Their Bad Mother

I spent yesterday morning in a hospital waiting room. Two hours or so, waiting for a doctor to see Emilia, whose face and neck had swollen grotesquely in reaction to a bug bite. Was she allergic? Had the bug bit become infected? Was she mutating into the bug? I didn’t know. And not knowing things – especially things that pertain to the health of my children – terrifies me.

That’s the thing about hospitals, for me: they are spaces of unknowing. And it’s not the kind of dynamic, healthy unknowing that defines, say, the space of a school (that is unknowing being treated by learning, unknowing directed upon a journey – ideally, an endless journey – toward knowing), it’s a kind of desperate, anxious unknowing. You go into a hospital knowing – ! – that you might not come out with answers. You hope for answers, but you hope more fervently for solutions.

(Sometimes, you hope for no answers. In all my time in hospitals, it has seemed that answers, more often than not, are bad. Far better, in some respects, to hear we don’t know why your child has been vomiting so much, but she seems fine now than to hear your child has spinal meningitis. But maybe that’s just me.)

I’ve spent too much time in hospitals, both as a mother and as an aunt. And even though most of that time has ended in happy unknowns (we don’t know why the vomiting, what the allergy, but he/she’ll be fine), enough of it hasn’t (he has meningitis, he has muscular dystrophy, he won’t live beyond his teens) to have instilled in me a fear of these spaces, these spaces of such terrifying unknowns, such that it sometimes nearly cripples me.

I know that as a mother I must buck up and deal with this fear, but still. I can face that fear with as much courage as I can muster – I can go into these spaces and be strong, be brave for my children – but the fear will nevertheless remain.

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