A Pediatrician Talks About First-Time Parenting

A seasoned physician reveals that all his training didn't prepare him for fatherhood.

Introduction

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Nick Dewar

Nick Dewar

Two years ago, my wife, Kate, and I experienced the most important event of our lives: the birth of our first child, Bess, a healthy, beautiful little girl. And despite my 15 years as a pediatrician -- I even wrote a book on baby care -- I'm still humbly discovering that I'm hardly an expert when it comes to adapting to my daughter.

This realization first dawned on me when Bess was 6 weeks old. I was watching her while my wife caught a much-needed nap. It was really my first time alone with her, and I basked in the warmth of Bess's playful smile -- but soon enough a storm front of panic moved in. Bess suddenly began to experience a strange and violent wavelike motion of the body. It started at her mid-thighs and quickly extended upward to her belly and chest. At the end of each baby tsunami, she extended her neck, gulped, and let out a high-pitched squeak.

In between these jerky motions and squeaks -- and, in fact, even during them -- Bess didn't appear to be in any pain or distress. But I surely was. Urgent questions raced through my mind: What do I do? What's happening to Bess? Should I wake my wife? What if this is an emergency? Because I'm a doctor and I see a small minority of the worst cases of illness, every horrible possibility came to mind. Was Bess having a seizure? Did she have a rare metabolic disease? And all the while, the waves continued: thigh jerk progressing to a belly roll, followed by a coda of squeaks, over and over, as if Bess were keeping time to a song in her head.

After a few more minutes of unproductive panic, I rushed to our bookshelf to thumb through the dozens of baby-care books we had purchased while Kate was pregnant. Each page confirmed in my mind that a terrible diagnosis was looming. Finally, I consulted our neighbor, a well-versed, sensible, and, most important, calm mother of two. She gave Bess a rapid once-over, paused, and gently reassured me that my daughter was experiencing her first bout of the hiccups. "They're nothing to worry about," she said, smiling broadly.

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