About Dr Beth

My Journey

By: Dr. Beth
Date: July 1, 2021

I can remember from childhood that my dad was a huge fan of The Beatles. You know, the rock group, not the insect. When I think about how to sum up my story, there are many song titles by The Beatles that come to mind: A Hard Day’s Night, The Long and Winding Road, The Fool on the Hill, and one of my personal favorites, Good Day Sunshine. Designing this website, and authoring a blog is a new adventure for me, and I wanted to start out by letting you get to know me a little bit. So, here goes…..

Growing up, I always dreamed of becoming a doctor. Somewhere around the time of middle school, I told my mom “I want to be something that ends with a “-tion” or “-ist” (like “pediatrician” or “psychiatrist”). By the time I got to college, I started out pre-med, and tried fervently to keep my dream alive. My freshman year was a huge learning curve for me, and a rigorous course load and playing two sports proved to be more than I wanted to tackle, and by sophomore year, I decided to switch my major to speech pathology. Something I had never heard of before. That decision was a monumental shift in the trajectory of my life, and although I was disappointed in myself at the time, I am so thankful I made that switch!

After completing all courses and clinical requirements for my Bachelor’s Degree at SUNY Geneseo in December, 2002, I took off one semester from school to gain some teaching experience. I applied to graduate schools, and by August, 2003 I was on my way to James Madison University. I worked extremely hard, and finished a 2 1/2 year program in four semesters, graduating in December, 2004. I interviewed up and down the East Coast, focusing on big cities such as Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Baltimore. A trip with a great friend, and fond memories of seeing the Orioles play as a kid, helped me decide to take my first professional gig in Baltimore, MD at a children’s hospital named Kennedy Krieger Institute.

My first professional love was working with children with autism spectrum disorders. There is a reason a popular symbol for autism is a puzzle piece- children with autism can often be a puzzle to figure out, and I loved it! I first worked at a school for children with autism and severe behavioral challenges, and then switched to the center for autism, where I helped to create diagnostic teams, collaborative co-treatment models, and parent trainings. During my time at KKI, I also started learning more about working with children with feeding difficulties. I took some courses, and dabbled with working with a few patients with autism and feeding challenges. I had my first child, and started to feel a longing to move back home, to New York. After 7 1/2 years at KKI, I decided to move back home and took a position working almost exclusively with children with feeding disorders in an early intervention program.

While working in New York, the birth of my second child piqued my interest in learning more about breastfeeding and the process of birth. I took a course and worked with some families as a birth doula, and realized I much prefer what happens after the baby is born, and decided to continue to focus more on breastfeeding. I became a certified lactation counselor, and worked with several families who had babies born prematurely, who had been in the NICU. I had so many questions about what kind of support women could receive when they wanted to breastfeed their baby who was in the NICU, and could not find any answers in the published literature. With the support of my husband and family, we decided that I would go back to school to pursue my PhD, and I honestly could not have imagined going anywhere except back to JMU! One of my favorite professors during graduate school was Dr. Cindy O’Donoghue, and she was now the chair of the department! She welcomed me back with open arms, and in January, 2015, with my family standing tall beside me, we moved from New York to Virginia, and I began my doctoral studies.

I knew immediately that I wanted to study what kind of breastfeeding support women receive when they have an infant in the NICU. I designed a two-phase mixed methods study to investigate what kind of supports level III and level IV NICUs provide women by surveying doctors, nurses and therapists at top hospitals across the United States. I followed up with 1:1 interviews with nurses from some of the responders from my initial survey. Results were clear: when nurses have knowledge and training, and feel comfortable supporting mothers in breastfeeding, families can meet their breastfeeding goals.

About halfway through my doctoral studies, we decided to move back to Baltimore, MD, and I worked back at KKI while finishing my research and dissertation. I developed and implemented a feeding program for children with autism and feeding difficulties. I had access to a full kitchen, and helped families learn how to cook with their children, how to enjoy mealtimes together, and most importantly, how to carryover the skills they were learning in therapy into their own homes. By using a child-led approach and teaching parents how to work on specific skills at home, I made great strides with many children and families. One week before I graduated, I found out I was pregnant with my third child!

After he was born, I decided to take a job with a bit more flexibility and control, and started seeing some patients on my own, and also contracted with an early intervention agency in Pennsylvania. I once again focused on working with infants and toddlers with feeding difficulties and breastfeeding challenges. Along the way, I took some courses and gained more experience treating infants and children with tethered oral tissues (lip and tongue ties). And as luck would have it, my third baby was born with a lip and tongue tie, so I had first-hand experience with everything that entails! I worked steadily along, building my caseload and making connections with local providers, and in March, 2020, we all know what happened- COVID.

I tried for three months to work remotely while also chasing after my toddler and trying to homeschool my oldest two children. We were all suffering- I was torn between two worlds, trying to be what my clients needed, and trying to be what my family needed. And for the first time in my life, I put my family first, and put my career on hold. Over the past 15 months I have done a lot of reflection, a lot of soul-searching, and a lot of thinking. I am finally willing to embrace the path that has been laid out so plainly for me in front of my eyes- I know that I am supposed to start this private practice, and start helping people in my community. I have so many skills and talents to offer, and want to be available to people in my community who need me. People who need help with their children- understanding what their children need, and helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Sometimes, I feel like my journey is just beginning, and then I reflect and see all of the amazing things I have already done, and I am in awe of how lucky I am to have this knowing that this is my purpose in life. I am here to teach and guide others. I am here to teach and guide my own children. I am serving my purpose, and I am thankful to all of the people who trust me enough to allow me to walk with them on their journey.

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