When you become a parent you become a changed person.
Before kids, no matter how fidgety you used to be, trying to meditate during yoga class, trying not to peek at anyone else but finding your eyes somehow open, wandering around the room, now you have the ability to sit completely still, focused. You regularly lose whole hours of your day and every thought from your head but breath in, breath out, watching this tiny perfect human sleep.
Your phone and your walls fill up with pictures of your kids, mostly smiling, happy, beautiful pictures; a few funny, crying, messy ones, just to keep it real.
You can't count on getting a shower every day, especially not a really hot, long one, or finishing a novel, especially not a really deep, long one, but you do have corresponding chapters of three different parenting books memorized, and you've mapped out your plan to meld these different approaches into your own distinctive parenting style. You get to choose, and it is scary, wonderful, and exciting. But you're clever and confident and used to figuring things out. You'll figure this parenting thing out too.
You miss your friends, and you miss going out, but when you do go out you miss your baby more, and you realize that most of the time you'd rather be with him than without, and you're really pretty happy staying home, watching that beautiful person just breathe.
Colds come around, and you rock that hot, snuffly baby all night long. You wonder what chest retractions actually look like and you count wet diapers. How much throw up is too much and how far is projectile? You call the pediatrician again and watch the thermometer. You're worried, of course, but the baby recovers, and you do too. There are fevers, and reflux, more bouts with the usual childhood illnesses, but that little body you're responsible for is resilient and strong, and you grow more confident, less quick to head to the ER, less familiar with the after-hours nurse's reassuring voice. You find yourself, one day, amazed, proud of how much you've changed. You're laughing about the things you used to panic about when you were new at this, and your advice to others is to relax. Kids get sick, but they get better, too, and even with stuffy noses they keep on breathing.
When your kids end up sick, really sick, maybe-not- getting-better- anytime-soon sick, you change again.
You spend hours rehashing every doctor appointment for clues. Did the doctor just say what he thought you wanted him to say, or does he really think that? Did he listen a little longer than usual to your child's breathing? Is there something wrong there too? You start watching those breaths with a little more concern.
Your phone fills up with pictures of rashes, random affected body parts, poop. Yeah, poop. Lots of it, too. You pray you never, ever lose your phone, because God help the good Samaritan who searches that thing, looking for the missing owner.
You're still not showering, but you do start to read again. A lot. Not novels, though. Mostly medical journals, some patient blogs, lots of Facebook support group posts, and books too, about diseases you never wanted to know about. You wish you would have paid attention to your science classes when you had the chance. You learn the basics now, anyway. Your vocabulary expands, in ways that will never make for good conversation.
You become fast friends with people you might not have anything else in common with, but, oh, this one thing is plenty enough to seal strangers together forever. You wonder if you'll ever meet in person, but you also know it doesn't really matter. You know who is likely up late to talk you down when the baby is puking blood at 2am and they've all seen more pictures of your kid's poop than of your face. And that's ok. It's what you need to make it through this time, even more than another real-life person to feel guilty about not spending time with, because, guess what? You don't socialize any more. At all.
And then your kid doesn't get better even though it's long past "soon" and the diagnoses you've heard don't really make sense, and you find yourself changing again, farther still from who you thought you were meant to be.
You start to find that some terrible things are reasons to cheer. You spend hours driving across the state to meet with yet another specialist and he sits with you and your sick baby and listens, and nods, and says "I don't know what this is, but I'll try to figure it out", and you drive all the way home on cloud nine, not minding the snow and the dark, because you've finally found the doctor whose ego won't get in the way of helping your kid. You already know that if he had given you an answer it would have been hasty, and wrong, and what you need now is someone willing to ask questions. Someone willing to figure out which questions to even ask. This is a victory that you will hold onto for weeks. But you're reminded that it wasn't that long ago that a doctor saying "I don't know" would have been a very scary thing, not a hopeful one at all.
You take showers because you're afraid that if people see you're incapable of caring for yourself they'll think you can't care for your kids either. You become accustomed to treading lightly, to being dismissed, to self deprecating humor, to pushing for answers then stepping back, and always, always trying not to seem too smart or too sure, because you don't want to appear overbearing or too concerned about your child's care.
And when a doctor actually agrees to read a paper you've brought in, or to try a protocol you've heard about, there's another victory to celebrate. You wonder, though, in what other circumstance would you be so grateful that someone you're paying would agree to consider information you think is important to the job? Isn't that a thing you ought to be able to take for granted? But there you are. Not for the first time you realize you're cheering the very thing that proves you're no longer an equal in your child's care. You can't change it though. You hold the baby, not the power.
Making appointments, relaying information, prodding doctors along, researching, making sense of the information you gather, and keeping your child as healthy as possible take all of your attention. It doesn't occur to you to go out, and when friends visit you're no fun anyway. Every conversation somehow turns back to your kid, and it turns out intestines and the intricacies of non-typical allergic reactions aren't really that interesting to most people. You barely remember a time when you thought about anything else.
When you get the diagnosis, the name of the thing, you change again.
You are immediately a million pounds lighter, with the weight of the unknown off your shoulders. You cry, but this time with happiness. But why are you happy? You don't know, really. It's a terrible diagnosis, a hard disease. Nobody would want that for their kid. But you're being taken seriously now, and you have a box to put your worries in. You know there's power in a name, and there's twice as much fear when there is nothing to call “it.” Either way your kid is sick, but now you have a word to take the place of all that worry.
And you make the trip back home, across the mountains in the dark, and a whole new year's worth of snow, but the same cloud, number nine, carrying you on to your bed. You tuck your baby in first and stand still, just watching him breathe. And then you sleep. You sleep deep and long - you need it.
When you wake up you realize getting here - getting a name for what's wrong - only means that now you know where to line up. You've made it to the start of the race, but you still don't know how to run this marathon. You still don't have good choices or the power to make things better.
But some things haven't changed.
You're still watching him sleep.
And watching him breathe.
You know how to do that.
There's your power.
You'll figure out the rest, one breath at a time.
Yalisha Case has been accused of over thinking things, but isn't sure that's the whole story. She'll let you know if she figures it out.