My palms were sweaty as I slid on my blue gloves and boot covers, feeling excited and anxious at the same time. “I’ve delivered hundreds of babies,” Dr. Johnson said. “I think I can give you this one.” I tried to let his words set in, still in disbelief that I was going to deliver a baby at the age of 18. My freshman year of undergraduate pre-medical courses had certainly not prepared me for what I was about to experience. Chemistry, biology, calculus — perhaps I had missed the chapter on how to deliver a baby.
I took a seat in between the mother’s legs, trying my best to stay calm as her contractions grew stronger and her screams grew louder. I focused on Dr. Johnson’s instructions, teaching me how to feel for the baby’s head and ease her down the birth canal. I looked up and smiled at the mother, offering genuine words of reassurance and encouragement. I had a newfound understanding of the excruciating pain and difficulty induced by childbirth. I watched as her husband held her hand, an expression of despair on his face knowing that there was not a single thing he could do to alleviate her suffering.
After what seemed like an eternity of pushing, the baby’s head finally crowned. I listened to Dr. Johnson’s directions as I held my hands out, ready to support the baby’s head. My eyes grew wide in bewilderment as the baby’s head emerged; she was practically purple! Sensing my alarm, the doctor soothingly assured me that the baby was healthy. I watched the baby take her first breath, simply at a loss for words. I listened carefully as Dr. Johnson explained the next step: how to catch the baby. “Make sure you don’t drop her,” he chuckled. “Newborns can be quite slippery.” I let out a nervous laugh, as if I needed another reason to stress. With shaky hands, I leaned in to receive the baby.
Within moments, I caught the baby right in my lap, astonished by how slippery she actually was. I suctioned out her nose and mouth and listened to the heartbreaking sound of her cries. The doctor showed me how to clamp and cut her umbilical cord. I wrapped my arms firmly around the baby, slowly getting up to walk towards her mother. I gently placed the beautiful baby girl into her mother’s open arms. I looked on with awe as the mother’s pain vanished, only to be replaced with sheer happiness. With her baby in her arms and her husband by her side, tears of joy rolled down her rosy cheeks. As I walked back to my seat, I felt my own eyes well up with tears as she whispered, “We’ve been waiting for you, baby Sarah.”
The miracle of childbirth was not over just yet; we waited patiently for the placenta to be delivered. Within 10 minutes, the entire process was essentially complete. We cleaned up the mother, checked for perineal tears and placed a couple of stitches for safe measure. I congratulated the family and thanked them for allowing me to participate in the birth of their beautiful baby. I walked out of the room with shaky legs, still in disbelief of the whole experience. My dream of becoming a doctor had just taken on an entirely new meaning.
In high school at the age of 17, I was certain that I wanted to become a doctor. I was ecstatic when I was accepted to a 4+4 BS+MD program. But when I started college, it was not exactly what I expected. At the beginning of the year, at least half of my friends were on the pre-medical track. By the end of the year, the majority of them had quit. When people asked about my field of study, they would sigh and make snide comments like “Get ready to have no life,” “I wouldn’t want my wife to be a doctor,” or “How are you going to be a mom?”
I was never the type to be influenced by other people, but at times of weakness, they began to creep under my skin. I would remember their comments when I had to pull back from some of my friends in order to balance classes, studying, work, extracurricular activities and my daily one-hour commute. I would remember their comments when I spent my Friday nights alone studying for my Saturday organic chemistry exams. Their comments really hit me when I hurried into an Honors Organic Chemistry lecture one Monday morning to hear my professor begin class with, “Death is never something easy to discuss, especially at your age.”
Death? What in the world was he talking about? He told us how one of our classmates, Daniel, committed suicide the previous night. Well, my friend was named Daniel, but it could not be him. Surely another person in this lecture with 108 students was named Daniel. I looked around the room for my friend, but he was nowhere to be seen. I texted one of our mutual friends. “Daniel? Like our Daniel?” She responded with the one word I would never be ready to read: “Yes.”
I sobbed for the remaining 40 minutes of the lecture while my professor somehow managed to proceed with the lesson. I looked through my phone to check when I last spoke to Daniel. I had texted him the night before about an organic chemistry question, but he never responded. He was one of the smartest, kindest people I have had the pleasure of knowing. We met during our freshman orientation and remained friends since then. Daniel was my lab partner for both biology and physics that semester. The last time I saw him, we were laughing hysterically while he told me a story about his most recent date. I know Daniel is gone, but there is still a tiny part of me that hopes to walk into class one day and see him smiling back at me.
As a rising junior studying for the MCAT and preparing for medical school applications, I reflect on my experiences thus far. Coming from a private school with a graduating class of 34, college was not an easy adjustment for me, but it is this same college experience that has made me who I am today. From Daniel, I learned the transience of life and how to cope with loss. From baby Sarah, I learned how miraculous life truly is and how the field of medicine extends beyond science textbooks. Because of my experiences with Daniel and Sarah, I embarked on a journey of self-actualization, which focused the blurry image of what 17-year-old Iman had understood medicine to be.
Coming out of high school, I knew that my goal was to become a doctor. In spite of the adversity I encountered, I never questioned my decision to pursue a career in medicine. At times, the basic science coursework could become tedious and seemingly irrelevant to my career path, but I realized I was missing the forest for the trees. During stressful times, I think about Daniel. I remember everything he taught me, from “Daniel’s Excel Magic” to abstract organic chemistry concepts. I think about how he helped me when I was stressed, and I wish he had given me the chance to return the favor. I wonder if I could have done something, anything to prevent him from taking his own life. During stressful times, I also think back to delivering baby Sarah, one of the most transformative experiences of my life. I remember watching her take her first breath and holding her in my trembling arms. I will never forget how her very presence transformed her mother’s pain into pure joy over the span of just a few seconds. From Daniel’s last breath to Sarah’s first, my experiences give me strength. No matter how challenging the journey in medicine, I will not give up. I will achieve my dream of becoming a doctor.