Friday, December 14, 2007

Tears, fears and gratitude

I read something this week that made me cry.

Something that brought back the fear – the cold, cold fear – that Rob and I faced the first few months of Graham’s life.

It was this exquisitely written post over at Blithely Babbling and it made me cry because I have been there. I have clutched my sweet baby to my chest, blinked back hot tears and thought, Let us alone, he is perfect just the way he is, even as insidious tentacles of doubt slid over the edges of my heart and squeezed.

From the moment my water broke the circumstances of Graham’s birth proved that fate laughs at probabilities. When he finally arrived it was with an irregularly-shaped head which protruded markedly out the back – like a football. We were told it would probably resolve itself in a few days and that the anomaly was commonly referred to as a prominent occiput.

Except a prominent occiput isn’t that common, not really. Not even for babies who spend the whole time in utero in the frank breech position like he did. Or babies who lose more than a pound in the days after their birth and fail to regain their birth weight for almost a month like he did.

At Graham’s three-week check-up the midwife weighed him and then examined his skull with a grim expression. He was probably fine, she said, except…

Except that his prominent occiput was unresolved. Except that Graham wasn’t gaining weight like he should be. Except these things could be symptomatic of something bad. Something very bad.

He could be fine, she said. But if not - if not - I would need to learn to manage it as soon as possible.

I left in a cloudy haze of tears, clutching a referral for a pediatrician specializing in neurology and leaning on my mother who could only hiss indignantly: There is nothing wrong with this baby!

Oh how I wanted to believe her. We went home and I remember crawling into bed with Graham and sleeping for hours, waking only occasionally to nurse and weep, my tears falling one after another onto that dear, misshapen head.

The next few weeks were among the most difficult of my life. After swearing mom to secrecy, Rob and I decided not to tell anyone else in our family. It seemed selfish to burden others with our worry and we couldn’t imagine fielding questions when we could barely function under the weight of our own fear.

Graham thrived over the next few weeks. He smiled. He started to gain weight. I actually looked forward to our appointment with the specialist, sure that it would be our last.

But it wasn’t. Graham could be fine, the specialist said. Was probably fine even, except…

Except his prominent occiput was still very, very prominent. Except he was still very small. Except these things were sometimes, rarely but sometimes, symptomatic of a severe disability.

We were given an appointment for an exam at Toronto Sick Kid’s Hospital – one of the best in the world. I was sent home again to wait and worry and keep the blackness at bay the only way I knew how: by loving my baby ferociously and praying to every God in existence.

The next few weeks were spent in constant negotiations with fate: my heart and mind hourly brokering deals, making promises, swearing vows. I experimented with ways to cope. I remember wondering if I could distance myself, try not to love him so much in order to lessen my own anxiety. I remember being flooded with guilt just a moment later that I even considered trying to withhold my love when he so obviously needed it.

When Graham was two and a half months he was examined by a pediatric neurosurgeon at Sick Kids Hospital. In less than 10 minutes the doctor delivered his verdict: Graham had a funny-shaped head.

It’ll probably get better, he added casually, but if not he’s got great hair.

And just like that someone confirmed what my heart had been telling me all along – that my son was perfect.

I do not pretend to begin to know what it is like for other mothers who are denied the good news that their very soul longs to hear. I have only dipped a tiny toe in the swirling waters where daily, parents of special needs children must battle upstream.

But I like to think my experience has left me just a little bit more empathetic. And I like to believe it has left me just a little bit more grateful.

If that’s possible.

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Karen MEG said...

I'm so glad things worked out for you -- it sounded so worrisome those first few months! I still get so freaked out even if my kids have a piddly ear infection. It's great to see that he's just perfectly fine (beyond fine, really, such a cute boy!) Look how tiny he is there... they sure do grow quickly, don't they?
Have a good weekend!

Anonymous said...

Oh Kelly, your post brought tears to my eyes. I'm sorry you went through that. I've been there, actually, I am still there, on that road. Waiting to hear from this specialist or that one. It's stressful and emotionally exhausting, especially when you look at your beautiful, smiling baby and see only perfection, not the imperfections doctors are trained to notice. I am so glad your story has a happy ending, just like mine will. Bit by bit we're getting there, we're finding our way.

Mighty Morphin' Mama said...

I will have to go check out Blithely's post. I too went through worries like that and am thankful everyday for healthy children.

Audrey said...

I'm glad you got through that and things worked out in the end. It's always painful to hear of babies being unwell and what more, if they are our own. I just cannot imagine the pain such parents have to go through. It would certainly be heartbreaking.

Anonymous said...

We moms just know. We know. We're moms.


Shauna said...

We were worried from the day we got our not so favourable IPS results back. I felt like I held my breath until I delivered.

Your post gave me goosebumps.

a kelly said...

Just read your last 2 posts with your wordless wednesday picture in between. All the emotions of motherhood and your son with those beautiful eyes that just must make you melt. You've captured the essence of what we feel. Gratitude is a beautiful word.

Family Adventure said...

I wrote about my baby boy when he was just born and the concerns we had (and eventual surgical intervention). It's a fear that never leaves you, I think, once you've experienced it. It is there, and when others go through similar things, your heart breaks a little bit along those same lines.

Your boy is a perfect little thing. And thank goodness for that!


Badness Jones said...

Now your post made ME cry....Bad started losing weight at 3 months old, and the pediatrician we were referred to thought he might have Cystic Fibrosis, and it was over a month to finally get back the negative diagnosis. I still say a little thank-you prayer whenever I say that. I'm glad that your story and mine have happy endings...I just wish there weren't so many that don't.

OHmommy said...

This is the toughest part of motherhood, isn't it? I have been there too, so many emotions and fears.

We spent over a week in the hospital with our third child...
turned out after countless tests... she was perfect.

Hugs to you and your handsome fella.

Rachel said...

What a blessing. Momtuition is so often right.
I am so glad that all it is is that little G has a funny shaped head.
I'm so sorry you went through all that, but you have the right perspective on it.
Thank you for sharing this story.
You have touched me, and I'm sure many others.
Thank you for your sweet comments on my posts, too.

Kyla said...

It is scary to realize there is nothing that exempts you from those things. We all silently believe we are exempt from those pains and trials, that it happens to other people not us, and then we come face to face with it and realize that it really can happen to us. It is a feeling you never forget.

I'll never forget that first day at our new pediatrician, where I was, what I was wearing, what KayTar was wearing, the toy she was playing with, on the day my fears were confirmed. I think no matter what the outcome is when you face something like that, whether fears are confirmed or allayed, you change after that moment.

newduck said...

This story, and the picture of him looking so incredibly tiny, breaks my heart. But it's a pretty powerful contrast to the Wordless Wednesday picture - bright, beautiful, happy, and perhaps just a little bit of a handful!

Kellan said...

I am glad that your son ending up being fine and perfect! I also have been through a few episodes with one or more of my children, where there was fear and anxiety over their well-being and I too am thankful every day that they are healthy and happy. This was a beatiful post and a happy ending to your sweet story. Have a good evening and I'll see you soon. Kellan

shay said...

Oh I held my breath until I got to the end and read that he was fine.

I'm so sorry you had to go through that but so glad he's okay.

He's beautiful btw!

Jennifer @ Fruit of My Hands said...

I'm sorry you had to go through all that. My son didn't regain his birth weight for 6 weeks after he was born, and I know what that nightmare is like. I'm glad everything was OK with your son.

lindsey said...

When I started reading this, I was feeling really anxious to know what the outcome of your post was going to be. I'm so glad that Graham is healthy and happy, he is a beautiful boy.

GoMommy said...

We went through something similar with Big E for his first three years when we were continuously having him tested for autism. I remember leaving from his pediatricians office with him clutched to my chest just sobbing, because NOTHING could be wrong with my perfect boy. I felt so alone. I don't wish it on anyone, yet it's good to know I wasn't alone. I'm glad Graham is okay! Hope your holidays are wonderful!

Kayris said...

When my son was 9 months old, he stopped gaining weight. Just stopped. Our doctor referred us to a specialist, and when I saw that she had written "failure to thrive" on the referral, it was like an icy hand gripped my heart. She told me not to cry, and I was like, "Are you kidding me? This is my worst nightmare coming true. How do you not cry?"

It turned out to be a food allergy and he's fine. But I know about that fear, and I'm so glad to hear that Graham's head is just fine. His pictures are beautiful.

mamatulip said...


Graham, you, this post. Just beautiful.

CP said...

such a touching story- I'm glad it had such a happy ending :)

JCK said...

That must have been really frightening! So lovely that in the end you had a doctor that was real and could validate that Graham was perfect!

scarbie doll said...

Hey, I didn't know this about you when I wrote my sliding doors post.

I don't believe in coincidences. Now I'm wondering why you and I have been brought together. Hmmm...