So here’s a thing I think I kind of understand now.

Like most of you, I’m pretty serious about car seats and their safe use. Putting your child in the car is absolutely the most dangerous thing you do every day, and hopefully the most dangerous thing they encounter in their entire lives, for the sake of my nerves and sanity. It absolutely is dangerous for a child to be in the car. They are much more likely to be injured or killed in your car than anywhere else. Car seats do an incredible amount to mitigate potential damage, but they must be used correctly.

These are facts. You can’t argue with them. Well, you can, but you’d be wrong. These things are true and there’s not anything you can do to make them untrue, even if you find it incredibly stressful to think about the fact that your daily errands are actually the biggest risk to your child, and not, say, letting them walk home from the park two blocks away by themselves. The car is more dangerous and we do it all the time.

The fact that these are inarguable facts is what always ends up making car seat discussions so weird to me. The reaction of some people just never made sense. Because you can’t argue with facts. But you know how it goes – an article goes around Facebook, giving some tips about proper chest clip placement or a new guideline for car seats. And you or someone else shares it, because it’s information we all need. There’s some discussion, and then someone explains why it’s not actually the safe thing to do in their specific situation. Which, fine. That’s fine. We all have to make decisions for our kids like that, things that go against what everyone else does or what someone else might think is the best thing to do. You are allowed to do that. It’s your child, you know best. End of. You should be okay with this, no matter the decisions you make. For most people, I in no way feel that these choices aren’t made from a place of proper concern and care of the child.

However, your (the general your) choice not to follow a specific safety guideline does not invalidate that guideline. Your choice to do something different doesn’t immediately make your version of the rules just as safe as the issued guidelines. It doesn’t. You should feel confident in your choices, because you wouldn’t have made them if you didn’t weigh it out and decide it was the right way to go, but your choices don’t have a place in discussions of actual safety guidelines. You’ve evaluated the information on your own and made a decision based on those facts, your own life, and your own child. That does not mean it’s okay for others to make the same choice, or that others should be encouraged to discard guidelines.

And this is the weird part. In a lot of these discussions, it ends up being an absolute refusal to accept that the issued guidelines are the safest thing to do. Whether you follow them or not, they are the safest. When you choose not to follow them, you are trading a measure of this kind of safety for a measure of whatever works best for your family. And again, that’s fine. It could not be more fine. If you understand the safety guidelines and choose something else, you’re well within your rights and you probably have good reasons. There are people out there who don’t know the proper guidelines, though. Who place the chest clip too low, who turn the seat around way too early, who put their kids in giant bulky coats in the infant bucket. What they’re doing is not safe, because they don’t know the guidelines and haven’t made an informed choice to do these things. They’re just doing it wrong.

So what always surprises me is one, that refusal to acknowledge that whatever you decide to do, there IS a “safest way.” And two, how agitated people who don’t follow the guidelines get over the fact that there ARE guidelines they’re not following. It just keeps going, with justification after justification for not following them, as if they need someone to say, “okay, in your situation, that’s fine, because the guidelines don’t apply to you.” You must acknowledge that my child is as safe as yours. You HAVE to acknowledge it, or you’re a dick. But if you’re not following the guidelines, your child is NOT as safe as mine in a car accident. That’s just a fact. You can’t argue with it, and the other side can’t truthfully acknowledge that your kid is just as safe, because he isn’t. If you’re going to go against posted guidelines, you need to accept the fact that you’ve made that trade off and feel okay with the idea that it works for you, without approval from those who are guidelines-sticklers.

Until a couple of days ago, this phenomenon made no sense to me. It’s TOTALLY FINE to do whatever you want with your own child after availing yourself of the information and making an informed decision. Why are you getting so worked up that other people don’t agree that it’s the absolute best thing to do? It doesn’t matter. Your individual choice to go against whatever is in the article posted has zero effect on anyone else. On top of that, you probably understand that you’re going against the “rules” and know that it’s not a good idea to encourage others to do the same. So just… why so worked up?

BUT THEN. There was this article posted on Reddit. It discusses how children who receive general anesthesia before the age of 4 had “diminished language comprehension, lower IQ and decreased gray matter density in posterior regions of their brain.” And my immediate gut reaction was, “THAT’S NOT TRUE.” I was instantly aggravated and denied the possibility that it could possibly be true. Because Penny had surgery before the age of 4. I thought, “What was I supposed to do? She needed surgery. We did the right thing. It can’t be harmful, because we did the right thing.” And that’s when the whole car seat thing clicked for me.

It’s a fact – children who receive general anesthesia before the age of 4 do present those limitations and whatnot. But I instantly felt like it couldn’t be true, because I would never harm Penny like that. How dare some science article imply that my choice caused damage to my kid? I wouldn’t do that. But it’s true. It’s a fact, and my intentions matter nothing to facts.

That immediate, “I WILL KICK YOU IN THE FACE FOR THESE LIES ABOUT ME ENDANGERING MY OWN CHILD” reaction makes me kind of understand where the Facebook comment arguers are coming from. I’m a good (okay, decent) parent. I always have Penelope’s best interests at heart. To suggest that I don’t – even with facts I can’t argue with – is infuriating and upsetting.

But facts are facts. I did what was best for my kid, and the facts say there could be consequences. It’s upsetting, but I did what I thought was best with the best intentions. I need to be okay with that because it’s reality, just like people who choose different car seat practices need to be okay with the potential consequences of their own choices, provided they make them with plenty of information and the best intentions.

Anyway, that’s all.

pennyicecream

13 thoughts on “So here’s a thing I think I kind of understand now.

  1. Brooke

    I do understand your reaction and your comparison to car seats, but I also don’t think they’re in the same realm. There’s a difference between making a decision that is outside of the norm for most children to benefit Penny in the long run and making an unsafe choice on a day to day basis in what is already the most dangerous situation for the child. I don’t think most parents whose children require surgery put them through it unless they HAVE to, but no parent HAS to disregard car seat guidelines.

    I’m sorry you’ve got feelings about the Penny Surgery decision. I know you weighed it all very carefully and if you’d known this info, you’d have considered it, too. You were as informed as you could be at the time.

  2. Nicole

    I don’t know how much stock to put into that article. When I was 4, I was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer in my eye, which could have eventually spread to my brain.

    I saw a ton of doctors. Some of my earliest memories are of doctors’ offices and getting needles stuck in me. I went under general anethesia A LOT. I finally had surgery at 5 (didn’t lose my eye!).

    I’m now 35. I’m a biochemist with a master’s degree (didn’t get a PhD because I didn’t want to). I scored highly on the verbal sections of both the SAT and GRE (670 and 640, respectively). I read a ton. I have no issues with my vocabulary.

    “The authors stress that average test scores for all 106 children in the study were within population norms, regardless of surgical history”.

    I just wanted to assure you not all studies define all kids. Like you, my parents had no choice when it came to my health and what to do. I like to think I turned out ok. In fact, I do what I do now because of what happened to me as a kid.

  3. LeighTX

    This is the kicker about parenting: you have to make choices like this all the time, and sometimes they’ll have lasting consequences and sometimes they won’t, and sometimes you’ll avoid those consequences just by blind luck. But the vast majority of parents have their child’s best interests at heart, and each choice is made with the best of intentions which is all we can do, really.

    When my older daughter was a newborn, she had a terrible problem with latching on and breastfeeding just never worked for us. Milk-based formula made her projectile-vomit, so we chose to use soy formula. Around the age of ten she developed a serious form of IBD, and a few years after she was diagnosed I read an article that stated too much soy in the early years could lead to IBD. That article devastated me–I felt like I had failed her utterly, and it took me a very long time to accept that I’d done the best I could at the time, and maybe the IBD is related to the soy and maybe it’s not but either way all we can do is move forward.

    I agree with Brooke–you wouldn’t have done the surgery unless you that was the best choice for Penny. She’s happy and healthy (and so photogenic!) and that’s really all that matters in the end.

  4. Lisa

    I had 3 surgeries before the age of 2 that I needed to have in order to correct a life-threatening problem with my bladder (its called Vesico-ureteral Reflux) I dont know what type of surgery Penny had but I am now 42 years old and aside from having some very Old School-style surgery scars, I do not believe I have any lasting effects from having general anesthesia 3 times. In fact, compared to my siblings who did not ever have any health issues, I was always much more successful in school, career, general “life success” benchmark areas. Maybe I got the magical anesthesia!

  5. Swistle

    I love this. I can’t even say how or why I love it, because I am too busy loving it.

    Swistle Reply:

    Basically it’s the thought process. The noticing and evaluating, and then the new noticing and evaluating in a new context, and the comparing and the applying and the insight and the etc. I know you call yourself average, but that is so not average. It is not even in the same swimming pool as average.

  6. Kris

    I work as a secretary to a bunch of anesthesiologists at a major medical center. A major trend in anesthesia in the last few years has been to study the effects of general anesthesia on kids. This study was in Pediatrics so it got more attention, there have been many studies like this in anesthesia journals in the last few years. My understanding as a non-medically trained person is they know general anesthesia affects rats adversely, but don’t have any conclusive evidence in kids yet.

    My daughter, who was 9 months old at the time, had elective surgery just after a study like the one above was published in an anesthesia journal a few years ago. I asked a few of the docs I work for, who have international reputations in the anesthesia field, if they would go through with the surgery if it was their kid before surgery. All of them said yes, without question. They simply don’t know that anesthesia causes harm; there’s some correlation but nothing proven. They know with 100% certainty that the surgery gives children a benefit.

  7. G

    What Kris said above me is key: “There’s some correlation but nothing proven.”

    OK, I haven’t read the reddit article. But, bodies and medicine are so very complicated. And (as my college statistics professor drilled into my head) “Correlation does not equal causation.” So, just because the evidence in the study showed a link between early childhood anesthesia and brain development doesn’t mean the anesthesia caused the developmental issues. It could be equally as likely that the population that can be defined as “children who need surgery before age 4” is a population more likely to have brain development issues for unrelated reasons.

    As I was reading your first part — about the car seats — I was thinking exactly what you said in the second part. People don’t want to agree that they made a “less safe” decision when chose to vary from the known “safest” way because it implies that they don’t value their child’s safety which implies that they are poor parents. Which may not be true at all, but raises the defensive hackles.

    On an only slightly related note, I get irritated by parents who scoff at child seat guidelines by saying “I never had any of that and I’m fine!” Yes, you are. Because the kids who didn’t have them and died aren’t exactly able to speak up about being a counter-example.

  8. Dawn

    I enjoyed all of this, but I wanted to say I especially enjoyed the Penny pic at the end.

  9. Alice

    I don’t have a kid, so it’s not quite the same, but I do find myself unwilling/unable to read articles that imply there is a “reason” or that I’ve Unknowingly Done Something that would have contributed to my miscarriage earlier this year. There was a throwaway article on FB this morning about how the month you’re born in may affect the kind of illnesses you have – which, HELLO correlation, not causation – but even knowing that, as soon as I read “women born in October may be more prone to reproductive issues” I straight up closed my entire browser.

    I guess the only thing I’m trying to say is I understand the kneejerk reaction to push back on information like this when it inadvertently calls into question your decisions around Important Things That Have Big Consequences.

  10. Monika Spykerman

    Holy Frijoles, Batman! My daughter (now 12) had emergency exploratory surgery to determine if she had a bronchial blockage (which it turned out she did not have–it was a misdiagnosed sinus infection). We AGONIZED over the surgery, but ultimately decided that it was in her best interests because her pediatrician and the surgeon thought it was the sensible next step. She ended up being a super-late talker and having other developmental delays. She’s fine now, but how do I know if those things were caused by the surgery, or just random? I don’t, and I can’t. But it makes me retroactively angry that we were pressed into unnecessary surgery–although the point you’re making is that YOU MAKE THE BEST DECISION FOR YOUR CHILD AT THE TIME. And then you move forward.

  11. Grace

    Well. This is tangential, but I stupidly clicked through and read that article and now I’m over here in a puddle of guilt, anger, and tears. My kid had to have massive brain surgery at 6 months old. I totally had the same reaction as you.

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