Am I mother enough for this day? Have I strength enough, humour enough, patience enough, faith enough in those around me? Today our little guy is going to have his hand operated on by one of the UK’s top plastic surgeons. He is having a ‘web release’ and Flexor Digitorum Superficialis (FDS) Opponensplasty done on his right hand, the hand he cannot use because – as he says – ‘it’s rubbish’. The hand with the thumb that doesn’t work properly because while he was in utero alcohol washed through his developing system and damaged the joint so badly that his thumb does not extend properly. Every time he tries to open something, he has trouble. Every time he tries to do a button, he has trouble. Every time he tries to hold something with that hand, he has trouble.
They can’t do anything to the bones. (We were told by an orthopaedic surgeon that he is in fact lucky to have any joint there at all, which may be true but it’s still less than okay.) Since they can’t fix the irreparable damage to the bones, this plastic surgeon is going to move tendons and work her magic to (hopefully) give him more range of motion, more strength.
Our son is 13 years old now. He woke up this morning hungry. He can’t eat. We have to somehow get him into London, to Great Ormond Street Hospital, without him losing his cool. Anxious (freaked?), out of sorts, uncertain. He asked if he would still have the bandage on when he goes back to school on Monday – time has never been something easy for him to wrap his head around. We have explained repeatedly this means no gymnastics for three months, that he will have to do exercises after this for his fingers, that he will have a big bandage. But right now, this moment, all he knows is he cannot eat. And he keeps staring at his little thumb. The thumb that is 1/3 the size of his left hand thumb.
Am I mum enough for the uncertainties of this day? The child who we need to give advance notice for everything does not yet know (because they don’t yet know) if he will need to stay overnight tonight in a big London hospital or if he will be coming home. He worries about his dog. He worries about things he doesn’t tell us worry him. Our bag is packed, but somehow, I am feeling uncertain.
Facebook just popped up a memory from years ago, another time he was being prepped for a surgery – a tonsillectomy. The nurse that day asked me if we were missionaries and if that is why we adopted. This system can be cruel. Somehow when we are at our most vulnerable they think that is the time to start questioning adoption, demanding to see papers. Raising this issue right in front of our child when he most needs security. This time, I have the papers in my bag.
Am I mum enough? I don’t know if this is ‘right’ to have this elective operation. I know there are children out there having far more serious operations to save their lives. He has managed for 13 years with this hand, are we being foolish in trying to address this issue? What if it doesn’t work? What if we have put him through this for no good reason.
Somewhere inside me is a scream. Why does this poor child have to go through so much pain and why does he have to face hurdle after hurdle where others walk on a more gentle path? We can’t do operations to fix the parts of his brain that were affected. Just a few days ago he asked me again about FASD. He said he wished he didn’t have it. He said he was sad. I said I wished he didn’t have it too, and I was sad too.
We are lucky to live in a place that has free healthcare. We are lucky to live near one of the world’s leading children’s hospitals. I think everyone this year will get a copy of Peter Pan for Christmas – the royalties from that book have funded Great Ormond Street with its magical waiting rooms and state of the art technology.
But still, here we are. Getting ready to make a journey that is outside all of our comfort zones. Trying to fix – or help at least – in one small way at least one of the physical effects of prenatal alcohol exposure.
I wish just one of the self-righteous women who proclaim it’s their right to drink alcohol while pregnant could make this journey with us today. I’m not talking about the women who don’t know they are pregnant, the ones who are confused about guidance, or the ones who struggle with addiction, abuse. I have sympathy for them. I am aiming this at those who accuse us of policing pregnancies when we try to raise awareness of the risks of alcohol in pregnancy. You can’t possibly know what you are risking.
Come with us today. And then I dare you to take another sip of that self-indulgent glass of wine.
See also Prenatal Alcohol Exposure Damages Bones Too