I'm a "consent is mandatory" girl. I'm the one who stops the questionable joke before the punchline to give a lecture about rape culture. When I had my first child I was working at the rape crisis center, so no one was surprised that age-appropriate autonomy and consent lessons were first on my mom agenda. However, as parents we all know there will be times where consent is impossible. So, there have been times when I had to ignore my kid's wishes for their safety, and it broke my heart. In fact, each and every time it's necessary to do so, it breaks my heart.
I'm the parent who believes in her children's autonomy from the moment they're born. Sure, it's not realistic to think that a newborn can give consent for each diaper changing, but it is absolutely realistic to begin setting expectations that your baby's ownership of their body will be respected. From birth, I acknowledged they have autonomy as all humans do, and damn it I was going to respect that autonomy as much as humanly possible. That's why when I'm not able to do so, it tears me up inside.
I know that in the long run, teaching them the rules of consent are best to prevent them from becoming perpetrators of sexual assault and to know if they've been violated. However, having to hear my sweet toddler scream "I said no!" in an emergency room is devastating. Having to override your children's inability or unwillingness to give consent when their safety is at stake is just one of the many ways in which parenting can be heartbreaking.
When My Daughter Was Born
My first child was born at nearly 42 weeks gestation. Though a long delivery, it was relatively uneventful for the birthing center staff. However, that all changed when she finally came out of my birth canal. They rested her briefly on my chest and then wrenched her away. She had swallowed meconium and couldn't breathe (meconium aspiration syndrome). Her first five days of life were spent in the NICU where, for her safety, they told me I couldn't hold her.
Of course all she wanted was me, and I her. It was necessary for her to live, but writing about it seven years later still causes my dissociation, because the pain in my heart is so great.
When She Couldn't Breathe
My daughter has asthma. As a result, every time she got a respiratory infection before 3 years old she wound up in the hospital. I intentionally compartmentalize those memories because they are still so vivid and horrific when I focus on them.
Because of the sensory issues involved with autism, sometimes autistic kids aren't able to tell us when they're sick the same way non-autistic kids can and do. As a result, the escalation to "emergency room time" can seem immediate. After all, we won't know there is a problem until she is bleeding from her ear.
The first time RSV hospitalized her she went from laughing and playing all day, to panting and blue faced in a matter of an hour. She screamed ferociously, choking on her own phlegm as they held her down to mechanically suction the massive sticky gobs of mucous from her body. I can still see her tiny body writhe and the choked screams, "No! Stop!" She was 18 months old.
She was in the hospital for five days and on oxygen for another few after. Her pulse ox was under 80 percent saturation. I know that she needed these interventions to live, but the fact that she still has noticeable medical trauma while her mother stood by and did nothing breaks my heart.
When They Have Conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis is a part of being a kid. That gunky gunk is best to be cleaned away from the eyes often to prevent spreading, according to our doctor. This is one of the only times my sweet rainbow baby cries and complains. They* absolutely hate getting their face cleaned.
*We use gender neutral pronouns for our baby, who is too young to tell us. This way they know it is fully acceptable to be whomever they are.
When We Are In Parking Lots
Sometimes when my oldest child is experiencing sensory overwhelm, she needs to wander. This usually looks like her running away from safety into potentially hazardous situations, like parking lots. This is a common, and scary, trait for autistic kiddos with sensory processing disorder.
Needless to say, my partner or I will pull her back to safety without hesitation. The heartbreak comes because, when she is in this sensory overwhelm, her flight or fight instinct is activated. All her body is telling her to do is "get away" at any cost. The last thing I ever want to do is teach my kids that they can't trust their bodies. However, that's exactly what I'm doing when I pull her back to safety, and keep her there, when she is still trying to run.
When It's Time To Wash Their Hair
There is usually some mighty convincing and logical arguments going on here. Even though I always get to yes, it still feels gross. I know it's for their hygiene, and my children have long beautiful hair that needs to be cleaned at least once a week. But the reality of "we have to clean it or we have to cut it" is a harsh one for a dirt-loving kid to accept.
When They're Sick
Most parents have several stories of having to do things for their child's own safety during times of illness. It's never easy and I hate that I can't use logic to let them know it's for their own good. After all, when you're sick, in pain, and scared, the last thing that works in your brain is your logic.
One of my kids particularly hates showers, and is still young enough to subsist on baths most of the time. But you try convincing a 5 year old that bathing when you're covered in vomit is a bad idea. The poor sweet pea cries hysterically while shaking and covered in vomit. I hold him the whole time, but that barely makes it better.
When It's Sunny Outside
Our family rule is you can dress however you want so long as it's age and weather appropriate. When it's sunny outside and your children inherited your skin of the British Isles, you know that sunscreen and hats are safety requirements. This is doubly important when you live, as we do, way above the Mile-High city. Closer to the sun may mean you're closer to the fun, but it also means it'll burn your buns.
So even though they swear they hate me when I make sure they apply (and reapply) that SPF 50, I must be doing something right since they don't yet know that sun burn hurts like hell.
When I Put My Baby In The Car Seat
My littlest has had such a sweetly mild temperament thus far. Now that they're 11 months old, my baby is starting to assert some independence. And, like all kiddos everywhere, they absolutely hate the car seat. The moment they even see we're heading in that direction, the heartbreaking tears start. Those huge, blue, pleading eyes hit me so hard I've shockingly thought more than once how good parents had it pre-car seats when they could hold their babies in the car. Please don't call an intervention. I know how crazy this sounds. Of course I love how much safer car seats make babies, I just hate how my heart breaks when my baby cries and I have to do it anyway.
The truth is, not being able to get consent for things that keep my children safe is necessary, especially in medical emergencies. I may not like it. It may break my heart forever. However, heart break is part of what I signed up for when I signed up to give these precious kids the best life I could.
And I'll pay any price for them.