Letters from Maine

… What comes naturally


When we were invited to a family gathering to celebrate a 60th birthday, we expected to hear an abundance of news about grandchildren. They are natural, and seldom controversial, topics of discussion. If there is a child still waiting in utero and destined to be the first grandchild on one or both sides of the family, the impending adventure in parenthood will dominate the conversation.

To our great surprise, despite the presence of one very pregnant young woman, who in 6 weeks would be giving birth to the first grandchild in my nephew’s family, my wife and I can recall only one brief dialogue in which I was asked about how one might go about selecting a pediatrician.

There were no complaints about how the mother-to-be was sleeping or eating or ambulating. There were no descriptions of the color scheme and decor in the nursery – or the plans for day care – or how expensive and complicated car seats and strollers had become. Taking a cue from the young woman’s matter-of-fact attitude toward her pregnancy, the older women in the room showed amazing restraint by not swapping tales of their obstetrical adventures. The conversation ranged far and wide from football to failed recipes for chocolate cake, while the gravid uterus rested comfortably on its owner’s lap like the proverbial elephant in the room.

I’m not sure why the blessed event to come was being ignored, but I found the oversight unusual and refreshing. It is possible that there had been so much hype about the pregnancy on her side of the family that the couple relished its absence from the birthday party’s topics for discussion.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must add that, as a result of my frequent claims of ignorance when asked about medically related topics, I am often referred to by the extended family as “Dr. I-Don’t-Know.” It may be that my presence influenced the conversation, but regardless of the reason, I was impressed with the ease at which this couple was approaching the birth of their first child.

I am sure they harbor some anxieties, and I am sure they have listened to some horror stories from their peers about sleep and breastfeeding problems. They are bright people who acknowledge that they are going to encounter some bumps along the road of parenthood. However, they seem to be immune to the epidemic of anxiety that for decades has been sweeping over cohorts of North Americans entering their family-building years.

Dr. William G. Wilkoff practiced primary care pediatrics in Brunswick, Maine, for nearly 40 years.

Dr. William G. Wilkoff

Generations of young, seemingly intelligent people have lost their confidence in being able to do what should come naturally. They are ravenous consumers of information about how they should be parenting. And I admit that I have tried to capitalize on their insecurity by writing several books of advice for parents. Of course, I always have hoped that in time my readers probably will realize that while there are lots of ways to do it poorly, there is no best way to parent.

The young couple my wife and I encountered are just as clueless about what parenthood has in store as their anxiety-driven peers are. The difference is that they are enjoying their pregnancy in blissful ignorance buffered by their refreshing confidence that, however they do it, they will be doing it naturally.

Dr. Wilkoff practiced primary care pediatrics in Brunswick, Maine, for nearly 40 years. He has authored several books on behavioral pediatrics, including “How to Say No to Your Toddler.”

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