Monday, September 6, 2010

The Ava Post

Many years ago, almost 24 to be exact, my son died of SIDS. Back in 1986, my son's physician stereotyped all single mothers whose children were fatherless. Heathen despots without any regard for conservative morals. Essentially, single mothers were seen as low as could be - whorelots, and worse.

Austin's pediatrician started in on that train of thought. Critical of everything I did - from making Austin's homemade applesauce (now seen as organic) to buying the best diapers I could, to taking him to class with me.

I was a senior in college. My son was fatherless. His father having abandoned and abusing me, before I left him for the confines and seclusion of the university housing. He denied he was the father up to the day I signed my termination rights, then he acknowledged he knew better about me and was indeed the only plausible father.

I digress.

Fast forward, I kept my son, named him Austin and tried to be a good parent, without any support or help. My parents having disowned me when I was pregnant, still were not speaking to me. In fact, when they found out I'd kept him, my parents walked away and hissed at me.

The pediatrician did much the same. Blamed me for my son's lack of weight gain, blamed me for his lack of urine output stating that he gained weight in the hospital but then lost it at home. Twice that happened. The last time, Austin was brought in I had to sit in front of a panel of social workers, physicians, police officers, and hospital allied staff to explain what I was doing with my son.

A friend of mine offered her dad's phone number. He was an active, very well known attorney in town and might I add, well respected. I responded to the "team's" questions... the team decided to keep my son longer this time and thoroughly investigate all manner of disease states.

For sure, the first two days he gained weight. And then sure enough, on the day after what would have been my day to bring him home, he lost it. In the hospital.

They were puzzled. My pediatrician horrified. I asked the ped what he was doing to my son to make him lose the weight. My point was well taken.

One week after being released, my son Austin, never opened his mouth without having food put into it. I was terrified the medical community would label me a bad parent, and worse, crucify me. I was terrified my son would be taken from me despite all that I was doing to help him.

And then, Austin died.

The autopsy performed said SIDS with no indication of wrong doing. I was cleared. It was not my fault.

But for 24 years, I've carried all the guilt with me, wanting to spare another family the pain and anguish when their child passes. For 24 years, I've changed from hoping to do oncology, to wanting to be a ped onc.

I follow posts of kids recently diagnosed through their remission and in some cases, graduation from high school. I also follow the paths of those less fortunate.

And yesterday, the path of Ava on this earth came to an end.

Like my son, she was gorgeous, curious, happy, smiling, bright and apparently, witty. There is a picture which I'd like to post of her father and her before "Daddy/Daughter Dance" that is sublime. Poetic in all of its essence, tragic knowing the outcome.

It is stories like Ava's, and Henry's that stoke the desire to become an onc... a ped onc. It is knowing how I do the fresh pain of a child lost that might help another parent overcome the seeming insurmountable anguish of the child's death.

I only need to find the way to make it so... and I'm struggling with that. 24 years ago, I was on the medical school path ... here I am trying to do so again.


Lindsay and Matt said...

Wow, A Doc to Be,

I've been reading your blog for the last year as I am a non-trad premed too and can relate to a lot of your posts. I am also interested in ped onc.

I'm sitting here with my two-week old son on my lap and I just wanted to say thanks for sharing that story about Austin. I am so sorry that happened to you: you are an incredibly brave woman and a wonderful mother to work so hard against so much hardship to take care of your son.

Christine said...

Thank you for sharing, dear. What a hard, hard experience to go through. Two of my dad's siblings died of SIDS. My middle name, Susan, is named after my aunt who died, and my dad would have had an older brother, Jimmy. I just can't fathom how hard this was on my grandmother and the family. And how hard it was on you, and even your other son! You move on, but you don't forget. It is so encouraging to see you put your passion and energy toward those who are less fortunate. I love ya!

Dalai said...

I am so sorry to hear about Austin. I never knew what you had gone through. As with Ava, we must keep faith in God, no matter how difficult that may be, and hope and pray that there is some reason, some purpose for our loss.