Sunday, February 12, 2012

What I Learned from Triplets (In which I alienate my new found readers)

So pretty much all of the 10 people who read this blog come from one of two places on the wide-wide internet.  One is The Baker’s Dozen and Apollo XIV ( , a blog I have been reading for several years about a homeschooling family with 14 kids, and (though Renee rarely if ever delves into politics) a social/political leaning on the more conservative side.  The other place my readers hail from is the forum at The Feminist Breeder (, a mecca of natural/organic/gluten free/gender-neutral/liberal parenting. 

If I got all these people together in a room, I am sure they could find a lot to agree about: cooking nutritious food, cloth diapering, homeschooling.  I’m sure they could also find plenty to disagree about: marriage equality, feminism, the 2012 presidential race.  But fundamentally, I think both groups share a set of “family values,” that aren’t about politics but instead are about understanding that adults and children thrive in home communities where everyone is cared for, nurtured, and respected.  I am guessing that a majority of my readers are stay-at-home-moms (or, if you are a savvy blogger type, “SAHMs”), and that part of these common family values would be about the importance of mothers in these home communities.

And I figured, as a fledgling blogger, that the best thing I could do is to piss everyone off equally.  Here goes:

Last year, I took time off from medical school to go to graduate school (because I have an education addiction, I know).  During this time, I thought it would be sensible to get a part-time job.  And despite my seven years of higher education, the thing I was most qualified to do was still childcare.  And so I became the nanny of five month old triplets.  Because if I’m going to do something, I do it all the way.

I love children.  I grew up the oldest of a gaggle of neighborhood kids and developed a maternal instinct at a young age.  I have been working in childcare since I was fourteen years old.  I have always wanted to have kids (except for a brief, angst-filled period in college when I wondered if my genes were worth passing on).  I also figured that I would want to stay home with my kids (maybe even homeschool them) but that this likely wouldn’t be possible for financial reasons.  (I don’t think I knew any SAHMs growing up, it just didn’t seem like something that real people got to do.) 

When I found myself in medical school, the second best thing to being with my own kids seemed to be to take care of someone else’s kids (all kids are adorable, after all).  Despite some of my classmates referring to my chosen profession as “veterinary medicine,” I planned on going into pediatrics.

But during the year that I was taking care of the triplets, I realized two important things about myself:

1.  I don’t want to be a pediatrician.
2.  I don’t want to be a stay at home mom.

I’m going to be perfectly candid here: triplets are a bad idea.  Three babies is two babies too many.  When one baby screams, you can pick her up and bounce her around and check her diaper and fix her a bottle (of breast milk and/or organic goat’s milk, to be sure!).  When three babies scream, all you can realistically do is try to keep yourself together enough to avoid joining in.

During previous nannying gigs, I had two main approaches to babies.  The first was to hang out at home with NPR in the background, reading books and playing with blocks and all that good stuff.  The other was to get the heck out of the house.  I love taking kids on fun outings, and babies are easily entertained.  No need to take a baby to the aquarium when the fish tank at the local Chinese restaurant is just as interesting!  As an added bonus, this means I get to eat some Chinese food.

With the triplets I couldn’t do either.  There was no NPR signal anywhere in the house.  I could not fit three car seats in my Ford Escort.  We were marooned at home, doomed to silence or the tortures of Sprout television.  How I longed for the dulcet tones of Diane Rehms and her Friday News Roundup!  How I longed to simply parade the babies around the mall!

It turns out, babies are really boring.  Without adult conversation or novel stimuli of any kind, I was going crazy.  I was forced to focus all my attention on the pre-mobile, pre-verbal, spit-up machines under my care. 

I realize this is considered ideal by most parents and is probably what my employers (the triplets’ parents) were hoping for when they hired me.  It is what I thought I was doing with all my other nannying jobs.  But I must not have been.  Because the level of boredom I was experiencing was all new to me.  When I went home to my apartment at the end of day, my thoughts remained stuck in an endless loop of inane things like, “I wonder if L will roll over tomorrow.  Did I remember to record how many ounces A had to eat today?  Will sleep-training three babies ever work if they keep waking each other up?  Is there more frozen breast milk in the back of the freezer that needs to be rotated to the front?”

A few of these thoughts are fine.  If they had been interspersed with thoughts about stimulating conversations I had with other adults, or interesting books I had read, or even cute guys I noticed at the bar that night – it would have been fine.  But it was just all babies all the time.  (Grad school was not enough of a diversion from the serious baby immersion experience I was having).

As someone who has been pining for children of my own since puberty, I was for the first time really missing adults.  I really like how adults can speak to you and participate in their own toileting and are doing things other than just developing.

I realized that while I love kids and babies, I don’t want to spend all day, every day with my own kids or someone else’s.

My adult patients are painters and poets and engineers.  They want to talk to me about how their sexual relationships changed after menopause and how they are handling retirement and how their new antidepressants are working.  And I want to hear about these things.  And I also want to hear about how little Nora can roll from her stomach to her back but not from her back to her stomach.  I don’t want to have to give up either.

Professionally, I am so glad that Family Medicine exists.  I think it is a spectacularly good fit for me. I’m excited about the prospect of building a practice that includes multiple generations.  I find that environment to be the most stimulating and supportive.

Personally, I am so incredibly lucky that my husband wants to stay home with our child.  I am extremely lucky to have such a caring, supportive partner in general, but in this particular arena I feel like I’ve got an ace up my sleeve.  Much of the guilt associated with being a mom who also wants to have a career is alleviated by this simple truth: my child will be loved and cared for while I am at work by someone who is still her parent and who wants to be home with her.

[Note: We do not know the sex of our baby/fetus and probably won’t until he/she is born.  However, I find “he/she” awkward and “it” unacceptable, so I will just be alternating between gendered pronouns.]


  1. Oh, how I remember the days of being marooned at the house with someone else's children! I had four (all in car seats, too many to fit in the car for an outing.) The oldest, technically, was 8 but physically and cognitively was a large 5 month old. The other three were 5, 2.5, and 2 months.

    There was a huge element of just surviving to it, especially once time passed and the baby became mobile. Two mobile and two stationary I could manage, but once I had three on the move everything changed! When there are three on the loose someone is always getting into something they shouldn't somewhere.

    Still, I'd say it was a fun job. You're right about craving adult conversation, for sure. I definitely wouldn't want to spend all my time with my kids, or anyone else's.

    Consider this reader not alienated :)

  2. Yay, so glad to find people who relate to that trapped-in-the-house feeling! And thanks for sticking around!

  3. I can't do the SAHM thing either. I need SOMETHING else. I'm like a shark - I've got to stay moving (and intellectually stimulated.) I would go loudly insane sitting home all day and doing crafts with my kids. I mean... a craft a couple times a week, fine, but even then they have to twist my arm and give me the "But if you don't, I'll grow up to be a hooker and a meth addict" eyes.

    Also? I'm not a Doula because I love babies. Not at all. It's not the babies I'm interested in -- it's the moms. I'm a doula because I like being there when a woman has completely transformed into an awesome powerhouse of pure physiological blissfulness. I barely notice there's a baby involved in the process :)

  4. Gina, thanks for reading! This "awesome powerhouse of pure physiological blissfulness" sounds pretty amazing... I look forward to it.