A relentless parade of colds, flu and bronchitis circled through our house for a couple of months during the holidays this year. When Hailey caught her third cold in a row, we paid a visit to the pediatrician, who gave us a slightly patronizing “this is all very normal” look, and informed us that school-aged kids typically get seven viruses between the months of October and March. Sobering news indeed. And perhaps the patronizing look was warranted. I mean, we took Hailey to the doctor for what was essentially a bad cold, and we probably take our child to the doctor more than most parents. When the doctor recommended an app with which we could check common symptoms on our own, I read this to mean, “your family brings me too much business. Stop. Just stop.” There’s no rule book for parenting, let alone for how to handle childhood illnesses and accidents. As parents, we’re limited in our ability to take away our child’s pain, so we administer aid, seek advice, soothe, cuddle and comfort as best we can all while stressed out and sleep deprived. For Josh and I though, a sniffle, a cough, a stumble or a fall triggers not only normal parental worry, but deeply embedded anxiety. All parents watch their kids closely. Is that normal? we ask ourselves. Should he be walking on his tip toes all the time? Does she get sick too often? Fall down too much? Parenting provides endless opportunity for worry — both real and imagined. All parents watch their kids closely. But Josh and I watch especially closely — evaluating, wondering, constantly struggling with internal fears.
Hailey had a rough entry into this world. Following 18 hours of labor, I caught a hospital borne infection and spiked a 105 fever, and Hailey went into distress. After an emergency c-section, Hailey was born not breathing. She was intubated, but still didn’t breathe on her own for several minutes. One second I was lying on the operating table with my husband to my side, both of us waiting to hear our child’s cries — my doctor and a few nurses behind the screen. The next, there were 30 people in the operating room and all the color had drained from Josh’s face. Chaos ensued and, cliche as it sounds, time briefly stood still. I closed my eyes, prayed and imagined the absolute worse. When I opened my eyes, a woman (a young and inexperienced fellow, I soon found out) was whispering to Josh. The look that came over Josh’s face was a look I hope to never see again. In that moment, I knew she was telling Josh our baby had died. She then made her way over to me. My arms were still strapped to the table. I was trapped — forced to lie there and hear what I knew would be devastating news — I wanted so badly to run, hit her, cover my ears and scream, anything to avoid hearing her speak. She leaned down and repeated what she had told Josh: Hailey hadn’t been breathing, they had to intubate her and, in situations such as these, Hailey’s brain could have “taken a hit.” Her words: taken a hit. Now, almost four years later, despite having been assured by many doctors and an MRI that Hailey’s brain did not, in fact, take a hit from her lack of oxygen at birth, whenever I worry about my daughter for what are likely normal childhood illnesses, injuries, behavioral issues…when she has three colds in a row, for instance…I close my eyes and hear, “her brain might have taken a hit.”
Josh and I couldn’t talk about Hailey’s birth with each other for about two years. There was too much trauma, fear and guilt wrapped up in what was both the best and most traumatic day of our lives. As time went by, we were able to talk about that day with others…therapists, friends, family…and we learned of the other’s experience through tidbits we picked up from those who who lived through that day with us. At some point I started sharing my birth story with anyone who would listen. And to all those who were kind enough to listen to my story, I thank you. I was working some stuff out. Josh and I were both diagnosed with PTSD related to the birth of our daughter. I never imagined that I would use those two phrases in the same sentence — PTSD and the birth of our daughter. It seems too unreal. But there you have it. We’re working our stuff out. And now, four years later, Josh and I are able to talk about Hailey’s birth with joy and gratitude and, still, lots of tears.
We’re healing, the three of us. Josh and I are learning to stop looking so closely, to let our daughter be a kid, grow up, thrive, be the amazing child she is turning into. We’re trying to worry less over every little ache and pain. I try not to hear that wretched doctor’s voice when Hailey has a headache or when she starts screaming for no good reason. This is childhood. This is parenting. We’ll be vigilant but we’ll be thankful. Though Hailey had a rough start, by some miracle she’ll likely have no lasting effects from that experience, and, unlike her parents, she’s already cast off any lingering shadow from that day. So, now, when I look closely, I’ll make sure to see what I know for a fact to be true, that I have one hell of a strong daughter.