I’m probably as far removed from being a neurotic mother as possible. I don’t wear that badge with pride, it’s just a fact. I was that new mother who let near strangers hold my days-old baby without asking them to wash their hands first. When my baby had a bad cold for the first time at 6 months, I was pretty unfazed. When she wasn’t crawling or sitting at 7, 8, 9—and now 10—months, I took her to the physiotherapist but remained confident she’d get there in her own time.
So when my baby picked up a run-of-the-mill stomach bug last week, I never expected to react the way I did. It wasn’t even dramatic; she didn’t end up in the hospital or anything like that, thank God.
Nevertheless, last week I experienced some of the darkest hours of my life.
It started off with vomiting, which was a little unnerving—she’d never even spit up milk as a newborn—but I didn’t stress too much. That was followed by diarrhea—oh-so-much diarrhea!—that came in the form of projectile poo gushing from her poor little bottom like a geyser.
The following day I was advised by the doctor to stop feeding her solids or even formula since she couldn’t keep anything down. I was to breastfeed her and give her water in order to keep her hydrated.
That was when things got scary.
My daughter, whose favorite pastime in the whole world is breastfeeding, was suddenly refusing my breast. And drinking water wasn’t even a question.
All she wanted to do was sleep. So I let her, thinking this must be what she needs right now. She slept the whole day. And then she woke, refused my breast again, and went back to sleep. The hours and days that followed are a haze.
She became totally apathetic. They—whoever “they” are—warn you about that, lethargy and apathy being the signs to look out for that something is seriously wrong. So I schlepped her to the doctor again. While there, she accepted a few spoons of electrolyte solution.
He said she was producing saliva so she wasn’t in any danger.
But I was in danger of losing my mind.
The puking, the diarrhea—the sickness itself—I could handle. But the apathy, that pitiful, gut-wrenching listlessness, was more than I could bear. I’d never seen my baby like this. She didn’t smile, she didn’t cry, she didn’t even whimper. She just stared vacantly into space, entirely emotionless. I didn’t know who this child was but it sure wasn’t my smiling ray of sunshine.
In the night, I set my alarm for every two hours to try and feed her. I found her in her crib, silent but with her eyes open in the darkness. When she refused to feed, I forced her mouth open and filled it with water through an injection. She spluttered and coughed most of it out.
I was heartbroken and petrified at the same time. My mind went to dark places—how long would my baby girl stay like this? What if she didn’t get better?
And then, thank God, she did get better. Just like that, her appetite picked up and although she still had a hard time holding anything in, at least she was eating. And a few days later she was back to her merry self, banging on her highchair and lobbing pieces of porridge around the room. Today she was well enough to return to daycare for the first time in nine days.
The experience has left me numb and full of emotion all at once. Perhaps it will change me—maybe in the future I’ll be less laid back and my parenting habits will a little bit more circumspect.
But I doubt it. I’m not sure that as adults, our core personalities can change so easily.
The experience has, however, forever altered my memory bank. Alongside vignettes of my gorgeous child holding her head up for the first time or erupting into fits of giggles is the terrifying image of her staring glassy-eyed into the darkness. However quickly I’m able to let go of what happened, that image is an insignia to remind me that I’m not as hardy as I always thought, and far more dismaying, neither is she.
As I write this piece of catharsis, all I want to do is run to her daycare, scoop her up in my arms, and hug and hug and hug her.