I always look forward to Peeper’s pediatrician check-ups, especially when—like at her 9-month appointment—they don’t involve shots. So a few weeks ago when we headed to the doctor, I was excited.
The check-up went great: Peeper even waved to her doctor. As we were about to leave, the pediatrician looked at one of the routine forms we’d filled out. She paused.
“You have antique furniture?”
Antique might be overstating it, but we do have a few old-ish pieces among the IKEA tables, bookshelves and such.
After asking us a few more questions, the doctor recommended we test Peeper’s blood for lead.
Lead? I had never considered it. We live in a fairly new apartment building with new pipes and paint. We didn’t know the provenance of the table in question and so couldn’t confirm or deny its age, though. So we agreed: We’d take her to the clinic that afternoon.
The twists and turns and stresses of the day were almost too many to count, but after being turned away from one clinic (not enough phlebotomists there to draw an infant’s blood), losing and then finding the doctor’s order form and waiting in too many lines, we sat in a small procedure room.
Peeper sat on my lap. The phlebotomist instructed me on how to hold her arms down. My mom and I sang The Itsy Bitsy Spider, the tune that never fails to distract Peeper when she’s struggling against a diaper change or getting strapped into her car seat.
There is no song on Earth that can make sticking a needle into a baby’s arm ok.
The blood draw seemed to take an eternity. It can’t have been long, but even 30 seconds is forever when your baby is screaming, crying and looking to you to make it stop.
That was the worst part for me: I had to let the pain continue even though it was within my power to stop it. I had to withstand her hurt and confused and desperate cries as she asked me, in her baby way, to make it go away. I had to allow my baby—my precious baby whom I would do anything for—to be hurt by a stranger.
The vial of blood they drew wasn’t baby-sized; it was grown-up sized. The amount of blood seemed obscene.
But then it was over. Peeper cried a bit more and then settled down into snuffling. I did, too. I held her and crooned comforting sounds into her ear.
Thank goodness it was over.
Her blood test came back just fine, of course. But the ordeal will stick with me.
I realize that in the grand scheme of life, one baby blood draw is not a tragedy. Yet it felt horrible in the moment, and I can’t deny that feeling of helplessness.
Later that day, after Peeper went to bed, I thought about the mothers and children I know who have had to undergo much more than a blood draw together. A family we know from mom’s group had to be flown to Michigan so their daughter—who is about the same age as Peeper—could receive surgery to fix a life-threatening health problem. And a friend I count as a sister has sat through too many surgeries and medical procedures for her boy, a child so strong and resilient it makes my chest constrict and expand with emotion all at the same time.
Peeper’s 30 seconds with a needle in her arm doesn’t compare to their experiences, and I don’t bring them up because I think a blood draw is somehow equal to their struggles. On the contrary, our one afternoon at the hospital made me stand in awe of the strength of these and so many other mothers.
May we—and you—never have to be strong in that way. But we’ll have to help our children through one trial or another. Bullying, disappointment, unrequited love—we’ll help our babies live through it all.
No mother wants to see her child endure pain. We wish we could bear it on their behalf.
But no matter how terrible the experience, we adapt. Mothers rise to the occasion because it’s best for our babies. We do the unthinkable because we must.