One day, when my daughter was a little over a year old, I was running my hands through her hair when I noticed an odd ridge down the center of the top of her head. I felt a cold chill go through me. What the hell was that? I know perfectly well that you can’t diagnose your child based on Dr. Google, but that sure as hell didn’t stop me from trying.
We snagged a last-minute cancellation with a pediatric specialist at Children’s in DC, so we only had to spend a week and a half trying our best not to think about it. And bargaining. Ok, maybe it’s nothing. But maybe it’s something. Maybe it will only require surgery. We can handle surgery, right?
At the appointment, the specialist examined her for about forty-five seconds before deciding the ridge was nothing at all. No cause for concern. He cracked jokes. We laughed. We breathed sighs of relief. As we drove home, I kept thinking, we’re so lucky. How did that happen?
Of course, we weren’t lucky at all. Most little kids don’t have a condition requiring skull surgery. We weren’t lucky. We just weren’t unlucky. At least not this time.
In our last pregnancy prior to having our daughter, the baby I was carrying had been diagnosed with Trisomy 18. It’s a fairly rare chromosomal abnormality — less common and far more lethal than Down Syndrome. The baby’s heart was on the wrong side of its body. We terminated the pregnancy. For a long time after that loss, we felt like we were always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I felt certain the ridge in her head was it. But it wasn’t.
In a recent piece over at Mamalode, Susan Maccarelli describes the power of a mother’s intuition — without it, her son would still have a serious speech delay. For months, her son’s pediatrician and speech therapist were unable to come up with a diagnosis. But when she learned that her son’s uvula was split, she sought out an ear, nose and throat specialist who repaired the uvula and successfully treated the impediment. Her lesson? Trust your intuition. A mother always knows. “If you want the right diagnosis, just ask the mom.”
I feel the same way about intuition as I do about luck. It’s an illusion. Describing motherly intuition as some sort of powerful tool implies that there’s a way to prevent bad things from happening to our children or ourselves, if only we would just trust our guts. Or faith. Or positive thinking. It negates the powerlessness we all experience at some point in our lives, whether it’s a chromosomal abnormality or cancer.
I wish intuition were real. It’s frightening to face your own humanity, or worse, your child’s, but I’d rather face it than put my faith in a superpower that doesn’t actually exist.