Now hold on just one second–this blog is supposed to be about motherhood and knitting, so why exactly are we busting out funeral words on post two?
As I’ve thought through the stories I want to tell about life with my favorite tiny human, I realized how many of them are either related to, or informed by, the passing away of the wonderful pediatrician that Asher went to for the first 4.5 months of his life. So, before we go any further I’d like to take a moment to tell the world about the man who cared for so many young lives and who honestly, truly, in the marrow of my bones, made me believe I was a good mother, when I was absolutely convinced otherwise.
Dr. Richard Lon lived from 1956 until his sudden passing on May 24th, 2017. He was only 60 years old when he died. His family has chosen not to disclose his cause of death, so I, along with scores of other parents and patients old enough to understand, can simply hope and pray that he died at peace, knowing how much we adored him.
Because we did. If you look him up online, you’ll immediately find the heartbroken outpouring of love, respect and appreciation for this man. He wasn’t warm and fuzzy, but he was kind, he was patient, he was humble, he was caring, he was open, he was good. Pediatricians are some of the lowest paid physicians out there, and yet Dr. Lon invested himself in his patients and their parents, and he made himself available quite literally 24/7/365.
I once called Dr. Lon at 10 p.m. on a Saturday, and as a nurse who has been fire blasted by a doctor for calling about his patient at the “ungodly” (his word, I’m not making this up) hour of 7:30 a.m. on a weekday, I was bracing myself for a torrent of abuse. I never got it. He gave me advice for the immediate problem, and told me to call him the next morning with an update. In the morning we talked three separate times, sorting out a prescription, dosage and plan of action if that prescription didn’t help the problem. On a Sunday.
I cannot stress this enough: I do NOT trust doctors. Not in the more common “they’re not out for my best interest” way, but in the pernicious “they’re not good people and I’d like to run the other direction” way. I come by this honestly (one can only be called names, hung up on and shouted at by physicians so many times before concluding that they are not a nice sort), but I’m at least self aware enough to try and consciously overcome it. I’m getting there–I like my OB just fine, the hematologist I was sent to at 7 weeks pregnant was very nice, my husband’s psychiatrist seems genuinely invested in his well being; but the moment I met Dr. Lon I knew Asher was safe with him, and by extension I was safe, too.
The real crux of the matter, though, came at Asher’s 1 month appointment. Asher was born “late pre-term”, meaning he was almost done cooking but not quite (that’s another story for another post!). As a result, he was sent to the NICU for about 12 hours, and while he was there he was bottle fed–there was no other choice but a tube down his throat. Three lactation consultants later, my child was deemed too small, too weak and too unmotivated to breastfeed. Now, breastfeeding was the ONE thing about motherhood that I was holding to with an iron grip. The rest could come and go, but my baby would be breastfed, come hell or high water–I didn’t care how much it hurt, how many times I cried, how much sleep I lost, this was non-negotiable for me…because I didn’t know that breastfeeding doesn’t only “fail” because Mama can’t do it, it can “fail” because Baby can’t, too.
So I pumped, and pumped, and pumped. I pumped breastmilk that Asher got from a bottle, and my heart broke a little more every time I pumped, because it meant I wasn’t nursing and was getting that much further away from my vision of what being a “good mother” was.
And then, with a three and a half week old baby, my milk dried up.
I know some women who have been able to fool their bodies for nearly a year, and have given their babies breastmilk almost exclusively in spite of an inability to nurse. My body wasn’t buying it. There was no baby connected to this setup, so why put the effort in to producing sustenance?
So by the time of Asher’s one month appointment, he was drinking Similac full time. When Dr. Lon asked me how breastfeeding was going (he had recommended the third and final lactation consultant at our newborn visit), I had tears in my eyes and I honestly felt like I was confessing a crime when I told him that Asher was on formula. I had failed as a mother, my body had failed, and my baby was going to suffer the life-long consequences of that failure.
And do you know what that good, kind doctor said to me?
“Your baby is thriving. He’s gaining weight, and he’s healthy. You’ve done exactly the right thing. He’s not going to be any less smart, any more allergic, any more obese, any less healthy, because you gave him what you could and now you’re making sure he’s getting everything he can get. You are a good mother.”
If that sounds too good to have really happened, you can ask my Mom–she was there, and we both could have kissed him.
Other people in my life (i.e., my husband, my mother, my father, my sister, dear and trusted friends) had told me the exact same thing that Dr. Lon did that day; but they loved me and were obligated me make me feel better (right?). He was in the unique position, as a relatively unknown but trusted entity, to say the right words at the right moment that released me from my shame, my guilt, and my conviction that I had failed. He believed I was a good mother, and because he believed, I could, too.
(Dr. Richard Lon’s Facebook profile photo)
I wept for a full week when I found out about Dr. Lon’s passing. I still get teary when I think about it (like in writing this post). We are now with another pediatrician, and she is fun and spunky and lovely and informative and everything I could ask for; but she’s not Dr. Lon. No one ever will be, of course, but as much as I’ve grieved his loss, I am so thankful that we had those few short months with him to know what it feels like to immediately trust a doctor, to learn from him, and to be the recipient of a truth only he could give–I am a good mother, even when life looks different than I’d planned.
I just wish I could thank him one more time.