When my younger daughter was a newborn, she was called Terry.
As in Pterodactyl.
The screeching she made for two straight hours at dusk each night brought to mind the hunting cry that one imagines a prehistoric predator might make.
Terry, the terrifying pterodactyl baby.
In the rational part of my brain, I knew that it was likely that something I was eating was giving my baby colic through my breast milk. I knew that I should remove likely candidates – beans, dairy, certain vegetables – from my diet.
But I just couldn’t. That rational part of my brain was mostly buried in a fog in those days. I had a 21 month-old toddler and a newborn, and I was hanging on by my fingernails. I was sleeping very little, struggling to learn how to deal with double the amount of children I’d had a few weeks earlier…and I was breastfeeding them both.
I WAS HUNGRY. Not normal hungry. But ravenously, viciously HUNGRY.
When I thought about taking any one of my precious sources of protein out of my diet, I just couldn’t do it. I knew I would rather face the wrath of Terry each night.
And I did. Luckily, after a few months the baby pterodactyl began to fade and our sweet, snuggly Orla emerged. As her ninth birthday approaches, those marathon screaming sessions are have become an endearing story we tell to make Orla laugh about when she was small.
But that desperate sensation of teetering on the edge, the feeling that my fragile mind could handle Not. One. More. Thing has stuck with me.
We who come from privilege are tempted to marvel at the bad decisions poor people make about their health. In the U.S., we’ll shake our heads at the obese woman buying a cart full of Twinkies at Wal-Mart. In Nicaragua, it’s more often Coca-Cola – if they’re so poor, how come that mom is sending her kid to the corner store to buy 2 liters of Coke?
One in four Nicaraguan women will die of complications from diabetes, and at our Clinic we see patients go from diagnosis to insulin dependence at breakneck pace while refusing to change their diet. It is a phenomenon that befuddles our foreign volunteers.
When I try to understand our patients’ decisions, however, I think back to the days when Terry reigned in my household. I was unable change my diet even though I knew there was a chance it would save my daughter – and by extension me – a good deal of suffering.
These other women who are making unhealthy choices are every bit stressed out as I was, and more so. Many moms in we work with can’t feed their families three meals a day…imagine that stress. Terry pales in comparison.
So I can empathize with the diabetic patients at the clinic who continue to drink Coke.
I know a little bit of what it’s like to have all your time, your patience, all your mental space taken up. I know a little about holding your breath and hanging on by a thread.
When it takes everything you’ve got to get from sunrise to sunset and then you realize you still have to endure the night, what can get you through?
Some of us drink coffee. Some of us watch TV. Some of us drink alcohol. Some of us eat chocolate. Some of us eat junk food. Some of us drink Coke.
When the day is hot and dusty, you’ve been washing clothes for hours, somebody is crying for you, and your patience is worn thin enough to see through…if a cold swig of sweet Coke bubbling up in your nose gives you a few moments of reprieve, who can blame you for taking it?
Not me. I let my baby pterodactyl scream herself hoarse while I scarfed down fried cheese. Who am I to judge?