DENVER, Colo. — Dr. Marianne Neifert is being touted by her publicist as the up-and-coming authority on child rearing, a title currently held by Dr. Benjamin Spock. Yet Neifert can't get her own five children--ages 10 to 18--to eat breakfast before school, even though consuming breakfast is considered a must by nutritionists. And the kids' wing of the Neifert's sprawling house outside Denver is so messy that it's off-limits to visitors.
The Neifert brood joke that if their mother's book, "Dr. Mom: A Guide to Baby and Child Care" (scheduled for release this month by G. P. Putnam's Sons), becomes a hit, they'll simply have to write a sequel: "Dr. Mommy Dearest," revealing that their mother fumbles and compromises just like any other parent.
Neifert says that's exactly what qualifies her to challenge Dr. Spock's reign--she is at times as confused as any new mother. When she brought her first baby, Peter, home from the hospital, Neifert was so unsure of herself that she agonized at length over how to remove the T-shirt the hospital had dressed her baby boy in.
The infant was jaundiced at birth, and Neifert became convinced the child was dying. Jaundice is a treatable condition over which doctors do not become especially alarmed. But whenever 38-year-old Neifert overhears another pediatrician wondering aloud why a new mother is so upset that her baby is jaundiced, she knows precisely why the mother feels the way she does.
"Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care" was Neifert's reference for raising her own children, all of whom were born while she was in medical school and residency. The book still occupies a place on Neifert's bookshelf. Neifert says she adores Spock, and seems to feel it's slightly sacrilegious that her press material compares her book with his.
But Spock's book is 40 years old, and though it's been revised, she noted that it doesn't get into some areas that she discusses. Along with the standard information on child development and management of medical problems, Neifert's book contains advice on current social topics such as physical and sexual child abuse, strategies for non-sexist child rearing, gay parenting, and the problems of working mothers.
But the most important difference between Dr. Mom and Dr. Spock is that Spock is not a mother, Neifert said. And although Spock can claim fatherhood as part of his training, Neifert believes that fathers--particularly in the era when Spock was raising his family--are shielded from much of the daily trauma of child care.
'Still a Mom'
"I have experienced parental growing pains myself and have listened long and hard to the parents I have encountered," Neifert said in the book, written with Anne Price and Nancy Dana. "I have tempered my sometimes rigid, traditional medical training with personal experience and my patients' feedback.
"All the time I spend doctoring I'm still a mom," she added. "All the time I spend mothering I'm still a doctor. The paths of pediatrician and parent cross, recross and run together, enhancing both roles."
There was a time when the two paths did not complement each other, but in fact threatened to doom both pursuits for Neifert.
Neifert never wavered from her desire to become a doctor after an incident that occurred when she was 9 years old. Her brother nearly lost his life when his hand was mangled in an explosion. At the time, Neifert fervently wished she had the skills to help him.
Didn't Date in High School
Motherhood was not a dream to which Neifert dedicated herself with the same sense of mission. In fact, she never dated throughout high school, spending her weekends studying pre-med subjects such as science and math.
During her first year of college at the University of Hawaii, Marianne Egeland met Lorance Neifert. She was married to him when she was 18.
Lorance was drafted into the Navy eight months after the wedding. Neifert spent the time while he was away doubling up on her school work. During this period, she went for her admission interview to the University of Hawaii School of Medicine. She was seven months pregnant at the time.
Eventually, most of Neifert's classmates had received letters of acceptance from schools where they'd interviewed, but Neifert still had heard nothing.
She said it became clear to her that the all-male admission committee had rejected her application because she was pregnant. Neifert made a formal protest. The committee told her they'd accept her into medical school, but with the warning: "If we do take you, you'd better not have any more babies," she recalled.
Found a Baby Sitter
When her second child, Paige, was born, Neifert found a baby sitter near the hospital so she could dash over and breast-feed the infant during breaks from pathology lab.