another apparent failure

I wrote this four years ago, and since I am recording stories with different endings I thought this would be another scenario that deserves to be dusted off and posted here.


Camille called me tonight, somewhat frantic, with an obvious need to tell me some news about her daughter.

Camille is an overprotective mom and grandmother who has been disapproving of her daughter's choices. However, as she is ultimately interested in her daughter's well being (and the associated well-being of her grandchild) she mostly keeps her mouth shut for fear of alienating her daughter.

About two months ago Camille had to be hospitalized for gall bladder surgery, and that left all the caregiving responsibilities of the new grandchild to Karen, her daughter, as it should be. Because it had been my job to go to their home and help educate the family on caregiving for this disabled child, I was trying to split my time between Camille and Karen. As I said though, since the surgery I have been spending all of my visiting efforts directed toward Karen.

From my perspective, Karen was giving all her best efforts toward being a mom. Unfortunately she is not married, although she does live with the child's father. Karen is young and a little immature perhaps and clearly in over her head, but I always got the idea that Karen has had this role in her family forever, so it is not an unfamiliar position for her to be in. She is not a black sheep, because her family does their best to support her, but she tends to make bad choices and as a result she never really seems to meet their expectations.

Over the last two months I decided that I was glad that Camille had the gall bladder surgery because it forced Karen into the role of primary caregiver, and that was necessary. Also, I got to spend more time with Karen and impart a little wisdom and a little perspective on dealing with the myriad of issues related to parenting a child who has a disability. I thought Karen appreciated me, and we talked turkey about a couple important issues. I thought we were on target.

Sometimes, I have a tendency to interpret eye contact as connection. I experienced eye contact with Karen several times over the last month, generally as I was relating some supportive statement and positively reinforcing her efforts.

Back to the story here... so Camille called, in obvious frantic mode, announcing loudly that she was a grandmother, yet again and that Karen had another baby.

My mind spun around the possibilities, and I was immediately thinking, "How strange.. how could she have had twins, and why did she only keep one, and where has the other one been???" It is the only way I could get my mind to process the information.

But as Camille spoke, it became more clear. Karen had been pregnant, 9 months in fact, and went into labor on Friday and subsequently delivered a very healthy and very large 8 pound baby girl. Of course the entire family was shocked. Is shocked. No one had any idea.

As Camille spoke, I thought of Karen, who is not a heavy woman. In fact, it never struck me that she was even overweight at all. I understand how a woman can theoretically hide such a thing, but I always wondered how everyone around could have been so clueless. I suppose she frequently wore sweatshirts. I never knew.

According to Camille, as Karen was rushed to the hospital and began delivering, she simply kept repeating, "I can't be pregnant, and I can't have this baby, it is already too hard just taking care of one!" Karen was distraught and crying, and her beautiful baby girl came into this world under her repeated protestations and outright denial of the reality that was playing out in front of her eyes.

Camille is still shocked, and she went on to give me the statistical details that accompany every birth. Apparently the baby is healthy, and Karen is doing "well."

The difficulty I am having is in the definition of "well." Despite my contact with Karen, and despite the time that I spend in serious conversation with her, and despite any connection I may have imagined, and despite the eye contact that validated the transmission of communication between us, I obviously totally missed the boat.

I can only imagine Karen's pain that would cause her to remain in denial for so many months. I can only imagine her fear that would make her cry as her new baby was being born. She had all this content under the surface, and it was totally impacting on her ability to care for her son, and I never even realized it.

I understand that her own family did not know, but that is not the point. Her family is not trained, and does not interpret eye contact as connection. Her family is not charged with the responsibility of educating Karen on how to care for a child who has a disability. To do this effectively, I needed to be inside Karen's head and I needed to understand her heart. I accomplished neither. And it doesn't matter that the other care providers didn't know either.

None of that matters because they are not me, and I expect more of myself.

I just expect a little more out of myself. And I have apparently failed.

When I see Karen next, I will pull her aside and apologize to her. She will not understand why, probably. Then I will tell her that her new daughter is beautiful, and I will pray for a little clearer vision from now on.


Maddy said…
Thank you for this posting. It's reassuring to know that as patients, we still remain individuals.
Best wishes
Anonymous said…
Chris, I have been involved in a similar situation of a young girl delivering a baby while she and the rest of her family were in denial about the pregnancy. This is a very complicated set of dynamics. Karen, I'm sure, has probably been suffering from depression for some time, and now that is compounded with post-partum depression. The rest of the family needs to get over their "shock" about the birth and be supportive of Karen. This girl needs support, education, and a therapist trained in helping her to work through the problems that she kept secret for so long.
Chris, you did not fail this girl. She really needs a team of individuals to get her on the right track, so that she can start making better choices and learn to shoulder her responsibility. Thank you for posting your experience.
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