For the last many years of my medical training, I have grown accustomed to intermittent feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty. As perpetual learners, most physicians balance medical knowledge with some degree of uncertainty and “is this the right treatment path for this patient?”, as every patient-diagnosis pair is unique and most don’t fit tidily into treatment algorithms. In fact, we are taught to deal with uncertainty and self-doubt in medicine so that these feelings don’t cripple decision-making or cause unnecessarily and potentially harmfully conservative treatment plans or overuse of testing. I don’t think I realized that physicians sometimes don’t know for sure what to do until I started medical school. The truth is, we often make what we think is the best decision based on the information we have, the preference of the patient, and our extensive medical training.
My proficiency as a mother is ever-changing as my kids and I continue to grow, and I often wonder if I’m doing the right thing or if I’m good enough as a mother. I don’t deal with feeling of inadequacy in motherhood as well as those in medicine, though. It wasn’t until yesterday that I actually realized that once again, medicine and mothering are parallel universes, conjoining streams flowing toward a determined river. You see, when I talk to other mothers or read the blogs of mothers I admire it is apparent that feelings of inadequacy are just as prevalent among mothers as they are among physicians. Yes, both jobs require confidence and the ability to make decisions quickly (sometimes with little or insufficient data), but women I know in each job often report self-doubt, feelings that others are doing it better, and the never-ending feeling of being constantly criticized/measured up/judged.
Either I’m surrounded by incompetent mothers and physicians, or there’s a trend here.
Yesterday I went to the grocery store. Without kids. Standing in the meat aisle, I spied a roast. A roast, I thought to myself, sounds nice. I parked my cart and surveyed the options before picking up a nice-looking slab of meat with both hands. Now, this was not my maiden voyage into the meat aisle of a grocery store. Apparently, I’m so good at learning that I can do it just about anywhere. Mouth agape, holding a juicy slab of meat dripping sero-sanguinous fluid through my fingers onto the grocery store floor, I was stunned. What had happened to the nice protective wrap that has always before kept the cow insides from touching my outsides?
The next 15 minutes should have been captured on camera (and maybe they were – I hope so). I turned to the general public for help. Nothing. Shoppers walked by, avoiding eye contact completely or looking at my dripping meat and walking right on by. A woman with three well-behaved small children in her cart cruised up to the meat aisle. (Seriously, three well-behaved children not requiring bribes or threats sitting in their seats on their bottoms. I am a terrible mother). Aha! This miracle-worker mother will help me!
She reached in front of me with a kind smile and ripped a clear bag off the roll. Thinking she would open it for me, I turned and held the roast up toward her. She backed away from my bloody offering in horror, flipped her bag inside out and picked up my roasts’neighbor, handily following sterile procedure. Then, she smiled again (yep, perfectly white teeth) and moved on down the road, likely wondering what that crazy lady with the roast was doing out in public. I don’t think she had a clue that I needed help, and I would’ve asked her if I wasn’t mesmerized by her statuesque children.
Hand sanitizer! In my purse! After using no less than 14 of the clear plastic bags in a feeble attempt to contain the contamination, I used paper towels to open my purse and get out the hand sanitizer. Success, my sterile procedure muscle memory took over and not a single e.coli bacterium touched my purse.
It was about that time that a store employee asked me if I needed any help. I can’t believe he wasn’t laughing hysterically – I’m convinced they were upstairs watching me and someone finally got sent to help me to avoid further contamination of their store.
So, to the woman at the grocery store with the three well-behaved children: Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! I concede to your skills as a mother, a meat-picker-upper, and a fashionista.
I acknowledge my feelings of inadequacy in motherhood now, as I have in medicine for a while. In fact, I embrace them. With the naming of the feelings comes a feeling of calm and reassurance that I can navigate these familiar waters. After all, I’ve done it for years.