Thursday, April 13, 2006

"She Won't Remember a Thing"

It is a bit odd. One of the things that has been repeated to me over and over again by well-meaning friends is "well, the good thing is that Little Warrior won't remember any of this."

I understand the feeling behind this -- that the treatment is scary and painful (it is) and so it's good that she can't remember it.

But I have some issues with this. First off is my concern that though she won't have conscious memories of this, she will have sense-memories. At 10 months, she doesn't have the ability (we think) to make any sense of this. She can't understand that all the poking and prodding is from love, and to heal her. All she knows is pain and discomfort and fear. I have concerns that she will take all of those feelings with her, with no way to comprehend them. I guess we will simply have to occasionally tell her about what happened, as a way to give her a context.

The other thing ...

This reminds me of when I was about 18 or 19 years old and I had my wisdom teeth removed. I asked the doctor about that anesthesia, and pain. He told me that I wouldn't be put under, but that the anesthesia they gave me would mean that I would have no memory of the pain.


Being on that side of the equation -- the side that had not yet had the pain -- this didn't sound like such a good deal to me. "You may go through absolutely excrutiating pain, we may do simply horrid things to you, torture you mercilessly, but hey, you won't remember it! So what's the problem?"

Ah well, nothing that can be done about it. She had cancer, she needed treatment to save her life, no real decisions there. The challenge in the future will be to give her the information she needs, and be honest about it, while not allowing that to become her identity. I do not want her to be The Child Who Had Cancer When She Was a Baby. Just as I do not want my identity to become Mother Of A Child Who Had Cancer.

It is something that happened to us. It is not us.


Anonymous said...

I think it is great that you are thinking about this now. While she likely won't have conscious memories, I agree that there will be some remnants of feelings left behind that may surface at odd times based on my past experiences. However, the most impactful thing will be the stories you tell about it: how she recovered so quickly, how funny she is, how you enjoyed nursing her so much through the process, etc. Your stories will help to make sense of her reality.

My experience as a baby was that my grandfather (a doc) advised my mom to stop nursing me at about 10 months. My parents were relocating at the time, and drove through part of Mexico. Apparently the water was not good (duh!) and I got a dysenteric disease that was pretty bad, leading to hospitalization for a week, with a tube in my head (only vein big enough to rehydrate/nourish through). The stories I heard were about how helpless my mom felt, how scared she was seeing me "tied down" and so sick, and how she regretted following her father's advice to stop nursing at this time.... While I am sure that she had all those feelings, I think the way you have approached it that you and she are Warriors together on this journey, and while acknowledging the pain, also celebrating the great moments and support- is a wonderful story to tell, and much more positive. You will have a very strong story to pass down, with many positive memories in addition to the painful ones.

On an unconscious level, I do think there is a stronger fear of abandonment than I see my siblings having, even though we were also children of divorce and a difficult stepfamily situation. I do wonder about how this hospitalization experience impacted this. HOWEVER, remember that in those days, families really couldn't stay with the children/visit as they do now. At most she probably saw me about an hour a day (mid 50's).

When my 9 year old son had a bike accident in late 90's, I was allowed to stay with him the whole time through emergency, scans, and overnight. Incredible!

My oldest was in premie Level 3 unit for 2 weeks- I got to spend as much time with him as I could physically and emotionally. What an incredible improvement over the past.

There is a movie "I Remember Mama" based on a book about a boy growing up in San Francisco in a Norwegian or Swedish family where the little girl goes to the hospital and the mother isn't allowed to visit (early 20th century). The mother disguises herself as a cleaning lady and scrubs the hospital floor to get to see her little girl. I always remember thinking how awful they kept families separated like that.

When my sister was a teen, she was in hospital for about a year (scoliosis spinal surgery), and no kids under 16 were allowed to visit. That was very tough. Sometimes they would roll her gurney down to a locked gate and I was allowed to talk to her through the gate for a few minutes. They thought they were keeping the kids healthier this way, but isn't the modern way much better.

It's been tough, but you've been there every step of the way. What a difference this will make for all of you in the future.

Take care of each other-

Christine Robinson said...

Dear LE,

The only thing your baby will "remember" in all this is that every step of the way she was cared for, loved, and mostly with her mommy. Which is all that mattered to her anyway.

It's you who really had the traumatic experience and your healing with take a lot longer. So I's good to be thinking about this and processing it now.

I'm glad for your good news! And she's a beauty!