Friday, November 18, 2011

What Makes You Special

A dear friend of mine from high school is just finishing up her maternity leave, having had her fourth daughter. This daughter was much sought after (and I am not suggesting that other children are not) since my friend is recently remarried and her other girls are tween-or-teenagers. She and I have exchanged emails about fun topics like which is the best vacuum cleaner to buy and how to get a three month old to sleep through the night.  I seem to read these emails right before I am going to sleep (note to friend, she needs to go to bed earlier herself) and this has brought back memories and reflection on our first few months of Sadie's life. She was a glorious sleeper then... we were very lucky. She was a horrid sleeper from age six months until... sometime very recently?? But yet, as I reflect on this, we are still so very lucky. I thank my friend for reminding me how special the little moments are with our children, even if they come in the middle of the night.

As we struggled with little things like when she would sleep uninterrupted (fingers crossed, she does that now), when she would walk without holding on to my finger (14 months but never even stumbled thereafter), adjusting to new nannies (we even survived a practicing witch), how she would test for kindergarten, etc., all of these challenges look so silly and small in hindsight.  Somehow in my own mind I have reconciled both my Tiger Mom and Helicopter Mom tendencies, and feel like I am a blend of each (a tiger on a helicopter, perhaps). I believe that it is my job to prepare Sadie by giving her a firm foundation and belief in herself and her skills to face the challenges of her little world, but to let her face them with her own developed skills. Thereafter I just watch in the wings and love her as hard as I can. Learning to swim was important to me, but being a star on the soccer team doesn't mean much. I tell her a million times how much we love her but I try not to tell her that she is perfect, or that we are perfect, because we aren't.

We are now at the point for deciding what to do about Sadie's birthmark.

I will never forget the moment that a nurse named Faith handed me my beautiful baby daughter after performing a C-section and said how perfect she was, then pointing to her cheek and saying "and that's probably a hemangioma strawberry birthmark, right there."  It was a little halo, almost invisible with the tears of joy streaming from my eyes. Within four weeks, it had grown to the size of a dime and was probably a quarter size and bright red by the time she started seeing a dermatologist at 10 weeks. We saw several doctors in person when she was a baby and consulted doctors over the Internet, participated in reputable website chat rooms of parents with kids who had far worse hemangiomas than we had.  We had laser treatments which did very little.  The first year of dealing with this was stressful for me at best.  People asked about it incessantly... even now I can recall so many of their comments. Parents and kids alike would ask what it was.  Sadie's hemangioma has a deep and a surface component, so at its largest it looked like she might be holding a golf-ball in her cheek. And as luck would have it, that was how it looked when she smiled for the camera.  And we all like to smile.

I firmly believe that God gave us a reminder to chill out about it when Sadie was just over a year and she met the girl who became her best friend, Bella.  They met in McDonald's of all places, with their nannies (neither of which are their nannies now, but their nannies now are close close friends as well). They were born two days apart in the same hospital, so both girls like to say how they actually met in the hospital nursery. And they both have hemangiomas on their same left cheeks. They aren't identical in size or type, but they certainly make them a unique duo.

And through the gift of friendship with this girl and her family, along with the passage of time and my growing confidence as a mother, and the growth of Sadie's vibrant personality, the birthmark has shrank both literally and figuratively. This family has become so much more than the family of another child with a birthmark, but it was how we met because the girls as babies really were identical.

We saw our dermatologist twice a year and saw a plastic surgeon every other year or so over the years. And everyone agreed to just watch to see how it would fade. Hemangiomas are supposed to go away on their own, about 10% a year, so 10% of kids lose them by 1 year of age, 20% by 2 years of age, 30% by 3 years of age and so on. Some doctors say to have them surgically removed on infants especially when they are large or on the face, others say to wait it out and see what happens after a few years. There are pros and cons to operating early or later, or not at all, all too complex for this blog.  Suffice it to say that our dermatologist and surgeon have said that Sadie's will never fully disappear and both recommend surgery. And our pediatrician (as well as our ENT, who we didn't ask for his thoughts but he volunteered them anyway last summer) have said "kids will be cruel" and we should get it removed before she starts kindergarten.

So yesterday we saw the plastic surgeon for a check up and he recommended removal in the early spring. Simple outpatient procedure he calls it, under anesthesia for about an hour, stitches and a scar. He will debulk the bump underneath and take off the birthmark on the top.  All of this was said, for the first time, in front of Sadie.

Last night at bedtime, Sadie asked for me to promise that she didn't have to have the surgery. Surgery is scary, it will hurt, I don't want to have to go to sleep. All of these I can deal with. We drive over a scary bridge down a the river, but it is worth it when we eat at our favorite hamburger place. I can promise that it won't hurt, I can promise that I will be there with her when she goes to sleep and when she wakes up. All of these things are matter-of-facts, and I can deal with them.

But you said that I was beautiful and special with my birthmark. I don't want it to go away. I want it to stay forever, or at least let it go away slowly on its own. You told me I was special!

Oh, you so are!

This is not an easy choice for Mom and Dad, but I don't tell her that.  I just tell her that she is beautiful and special and that Mommy and Daddy will think about it for awhile and we will do the right thing, whatever it is. Because that is our job, as her parents, and it isn't her job as the child.

How I wish the world was accepting of birthmarks on faces but frankly, they aren't. We flew in first class down to Disneyworld last spring on a 6 am flight and the first words out of our flight attendant to us was "What happened to her face?" So much for a great kickoff to our first flight and the world of magic and wonder. It just doesn't work that way. Sadie is a social confident outgoing girl. If anyone could handle a birthmark on her life, she could. But do I want her to be subject to the questions and comments when we can easily make it easier for her?  Is it truly easy surgery?  Our surgeon is confident. But could I live with myself if I chose this cosmetic option and something went wrong?

Interestingly, both Mark and I have a niece (on my side) and a nephew (on Mark's side) who have had a birthmark removed from their faces. One was a hemangioma that wouldn't stop ulcerating so they had it removed when she was under 2 years. One was a true mole that was large and they had it removed when he was 5 or 6.  I don't think either of their parents regret the surgeries they had for their children. But it doesn't make the late night questions and answers easier.  I can't protect her from everything in this world, nor should I. But my job is to build her foundation and belief in herself. I feel like I have contradicted myself in what I said to her, and I hate that.

So I ask for your prayers. There is no right or wrong answer.