I am writing to you from the window of a coffeeshop. I sip from my hot mocha, listen to my headphones, and look out at the cars going by. Where I live, there has just been snowfall, and the pedestrians are like me on my walk here: bundled, hunched against the cold, hurrying. Inside, people surround me, but I’m trying not to engage with them.
I’m thinking about you. Who are you? Why have you come?
For years, I spent countless intent hours searching for information that would help me solve the mystery of my daughter’s health issues. Even when we thought we had a solid diagnosis — laryngomalacia when she was an infant, repaired double aortic arch when she was a baby, reflux when she was a toddler, eosinophilic esophagitis when she was a little girl — I wanted to know how to handle it. I wanted to know how other parents made their children’s lives easier despite the diagnoses. I wanted to know how other parents made their own lives easier despite the diagnosis.
I was hungry for connection and knowledge. I was desperate for validation, advice, and other parents to either assuage my fears or tell me how they made their peace with the same ones. Continue Reading…
Over and over in my head, I dissect what went wrong with my advocacy for my daughter.
When she was just six weeks old, we pushed to have her raspy, gurgling breathing evaluated by an otolaryngologist even though her pediatrician said it was nothing. It wasn’t nothing; we were justified in our followup.
When she was four, we’d dutifully tried to wean her from her reflux medications, then taken her to a gastroenterologist when she responded poorly. We’d said yes to the endoscopies, accepted the diagnosis of eosinophilic esophagitis, and diligently followed the six food elimination protocol. We read labels, scoured our kitchen, protected her from potential allergens like fierce animal parents. We did everything they asked, and advocated for her emotional well-being in school and with friends.
We did everything we could have done except tell her doctors to read her chart. If we had thought to ask them, hey, do you think this esophagus problem could have anything at all to do with her aortic arch?, that might have been all we needed.Continue Reading…
Between the December day when we received news of our daughter Sammi’s impending cardiac surgery and the surgery itself were nearly five fragmented, breath-holding months. During that time, life went on as usual: school, work, meals and concerts and the usual patterns of life with two children.
My days, already naturally broken into small chunks of varied activities, crumbled into bite-sized pieces of work and daily chores mixed with anxious Google searches and conversations over phone and email. In the autopilot that clicked on during repetitive activities like cooking or walking my children to school, I sometimes found myself unable to remember what had been happening in the previous ten minutes. How had I gotten to this corner? When did I add the onion to the pot?
Throughout, I was honest with friends and family about what was happening. Many had been with us for the Sammi’s entire medical journey. They had prayed and visualized a pink and smooth esophagus on each of her many endoscopy days. Some had arranged a spot in their pantry for a new, unused cutting board and disposable baking pans so that they could invite us for dinner during the hardest weeks of the six food elimination diet. These people were experiencing this with us, many of them nearly as deeply in love with Sammi as we were. They deserved to be in-the-know, and so I held very little back. We talked openly about the surgery and what it would entail; we shared whatever we knew and accepted their promises to hold us in their positive thoughts, whatever shape those took.
But some of them — more than a few of them — asked us the multimillion-dollar question: are you thinking about a lawsuit?Continue Reading…
The story of a sick little girl is compelling. The story that spans across years of doctors and procedures, melting into each other in a pool of brackish gloom, punctuated by moments of glittery hope — that’s good reading, right there. You want to know: did she get better? did they figure out what was wrong? how did it all turn out?
That’s the story I’ve been telling about our family, and it’s true. It has driven every other decision in our life, in one way or another, for as long as our younger daughter, Sammi, has been a force on this earth. Figuring out how to keep her healthy, to help her breathe, to feed her and manage her doctors’ appointments and procedures and surgeries, to hold my own head up and make it through my own fears each day: these are the things that dictated the way we navigated the world.
But there is another story in the periphery. We have another child.
I don’t write much about my older daughter Ronni largely because she is now thirteen. She deserves the right to decide what information about her goes public, and so I’ve refrained from sharing her experience so far until now. Until yesterday. Continue Reading…
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; shehad 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. Continue Reading…