My son just turned 1 on the weekend, and he is starting to walk. It is such pure joy watching him get up from a sitting position, holding on to furniture, cruising around that furniture, then letting go and taking a few steps. He looks so proud of himself and my squealing makes him laugh but then he realizes what he’s doing and immediately gets down to all-fours.
We are born completely helpless – we require someone to feed, clothe and shelter us. Yet, in the span of 12 short months, most of us are starting to walk, we are feeding ourselves and starting to form sounds that turn into words and speech. It truly is amazing that our species has survived given how completely helpless we are at birth.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have been given the opportunity to watch this development first hand, twice now. It makes my job as a family doctor actually a lot easier because I now noticed problems in my patients a lot earlier. Please don’t misunderstand me – it’s not that I didn’t know how to look for developmental issues, it just became easier for me to see them in other children. Having had children, I now have first hand knowledge of what I am expected to see at certain ages, rather than memorized book knowledge. It comes much more naturally to me now, whereas before having children, I would be referring to the checklist more often.
At every well-baby visit, I ask about developmental milestones. Sometimes I get a straight answer, sometimes I don’t. I’ll give you an example.
Me: “So, is Bobby (fake name), starting to pull himself up to stand?”
Parent: “Well, if we lift him up to a standing position, he’ll hold on to the furniture.”
Me: “But can he do it on his own?”
Parent: “Probably, but we usually do it for him.”
Me: “Have you seen him sitting on the floor, reaching up to the table and pulling himself up to a standing position?”
Parent: “Well, sometimes I find him standing when I come into the room, so I guess he does, yes.”
So, rather than ask questions, I’ve been finding that I get a lot more information by just watching the infant on the exam table. Is she sitting independently, looking around, bringing both hands to her mouth, making coo-ing noises? Is the toddler pointing at things, making eye contact? Is his walking/cruising well-coordinated? When a developmental milestone has not been met, it’s quite obvious and also a huge red-flag. Sometimes issues are caught early, like the 9 month old who was clearly dragging one leg when he crawled. A few months later he was diagnosed with a mild case of cerebral palsy, but with intense physiotherapy, the boy is walking pretty normally now.
When I started this blog, I talked about how becoming a mother has made me a better physician. I haven’t really discussed how. I really love the well-baby visits. For the most part, they are easy appointments with healthy children, but every now and then, with the proper screening question or close observation, I stumble upon some pathology that I might not have noticed before. The knowledge and experience I’ve accumulated in the last 6 years that I’ve been practicing medicine comes not only from the day-to-day encounters with patients but from the life experience I’ve gained being a mother, a woman, and a wife.
Thanks for reading.