Thursday, April 22, 2010

Our Hearing Is Fine. How's Your Listening?

"You need to get her hearing tested," they insisted. I tried to say she hears just fine, but the experts weren't buying it. So I wasted time and energy. The tests were inconclusive. My intuition told me that the tests were more than that: they were bogus. We were not there to satisfy the experts. I had had enough. I also had a baby who took, on average, four hours to feed because every train, plane, automobile and even casual conversation underneath our second floor window would upset her. The social worker on the phonebank at the hospital told me that Kid O was suffering from "distractability" and would eventually outgrow that. She suggested I find a quieter place to feed her. I was disappointed about moving us from the sun porch, but I knew I had to do something to make everything more bearable.

The social worker was right about that. What she wasn't right about was the cause. This baby didn't have "distractibility". She had a disorganized nervous system. For all we know, the sounds she heard were magnified beyond what anyone could tolerate. The back bedroom wasn't nice and sunny, but it was considerably quieter. I'd turn on NPR and we would listen to the news while I fed her. Not the way I had envisioned being with my baby, but not all a bad way to spend a day, either.

Stop and go traffic would upset KId O so much that she would cry herself to the point of vomiting. Nothing could be done to console her. Except stop. I discovered that being in her stroller would also cause her to cry hysterically. Walks to the park were tortuous. We lived close to the North Branch of the Chicago River. I wanted her to see some birds and flowers.Like any mom, I wanted to get in some sunshine and have a change of pace. Kid O would scream bloody murder. I'd try not to well up with resentment on the walks home. There weren't rocks large enough for me to crawl under, and, even if there were, deep down I understood that this baby was not doing this anger me. I wasn't always so understanding or compassionate, but I always loved her. Anyway.

I don't think anyone understood just how severely disorganized her nervous system was. Even the pediatrician who eventually diagnosed Kid O with cerebral palsy had not even the remotest understanding as to why this child was the way she was. At least this woman took the time to make a diagnosis. The original pediatrician was too freaked out to be in the room for more than five minutes. The senior members of that practice were even cavalier towards me when I insisted that this child was already teething. Yes, she was a preemie, and, yes, even for full term two months was on the early side for teething, but all the mothers up and down the block knew the universal symbol, fist in mouth, as an indicator for teething. This doctor refused to believe what he saw in front of him: a two month old baby who was teething. He told me that she couldn't possibly be cutting her first baby tooth. But she was. And, as with everything else that pointed to a disorganized nervous system, Kid O's teething pain was off the scale.

One day a neighbor who had a full term baby came over. She was convinced that she could soothe Kid O in a way that I could not. I meekly handed Kid O over to her. And, after a few minutes of inconsolable crying, she gave up. "This always works for H," she said, of her full term, in the 90th percentile baby. I took Kid O back and asked my nosy, judgmental neighbor to please leave. Thankfully she did so without creating a scene. You see, she had been watching my husband working on his catamaran that weekend and was certain that come Monday morning I was gonna crack. And that is why she was poised at the rescue. Except that this was really about her showing me that she was an infinitely superior mother than me. Months later she apologized to me because even a couple in their childbirth classes had the unthinkable: a child with cerebral palsy. So maybe I wasn't all that deficient. Maybe I was just a mom who was overwhelmed because no amount of "What To Expect" books could have prepared me to expect the unexpectable. And the unpredictable. No one could have also have prepared me for my really bad post-partum depression either. Even so I stayed with this beautiful mystery of mine and tried to understand her. I developed an almost telepathic ability. I was listening intently to her with my eyes as well as my ears. I was listening to her, albeit, in retrospect, rather imperfectly, but still better than anyone else could or would since.

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