Monday, June 25, 2018

Preschoolers, Consent, Needles & a Trigger

[Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault]

The title may seem unrelated and odd. And until tonight, I would have agreed with you. But being a survivor of rape and being a parent is not mutually exclusive.

Now, I've had my second baby. We survived and it was scary. I can write about that later. And I SHOULD be sleeping now because both kids are sleeping, but I can't get this out of my head and I don't want to talk about it aloud.

I find writing is helpful. This blog is one of the few outlets I have for getting shit off of my chest.

So... here goes.

Ever since Baby D (who really isn't the slightest bit of a baby any more and should probably be renamed on this blog for increased accuracy) was old enough to talk about feelings, we have hammered home the idea of consent. Of permission. Of allowing or not allowing any other person to make her feel uncomfortable or touch her in any way if she doesn't want it.

It broke my heart nearly a year ago when we found a new hairstyle with multiple elastics to use on her hair that she loved... that she suddenly stopped wanting me to do. I could not understand why, as she really fancied the look and people commented on it often. After MUCH coaxing, she finally told me that people (mostly her young friends at junior kindergarten) kept touching her hair and the elastics, even when she told them no/not to/that they didn't have her consent, that she didn't like the way that felt - that they ignored her and her wishes - so she didn't want her favourite hairstyle any more.

At four years old, my baby girl was already modifying and altering her wants and needs because other people weren't hearing her and were touching her and making her feel uncomfortable. AT FOUR YEARS OLD.

Anyway, we talked about how her friends may not understand what "consent" means, and that she can explain that she doesn't say it is OK/doesn't give permission for them to touch her, and that if she doesn't like it or want it that they should listen to her words and STOP. That she could always get a teacher or trusted grown up for help, too. I spoke with her teachers, but they downplayed it and said she was inseparable from her friends and she didn't seem to mind (WTF?). Anyway, she has only worn her hair like that once since - and that really sucks.

But I digress. The point is that our four year old daughter understands the importance of body autonomy and that she decides who touches her, or when and if she wants to dole out hugs or kisses to people. I suggested high fives as an alternative, too, because the kiddo never has to give affection to anyone if she doesn't want to. It's her body and she owns it. I told her the only time that Mommy and Daddy get to "overrule" or do something she doesn't want, is if it is an absolute matter of dire health or safety, which she seemed to get. She has better comprehension than Harvey Weinstein, or many of the men I have met in my lifetime.

Fast forward to tonight. She was set to get scheduled vaccinations. We talked about it in advance, and she knew the needle would pinch and hurt for a little bit. She wasn't looking forward to it, obviously, but she knew it needed to happen.

As we sat, before the nurse administered the drugs, I could see the fear in her face growing as the nurse legally disclosed all of the horrible reactions and outcomes that could happen in those rare adverse cases. Neither me or The Hubs had considered for a moment that this legal disclosure preamble would actually be TERRIFYING and completely UNDERSTOOD by Baby D. She was much younger for her previous vaccination appointments. She went from apprehensive, to scared, to freaked-right-the-fuck-out. It was awful. Then the panic tears started, and our girl is one of the bravest little kids I have ever met. She was really concerned.

She sat on The Hubs' lap and the nurse instructed him to pretzel around her arm to hold it in place. The nurse was nice enough, but explained that Baby D had to stay still or else she may accidentally scratch her, etc., which she didn't want to do.

THEN, IT HIT ME.

Baby D had her arms restrained. She was tense. She was crying, and it was growing louder and more strained with fear. She was held down, helpless, so scared. And then the nurse gave the first needle and she cried out and started yelling "NO! STOP!"
Her face went red and her voice got louder.
"STOP!"
"I SAID STOP!"

I was sitting beside her, nursing the baby. I felt helpless all of a sudden.
I was slammed into a flashback. I was back in that room of the cottage where I was being raped. I was yelling NO, being held down. Ignored, terrified, feeling alone and hysterical and helpless. It took every last ounce of my pretending to be a responsible grown up to not vomit all over the floor.

I could sense Baby D's terror, mind you I realize the situations were very different, yet the emotions were identical.

I wanted to cry and grab her and run out.

I slammed my foot into the ground to literally try to ground myself and force my brain back into the present moment.

I could see the nurse just wanted to jab the last injection quickly to get it over with but I HAD to hear Baby D, I HAD TO STOP her panic and let her know it was OK. So I told the nurse we needed to stop for a minute, I may have raised my voice a bit, it may have been shaking, I'm not sure.

I looked at Baby D, and I asked her to look into my eyes, and I told her I needed her to hear my words. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I told her that I know we told her that consent was SO IMPORTANT. And that we also heard her saying NO and to stop. But that even though we understood she didn't want the needles, and that it was not fun, that Mommy and Daddy needed her to get this special medicine because it was SO important to keep her healthy. That we understood that she was scared, but that the diseases and sicknesses that she could get if she didn't get the vaccines could make her very very sick or possibly worse. I promised it was the last needle, that it would be over quickly, and that it was important to keep her healthy. And... that there were gummy worms in the car for afterward.

She cried a little more, but agreed, and then cried more as the nurse went to jab her. She then cried out that it REALLY hurt, but then it was over. We praised her for being brave and getting the medicine even though it hurt and was scary.

She was brave. She literally stared that needle down, but took it. The ordeal fucking sucked. And now I've been slipping back into flashbacks tonight and having bouts of panic as both scenarios replay in my head.

As parents we can't be hypocrites. I am sure that I have been more often than I would like to admit. But even a small child knows what doesn't feel right and is scary. When you tell them they have control over their body, and then a stranger is essentially hurting them as they shout a sincere, scared STOP, it isn't right. I feel like puking still.

They deserve to be heard and respected. NO ONE wants to feel terrified, helpless and ignored. I feel like maybe I didn't handle it right, or that I could have done something different or better, especially from the get go, to have calmed her or set the tone better. I'm not sure what, though.

I know I'm an empath. I feel things deeply, and often feel what others are feeling. Not in a psychic kind of way, just in an I-easily-put-myself-in-their-shoes kind of way. I felt her pain. She was fine within two minutes. At least on the outside. I hope that she doesn't remember that feeling inside, even if the actual vaccination appointment memory is long gone. In that moment I feel like I failed her, but I tried to right it as soon as I recognized it.

I hoped I would feel better typing it out. I don't. It likely wouldn't have impacted me so deeply if it wasn't a trigger for the other stuff. Now I'm trying to process this after having a horrific dream this morning of a family member fatally injuring the baby. It hasn't been a good day.

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