one day lead to me frequently pulling off to the side of the road to double- and triple-check, but it did.
When you told me to be careful and screen myself for postpartum depression, you had no way of knowing that I would eventually convince myself not only that I had it but that it made me unsafe and that I should be taken away from my children, but I did convince myself of that and went running for the nearest inpatient facility, (where, by the way I was told I didn’t have postpartum depression or psychosis, merely OCD, and I was just obsessing over what I thought the scariest thing in the world was).
So, I say to you, if a parent explains they have OCD, be careful with your “careful.” You don’t know how much time they might spend ruminating and obsessing over it. Your important guidance may slowly drive them a little mad.
that one neurotic mom.