This Is What a Mother Does

November 1, 2006

I'm a pediatrician who started out with some interest, and eventually developed some expertise, in what is euphemistically called child protection. I'm glad that child protection occupies only about 20% of my clinical time--it's more than I could bear full-time. After 25 years in this field, I have heard many stories. Here is one I can't forget.

 

I'm a pediatrician who started out with some interest, and eventually developed some expertise, in what is euphemistically called child protection. I am 1 of 2 child abuse physicians at my hospital. There are probably only a few hundred of us nationwide. I'm glad that child protection occupies only about 20% of my clinical time--it's more than I could bear full-time. After 25 years in this field, I have heard many stories. Here is one I can't forget.

I was in the witness room, adjacent to the courtroom, waiting to testify in the case of a little girl I had treated. Her mother and her mother's boyfriend had beaten her up and then brought her to the hospital. The child had bruises on her face, her neck, and her back. Sharing the witness room with me was the child's father, who wondered sadly why he had let his estranged wife have custody of their daughter.

In broken, but serviceable, English, he offered me this:

"I heard a story on the news. A small plane was carrying a couple and their child. The plane crashed in the mountains. The ground was covered with snow. It was terribly cold. The father had 2 broken legs and could not walk. The child was hurt.

The mother went to get help. She walked for more than a day until she found some help and then brought help back for her child. Because she walked so long in the cold, her feet had to be amputated. This is what a mother does for her child."

I could not disagree.

As pediatricians, we need to be aware of child maltreatment and we need to be advocates for children in our offices as well as with the child protective service and legal systems. And we need to educate and support parents in an effort to prevent abuse or neglect.

You are invited to send your stories or anecdotes about "what a mother does." Please send those e-mails to the editor of this journal, Susan Beck, at susan.beck@cmpmedica.com.