What Sickness Can Teach Us About Our Personal Health

The air is finally the right amount of crisp, with a promise of damp, that means fall has truly arrived here in the PNW. For me, it came with the flu- and thereby forced downtime for introspection. Y’all may have realized that I’m a workaholic by now. Medicine is a calling, not a job- mostly because jobs can come with things like “set hours” and “vacations”. I chose to go into private with my eyes open, but was shocked to find that same level of commitment to motherhood. I was pregnant in med school, when I filled my hours with study guides and passing tests and didn’t truly consider the time commitment that a baby represents.

Like any first time mom with little to no contact with children, I believed the media. Peaceful bedtimes, children that slept through the night. Never any fights about socks that TV mom couldn’t fix with a sarcastic remark. Maybe a quibble about broccoli here and there, but I certainly wasn’t going to have to put any part of my life on hold for a kid.

Enter the kid. My oldest was born via C-section after 3 days of labor hazed with preeclampsia and sepsis. Not only was that decidedly not like the movies, I immediately returned to school as he chose the misfortune of being born before finals week. There are no excused absences in medical school- I was offered the chance to start over next year or to show up 3 days postpartum, dripping blood and milk, to take my finals. As I made my way through on loans, I had to keep going- and I did. I think back to that week- milk dripping on exams, my husband driving me back and forth because I was on too many pain meds to drive, my tiny newborn in the hall with him while I tested. My oldest took up all the time that wasn’t medicine- but also all the time that was medicine, since he still hasn’t slept through the night.

I learned to wrap my workaholic life around the edges of him. To do flashcards while I rocked him to sleep, to name all the herbs I knew as I was walking him endlessly in the baby carrier, to gently practice exams on his tiny little body. Gradually I realized he was teaching me more about living as I suddenly started caring about things like holidays and started missing the park if we didn’t make it out. My healthy choices were for him to see, not for my own health- but my health did start improving. I continue to make better choices for myself because he exists. Since then, his twin brother and sister were born and my ability to see the joy in the small moments has only multiplied. 

Today I am still an admitted workaholic. I was off for a long weekend with the flu, and I still managed to work around 10 hours. The difference was that I was able to do that along with napping, watching an entire season of television, supervising a duplo rocket building competition, reading The Tale of Despereaux until 3 kids fell asleep…the things that make life fuller for me. The time commitment of children was a shock, but so was the joy.  They gave me permission to be human, too.


Alicia is a naturopathic primary care physician based in Oregon.  She's a mother of three, a lover of science, and a huge proponent of motherhood support. You can find out more about her practice here