I saw her. I could see her heart thumping without seeing her heart at all. Living off adrenaline. Survival mode. Her baby, not quite 6 months old, sitting quietly on her lap with oxygen tubes attached to his face.
A hospital sleep specialist walks by to make himself a coffee. Courageously he asks, “how are you, and how is he going?”.
You could pressume that he was assigned to the baby as his specialist by the way the woman responded, you’d be wrong.
“Exhausted. I’m utterly exhausted.”, the mother replied. “This is so tiring.”
The staff members eyes widen as if to suggest he received more than he’d bargain for, and regretted asking anything in the first place. He walks away – politely but awkwardly smiling.
The room is quiet. After reading a brochure, I look up. She sits there jiggling her leg to bounce her baby. Jittering, fidgeting. This mother has not slept properly for some time.
Her inner engine is at full revs trying to get through the day. A symptom of stress all too familiar.
I blurt out, “Is he in here for sleep testing?”. Fully aware it’s likely to be for something else.
“Oh, he’s on a CPAP. We’ve just had an overnight sleep study a week ago. It was the best sleep I’ve had in ages. Because I didn’t have to worry and fuss, I knew someone was going to be there to watch him too. It wouldn’t just be me. ”
The flood gates open.
I can’t help but empathise and ask, has she got any help at home. “No. Not if you count a husband who argues with me in the middle of the night about the baby.”
She was alone. She is alone. And vulnerable. Maybe craving for someone to hear her out. And to validate that her emotions are accepted by someone. Her own opinion is not enough.
I sigh for her and share in her disappointment in the lack of support. Then spend the next 5 minutes listening to her story. The story of her baby having a “floppy airway” otherwise known as laryngomalacia. It creates an obstruction which stops him from breathing. She can’t sleep knowing this. Who could? The respiratory team and ENT battle over how to manage it, constantly.
They decided to perform a bronchoscopy recently to get a visual of it. Her son needed to be resuscitated twice in recovery. Putting on hold any surgical solution for the condition. I am overwhelmed with emotion for her.
She counted, almost 50 times she woke up to adjust his machine the previous night. She said her son had always sounded congested from birth but for some time nobody wanted to listen to her concerns. His condition is serious.
We were interrupted by each of our specialist nurses and doctors and went our separate ways.
If she were ever to read this, I would want her to know that I was privileged to hear her story. A stranger she may be, but a fellow comrade she is.
People often steer away from those who are full to the brim with the challenges in their lives, what if we were all eager to engage with them and connect with them? To hear their story, acknowledge their vulnerability and validate their feelings. How different the world could be.
This mother was at the end of her tether. Maybe she needed just one nice thing to show her that all is not dark and grim. That there is more to this life than scary things out of her control that send you pleading on your knees for mercy. To be heard, to have openness and understanding is worth more than any physical gift you can give someone.
Sending out love to all of you in my tribe who did this very thing for me recently. Your kindness makes the day shine a little brighter.
**Illustration by Jamina Bone of @mommingwithtruth