“No. No no no NO! Please! Please don’t do this to me! Please! No, I am too scared! NO!”
“Hold her still. I’ll rip her pants down and stick her.”
“NO NOOOO NO No NO NO NO NO NO.”
“Please don’t do this to me. Please don’t do this to me. Please don’t do this to me.”
Sometimes things happen so fast it doesn’t feel like there is time to think and when it is over, you stand there wondering if what just happened, happened. My hands were shaking and both of my children were crying, bordering on hysterical. It had happened.
Let me back up, to last Thursday when I took my children to the pediatrician to catch up on some shots we had missed. My daughter really hates getting shots, so I had spent the two days prior preparing her for the two shots she would be getting, and why she needed to get them. We talked about what would happen, we talked about some diseases being very serious and needing prevention, and we planned a special reward for when it was over. We arrive at the doctor’s office and the kids go bananas because the waiting room has been completely remodeled, there is a new fish tank to press noses against, and a circular leather couch the kids deem an air hole in the Arctic ice and they morph into whales. Next they notice a small set of carpeted stairs in the corner and turn it into a stage, singing something about cats while we waited for our turn. We don’t go to the doctor very often, so the kids hadn’t been in the office in eight months or so. A nurse or Medical Assistant we had never seen called us back and roomed us.
The patient rooms were also new, and the kids were still excited and exploring everything. When I made the appointment three weeks ago I mentioned that my daughter was very scared of getting shots and that this appointment needed to happen quickly. This nurse, or MA, asked me what we were here for, and I looked at her puzzled and told her the kids needed a couple of shots. She asked if I knew which ones, and I inquired into why she was not prepared, nor had our charts pulled. I asked her to open our chart on the computer, and she seemed annoyed by the request. She opened my son’s chart first, and said “Oh my God, he’s missing like everything. I’m not sure what to do. Do you want us to give him everything today?” No, I did not. I wrote down what I wanted for him. I asked her to pull up my daughter’s chart, and Amelia had quieted down and came to my side, eyes very wide. As I looked at her chart, I noticed vaccines listed on there I had not approved (we reduce and delay, a decision that is met with indifference at this office). I was pissed. I asked to see the doctor, and was told he was on vacation until next week. I tried to calm down since there was nothing I could do at that moment, and I wrote down what I wanted my daughter to have. The nurse asked if I wanted to speak to one of the other doctors, I declined.
She then said it would take her a few minutes “to get all these shots ready”. The nurse left the room, not once addressing or acknowledging either child. Freaking brilliant, I thought.
“What does she mean, ‘all these shots’?” asked five year old Amelia, her voice beginning to tremble.
“I don’t know why she said it that way, Honey. She needs to get two shots for you and two for Benny. It will be two quick little pokes in your leg, and then you are all done.” Me
“I don’t want shots. Mom, I’m really scared,” Amelia said, and the tears started to roll. I wrapped her up in a hug.
“I understand that you are scared, but shots are something we have to do so that we don’t get very sick with a bad disease that could put us in the hospital or kill us. The nurse will do it very quickly. It will just feel like a little pinch,” I tried reassuring her.
No luck. Amelia is an deeply emotional creature. She is very bright and very intense. She is a wonderful little girl who is deathly afraid of shots. I’m deathly afraid of clowns. I get it. I respect her, and if the child is terrified, it is my personal experience having worked with children with deep fears of water and swimming, to wrap them in love and security and ease them through their fears to get them to a place of confidence and understanding.
The nurse came back with another nurse/MA, and again without looking at or addressing either child, she looks at me and asks, “Okay, so who’s first?” I asked where the nurses where going to give the shot, and where they wanted me.
I chose Benny to go first, scooped him up, and put him on the table. The room was small and crowded. Amelia scooted under the exam table. I could hear her crying softly.
I helped Benny undo his snap and wiggle down his pants. He laid down on the table and began to cry a little. I held his hands and the second nurse had her hands on his feet. I told him to give me Eskimo kisses as the shots went in. He cried from the pain, but was otherwise a trooper. I got him redressed and hugged him, handed him a book, wiped away his tears, and sat him in one of the chairs.
Amelia was at this point crying very loudly, and had plastered herself to the wall underneath the exam table. Because the room was so small and I had been dealing with Ben, I let her go there because it seemed to make her feel safe. Since neither one of the medical staff had even acknowledged her, I’m going to assume she didn’t feel secure in the hands of two strangers who had just made her little brother cry.
With Amelia crying hard, I reached under and pulled her hand to help her out. She did not come very willingly. I tried to pick her up from under her arm pits and plop her bottom on the table, but she bucked off, and began screaming “No” over and over again. I still had her under her arms, tummy to tummy. I had my face nuzzled into her hair, and was trying to tell her that she would be okay, I understood she was scared, and that I would hold her the entire time. I don’t think she heard any of it over the crying. I could feel the nurses getting tense. I understood their annoyance, but the kid was terrified. Terrified. Not acting like a brat, she was terrified. I was hoping one of them would say something to her, or try to distract her for a moment. They just stood there. Benny was still crying a bit, too, saying his legs really hurt. I was about to ask the nurses to leave and give us a minute to get collected, when it happened.
“No. No no no NO! Please! Please don’t do this to me! Please! No, I am too scared! NO!” Amelia.
“Hold her still. I’ll rip her pants down and stick her.” Nurse.
“NO!” screamed Amelia, and she began kicking when the nurse reached for the waistband of her pants.
“What?! NO!” I said very sharply, not wanting my child’s pants ripped off her body, nor her to have a needle jammed in her leg when her body wasn’t still.
But the words of the nurse and the pleas of my daughter did it. My head swirled like when you are about to pass out, and all of my rape memories came back to me. I don’t talk about it and I don’t think about it, but the words, and the cries of my daughter, it was just enough to trigger it all, I guess. I tried to say something to Amelia, but my mouth didn’t open. I wanted to punch the nurse in the face, but for obvious reasons, did not. I turned to look at Ben, and he sat there, his little three year old body in the big chair,he had tears streaming down his face as he said, “Nama, Nama,” his pet name for his big sister.
A nurse came on either side of Amelia, grabbed a leg and lifted her onto the table. I still had Amelia by the upper body, and I numbly moved along with them.
“Please don’t do this to me. Please don’t do this to me. Please don’t do this to me.”
It was Amelia saying those words, but it had been me saying those words in my mind 15 years prior when I had been drugged and raped. I had been awake enough to know what was happening, too drugged to move or fight back. I tried to squash all of that down, and be present for my daughter, but she had stopped fighting at that point, she had given up. I wanted to weep. The nurses had backed off, and were standing at the end of the table. I just wanted this over and these women away from my children. I could not believe we were experiencing this.
“Amelia, I know you are scared. It is okay. Mommy is going to undo your button and I am going to wiggle your pants under your bum and you are going to get your shots.” Amelia’s eyes were rolled back in her head, and she was crying, but in a way that was more like moaning now. This is absolutely dreadful, I remember thinking. But this all took place in about 20-40 seconds. I was upset myself and I didn’t know what to do. Should I tell them to stop? That we’ll reschedule? There was no way I’d ever get Amelia back in here. The second nurse reached up and very gently helped Amelia wiggle down her pants, they very quickly gave her the shots and put Band Aids on, said a short “Okay then you’re all set” and left the room.
I stood there in shock. Hurt and fury and shock. Amelia stood up, crying, fist clenched, and screamed in my face, “SHE HAD NO RIGHT TO TAKE DOWN MY PANTS!”. Amelia was righteously pissed.
Amelia should be. She has been taught since about the age of two what the rules of her body are. She knows the names of her private parts, of male private parts, and that no one should touch her nor ask her to touch them or somebody else. She knows whether it is a kid or an adult, a stranger or someone we know, whether it feels good or is scary, no one is to touch her body. She knows unless she is at the doctor and Mom is in the room, no one is to ask her to take her clothes off so that they can look at her. As she has gotten older, she has developed on her own an attack plan of what she would do if someone tried to touch her or steal her. We have talked to her about “tummy voices” and how to listen to her intuition. We have raised her to be aware and confident and not to be fearful. She knows she can ask me or my husband questions, or come to us if something occurs and that she won’t get in trouble. She has been taught this. She knows the rules of her body.
Years ago at her three year old check up, she sat in her Dora panties while the doctor examined her and felt her tummy, and when he pressed on her lower abdomen, she popped up, put her finger in the air and other hand on her hip and spouted off what we joke are her “Vagina Monologues”, which is a 90 second rant on private parts and who can and cannot touch her body. The doctor very respectfully put his hands together and backed off. Little girlfriend would have none of it.
And that is why last Thursday was so devastating for me. For Amelia. She had been taught and had embraced the idea that she was in control of her body. She knew what was right and what was wrong. She knew she had the right to say no. She knew her body was hers. Yet this nurse, in her demonstrated complete lack of respect for my daughter, was going to forcefully remove the child’s pants. Now, I’ve never worked as a nurse, but I have worked with kids consistently since I was twelve years old. That’s 21 years of kiddom. I can think of 4-5 things off the top of my head that the nurses could have done to gain the trust of my child and make the shots go more smoothly. Or they could have left the room and let me calm my terrified child down. My dogs have been shown more compassion by their vet.
Yesterday, when I spoke to the doctor, he said the nurses denied it happening and that he was unsure what to do. I said I wanted the nurse formally disciplined, and for his staff to be addressed on bedside manner to children, and having a little extra compassion for young children terrified of needles. He said he was so very sorry this had happened. I said I was furious that my husband and I had worked so hard to give Amelia a strong body image and know the rules of her body, and we come to the place whose sole purpose it is to safe guard her health, and that as the child is crying “No” all of it was undone by one nurse. The doctor said he doubts most kids would have reacted as strongly as Amelia, and that maybe that was a result of what we had taught her. He said it was usually best not to bargain and just get it over with. He said she wouldn’t need shots again until she was ten, so she would be okay and get over it. I felt completely patronized and judged. My daughter was terrified, and what happened to her was traumatic. We will not be returning to his care.
This would be a pertinent time to interject that 1 in 4 girls will be sexually molested or assaulted by the time they are 18 years old. For boys, 1 in 6. My children are taught the rules of their bodies. 1 in 4 teens will suffer violence in a dating relationship. 15% of rape survivors are under the age of 12 years old. My children know their bodies belong to them, and that they have the right to demand respect for their bodies. As a parent, I will not apologize to my doctor or to anyone for teaching them that natural born right. You’re damn straight my daughter reacted strongly.
Later that afternoon I had to go to Madison for a segment on the news. I let Amelia come to the studio with me. She had a tired and glazed look in her eye. She had stared out the window, not talking, for the 45 minute drive to Madison. She was withdrawn. In the parking lot, she asked if she could question the reporters about whales. I said we would try. After my segment the anchors called her over to the news desk, and she was shy at first as they lether ask her questions about news stories on whales. Amelia is obsessed with whales, and they were asking questions back and answering her questions and the light came back on in her eyes. She was Amelia again. Within ten minutes she was sitting on the lap of the anchor I had done the segment with, and was inviting all of them to her birthday party. They had taken the time to gain the trust of the child.
When we returned home that night, she was talking to my husband at the dinner table, and she pounded her little fist on the table as she said to my husband, “That nurse had no right to take my pants down.” My husband agreed with her, he assured her that he and I were very angry, and that we would be talking to that nurse’s boss and that what she did was very wrong. Luckily, several of our dear family friends are nurses, and we are going to schedule some time for Amelia to go in and see them at work and give them hugs and have an experience that allows her to see loving, respectful nurses at work. We took time over the next couple of days to talk with both kids about what happened, what was not right about it, and why. We talked about how Amelia could have acted differently, even though she was very very scared.
I asked Amelia if she wanted to write the nurse a letter, to tell her what she thought about what happened. She answered in true Amelia fashion.
“Smalls, I know you were so upset today. Maybe it would be a good idea to write the nurse who upset you a letter,” I suggested.
“Mom, my brain was telling me to relax but my heart was telling me to cry and I was so scared and my tummy was telling me to puke,” Amelia explained.
“I understand that. You were very upset and very scared. You won’t have to get shots for a long time, so we have lots of time to practice being calm. So do you want to write the nurse a letter?” I ask.
“No. But I do want to mail her a toad,” Amelia says.
“What if she doesn’t understand what that means? What does that mean, by the way?” I wonder as I try to figure out where this is going.
“Oh. Oh-ho-ho-ho. Oh she’ll know what it means,” says Amelia, as she pushes away her chair and gets up to go play with the puppy.
Amelia seems to be okay, but I do not know what to expect the next time she has to go to the doctor. And now I have to find a new doctor. While I hate what happened to us last Thursday, I am thankful I was present when it happened, and can help her understand it. I am thankful beyond words it was not a more serious situation, say one of sexual molestation or assault. I don’t ever want that level of violation to happen to my cherished daughter’s body, to any child’s body. It is the right of the child to have their body pass through their childhood much loved and unharmed.
Here’s what I want parents to take away from this story:
1. Please, please get comfortable talking to your kids about their bodies, private parts, and sex. You might need to get honest with yourself and move past some issues you may have in order to have this ongoing and evolving conversation with your child. Do that.
2. Please, please teach your children about their bodies, the correct names of their body parts, what appropriate and inappropriate touches are, and their right to say no.
3. Please, please get honest about the fact that these inappropriate touches 90% of the time come from people the child will know and consider safe. Your child must know that he or she will never be in trouble for being honest with you.
4. When a situation happens that is uncomfortable to talk about, get uncomfortable and talk about it. Allow your kids to express their emotions, and ask questions about what happened. Help them interpret their actions and the actions of the others involved. Their being a child does not diminish their rights.
5. Take time to get to know the staff at your doctor’s office. If something doesn’t feel right to you, ask questions or even take a timeout to take a step back. Respect a doctor’s time spent in school and knowledge, but recognize that you are the boss of your child’s body and will have a say in their medical care.
6. Teach your child that medical professionals are there to help them, and that sometimes we have to do things at the doctor we don’t want to do, like eye drops or shots or a throat culture to protect our health. But it is possible for a nurse or doctor to step outside of the realm of professional appropriateness and your child always has the right to speak up when they don’t like what is happening to their body. If it helps, develop a code word with your child that is a signal that they are uncomfortable (also works with neighbors or coaches or extended family) and need to speak to you in private ASAP.
7. YOU are your child’s biggest advocate. You are their voice in situations they cannot fully understand. Children cry and act out when they cannot voice what is happening to them. Children see the world differently than we do. Show them respect and see things from their eye level. Use your voice to stand up for them. It may not change what happened, but it will teach your child they are worth fighting for, and that you speak up and speak out when something is unjust.
When we discussed this on Facebook last week, I received some judgemental comments saying that Amelia’s behavior was inappropriate for a 5yo and that I had allowed my daughter to act in a way that was bratty and that I need more control as a parent. I want to make clear, this wasn’t Amelia being bratty, this was Amelia being terrified. There is a big difference, and the difference is an important one. I think telling a child to “Suck it up” when they are in a state of terror directly tells them their feelings are unimportant to what adults want to do with their bodies. I will not teach my children that, and if that makes me a bad parent, I’ll take it. I am stern with my children, but not in a way that disregards their feelings, especially when that feeling is terror. I try very hard, every day, to be present and parent from a place that is loving and respectful, not intimidating and dismissive. I respect them enough to not force my will on them, but rather have them come around to a decision because they understand the situation. At 5.5 yo and 3.5 yo and both extremely intelligent, they are capable of doing this.
Let’s please not turn the Comments into a vaccine debate. That is not the point of this post. We reduce and delay our shots, these were the last on my well-researched list, and we have family that lives abroad so it was important to get these in before we saw everyone at the holidays and my kids were exposed to things they normally would not be in this country.
To all of you who expressed love and concern for Amelia last week, my family thanks you.
I will thank you in advance for being respectful with your Comments.