Should the star of my life star in my writing?

Lately my husband has been sending me a lot of articles discussing the use – or careful avoidance of – the Internet and social media by parents for the sharing of photos of their children. Most of the articles are written by people who have made a conscious decision to minimize their children’s exposure to the online public, some simply by limiting the number of pictures they post and by strengthening their privacy settings, others by establishing password-access-only sites to share pictures with close friends and family, and, in one case, by registering a URL, email address, and Facebook account in the child’s name, to be handed owe to him or her at such time as the parents deem appropriate.  I have not yet come across any articles encouraging the opposite, go-ahead-and-share-away philosophy, which I suppose makes sense since that approach seems to be the norm.

I will admit that I share photos of my son on Facebook.  There was the initial birth announcement featuring a shot from the delivery room. I keep an album of the photos we take each month, him propped in the same chair with his stuffed elephant nearby for comparison. Is he in my profile image?  Yes.  Other than that, I don’t post very often, but does it really make a difference given that I’m posting at all? In terms of preserving his privacy and waiting until he is of an age to give consent, or at least assent, to the sharing of his identity and image, is it an all or nothing phenomenon?

This really brings up a bigger question for me – what about my writing? How does one manage privacy concerns when writing about one’s family? My husband figures frequently in my work, and although I never delve into deep dark family secrets or share anything overly private, he is always my first reader and I give him full veto power over any piece that involves him. (He has yet to exercise that power.)

But now there is my son. One simple solution would be to not write about him until he is older and can grant permission, but he is such a huge part of my life, and already has such a great influence on all of the things that I process through my writing – my work as a pediatrics resident, the balance between career responsibilities and family life, and of course the joys and challenges of motherhood – that avoiding mention of him feels impossible and counterproductive.

Protecting our subjects’ privacy, especially when those subjects are patients, is a topic that features frequently at conferences in the medical humanities. The general consensus seems to be that the writer should try to gain the subject’s permission and, barring that, alter any information that might make the individual identifiable to someone who knows him or her.

Thus far, I have taken a similar approach in writing about my baby. I never use his first name, and handily his last name is different from my own.  Nothing that I share pertains to his appearance, health, or any other aspect of his life thus far that he could conceivably in the future wish to keep private. The question looms as to whether he will be upset one day that I have written about him at all. That’s something that I can’t predict. I can only hope that he will understand how essential the act of writing is to his mother’s well being and that he will know that I have made every decision with the intent to protect him.

How do other writers feel about including their children in their writing? Do you avoid it, embrace it, or strive for some middle ground?

The Comfortable Conferencegoer

Recently I attended a national academic conference, and while I’ll admit that, having brought my husband and son along for the trip, the balance of time spent was skewed more toward pool and beach activities than academic sessions, I did indeed attend several and overall they were of good quality. One left me somewhat disappointed, though, because although it addressed what I would consider an important topic within my field, it didn’t really add much new to my knowledge. And while that sentiment might initially make me seem too self-assured, it actually got me thinking about what we gain from conferences and how we might be able to gain even more. 

As a resident, I am far from an expert in anything, including the topic of the conference session in question. But the topic is an area of great interest for me; I have read numerous articles about it and devoted elective time during medical school and residency to exploring it further. So, I gathered from the comments made during the session, had the majority of my fellow attendees. Many offered thoughtful input beginning with phrases such as, “In my experience,” and, “Whenever I face this issue.” It was clear that people were there because they were interested, but perhaps they stood to gain less that day because their interest had already spurred them to develop a knowledge base of their own. 

I began thinking, are they [we] really the ones who need to be at this particular session?  There were, more than likely, numerous other physicians out there who would benefit from either an introductory or refresher course on the topic, and they might not even have considered setting foot in that room. Similarly, there were many other topics about which I have much to learn, but whose sessions I had not chosen to attend. Most of the attendees at the meeting were probably clustering into conference rooms to listen to lectures and partake in discussions surrounding areas about which they already knew a fair amount, while bypassing others where the topics being treated felt more foreign, and from which, therefore, they had even more to gain. It would seem that in selecting how we spend our continuing education time, we might not be continuing our educations in the most meaningful and fruitful manner. 

Conferences are already somewhat self-selecting events. There is the obvious and logical level of self-selection: pediatricians attend conferences on pediatrics, oncologists, conferences on oncology, and so forth. But when it comes to which specific conferences under the umbrella of our specialty we choose to attend, and which particular sessions offered there, I would wager that the choices made have less to do with where our weaknesses lie and more with where our comfort does.  As a result, there is a large deficit between how much we stand to gain and how much we actually do.

During medical school we are indoctrinated that as physicians we must be life-long learners. Once we have completed our training, much of this learning is, by necessity, self-directed. But before we conclude our efforts simply by attending an academic conference and relaxing in the comfort of meeting up with old friends and colleagues and listening to lectures on our particular areas of interest, I challenge us all to take the additional step to explore a topic with which we feel less familiar – uncomfortable, even – and in doing so to expand the boundaries of our comfort and, most importantly, our medical knowledge. 

Guest Post on BLUNTmoms

Exciting times!  My post “Want to Simplify Your Life?  Have a Baby” was included on the very hip, entertaining site BLUNTmoms.com.  Check it out  here then stick around to explore the rest of their site.  Whether you have a spouse or kids or neither, you’ll definitely find something there that speaks to you.  (Probably moreso the ladies, but guys I’m sure some of the articles there will entertain/enlighten you as well.)

Thanks, BLUNTmoms!

Everything Changes

I’m very grateful to Mothers in Medicine for publishing another one of my posts. This time I’m writing about what it’s been like to return to work caring for sick children after becoming a mother. Click here to read more.

Want to simplify your life? Have a baby.

When my husband and I collapse on the couch at eleven pm still holding our newborn son because we haven’t yet figured out how to feed ourselves our third takeout pizza of the week, get the dishes into the sink, change from daytime sweats into nighttime sweats, and simultaneously keep our baby happy/fed/in a clean diaper/not crying, let alone put him to bed, one of us wonders aloud, “What did we used to do with all of our free time?”

“I don’t know. I can’t remember. “

“Me neither.  But whatever it was, I don’t miss it.”

“So true.”  Pause. “I am really freaking tired, though.”

“Oh God, me, too. But this is amazing.”

“Yeah.  Totally amazing.”

“And hard.”

“Incredibly hard. But great. “

“Of course! So great.”

One of the reasons that having a child is so great and amazing is that you figure out really quickly what the important things are and finally let go of everything else that previously cluttered your life. I’m not talking about the Big Important Things – family, friends, loyalty, all that. Hopefully you’ve got that down already. I mean the next tier, the types of things that, pre-baby, occupied most of your daily life.

Here’s how it works: in the beginning, everything is cut out but the essentials, which are anything involving the care of your baby, and occasionally feeding yourself. Gradually other staples like showering and paying bills get added back in, and after a month or so, minor errands can even be accomplished.  You also grow far more efficient at doing things. Think you’re pretty good at folding laundry? Yesterday I folded and put away a load of our son’s laundry (of which there is a shocking amount) while pumping two bottles of breast milk (thanks to my hands-free pumping bra) and cooing and singing to the little guy to keep him entertained in his crib. Try that on for size. 

Some of this simplification is borne of necessity, but most of it – once you’re at the point if being able to re-institute some pre-baby activities into your life – comes from being honest with yourself about which of these things you do and don’t care about anymore. My husband and I both work full time jobs – his is 40 hours a week coupled with an hour-long commute, mine is close to home but with a wildly variable schedule.  And we both have a long list of hobbies and non-career-related aspirations we’d like to pursue – so many that we somehow always felt pressed for time even before our little man arrived. But the reality, I now realize, is that we were never going to get to half of those things anyway, baby or no baby. Even if our lives had continued along as usual, with no qualifying life event, certain of those aspirations would have just kept simmering on the back burner because we would have procrastinated or simply chosen to devote our time to other pursuits. The difference is that now our hand is forced and we can admit that we’re never really going to do those things, and frankly don’t have the time anymore to even fantasize about someday learning Spanish (me), picking up the bassoon (him), or forming a band with pediatrics colleagues and calling it Kids Rock (me again; don’t judge – it was going to be awesome).  

But what we can do is pick one or two things to focus on that are not exactly essential to our lives but that make major contributions to our happiness and fulfillment.  For my husband, one of those things is running, so we bought him a reflective vest and flashing safety light to wear on evening runs after the dishes have actually made it to the sink and the little guy is in, or on his way to, bed. And for me, one of those things is writing, which is why I am thumb-typing this essay into the Notes app on my iPhone while breastfeeding our baby. 

Just know that sleep does not fall into that category of important things you can choose to prioritize. Sleep follows its own rules and your preferences about it really don’t apply.  But look on the bright side: you’ll have far more awake hours to devote to those important things you’ve identified, and most of all to the little bundle who started it all.  How great and amazing is that?

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