It was almost like a breakup, beginning with the grinding unhappiness of a bad relationship. After nearly a year with my daughter’s first pediatrician – that endless first year of parenthood that encompasses dozens of well baby visits – I found myself unhappy, dissatisfied, worn out.
My daughter’s first pediatrician had co-authored a well-known book with a famous, beloved pediatrician. What’s more, he took my insurance and was accepting new patients. Doctors have been picked for far worse reasons. In retrospect, I wish I had chosen the most reliable path to a happy doctor-patient relationship and asked for recommendations from people I knew, but as I was the first in my group to have a baby and lived far from family, I had nobody to ask.
The first hint at a bad fit was that he never remembered my daughter’s nickname (he always called her by her longer formal name, which nobody uses), but this was a small irritation. Worse was his warning, at every visit, about her size – totally average at birth, she had become plump and round on a diet of breastmilk, only breastmilk, for her first six months. Her father and I come from slim people, and I knew that exclusively breastfed babies are often chubby but rarely obese – still, the doctor’s constant cautions made me doubt myself, and his tone brooked no questions. Fat cells laid down now, he said, would never, ever go away. Twenty pounds at six months? She was sure to face weight problems as she grew, he promised. I would love to introduce him to her now, a slender athletic teenager with a still-healthy appetite and, thankfully, no insecurities about her body’s shape. (Overly aggressive admonitions against infant obesity, it turns out, are a common theme among mothers who ditch their first pediatricians.)
In the end, quitting was shockingly easy. A year of sing-alongs and park visits had introduced me to a crew of moms and kids, so I asked around and got names of the doctors other mothers cherished. I think the new doctor’s receptionist even handled the file request from the old office. If I had had to face my daughter’s first pediatrician to deliver the news in person, I might have said, “it’s not you, it’s me.” But that would have been the same lie it always is.
It’s been years now, but I remember fantasizing for weeks about sending the first doctor a Dear John letter, letting him know why he lost our business. I never did. As much as I had hated him, for years afterward I felt vaguely guilty – for quitting, for waiting so long to quit, for having chosen him in the first place. The whole mess seemed a rookie mistake, and something I was certain other, wiser mothers would never do. After all, my brothers and I had gone to the same doctor until we were grown. Surely, I thought, it’s a rare and shameful thing, to quit your pediatrician.
I was wrong. The next time you’re with a group of parents, ask around – you’re certain to find other quitters. Perhaps you’re one yourself. We are everywhere, it seems. And though there are surely a few parents who see themselves as medical consumers, just shopping for the best product, and more who have to change doctors due to relocation or changes in insurance plans, many are just like me: parents who’ve suffered a pediabreakup. As with all breakups, the details vary, but most seem to boil down to breakdown in three big areas: communication, respect, and trust.