"My life before children I don't really remember. I've heard references to it, but I really don't remember." --John Malkovich
There is a medic in our department named Kris who is not so much a woman as a force of nature. Neither time nor experience has done much to develop her filters, but has instead tempered her wit to something akin to concertina wire. She is likened to a volcano in terms of temper, and the lava that is her opinion of your poor performance would sear the strongest of egos. She is an excellent clinician and certainly someone you would want around when you or your loved one need help. She is not, however, someone you want to be around if you cut a corner or engage in poor behavior at work. So how does one deal with this formidable lioness without risking bloodshed or a fast track to therapy?
Ask about her son.
A sincere inquiry about her little piece of immortality will cause the clouds to part and a genuine smile to cross her face. In the space of a few breaths you find that she is beset by the same fears and worries of any other parent: recurrent ear infections, daycare concerns, being depressed if he's asleep before she makes it home from her night shift. In short, she's a mother.
Time may be the great equalizer, but it is children who put the parent back into the paramedic.
Parenthood is like being in a secret society, similar to home ownership. If you put a bunch of home owners in a room, they will always have something to talk about, even if it's just the cost of window treatments. For you single renters, nobody cares about your generic beige carpeting or that you now have to pay utilities. Parents are the same way.
I was the last in my circle to have children. Don't get me wrong. I love children and have cared for other people's children for years. Wasn't the same; they didn't care. Women would hear my inane anecdotes and just exchange glances that said, "Let her pretend; she's harmless." I simply did not speak the language. I didn't comprehend the amount of overhead needed to keep a baby in diapers, or the soul-draining exhaustion that comes with a child with colic. I was an amateur, a poser. I wasn't in the club.
When my time came and I was finally pregnant, of course the requisite horror stories were offered in the form of helpful advice from women recounting their most intimate moments in exquisite and gory detail. And, without fail, they would say two things: "Sleep now, for it's the last you're going to get," and "This will change everything." The latter is what I heard most often from EMS parents.
That's an ambiguous statement. Of course everything is going to change! Duh! I am fully aware that having a baby means my schedule, lifestyle and relationships all around will undergo significant changes. You aren't telling me anything I don't already know. Problem is, they weren't referring to my lifestyle--they were referring to my perspective on the world and my role in it. Both were about to change.
I didn't know. I could not begin to know.
Ten years ago, after almost 40 hours of labor (there, a gratuitous plug at my personal horror story), my son was born. Precisely 20 days, 6 hours and 8 minutes later the first [World Trade Center] tower fell while I watched. As I watched the goliath structure collapse in a surreal cascade of shrieking metal, I said out loud, "Oh my god, they're all dead." I wasn't referring to the civilians. I was thinking instead of all those police, fire and EMS personnel I knew were there and who were now lost. Because I knew, as surely as I draw breath each day, that they went into those buildings when everyone else was running out. I know this because I would have done the same. It's who we are; it's what we do.