My daughter Sammi was born at 41.5 weeks of gestation at four pounds and eleven ounces. I have spent the last ten years reciting those statistics in reverse.
“So mom, what was her birth weight?” is often one of the first questions a pediatric specialist asks.
A pause for my answer, and then I could chant it along with them: “So was she premature?”
No, she wasn’t, I have to answer. She was what they call post-term, which is the opposite of premature. It’s late. She was waiting it out inside me, and then when she came out as tiny as a premature baby, everyone scrambled. She was totally proportionate — filled out and lovely, just miniature. The hospital did genetic testing and found nothing out of the ordinary. That’s when we began to hear two different lines of justification for her size.
The first was short and sweet: “Well, mom, you’re not so big yourself!”
There’s something to that, clearly — I am five feet and one inch tall if I’ve had a good night’s sleep to aid my posture. My mom is the same height, as was her mom. That makes us officially petite, well under the average adult height for women of five feet and four inches.
Given that, Sammi’s size didn’t seem to stand out much until she was about eighteen months old, when pediatricians can begin to predict with some accuracy what a child’s adult height might be. If, as the Mayo Clinic suggests, there is a formula one can compute that will produce the genetic height potential of a child before she is even born, both of our daughters were destined to be roughly five feet and two inches tall. However, if one uses the other formula — as our pediatrician did — the adult height is predicted simply by doubling the height of a girl at eighteen months.
With this formula, Sammi’s adult height was projected to be four feet and eight inches. That’s shorter than a Smart Car. Because of that, I never believed that Sammi’s height had anything to do with my height. I’m taller than a Smart Car. The answer had to be something else, and we certainly had plenty of options from which to choose.
If we accepted that her stature wasn’t genetic, the possibility was related to her very first official diagnosis, the one that came when the genetic tests in the hospital came back with nothing; they called it intrauterine growth retardation. All that ever meant was that she was little because of something unusual that happened in my uterus, something they couldn’t pinpoint. Perhaps, they said, she’ll make up for it now that she’s out.
That didn’t happen.
Then, they said, when they discovered her double aortic arch, the congenital heart condition they’d missed for the whole first year of her life, maybe this is what’s holding back her big catching-up growth spurt. “She’ll be a new baby now,” the surgeon told us after it was done, and I wanted to believe him, mostly about the health issues she’d faced but also, partly, about her size. At a year, she was still happily fitting in six to nine month sized clothes, and the age-related questions from strangers were getting more regular. Maybe now she’ll grow!
That didn’t happen, either.
Then, when they switched her GERD medicine from an antacid to a proton pump inhibitor, they thought perhaps she was feeling so poorly all the time that it affected her appetite, and maybe that was what was keeping her from growing. So we switched her to Prevacid, and her reflux got slightly better, so we were hoping she would finally grow more than two inches per year.
It didn’t happen then, either.
Then, when they diagnosed her with eosinophilic esophagitis, they said, oh, it’s not GERD after all, and when we find the food that’s hurting her esophagus, she’ll eat better and THEN she’ll grow. So we spent a year cooking allergen-friendly food, and we watched for the growth spurt.
It didn’t happen that year. It didn’t happen that summer after she was “in remission” from eosinophilic esophagitis, either, and at age six, entering first grade, she started hearing from other children that she was “too small” for things. Too small for the swings at the park. Too small for the school spirit-wear sweatpants. Too small to play this, to do that, to climb this.
One night, tucking her into bed at that age, I whispered, “good night, my little peanut!”
She answered, “Don’t call me that.”
My heart sunk. I apologized, said that she was the younger sibling, so she would always be the little one to me, even if she was twenty feet tall.
“No,” she said, “I just don’t like peanuts.”
We talked about other things that are small and dear, delicious and precious, and decided that from then on, I would call her my little blueberry. Blueberries were her favorite fruit: sweet, small, easy to swallow.
At age seven, we took her to an endocrinologist who, after running several tests, shrugged and gave her an official diagnosis of “idiopathic short stature.” That’s a fancy medical term that’s easy to parse: short stature means that she isn’t tall, and idiopathic means that no one knows why. They offered us growth hormone, which we’d have to inject into her every night for about nine years, to give her a few extra inches.
We didn’t do it. We couldn’t do it. We couldn’t tell her, night after night with an injection, how her body wasn’t right.
She is still my little blueberry now, at ten years old, still tiny, still not having experienced that big growth spurt.She’s still the littlest one in her class and her grade, the littlest one in our house, the littlest one of her peers no matter where she goes. Nothing has changed that, and I’m reasonably sure that nothing ever will.
She was born small. She will stay small. She is not a peanut, but her own version of little: a blueberry, gentle and sweet, perfect and natural, grown in the sun.