11.05.2010

A WITNESS

Our last day at the hospital before Brady was discharged a new baby moved into our shared room. I took one look at him and said "That baby is Ethiopian."  I try not to stalk supposed-Ethiopians like a love sick groupie, but sometimes I can't help myself. I am hungry for connection to my 2nd son's country of origin. Thank goodness all the Ethiopians I've encountered are incredibly kind.

The baby looked so much like Tsega when we brought him home, I asked the nurse, knowing she shouldn't tell me, what the baby's name was so I could confirm my suspicions. I just knew his name would be Dawit or Birkut and I was going to high-five myself.

His name was not Ethiopian. I was confused.

Then his mother came in, and she was so obviously not Ethiopian and I was even more confused. I looked back and forth between her and the baby and I couldn't figure it out. But I had to ask. Her response was that "He's Ertitrean. My husband is from there. I am Jamaican, but he looks just like his dad. And how on earth did you know he was from that part of Africa?" *For those of you who don't know, Eritrea and Ethiopia share a border and apparently very similar facial features.

We had a lovely chat comparing our boys' looks, where we live, and then we touched on why her boy was in the hospital.

Her Baby N was underweight. And he kinda looked it, but was active, happy and engaging, strong tone. Just little. His mother was concerned because she was prompted to admit him  to the hospital for "observation." They weren't treating him, they just wanted to watch him. And more specifically, her with him. And her insurance wasn't going to cover Hotel Hospital without any action taken. We talked at length about his chart and her history with the pediatrician.

The nutritionist came in to speak with baby N's mom and I retired to my side of the curtain.
I am not proud that I was eavesdropping, but what I heard made me queasy.

How often do you feed your baby?
Every few hours
How much does he get?
Well, I breastfeed so it's hard to tell, but he seems to get enough because he doesn't cry like he's hungry afterwards and he has lots of wet diapers.
Do you think you are feeding him enough?
I think so.
He's really underweight. We are concerned about his growth.
Well, his sister went through a phase her first year where she was super skinny and small and then when she was over a year she started to pack on on the pounds and now she's really big for her age, tall and good weight.

I stopped listening. But came back to her later to ask how she was doing. They had been grilling her and it just didn't feel like supportive Let's Help Your Sick Child grilling. It had a slight accusatory tone. It seemed that they were implying she was neglecting him. And this pissed me off.

She told me with frustration that based on his "failure to thrive," (we don't like that label in this house either) they wanted to  have him tested for some things, including HIV.

I am no doctor and I am no nutritionist, but I didn't make the jump with them. They looked at this black mom, with an admittedly small support network, a tiny black child who is not growing the way they'd like to see him grow, and they jump to HIV/AIDS and or neglect.

She was intelligent, well-spoken, and our conversations were devoid of red-flags indicating to me a kind of mom who isn't paying attention to her kid. I felt like she and I could be friends. And something about they way she was spoken to rubbed me the wrong way.

Let me be clear. The nutritionist was doing her job.
I am not saying she wasn't asking all the right questions.
I am not saying she doesn't see similar cases all the time and is doing what was medically indicated.
I am not saying she was doing anything wrong.
I am not saying she's racist.
I am not even saying she wasn't polite.

I am saying there was something utterly intangible and impossible to describe about the way she asked the questions that made me pause.  I'd had similar conversations with the staff nutritionist and they didn't go like that.

I was overhearing for the first time in my life what institutionalized racism might sound like. It sounded a bit like condescension and assumption. And I can't deny how it made me feel.
 
When I hugged N's mom after the nutritionist left, we both got teary-eyed. She'd been put through a gauntlet. I told her she and N would be in our prayers. She said thank you. I stifled the urge to follow the nutritionist and tell her where I thought she could stuff her HIV test.

I was a witness.

7 comments:

this is us said...

:( I want to hug that mama!

I know that intangible feeling.

It's the one I get when I see the difference in the way my son is treated before people realize that I'm his mom. Before he turns from a "little black boy" to "such a cute little black boy with a white mom."

Sigh.

Leah said...

Oh, that is upsetting, and how wonderful of you to be there for her.

Now that I'm a Mom, I can say without a doubt that one of the hardest things is being accused of not doing everything you can do have a healthy child. Motherhood is TOUGH! But being accused of being anything less than a wonderful mother is brutal.

Annie said...

I've made the same mistake about thinking someone was Ethiopian while they were really Eritrean. Same beautiful features. Poor mama. Hope her baby gets the care he needs.

Kate and Jeff said...

Prayers for that mom and her son.

I can comment specifically on two points in that post...one, failure to thrive. We had one and now he tips the scale at 25 pounds and 32 inches!! I hate that label but it did bring us some very needed services for our "failure" to thrive.

We had a horrible experience during a lab draw for one of A's HIV/Hep tests. The nurse was so inappropriate and out of line. I complained extensively to our pediatrician...who knows if anything was ever done. Its a horrible feeling for someone to assume status based on color. I'm so sorry for that family.

Shannon- said...

I knew where this was heading and I had to cringe before I read it. It is VERY VERY VERY hard being that parent who just wants the best for their child and those who can provide it hold onto it slapping you with arrogance and assumption. You are right to say something. Prayers to that family.

kn said...

This made me cry.

I think it should be shared. Would you mind if I pass it on to some others who have been discussing this.

I'm happy that mother had you, even for a very short while.

She and her son are in my prayers.

habeshachild said...

oh boy. this post just takes the wind right out of me. and i'm left with deep sadness for that poor mama and rage for the reasons why she was put through the gauntlet. thank God you were there.