Earning Trial-by-Fire Stripes

Yesterday my three-year-old daughter had a minor-surgery. By the time you read this, I will know how it went. As I watched her lying on the bed playing before the surgery,   blissfully unaware of what was to happen to her in a few hours, I found myself silently talking to her. I willed her to be calm and strong through the procedure, apologized for the pain her father and I were going to make her experience, explained why this would help her and lastly assured her (and myself) that it would be all okay.

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As the mother of two children, I have learned that nothing makes you discover your mettle like parenting. It strips you down to your soul and shows you what you are really made of. You can spend much of your adult life hiding behind all these  tags given yourself- Patient, Creative, Calm, Unflappable… have children and poof, they will twist your inside like Play-Doh, break your mind down when they are dangerously ill and drive you up the wall when you are trying to get  the things done. Yet, nothing can light you up faster, make you laugh at the hilarious things they say and do or give more sustained joy (and guilt).

 

I have always prided myself on being non-squeamish about blood and gore, the unflappable ‘Brave One’ in the family. I’ve sat through family members going through cornea transplants, countless stitches, biopsies, cradled a hit-and-run victim’s head with half his head blown off on my blood-drenched lap as we rushed him to an emergency room. And honestly, I haven’t flinched. Yet, as a brand-new mother when a nurse was cutting the nails of my first-born and she loped off too much skin causing his delicate two-day-old finger  to bleed, before I knew it, silent tears were coursing down my cheeks.

 

So you can imagine, how I felt about surgeons putting a laser into my teeny daughters mouth to cut her frenulum (the thin strip of tissue that connects the underside of tongue to the base of the mouth) to loosen it. The process of removing it, called a frenectomy, is a reasonably common across the world. A tight frenulum is genetic and runs in families and can cause speech defects, snoring, buck teeth, gag reflex and breast feeding difficulties. My daughter had difficulty nursing from the time she was born and while she would make valiant attempts to latch on, she was unable to open her mouth wide enough or move her tongue freely and would frequently give up and shut down in frustration.

 

It took a very dedicated lactation consultant in Goregaon from the La Leche league, (http://www.llli.org/india.html) an international NGO with chapters in many Indian cities, that help new mothers overcome feeding difficulties, to diagnose my daughter, explaining that she had difficulties feeding because her tongue was restricted and her mouth couldn’t open wide. Even though 10% children have such issues, India pediatricians, even the best ones, do not check for this condition and it goes undiagnosed. In the past four decades, bottle feeding and formula have become very common, resulting two generations of mothers not even knowing if their infants have tongue tie. Now with the resurgence of breastfeeding and the widespread knowledge of its benefits, countless mothers are forced to give up nursing due to improper diagnosis  and difficulties, which is tragic. Earlier, when births were largely conducted by midwives and daimaas, they would check a newborn’s mouth and if the frenulum was too tight, they would just slice it with their nail and loosen it. This knowledge has been lost with the onslaught of bottle feeding.

 

I needn’t have worried about the frenectomy. Despite the fact that this was only the second time they have performed it on an infant, Dr. Suchetan Pradhan and Dr. Shalini Pradhan, were highly competent. She even designed an instrument to hold the baby’s tongue up during the procedure. And my daughter loves her new-found tongue mobility.  She has been smiling non-stop and constantly sticking her tiny tongue out. It has been only 24 hours and yet she already seems more relaxed during her feeds.  While it was difficult to watch and hold her down during the surgery, seeing how happy she is now, makes it all worth it.

Yet another trial-by-fire stripe I’ve earned on my parenting uniform.

 

Source – DNA, Sunday, March 4, 2012