The Birthing Crisis

Essay prompt: The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

The gentle, coaxing fingers seized a pair of shining scissors, rushing its blades deftly through a veil of muscle and skin, releasing a trail of glistening red in their wake. Screams, commands, and moans melded in a symphony of chaos, climaxing, then fading into blackness.

I awoke to a collection of concerned faces hovering over me: “Are you okay?”

I was not okay. The feeling of nausea paled in comparison to my emotional distress. In one moment, all my dreams were shattered. This was the moment of triumph I had waited so long for. I had envisioned the envy of my peers, the congratulations of my parents, and my bragging rights for all eternity. I had finally witnessed a live birth. Yet, instead of identifying with the OB/GYN doctor in the room, I was more like the wailing newborn – exposed, raw, and utterly confused about my place in the world.

My path to becoming a baby doctor was set in motion before I was born. In a town of 25,000 at the foot of Appalachia, my grandfather was the sole OB/GYN specialist, delivering 21,000 babies in his 30-year career. Numerous local children were named after him. Families who had moved across the country came back to have their babies delivered by him. Relatives visiting town were pardoned for speeding tickets upon mentioning his name.

For my grandfather, delivering babies was more a passion than a job; each delivery was a celebration of life itself. Hence, I grew up believing that delivering babies was the most joyful profession in the world. I was the family hope to continue the profession. I had shown a natural predisposition toward being a baby doctor: I was a popular babysitter in my town, was known to be observant and patient, had excelled in science and math, and when one of my pet rabbits deposited a mess of placenta and fetus at the foot of her cage, I resuscitated the cold bodies and nursed seven cuddly creatures to life.

I eagerly waited to be old enough to volunteer in the obstetrics department at the local hospital. For over a year, I rushed samples to the lab, sorted through patient records, answered phone calls, and transported stirring pink and blue bundles between mothers and the nursery every Tuesday night. The moment I was waiting for, the chance to participate in a live birth, finally arrived. What was meant to be my reward for persistence, reliability, and dedication instead became a meeting with the cold delivery room floor.

After this disastrous incident, I consoled myself with my other favorite activities – classes, music, and a few gallons of ice cream. Yet, a void had been left by the departure of my long-held aspiration.

A new door opened four months later. I was offered a research opportunity by a computer science professor at the local university where I take college classes. This interdisciplinary project bordering between computer science and life science quickly captured my imagination. I am now creating software that will help discover patterns of repetitive DNA, to reveal humans’ connections with other life forms and identify contributors to illnesses beyond our current ability to cure, such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and muscle dystrophy. Next spring, I hope to deliver a presentation at an international conference about this “baby” tool I’ve helped bring into the world.

And, I hope that I will be able to carry out my grandfather’s legacy – not as an OB/GYN, but as a scientist dissecting medicine down to its fundamentals and discovering means to improve the quality of life, while finding great passion in bettering the world and serving mankind.

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