The Evolution of Vital Child (thoughts on my ‘why’)
I don’t recall ever deciding to specialise in children’s health.
Twenty years ago, when I graduated as a naturopath I was pregnant with my first child. I was also an enthusiastic newbie naturopath who was sure she could change the world and all the dirty nappies at the same time. Umm. No. Three children later, with the battle-scarred wisdom and experience of a parent who’s had their illusions shattered along with their sleep patterns, I tentatively raised my head above the baby poo and tip-toed into the clinic room. I began seeing clients and so began the process of learning how to be an effective naturopath, outside of the theories and textbooks.
Parents came in with their children, followed by more parents and children and through their patience and grace and my curiosity and stubborn determination, I learned how to help parents and treat children and I became a naturopath who sees a lot of children. And Vital Child was born.
But a lot has changed in 20 years. My babies are now teenagers and my eldest will be 21 this year. Their health issues have changed and my role as their parent has evolved. They need me and they don’t need me as teenagers do. In clinic, I’ve seen the health picture of a collective generation change as well. In the early days, my practice was busy with asthma, eczema and allergies. Now, along with the gut and immune issues, I regularly see behavioural and spectrum disorders with children on multiple prescription pharmaceuticals an increasingly common scenario. Will we really be (as has been reported) the first generation to outlive our children?
Thankfully, there is now more appreciation for the naturopathic approach to health then when I started out. I rarely have to explain what a naturopath is now. That the environment and our nutrition plays a role in our health is no longer questioned as it was. There may still be a ways to go before naturopaths are respected health professionals in Australia but it hasn’t stopped people voting with their wallets. Many people end up in naturopathic clinics because they’ve exhausted all other options. I know for parents, if we’re not getting answers and our children aren’t getting better, we’ll keep searching, often long after we’d have given up if it were for our own health issues.
All in all, I’ve found working with children and their parents to be extremely rewarding in spite of the challenges and the nights spent awake anxiously looking up a potential interaction I might have missed. The responsibility of advising parents around children’s health weighs heavier I believe than working with adults and I’ve had to learn to mediate that middle ground of being cautious but not ruled by fear in my clinical decision making.
In the last few years I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue to focus on children’s health in my naturopathic practice. My own children were growing up, and my health interests had expanded to issues I was facing myself, like perimenopause, hormones, stress, sleep and brain function and all the other aspects of how to live well post 40 years.
But every time that I’ve been close to giving in to the fear that I’ve nothing to offer families anymore, I’m reminded just how bloody isolating and hard it can be, sitting at home with a sick child or an unhappy, anxious teenager, feeling like they’ve run out of options – I remember that feeling and it’s like I’m right back there myself. If I can utilise my education and clinical experience and offer my support and reassurance to alleviate some of the parenting struggle, I know it’s worth it. After all, as the proverb goes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. And I’m honoured to continue to play my role in that village.