Working Through It

I avoid talking about personal stuff in my blog — it just doesn’t feel quite right. Partly, that’s because this blog is a professional space, and I’m not sure that the personal has any place here. Partly, it’s because I’m naturally reluctant to write about personal stuff in any sort of public (or non-anonymous) place.

But, I’m finding that I need to write about my experiences last week. I feel as though they’ve created a strange kind of roadblock in my mind, preventing me from thinking about things that I really need to get back to thinking about.

Last week, my 9-month old daughter, Madigan, got sick. I hesitate to say she got really sick, because I recognize that there are all kinds of terrible, chronic illnesses that make children really sick. And, thank every god that there is, she had none of them. But, to my first-time momma eyes and heart, she seemed about as close to really sick as a little one can get.

After I spent a day home with her two weeks ago, my husband got to stay with her the next day. Her symptoms which had been sort of standard head-coldiness type stuff until then progressed into bad, stomach bugginess. A trip to the doctor confirmed that she was in danger of dehydration if she didn’t start keeping fluids down, and by four o’clock that afternoon, it was clear that we were headed for the hospital.

In our minds we thought we’d be there a night. They’d fill Maddy up with IV-goodness and we’d head home to a pleasant weekend of quiet play with colored blocks and finger puppets.

Instead, we were there for several days, as we struggled to get Maddy to take liquid — any liquid — and keep it inside her little tummy.

By Monday, her IV was leaking, and they took it out. We were hopeful that she’d turned the corner and we’d be home soon.

Tuesday morning, a hospital doctor told me she was ready to be released. Five minutes later, she shared the contents of her latest bottle with my cashmere sweater. For some reason which I will never understand, the doctor insisted she was fine. He sent us home with directions to keep her hydrated and let her sleep.

That night was the worst night I’ve ever had. It was clear to me that Maddy’s fluid intake was not keeping up with her output. I woke ever 2-3 hours to force a few more ounces into her, noting that she seemed more and more lethargic.

By morning, as I drove her to her own doctor for a follow-up visit, I was certain we were going back to the hospital. By afternoon, we were. This time getting an IV into my baby girl’s limbs proved more challenging. It took 30 minutes of mind-blowing screaming from her little lungs before the techs were successful.

We were there for two more days, with Madigan now being cared for by her own pediatrician. When we finally brought her home Friday night, she was the baby I had been expecting to bring home from the hospital days earlier.

Erik and I are grateful to many people — family, friends, and colleagues — who offered us support and kind thoughts throughout. It would have been a far darker, more desperate week without those folks.

Maddy has basically made a full recovery. To look at her now, you wouldn’t believe that she had been so sick a week ago.

I, on the other hand, am having a harder time. There are experiences in life that seem to shift the camera angle from which I am watching life — and this was one of them. I had a similar sensation when Madigan was born. I’m having a hard time figuring out what to do with myself each day. On the one hand, I feel this strong compulsion to not leave her side. On the other, I wonder if I could take a week-long vacation in Tahiti and pretend I’m not a momma for a few days.

Before Madigan was born, I dreaded her first real illness. I was terrified of how I would handle the time when it would be entirely up to Erik and I to make sure this little being came through sickness relatively unharmed. The responsibility seemed far too vast. Now that it has passed, you would think I’d be feeling triumphant about getting my daughter through this milestone event, but instead I feel as though I just jumped off a cliff of unknown height. I’m grateful to be alive, but terrified of what just occurred.

I wonder, as I become a more experienced parent, if this anxiety will fade. Or is this one of the joys of parenthood that I will simply learn to come to terms with?

4 thoughts on “Working Through It”

  1. In my experience, you will come to terms with these anxieties, but those terms are not ones of comfort. I wish it were otherwise. I remember the moment I was sure, beyond doubt of any kind, that I would die for Ian. I remember the moment I felt exactly that way about Jenny. I remember many sleepless and frightened nights with very sick children (though never to the extent you experienced). I am sure all those anxieties will come crowding back in even greater force once our kids get their drivers’ licenses. I remember my father, a man prone to tears, weeping as he explained to me and my brother than it would kill him to have anything at all happen to us.

    Parenthood is the most sublime and terrifying of all vocations, I think.

  2. Martha,
    I’m not much further along this path of parenting than you, so I don’t have the benefit of Gardner’s experience, nor thankfully has Kate been as sick as Maddy. But I can say that I know exactly that mixture of anxiety and wonder and desire to just spend a few days away from being a parent (I don’t even need to be in Tahiti, though that would be nice). From talking to my parents, I get the sense that part of that anxiety never goes away. What is it C. S. Lewis wrote? “To love is to be vulnerable.” Something like that. Thankfully, from what I can tell, the wonder doesn’t go away either.

    I don’t know that I can put it better than Gardner (who can?), but I can say you’re not alone….

  3. Martha:

    Thanks for sharing such difficult experiences with all of us. Antonella and I were truly shaken by the news of Maddy, not only from knowing her adorable, happy self, but also from the larger feeling of vulnerability that seeps into your soul when a young child is unwell. I truly understand the elation of parenting, but through your words I am reminded of its accompanying reality of terror. I get the abbreviated bursts of dread every so often, but it has no correlative yet -it just seems an overly vivid imigination dreaming up the worst. I take strength from your ability to examine these emotions as a way of negotiating these feelings rather than pretending to overcome them- these are words to hold on to and draw from for those strange, nebulous parental experiences that lie ahead.

  4. I find it amazing how resilient very small children are. What tears us up as parents (like the IV experience you describe above) they seem to forget as soon as it is over. But we (parents) hang onto those experiences – sometimes too long, I think. We start to worry about the next time – we think too much. Don’t forget to trust your instincts more – not just the logic. You know more than you realize. And the joys make the hard times easier to take – as long as you don’t dwell on the bad things too long.
    You also owe it to yourself, spouse and kids to keep yourself happy too. Everything can’t center around the kids all the time. Even though this might be easy advice to give, I find it hard to live. For example, every now and then Yvette and I get to go out and have a meal alone. We enjoy it immensely, but end up talking about the girls and thinking about them more in our time away. The results are great though, Yvette and I reconnect, miss our kids for a while, and go home to them refreshed and recharged.
    I’m really glad Maddie came through this OK – and you did too. 🙂

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