I’ve been in medicine for no less than 45 years and have had the opportunity to work with a diversity of families, so I can confidently say that I am a very experienced medical practitioner. Now with that being said, there was no amount of experience that could have completely prepared me for the birth of my own grandson, H. Throughout the experience I had to keep reminding myself, “This is not about you,” which I’m sure is a common phrase that grandparents/in-laws have to repeat to themselves. The important decisions weren’t mine to make; they were for my daughter and son-in-law to make. While it can be difficult to take on that mindset, understanding and utilizing the theory of Askers vs. Guessers helped me gain new perspectives of those in my family, as well as my patients. My daughter had shared with me an article underlining a theory that we live in an Ask vs. Guess culture and I think understanding this theory regarding our society can assist parents and grandparents reach a common ground of understanding. Ask vs. Guess culture, as explained by Oliver Burkeman of The Guardian, is where a person is defined as either an Asker, someone who will ask for anything regardless of whether could be no, or a Guesser, someone who will only ask a question in which they know the answer will be yes. Keeping this philosophy in mind, I’ve grown to better understand my daughter, son-in-law, and myself through the arrival of H and I genuinely believe it has helped transform me into a better practitioner.
As I mentioned before, I was not really ready for the text message explaining my daughter was in labor. (I’m not sure if anyone can truly be ready, medical practitioner or not!) I rushed to pack my things, made the 3pm bus to New York City and walked the rest of the way to the hospital. After some time, I finally laid eyes on him and said a quiet prayer for the miracle lying in my daughter’s arms. After all my rushing to see H come into this world, I was brought to a stop. Perched in the corner of the hospital room like a grandma vulture, I was ready to swoop in and do something (anything) to help. I watched as a flurry of doctors, nurses, and doulas came and went; I was impressed, but overwhelmed.
It was the ‘Asker’ in me that wanted to take over and ask to help but, as Burkeman explained, an Asker’s questions may come across as expectations and assertions. I worked hard to be deferential towards my daughter and her decisions. “This is not about you.” Grandparents/In-Laws may want to offer help and advice, but we must be mindful of our language- both verbal and physical- to ensure that the parents don’t feel expected to do anything they aren’t comfortable with. Sometimes we must sacrifice our own comfort and pride for the greater-good of the parents and child.
My personality trait as an Asker was put to the ultimate test once they began testing H for jaundice. The hospital suspected jaundice and recommended a pediatrician run a blood test at the time of the first office visit. My daughter wanted me to come to the appointment because she valued my experience and expertise, but needed to build an independent relationship with this provider as well. Once we arrived at the appointment H had his blood taken and his levels came back fine. I knew that the hospital had this done to divert responsibility if H had jaundice and that the pediatrician – who did a great job! – was just following the cascade of clinical decision-making because it is customary to do so with every patient. Once again, the Asker trait in me was conflicted because I wanted to tell the pediatrician, “I got this,” but I kept quiet, did nothing and left feeling deflated. It felt like I walked out with my tail between my legs, but I refused to compromise the respectful boundaries for my daughter solely for my pride. It is helpful to understand whether you are more of an Asker or a Guesser, but what is most important is to respect the boundaries set by parents and not impose your own beliefs and methods onto them.
The time I spent with my daughter’s family has undoubtedly made me a better practitioner. I’ve learned to pace myself and avoid cramming in as much information as possible into one visit. I’ve also learned to make each visit more palatable and easily integrated into the parent’s daily life. My patients deserve medical professionals that not only treat them but support them and their choices. Becoming aware of my Asker attributes and mannerisms has allowed me to be more mindful of each patients’ specific concerns and needs.