amber rahim

Chronic illness: the parts we don't talk about

“I want to be normal”

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For so long, F has consumed very little food by eating. Apart from the nausea, the extremely sensitive gag reflex and the throat spasm affecting her ability swallow, there has been another factor: her teeny tiny bites.

No matter how small a piece of food you give her, she will always find a way to pick a bit off and eat that. Crumbs. Her bites have been crumb size.

With increasing regularity she has been taking bigger bites, always showing us “look at the size of this!” and then putting it in her mouth.

In the last couple of months she has actually been putting enough food in her mouth in one go to fill her mouth; enough to puff out her cheeks even. It takes effort. Sometimes you can see that she is gagging and with the incredible control that she has, she stops herself from vomiting. She is proud of herself for setting a challenge and then making it. We cheer her on.

I never thought much about it (I only drive myself crazy trying to figure out how I can make her eat).

It’s part of her journey of learning to eat. It’s the hard way because it is conscious. She actually thinks about how to move food around her mouth, how to move it to the back so she can swallow. Next time you take a bite, pay attention. Do you even know how you use your mouth to eat? Well, unless you are a speech therapist, you probably don’t know. None of us do. We learn to eat before the age of two and we are not aware of what’s going on. Food goes in, we chew, we swallow. End of story.

For late eaters like F, who started eating much later than that, it’s a conscious process. They are aware about what’s going on when food goes in the mouth. Quite frankly, it’s quite a gross process.

So as parents, we encourage eating (I wrote about how we do that here and here) and allow her to set her own pace. If she wants to take teeny tiny bites, then ok. It will just take longer.

Then something happened and my heart paused, then beat again. Tears burned at the back of my eyes.

Just recently she told J why she does this. And this is what she said:

“I want to be able to eat like you guys do, you know, normally”.

 

We forget how much children are aware of. They don’t talk about how they feel different but they do feel it. They don’t say that they feel excluded, left out from something that everyone else can do (like eating). But they do feel it.

We should not take silence as “everything is ok”. If we listen carefully we can find out so much of what is going on in their lives.

2 thoughts on ““I want to be normal”

  1. Thank you! Thank you! I needed this. My baby has bartter she is 1 and I am tired..

    • Hi Helen, I just want to say hang in there! it is tiring, there is so much to do. it used to drive me crazy and get me exhausted just thinking about all the things we have to teach them (that kids without illness just learn). it helps to take just one day at a time.
      Remember: you are doing a great job! yes there are some things you are not getting around to, but you are doing the most important ones. I’ve been there. it does get easier. much love, Amber

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