The tension grew.
As I stood my ground, the lady across the counter became increasingly annoyed, saying once again, “You need to have the other forms.”
“No, I’m only here for the ultrasound to see my baby,” I said. “So I’ve only got one form.”
As her voice got louder, and her tone, more irritated, I explained myself, “ I don’t want the blood tests, I’ve chosen not to do them.”
She frowned, rolled her eyes and then tsk-tsked at me. In one moment, I felt thoroughly uneducated.
I understood her frustration. The tests came in a set and she wanted the full set of forms, but as a patient, I had the right to decide whether or not I wanted to do the full Down syndrome screening for our baby.
Given we would keep our baby in any case, and tests would not be fully conclusive, we made the personal decision not to do the extra tests. Our midwife had assured us this was fine. My medical background told me this was a patient’s right. Administrative bureaucracy was secondary.
But it was too late. By this time, a belligerent, matronly lady who looked like her supervisor had trudged up to me, her sleeves rolled up and her arms folded.
As she towered over me, a little Asian mom in her shorts and lululemons stained with my toddler’s yoghurt handprints, with little Sarah-Faith trailing behind me, a loud, dragon-like bellow echoed through the waiting hall, “Look lady, you gotta have ALL the forms okay? You understand me?”
“Yes, I do understand,” I said quietly, a little intimidated and embarrassed, with pressure behind my eyes.
With my face flushed, I half-whispered to her, “I’m a medical doctor. I understand these tests and their implications very well. But that’s exactly why I only want the ultrasound, and not the blood tests.”
Immediately, both sets of eyes fell onto the desk. Within a second, the air, fraught with tension, had dissolved into a furious typing and scribbling. “You’re next.”
As I walked back to my seat, Cliff gave me a look and a huge “yeaaah” smile. He knew, I had put a trump card on the table.
But it felt awful inside. I never, ever like to have to tell people that I am a medical doctor, especially not under these kinds of circumstances.
As I sat back down on my seat, I was overwhelmed by the difference a label meant. My request had not changed. I had not changed from my exercise tank top into my lab coat. I had not become angrier, more demanding.
All I did, was let them know, that in my past life, I was a doctor. That I was well-informed. That I spoke English with an accent but it did not mean I was uneducated.
Everything changed in that moment. Suddenly, I was no longer “just a mom”. At once, I was somebody smart, somebody useful to society, somebody worthy of respect.
Was I not all those things before?
As I stared blankly into space, Cliff, perhaps not entirely oblivious to how overwhelmed I was, tried to lighten the atmosphere by his usual joking. He leaned over and whispered, “You should have told them you were chosen in ‘Forbes 30 Under 30’. And you’re top ten percent of your cohort at Hopkins.”
I took weeks to get over this incident. It played over and over in my head like a nightmare.
No shred of smugness that I had “won” comforted me in any way. This was not a victory, but a brutal revelation.
It was a friend who articulated it for me- that there are differences between “jobs of success” and “jobs of significance.” While they may not always be mutually exclusive, the world tends to look to jobs of success, even when we have left them to choose a different kind of job that is of deeper significance to us.
Like being a full-time mom, or starting a non-profit without salary, or serving the poor in a humanitarian setting.
Weeks after the event, I felt an unusual rage. Somebody called me “Mom” at a play center non-maliciously and it made me angry. Suddenly, I had so much to say- I wish that people knew that moms, too, were, are people with a trajectory- that I once scheduled your grandmother’s cataract surgery, and wrote your father’s prescription for his discharge medication when he was admitted for a heart attack. That I recently started a global non-profit that I hope could make our world a better place.
But above that, I found myself in an existential crisis. What if I hadn’t been a doctor before, what if I had never won all those accolades and awards, would I still be worth the same to others? Would people treat me differently?
The incident over the counter shook me, because it spelled out these answers with brutal and chilling honesty.
So who am I now? Now that my peers are earning five figure salaries and using their higher degrees to buy cars, go places. Who am I, this little mom who now gives her little one hugs and kisses at a neighborhood library, who works at her next book behind her desk when her little one is asleep, who cries at times because there are days she misses her old life, that old, crazy-busy, high-achieving, no-time-to-process-life kind of life.
It took me a while to remember, that heaven is a place that measures everything differently. It preserves only what cannot rust and what moth cannot destroy on earth.
And while it may not keep record of the wealth, or status or privilege that we’ve accumulated here, the love we have sown as seeds on earth, things which our human eyes see as fading and small and meaningless, grow as eternal fields of gold there.
In heaven, our deeds and character, not our earthly success, become fields of eternal significance.
Perhaps you’ve stopped working to look after an ailing parent, to look after children. Perhaps you’ve taken a pay cut to be with your family more. Perhaps you no longer work as an architect or a lawyer, but as a chef or a teacher or a swimming instructor, because it’s what you love. It’s what you find significance in, to bring joy to others.
You may be invisible to a world so eager to applaud a strictly-circumscribed definition of success. But you are not invisible to God.
To Him, you have always been the same you. And His love never changed for one moment, not even when the world stopped clapping.
In the recent Fall season when all the trees changed into incandescent golds, when they started losing their leaves and a bit of their glamorous summery lustre, I learned, not to despise but admire them for the season they were in.
Because Spring will come again, and they will grow and blossom soon.
I am learning, with excruciating pain on some days, that my worth is not dependent on my productivity, my identity, or on my label that day as “Mom” or “Doctor” or “Award recipient”, that my ability and inherent value do not diminish because I am doing “less”.
I am learning, that everyone goes through different seasons in life, and we can all be kinder, gentler, more gracious to those who are going through Autumn, because even winter will come and fly by.
And at the end of everything, we will come to see, that God made seasons for a reason, and He made everything beautiful in His time. We will see, that our inherent worth lies not in what we’ve done or achieved, but in Whose we believe we are.
Somewhere up there, fields of gold await.
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