In 2005, there was no Facebook.
In 2005, there were no smart phones or tablets or ways to send audio and video to anyone.
In 2005, if you were like me: alone with your preschooler and your baby and your empty house and almost no friends with children, the only way to connect to parenting wisdom, camaraderie, and a stolen moment of sanity several times a day was Mothering Magazine’s online forums. They were called the “Mothering Dot Commune,” and, for me, they served the purpose that smart phones and social media and texting serve now. They were, in a lonely world, a lifeline of support and connection. I relied on them for everything from pregnancy support (August 2005 Due Date Club!) to toilet training ideas to vegetarian recipes. I was steeped in gratitude during my pregnancy with my second daughter, but never more so than after she was born, when a regular user of the site who I’ll call Shanti helped set the course of my parenting in a way I’ll never forget.
Though I know I will get some details of this story not-quite-right, here is what I remember: Shanti had a daughter who I’ll call Rita. Though Shanti had experience nursing her older child, she found Rita’s nursing habits very puzzling. It seemed harder for her than she remembered from her first child, including what looked like obvious discomfort and wild back arching. She told her pediatrician about her concerns, but she wasn’t taken seriously. She fought her way through to a gastroenterologist who also pooh-poohed her insistence that something was wrong.
Many parents — including, until that point, me — would have just accepted the doctors’ assertions that nothing meaningful was wrong with the baby. Those parents would return home with the baby whose behavior was creating internal alarm sirens and try to parent anyway. They would have cuddled the baby against their own pounding hearts, waiting to have their eardrums dulled to the sounds that worried them. They would resign themselves to the probability that they don’t know what they’re doing, they don’t really know their child, their instincts are probably faulty, and — in the case of women — perhaps it’s just postpartum depression making them suspect that there’s something wrong with the baby.
That’s not what Shanti did.
Shanti set up a video camera in her living room. She sat in a comfortable chair across from it and set her hungry baby in her lap to nurse. As the camera recorded, little Rita began to nurse and then, as Shanti had described to the doctors, arched her back and thrashed, madly. This pattern repeated itself, over and over. I watched this video, back then, horrified and frightened, my own newborn baby — also a second child — lying in my lap, nursing peacefully. Shanti took the video to her doctor and insisted that he watch it. Immediately, he saw what she’d been trying to tell him, and Rita began the path toward an accurate diagnosis.
Because I watched Shanti forge a furious path to diagnosis and healing for her daughter, it was at the top of my mind when I needed the same thing. Being brushed aside by my daughter’s pediatrician, I made an appointment with a specialist. I resolved that I would not be pushed aside this time; remembering Shanti, I pulled the old micro-cassette recorder out of my fiddle case and recorded the sound of my daughter’s loud, wet breathing before and after nursing. In the specialist’s office, I made him listen to it.
It worked. He believed me, and he respected the lengths I’d gone to prove my case. In the end, it was this moment of proof that started us on the right path for our daughter, with a doctor who saw what we did and fought alongside us. I’ll never know if this was the deciding factor, but I do believe it helped.
We just never know when our stories have inspired someone. I’ve been lucky enough to tell my story publicly here and elsewhere, and it’s always rewarding to hear that it’s helped someone to hear it. More importantly, I’ve been touched by the stories of people like Shanti; like Renee Bergeron and her son Apollo; like Ellen and her son Max; like the beautiful sadness of the story of Louise and her daughter Jessica, whose loss found me on my knees on the floor though I’ve never met either of them. I ground my fist into my side in anger at the way Apollo struggled, I smile along with Max’s firetruck adventures, and I send love to Louise, energetic buoys through waters I imagine easily and painfully.
Stories matter. I’m grateful for their abundance, and even more grateful when they are exactly what I need.
This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, hosted by Kristi of FiningNinee.com. The prompt this week is “A story that stuck with me is..”