Ellis was born with a periurethral cyst that no one seemed to be able to figure out while we were in the hospital When we saw the pediatrician at four days old, it was already gone, and he stated it's common due to the hormone fluctuations from the birthing parent. But while she was in the hospital, she had all kinds of residents and doctors waking her up from her sleep to undiaper her and check it out. The attending urologist said there could possibly be a urethral blockage, or if it was hurting her she wouldn't pee, and that would be a concern. So they ordered an ultrasound to check her bladder and kidneys. All of this we later learned was completely unnecessary, and they were overreacting to something they shouldn't have been alarmed by.
To transport her to the ultrasound room, she was put in an incubator. She was brand new and terrified and cried the whole way there. Trapped in this incubator that muffled her screams. Alone and helpless with no one holding her, comforting her, reassuring her. It felt like the longest walk of my life getting to the ultrasound room, down all kinds of hallways and up elevators (it wasn't in the maternity ward). I cried with her. I hated that the incubator was protecting everyone from her screams, so they could all ignore that this was happening. She was in a box for so long, confused and scared and not being responded to.
Neither parent is permitted to carry newborns in the hallway, even in the maternity ward. They have to be in the bassinet, so that they aren't accidentally dropped. I accepted this even as I thought it was absurd and even as every instinct screamed out that I needed to grab and comfort my baby, that she needed to be on my chest, against my skin, in my arms. My womb and my arms and my heart were empty and grieving as I dragged my newly postpartum self down those endless halls. My baby needed me, and I wasn't there.
I recently processed this with my wife and told her that I can't stop thinking how I should have been a pain in the ass to get what I needed for Ellis. That I should have refused the sonogram if I couldn't carry her myself. Roll me in a wheelchair if you need to. She assured me that that wouldn't have been possible, and they would have fought me back equally and just not permitted it because the fear of liability is that real.
But at least I would have known that I had tried everything I could.
As soon as we got to the room, I grabbed her right out and nursed her while they set up the machine. I remember the person saying, "Okay, you can hold her until the tech gets here," and myself thinking, "Oh thanks for your permission. Try to stop me."
I can't say why this was so deeply traumatic for me, except that it was such an early experience of already feeling I wasn't protecting my child from preventable anguish. After doing nothing but protecting her and having her near me, IN me, she was now ripped away from me and wailing and I felt like I let it happen. Or at least I didn't fight enough against it.
Yesterday began the healing for me, for the first time.
We took her to the dermatologist to check out this little spot on her chin that has been there for about six months without improvement. It looks like a tiny scab with a red bump underneath. Ellis hates going to the doctor, cries and wiggles away when they're looking in her ears, using the stethoscope on her back, etc. It's not just the shots that upset her, it's everything! I was so nervous about this appointment. I didn't tell her in advance we were going to the doctor's because I didn't think she could handle it that far ahead of time, and didn't want her to have a hard time getting into the car if she thought she was getting shots. I waited until we were in the waiting room, and while my wife was filling out the paperwork, I explained that a doctor was going to look at her chin and make sure it's okay. She knows there's a bump there, she's touched it before and we've commented on it. So she touched her chin and said, "Doctor. Chin." She did this off and on throughout our half hour wait, and I would reinforce it. "Yes, baby, the doctor is going to look at your chin."
We could see her getting nervous when we went into the exam room. It looked like her regular doctor's office, so she was starting to make connections in her brain. We tried to distract her and act regular and it seemed to ease her anxiety a little, but the long wait for the doctor wasn't helpful. However, when he came in, she immediately remembered what he was there for. She sat on my lap and let him tilt her face up and examine the spot. It took him some time, and he had to leave to get a light and come back to look at it more closely. She stayed still the whole time. I had her snuggled with her back against my chest and kept telling her what a good job she was doing letting the doctor look at her chin. We praised her generously afterward, and the whole way to the car she would point at passersby and ask, "Doctor?"
This one incident felt like such a triumph that it truly started some healing for me. In social work, we talk about trauma re-enactment: putting yourself in the same situation hoping for a different outcome. Generally this doesn't go well and refers more to people who, say, are sexually promiscuous after sexual assault in an unconscious effort to feel more in charge of the situation and to feel more empowered but then often don't, so they keep repeating it. Or people who were physically abused unconsciously choosing partners who end up being abusive, thinking this time they can avoid the violence by behaving differently or helping the person change. In this case, I wasn't creating the situation, it was brought to me. But I was truly able to do something different to feel more in control, more supportive, more helpful to Ellis, and I was able to see her feel calm and confident as a result. It was tremendously healing, and I can see now why people with deeper traumas sometimes spend their whole life trying to achieve that.
Maybe I can finally let go of that early experience, or at least have less emotional intensity when I think of it.
(Epilogue: The spot is a spitz nevus, benign, which the dermatologist recommends having removed because there is a new birth mark in it, which makes it more likely to become melanoma later in her life.)