Mommy Guilt … A Vacation Saga

I had every intention of doing a sweet wrap-up of our vacation in El Salvador and sharing some of Maya’s latest and greatest adorableness (for my family reading; I doubt other readers care but this is my spot on the interwebs so what I write goes …) , but there’s no way I could do that without sharing first in this post the emergency that occurred on our trip. The rest of the detes will come later.

Let me state up first November must not be our month. Maya’s febrile seizure occurred last November, and then while on vacation, Maya ended up needing stitches. In a developing country far from home.

Here’s what happened. Friday, Luis, his best friend Teto, Maya and I went to this gorgeous beach resort we love and have been to before. It’s about 50 minutes from San Salvador in La Libertad. (For any surfers who are reading, some of the world’s best waves are in La Libertad).

The resort is amazing. Its menu includes just-caught fresh seafood and other delicious eats and yummy beverages (natural and alcoholic), plus it has a pool and a natural  salt-water grotto that you can swim in when the tide is right. We’d eaten, laughed, played, swam in the pool, and swam in the grotto. We were getting ready to leave around 5 PM. Luis was in the restroom changing out of his bathing suit, Teto was getting the bill, and I was walking with Maya (read as, trying to corral Maya)  — who was overtired and fighting her nap like no tomorrow.

She wanted to run up the stairs to get back to our table on the patio, and I was trying to hold her back so she wouldn’t fall (she wasn’t wearing her usual sneakers — the sandals had less support). This game had gone on for a while and my frustration was growing. As she was climbing, I grabbed her to hold her and she started thrashing and arching her back. So I went to put her down on both feet and I don’t know how it happened — it was so fast — but I can still hear the loud crack (and might forever …) and then when I realized what happened and I lifted her up as she screamed –her chin was gashed and she was bleeding all over.

Instead of being calm, I screamed … hysterically crying and shaking. Scooped Maya close to calm her down, but on the verge of passing out from seeing my baby bleeding.

Luis was already heading down the stairs back to our table so of course he came running as fast as he could and Teto came running from the table. With them, a bunch of people came running over asking what happened and all I could say was, “It’s my fault, it’s my fault!” through hysterical tears. After all, she was partially in my arms when it happened. I was trying to put her down on the ground when she thrashed and went face-first. And because I had been frustrated trying to put her down, I wasn’t as gentle as I should have been (though I couldn’t have prevented her thrashing). I found a million reasons to blame myself. No one else blamed me, but I did. I still do. It was an accident, but in my head, it was an accident on “my watch.”

I swear to you, I think the world stopped when I heard that horrible crack and when I saw my daughter’s perfect little chin with a chunk of skin hanging off.

One of the guests at the resort was a nurse and she confirmed our suspicion that she’d need stitches–and immediately. An employee gave us some gauze and bandages to put on her before we left and we hauled ass to the nearest urgent care facility.

Had we had more time, we would have gone to a private hospital in San Salvador, but she was bleeding pretty heavily and so we had to err on the side of caution and get her stitched up immediately, to avoid infection. This meant we went to a public clinic … which was free, but most certainly not ideal. Fortunately, being Americans traveling with a baby, we were bumped up to the front of the line. I felt bad for a second but then thought of my baby, bleeding … and quickly, the tinge of guilt turned to an overwhelming sense of gratefulness.

I tried to block out everything I saw, smelled and heard when we walked in. Even when I lived in El Salvador, I only went to a clinic once when I had pink eye … and that had been quite the experience. Now, nine years later, I was bringing my daughter into one.

Like with the waiting area, I tried to block out everything in the ugly green room they sent us to: the heat and smells of a third-world infirmary; the thin “bed” that was really a table on wheels, covered in a thin light green sheet; the fans blowing dusty air around; the bleak cement walls with signs that talked about preventing dengue (a common and very serious tropical virus carried by mosquitos); the Spanish conversations happening around me.

We lay Maya on the “bed,” still sound asleep … and watched her breathe for 15 minutes. Then a nurse came in and asked us what happened. We gave her the story and she told us to wait. Then the doctor came over and informed us it was a shift change and we couldn’t actually see the new doctor til 6:15 p.m. (it was 5:30 p.m.). We called Teto out of the waiting room and the three of us tossed out pros and cons of leaving and heading back to the city, but with traffic on a Friday and then the need to potentially wait at another hospital (even a private one) … the benefits of just waiting outweighed the cost.

So we waited.

A new doctor came in sooner than they thought — around 6:05 — and by 6:30, we were back in the car with Maya babbling about ice cream.

Of course, those 25 minutes in between were pure hell.

She wheeled over a tray with anesthesia and sterilized tools and my heart flipped; I’d hoped they would have knocked her out. I mean, because babies move a lot, even though it was minor surgery, Maya had had general anesthesia with her tubes… but this would be local. As in, she’d see and feel the needle. Oh dear lord. And naturally, this was when Maya chose to wake up … with several unfamiliar pairs of eyes on her.

Luis held her torso and legs and I tried to keep her calm, kissing her and rubbing her forehead … doing everything I could do not to look down at her split chin or the size of the needle.

Even so — hello, can you blame her?!– she screamed bloody murder the whole time the nurse and doctor cleaned her up and began injecting the Novocaine into her chin. I cursed myself a thousand times, realizing it was my fault my baby was going through this awful experience.

Because El Salvador is a developing country and we were at a public clinic, they weren’t using the dissolving stitches doctors use now (though I’m not sure they would have at a private clinic, either). Instead, the doctor literally used a needle and thread to sew Maya’s chin shut. To keep her from thrashing, they wrapped her in the sheet like a little baby burrito. Our family joke is when someone is in a towel, they are a tamale. So we told her she was a Maya tamale and that seemed to calm her down. “Maya tamale!” she said through streams of tears.

I didn’t watch while they stitched her up. I couldn’t do it. We picked up a prescription for children’s Advil for her pain and were instructed how to clean her wound. The doctor also said that she’d need to get them removed in 5 days — Wednesday (we have an appointment at 4 tomorrow afternoon at her pediatrician).

In the waiting room, Teto assured us Maya’s lungs are in perfect working order — as if we hadn’t known. 🙂

In the car, we didn’t put Maya back in the car seat. I just held her for dear life and she slept the whole way to San Salvador, waking up about 10 minutes from the city at the promise of ice cream. 🙂 While I cried, both Luis and Teto kept telling me it wasn’t my fault … but mommy guilt wouldn’t let me believe it. My baby was hurt … and it was partially my fault.

In the grand scheme of things, I know stitches are not the end of the world and are a totally common procedure … split chins and knees and foreheads … it’s par for the course with children. Especially toddlers. But like most moms probably think, it’s not supposed to happen to my toddler.

Rationally, I know she can’t live in a bubble and she’s going to fall off her bike and things when she gets older, but I can’t help but still feel like it’s my fault this time because I was there, and I didn’t/couldn’t protect her.

Mommy guilt sucks. And I have a feeling it’s something that never really goes away …

We’re back home in Michigan now (after a two-day journey) and she is doing OK — not really touching her bandages — but I wanted to make sure I got this down on “paper” tonight so I wouldn’t forget the details. Because sometimes the hardest lessons need to be remembered … so we don’t repeat the same mistakes twice.

How about you? Have you dealt with similar mommy guilt?

Before pic: “Maya runny runny!”

About 20 minutes later, everything changed.

This is the after picture back at Luis’s mom’s house.

And the next day, in spite of her stitches, she was still the prettiest belle at the ball (@Luis’s mom’s 75th birthday bash).


4 thoughts on “Mommy Guilt … A Vacation Saga

  1. Oh wow, what a tale. Poor Maya, but probably more-so poor you. Having them get hurt and then thinking it’s your fault is the worst. Nate gets hurts all the time – not stitches level, but bumps and bruises probably daily and it’s just so hard.

    You know this wasn’t your fault and you can’t be perfect. We all become exasperated at times. Parenting is already exhausting – I can’t imagine having to be on *my* best parenting behavior 100% of the time, never getting tired or annoyed or short with Nate. It would be impossible.

    I could barely read the part about the stitches, though… I hope you never have to go through that again. My 1 yr old niece got stitches on her eyebrow a couple of weeks ago and it looks terrible (I’m told it looks worse than it is). I’m sure Maya is bouncing back just fine and I hope you do, too.

    I’m sorry this happened on your otherwise (I’m sure) wonderful trip/vacation. I’m looking forward to the rest of the tales about the trip.

    1. Thanks so much, Candice. I’ll def. share some other pieces of the trip later, but it was quite terrible. 😦 She looks good since the stitches came out but I do think she’ll have a scar–it was quite deep. 😦 Parenthood is tough!

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