This week, I’m taking part in Brain, Child Magazine’s Brain Debate on the topic of inviting children to weddings and other formal occasions. It seems, at first glance, unrelated to my more usual subject matter. Here on Swallow, My Sunshine, I write about my younger daughter’s medical journey. What does bringing a child to a wedding have to do with that?
For me, the central issue in both these issues is instinct. When my brother and his fiancé forbade me to bring my newborn daughter, Ronni — my first born child — to their wedding, I was upset. I couldn’t understand it, and, as I describe in that article on Brain, Child, I tried to reason with them that I would be sure my newborn would not interrupt their ceremony. When I finally offered to have a sitter stay with my newborn baby in the hotel lobby, my sister-in-law-to-be shouted at me, “No! I will not compete with a baby at my wedding!”
It made sense, then. It wasn’t about disruption or inappropriate behavior or my own distraction — it was about the possibility that a baby would upstage the bride. After only three weeks of parenting, we hired a postpartum doula to stay with our baby at the hotel where the wedding reception was held. Even then, the bride bristled at my desire to leave the reception and nurse my baby whenever the doula called; she had read that babies only need to nurse every three hours. Once I could see the situation for what it was, every instinct in me prickled against the woman my brother was about to marry. We were utterly different, she and I. My new baby daughter — her only niece, and at the time of that conversation, still growing inside me — wasn’t important to her. It was up to me (and her father) to care about our new daughter.
In much the same way, though I’ve wanted badly to trust in the goodwill and empathy of others with whom I’ve had to trust my children, the reality that hits me over and over is that absolutely no one will care about my daughters the way my husband and I do. All others have their own agenda and their own baggage, and nowhere has that been clearer than in our constant engagement with members of the medical system that places too many things above what’s best for the children. From the doctor who ignored my screaming eldest daughter as he catheterized her, telling us “it doesn’t really hurt her; she’s just anxious,” to the nurse who suggested my howling hospitalized baby might just need a Baby Einstein video only to be proven wrong later when we found her IV had infiltrated, to the doctors who allowed my daughter to spend three years getting endoscopies she wouldn’t have needed if they had only read her chart, I’ve seen that the only real advocates my children have is their parents.
In retrospect, I should not have attended that wedding; the couple was divorced within a year anyway, and I would regret my decision for a long time. I should have told the doctor catheterizing my older daughter to stop immediately; he was hurting her. I should have checked every single time we went to the doctor to see if everyone my younger daughter saw had a clear understanding of her medical history. Instead, I held on to a naive vision that my love would project out into the world so thoroughly that everyone would hold my daughters as preciously and fully as I did.
There are some wonderful people in our lives now who love our daughters like their own children. Those people aren’t always family, and they’re certainly not their doctors, but I do see now that they are the kind of people who would have taken turns holding my newborn at weddings. They are people who held us close as we navigated my younger daughter’s path to health. They are people who share the journey with us, who listen, who let us listen to them, and with whom disagreements are never about who gets the biggest spotlight. There’s room in these relationships for the expertise and wisdom of each of us. In a word, these relationships are about respect.
That was what was missing from my former sister-in-law’s relationship with me. That is what was missing from doctors who ignored the things that fell outside a normal protocol. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean it’s right.
A post-script to the Brain, Child Magazine story: my brother married again when the baby he didn’t invite to his first wedding was five and her little sister was two. They were flower girls, and he and his new wife welcomed them with open arms.