When I found out I was pregnant, one of my good friends told me I would make an amazing mother because, “You know what it’s like to work with and care for things that can’t talk.”
At the time, I agreed with that logic,and while it has turned out to be true to a certain extent, I now would argue the contrary — becoming a mom has made me a better veterinarian.
Here are three ways becoming a mom has made me a better veterinarian.
1. Developing grace with clients
Clients can be frustrating, especially when little oversights on their part cause major headaches on ours.
I vividly remember my daughter’s well-check at the pediatrician just 48 hours after leaving the hospital. We forgot everything. Life had all of the sudden become so much so quickly we forgot every document and form we were told to bring; I didn’t even have my driver’s license to prove who I was. To us, just making it to the appointment was a win. To the receptionist, we were likely just another family with oversights causing her a headache.
During a shift a few weeks later I had a client in the building cancel their appointment. Confused, we received clarification that while the client had made it in, they had forgotten their pet at home. The brightside, however, was that they remembered their fecal sample and having a prior VCPR, we were able to be understanding and still address the major reason for the visit and get the client a ‘win’ for the day.
I now understand how these seemingly incomprehensible faux-pas and oversights can creep their way into everyday life.
It can be hard to remember every sheet of paperwork when you don’t live those documents every day and there can be a lot of stress associated with going to the doctor, whether a pediatrician or veterinarian.
Those little stressors of worry for your child or pet add up and can cloud simple memory tasks. I think this is especially underappreciated for many cat owners who may face stress, guilt, and frustration each time they need to get their feline out of the house and into a new environment. Maybe a bit more grace on our part can go a long way in these situations.
2. Understanding that negative conditioning is REAL.
A not-so-funny thing happened to my husband when he took our eight month old to get her influenza vaccine. It had been a few months since our last well-check/vaccine appointment and it became strikingly apparent the ferocity negative conditioning can have on children. When the nurse practitioner entered the exam room, our daughter remained calm, but on the first motion of moving toward the exam table, chaos ensued.
It was clear she had made an association in the first few months of her life between being set on the exam table, the stethoscope, and an unpleasant experience (routine physical exam and vaccines). No amount of consolation could bring her back from the brink — the damage had been done.
In a subsequent visit, I found myself telling my daughter, mid-examination and correlated meltdown, “it’s ok, the mean lady isn’t hurting you, I promise.” I immediately backtracked and tried to explain to the nurse practitioner that this is a common phrase I use in the clinic while examining pets who are having an equally frightening visit (generally referring to myself as the mean lady).
No one in our profession aims to build a fearful environment, but during the pediatric appointments with my daughter I quickly saw how only one or two negative experiences can have dramatic consequences of negative association. Making visits as fear-free as possible takes significant, consistent, and deliberate effort.
The benefits of such deliberate work may be difficult to measure, but the consequences of it are obvious. And it’s not just for puppy/kitten visits — behavioral/social maturity can take up to 36 months in dogs and 48 months in cats (in humans this doesn’t happen until the mid-20s)! We need to strive to make every interaction at the vet clinic less stressful — which is better for the pet and the veterinary team.
3. Dr. Google at 2 am makes EVERYTHING seem scary.
We’ve all rolled our eyes when we see on our schedule “Dog has been vomiting for 3 days, owner thinks it has GDV,” to which we as practitioners all know is very unlikely (and physically impossible).
Let me tell you, the first time my baby projectile vomited after a 2 am feeding I was all but packed and prepared to spend the next three days in the hospital. I can’t tell you how many times I found myself in the deep, dark mommy blogs and “medical” websites trying to figure out why my baby was doing something I viewed as strange.
Thankfully, I also have the wherewithal to know better than to believe everything I read. But those rare possibilities of what could be scared the dickens out of me!
Since these experiences, I’ve begun directly asking owners outright, “so what have you read online about this?” On the flip side, I learned to trust parents’ instincts when it comes to their children (2-legged or 4). I’ve always taken the owner’s concerns seriously, but it was easy to dismiss when we see something so common in vet med that we forget it’s a new (and scary!) experience for a first-time parent.
I also try to provide owners with reputable resources so that they can avoid Dr. Google altogether. During the beginning of every well-child visit, my pediatrician provides me with a 1-page document tailored to the current age of my child outlining normal development, nutrition, safety, and common problems. It also indicates which immunizations my child received during that visit, the plan for the next visit, and vital parameters.
Best of all, it says “For the most up to date information on a wide range of pediatric health issues, please visit” and provides a website address. GENIUS!
To see my favorite resources I share with clients, check out my blog post here about reliable, and understandable, veterinary information.
I always knew becoming a mom would be life changing, but it was a happy surprise to see that I could embrace motherhood with my career.