When my triplet daughters were born ten weeks prematurely, I was afraid to touch them. It sounds awful, I know, but their miniature twig-like limbs seemed so delicate that I was terrified to manipulate them in any way. Instead of changing their diapers or giving them a sponge bath myself, I instead deferred to the nursing staff in the neonatal ICU who seemed so much more competent than I was. I was more than happy to let people who were confident in caring for such tiny human beings continue to be the ones to do so. I was no stranger to babies; I had years of babysitting experience caring for infants, even twins. However, much to my chagrin, my babies scared me.
In time, we became comfortable with our own children. Once we brought the babies home from the hospital, they became “ours”. Despite the rocky start, we adapted to parenthood. With each passing year, we became more confident as parents.
Then, at age fifteen, one of our daughters developed anorexia and it was as if I was back in that neonatal ICU as a new parent of a delicate baby who I was too scared to touch. When my daughter needed hospitalization, I once again felt as if she belonged to the hospital. All of that confidence that I gained over the first fifteen years of parenting flew out the window. To make matters worse, I did not trust the people who were treating my daughter at the hospital. Even if I didn’t know what would help her, I knew what was hurting her. I was desperate to find better treatment for my daughter; if not here in Israel, then we would go elsewhere.
Thankfully, we found an eating disorder treatment center in Tel Aviv that we literally trusted with our daughter’s life. While they welcomed parental involvement, I once again felt like my daughter was back in the neonatal ICU in the sense that I was more than happy to place her under the competent care of a qualified treatment team. I wanted to hand her over to experienced professionals and let them deal with her. She was so incredibly fragile, perhaps even more so than when she was a two pound infant. Her condition then scared me even more than it did when she was about two weeks old and I watched her vital signs plunge when she stopped breathing one day in the neonatal ICU. It was that same icy fear in a different, equally terrifying situation.
After shouldering the burden of our daughter’s illness alone for such a long time, it was a huge relief to have found caring, competent professionals who took some of the weight off of our shoulders. We found ourselves relying on them at every turn for advice on how to handle different situations; it was a natural thing to do since they were the ones with experience.
After months of being completely dependent on my daughter’s treatment team, one day they sat us down and told us out of the blue that it was time for us to take back the parental reins. They were resolutely putting the responsibility for our daughter squarely back on our shoulders. They would continue to treat our daughter, but my husband and I had to resume parenting her.
Despite our extensive anorexia education and parent training, we felt totally unprepared to take back the role of parenting our own daughter. However, the people treating her knew both that it was time and that it was absolutely necessary for them to force our hand. The underlying message, which we were able to see once the panic had cleared, was that a team of highly qualified professionals trusted us as parents. It was time for us to trust ourselves again. Our fear was rendering us weak and ineffectual. Our daughter needed strong parents.
In effect, our being “cut loose” served the purpose of empowering us as parents; however, it didn’t feel that way at the time. For me, it one of those “you’ll thank me later” moments where you can’t imagine that you will ever thank someone for doing something so painful, but later on you realize that it really was for your own good.
Despite the vote of confidence from the people who were treating my daughter, I was still petrified of doing anything that might harm her, the same way that I was scared to touch her when she was a baby in the ICU. However, it was time to take a leap of faith and reclaim my daughter. It was the hugest leap of faith that I have ever taken in my life, and I have never looked back.
I can’t say with any degree of certainly that we make the right decisions for our daughter, but I am absolutely positive that the decisions are ours alone to make as her parents. I also can’t say that the fear has dissipated entirely; but then again, I wouldn’t really expect it to. The responsibility of parenting a child with anorexia is enormous and frightening, and I am entitled to my fear. That being said, I try not to let it crush me with its weight.