When I was younger I read A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer. I was enthralled. I was fascinated by child abuse and couldn’t wrap my mind around how things like that could happen. Fast forward to now when I see child abuse regularly in the Children’s Hospital. November was one of the hardest months I’ve had yet, because of the tragic social situations children wind up in.
Neglect. Neglect is one of the worst forms of child abuse in my opinion. Not that you can rank them very well… But to me, not caring and being indifferent is in many ways worse than physically harming someone. At least with physical harm there’s some passion behind it. I’m not sure if that makes sense or if I’m communicating that well, but I just don’t understand it. I can understand other forms of abuse. Until you have a child, you can’t fully appreciate how difficult it is to be a parent. It’s difficult to lose your independence and have to change your day-to-day one hundred percent. It’s difficult to deal with the stress that having a child places on your relationship with your family and with your spouse and everyone around you. It’s difficult when your friends don’t understand why you can’t go out or be spontaneous anymore. It’s difficult when no one understands (or so it seems). I myself have had to find support through different Facebook groups of other moms going through exactly what I’m going through. I have learned that mommy guilt is a real thing, and mommy-shaming is made even worse these days with crafts and different competitive ways to measure how good of a mom you are… Mostly based on the number of crafts you do & the amount of time spent at home with them. And that’s just in my own socioeconomic class. The kids I’m taking care of often come from disadvantaged situations, so there is very little access to resources and education to prevent the tragedies that occur. I can’t imagine worrying about caring for a child while simultaneously worrying about where my next meal is coming from and if I can afford a winter coat and shoes.
But I just wish that people would consider another option. If they don’t want to be parents anymore or if they truly are indifferent, I wish that they would just drop their child off at the nearest Quiktrip or fire station or anywhere that has a safe place logo on it. I wish I could plead with them and reason with them and tell them I understand. I know it’s hard. I know what it is to be up all night and crying and exhausted & still have to go to work the next day and perform at a certain level. It is exhausting and horrible some days. And it isn’t all giggles and sunshine and cute chunky baby rolls. “I get it,” I want to tell them. I want them to know there are people out there that would take care of their baby if they thought they couldn’t do it any longer. I want them to know that there are resources in our community.
I want them to know that there are other options than neglect & abuse. Unfortunately, I don’t ever get the chance to voice that opinion until it’s far too late.
I worked the first weekend in December and after one particularly horrible social situation, I went home and found myself curled up in my bed, crying my eyes out while holding onto Adelaide. I’m not going to sit here and say that I understand on a different level now that I did it before I had kids (even though that’s really true, but I wouldn’t have believed you before I had her). But I will say having a baby the same age as a baby in the hospital that is at the hospital for injuries related to abuse rattles me to my core in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. It is so hard to go home and take care of my own baby when there are babies suffering at the hospital. It’s difficult to separate myself and not worry & stay up at night thinking of those other babies.
When I was a medical student, it was no different. I was equally enthralled by child abuse and fascinated at how things like that could happen. I wanted to know more about the social situations and more of the details. I didn’t understand why we weren’t allowed in the patient rooms where these stories were happening. I remember asking myself “wasn’t I here to learn? Wasn’t I here to gain from this experience? Why am I being barred from going in to those rooms?” Fast-forward to residency. Now I have no choice but to learn from these situations. And every single time, I wish I could go back to Med school. I wish I could go back to where I wasn’t allowed in the room. I wish I could go back to where my fragile emotions were protected by those that came before me. I wish I didn’t have to come home and bear the burden of the stories. I wish I didn’t have to look at my own baby and think “why did you get so lucky and they didn’t, simply because they were born in a different situation?” While everyone else is pointing the finger of blame and voicing anger directed at the parents/abusers, I try to stop myself & think “how has our societal system failed them? Where were their family and friends to rally around them when times got tough? What could we have done as providers to prevent this from happening?”
I don’t have the answers. But I think routinely challenging & asking myself these questions, and allowing myself to be angry about these situations and emotionally moved is the only way to make real change. I sure hope there’s a solution and that it comes swiftly.