artAll families I know develop — unconsciously — a vocabulary specific to them. This can include everything from pet names to invented foods to the life-long adoption of mispronunciations from toddlerhood. Being in a nuclear family — a new nuclear family, not the one in which we grew up — is, in many ways, like having a glorious lifetime membership in a club in which we got to make all the rules and invite in all the members ourselves. By nature, it is empowering for the adult.

The innocence of this family vocabulary can seem silly from the outside because, most of the time, these new words are like long-standing and elaborate inside jokes. We have words like that in our family, too. The exception, for us, is the word “urp.”

“Urp” is the word we invented to describe the sound Sammi made when she had what we assumed to be reflux. Babies with reflux are a known entity — the baby silently jostles his own torso up and then — sometimes also silently — a stream of spit-up drools out, to be wiped away by an ever-present burp cloth. Sometimes, this baby-reflux interferes with sleep and comfort and so the baby is given reflux medication. This was what happened to Sammi at six weeks old; her reflux was silent and, oddly, never resulted in spitting up. She constantly smelled like sour baby vomit, but it was on her breath and not making up to her mouth.

Her pediatrician put her on a reflux medication. It got changed once when she was around a year old, then again at two years old, when our efforts to take her off of it were met with the constant sound we named “Urp.” The pediatrician — and we — had expected her to grow out of it, as babies do, but whenever she stopped taking it, there it was again: “urp.” It was a gurgling sound, followed by a hard swallow and a series of coughs. It was unnerving.

When she got old enough to talk, we would sometimes ask her about it. We’d hear “urp” and ask if she was ok.

“Jus’ my cereal,” she’d chirp, going back to her toys.

“It’s jus’ my yogurt.”

“It’s my dinner in my mouth,” she’d say as we pulled her pajamas over her head.

It didn’t seem to bother her. Sometimes it was eight or ten times per day. She never vomited, she never complained of pain, she never woke up gagging. Still, we worried about it. We had her bed propped up on an angle, gave her first the antacids and then the proton pump inhibitors. The medicine made the sound less frequent than when she was off the medicine, but nothing truly made it stop.

Urp. Just my breakfast.

Urp. Just raspberries.

We asked ourselves constantly, is she urping more lately? Why is she still urping? She’s three. Shouldn’t she have outgrown this?

We worried. We were professional worriers. Her pediatrician, both perplexed and long-accustomed to the mysteries of childhood illness and behavior, just kept telling us to wait a few more months and try again to take her off the medication. We repeated that cycle for years.

Urp. Just noodles.

Urp. Just water.

Just wait. So we waited.

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11 thoughts on “Vocabulary

  1. […] Take away her reflux medicine, and the gagging and coughing increased dramatically. Even on it, she still made a funny sound several times a day, after which, if asked, she’d matter-of-factly describe the last food she’d eaten […]

  2. […] Take away her reflux medicine, and the gagging and coughing increased dramatically. Even on it, she still made a funny sound several times a day, after which, if asked, she’d matter-of-factly describe the last food she’d eaten […]

  3. […] that my daughter had oddly not exhibited any of the typical symptoms of this disease except for the reflux-like sounds. She wasn’t vomiting regularly — in fact, she had never vomited — and though she […]

  4. […] helped to know that Sammi’s slow eating was likely a symptom of eosinophilic esophagitis, or reflux, or both. It helped, but not enough. I kept feeling that nagging, nagging sensation in my own belly […]

  5. […] the six-food-elimination diet for eosinophilic esophagitis (substitute Daiya shredded cheese); the GERD reflux diet (eliminate the tomatoes); and the fat-free diet (fat-free cheese, no oil in the beans). It can be […]

  6. […] from the last time she’d taken any medication for her esophageal issues, she began making the sounds of reflux again. She remained cheerful about it — “it’s just my cereal in my mouth again, […]

  7. […] she was still experiencing the symptoms of GERD — also known as “reflux” — past the age that a child would normally outgrow it. We took her to a major children’s hospital gastroenterology practice, a practice in the same […]

  8. […] a picture for Sammi to have in her room. When we gave up tomato sauce on pizza for Sammi’s GERD diet, Ronni never complained. When Sammi had her tonsils and adenoids out, Ronni made elaborate nests on […]

  9. […] were all given explanations, almost all of them wrong. Some were official-sounding: asthma, reflux, colic, eosinophilic esophagitis, esophageal dysmotility. Some were meant to shut us up: “a […]

  10. […] the wind. I feel the tiny sparks of a story. I forget about my children, about the suspicious way Sammi is gagging these days. I forget my own name. I buy the CD. I learn to play the music of Quebec. I am in […]

  11. […] what you need to avoid; I found this strategy equally useful for the six food elimination diet, the GERD diet, and a fat-free diet for chylothorax. Just like the parenting advice I’d gotten when my older […]

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