Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lesson Learned, Summer: It's Still Okay

Here's essay #10 by Summer Myers. Are you getting your votes ready? We're almost there! 

My son Elliot is sleeping in the room next to me with a mild fever, and I'm not worried about it. This is in contrast to the weeks following his birth when every fever, every vomit, and every sniffle warranted tears for me and an immediate doctor visit for him. He was sensitive to my milk when I ate chocolate. He had asymmetrical circulation that caused a red line down the center of his face when he cried. He had torticollis so severe that a lump formed on his neck and projected past his jaw over the course of a day. We took him to the Emergency Room at one o'clock that night; he was sixteen days old. And I sobbed because somebody somewhere mentioned the word "cancer."

None of these amounted to anything. The doctors would say, "It's just one of those things. He'll get over it." And he did. I made myself sick with worry about a bunch of red herrings. I fantasized about a book for new parents - an encyclopedia of every problem a child could ever have - and next to every entry the book would authoritatively state: "This is perfectly normal. It's okay. Don't worry about it." Then we new parents would all sigh and smile and clink our glasses of apple juice together.

There were two little things I wasn't worried about. Elliot was jaundiced. It was bad enough that we were ordered to come back to the hospital after two weeks to check up on it, but I knew jaundice was common and that it was likely to resolve itself. It did. Also, he didn't pass his newborn hearing test. No problem. This is common enough, especially for babies born by caesarean, and there's no history of hearing loss on either side of the family.

But he didn't pass the follow-up test, or the one after that, or the three after that. Elliot was a few months old when we faced the obvious conclusion: our son was deaf. Further testing would be required to determine the severity. My husband and I were heartbroken. We talked to him and sang to him into the evening, aching for him to hear our voices.

Elliot received his first pair of hearing aids at five months old. We had adequately adjusted to the idea by then, though the wound was still healing. We had to laugh at the stares and the questions from strangers around town; it's not every day that you see a little baby with chunky, ill-fitting machinery flopping out of his tiny ears, and a lot of people have a lot to say about it.

One evening, my husband was holding Elliot in an aisle in the grocery store when a little boy of undetermined age walked up and wordlessly hugged our son. He had hearing aids, too. In this one healing act the boy expressed empathy, fellowship, and acceptance to my son. He had hearing aids, too, and it was okay.

Now I fantasize about a different encyclopedia of baby problems - one which reads next to certain entries, "This is not normal. Everything is not perfect. And it's still okay." I am nearly nine months pregnant with our second child, and my husband and I still don't know the cause of Elliot's hearing loss. Our daughter may have hearing impairment, too, or maybe something more complicated. Maybe in the end we'll have a house full of half a dozen kids with twice as many hearing aids: small, expensive things to lose and find and break and replace. Maybe Elliot will struggle with some things in his life that I never will, and I will have to watch from the outside and feel the special heart-sickness of a mother who can't do anything about it.

And it's still okay.


Liese said...

How inspiring! I think it is so beautiful that young children can feel that empathy and love for one another without even knowing each other. You are so string and have such a positive outlook on life. Elliot is so blessed to have you as a mother.

Miri said...

I really love this essay. One of the things that appears to be the hardest for people--and especially new parents--to grasp is that things just happen, and it doesn't mean the world is coming to an end. It's okay if a baby gets dirty crawling around on the ground. You can wash them later. It's okay if they get sick--they'll get better, and their bodies will have learned how to fight an illness. The same thing goes for adults. There will always be scary things in the world, but being paranoid about them won't stop them from happening. At some point we all have to learn to accept whatever comes, and have faith that it will all be okay.


Beautifully written!

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Kelsey said...

That is beautiful. Thank you.

Lis said...

I'm pregnant with my first kid and there are so mamy things that could go wrong, but most likely won't. What helps me is to see other people who's babies are special and to see that they deal with it and that it's still okay.