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How To Parent A Hurting Child

Parenting is hard. Especially when it comes to making important medical decisions.

For those of you who don’t know my 11 year old daughter, Finley broke her foot 4 days ago. We discovered she fractured 3 metatarsal bones in her foot, the last one being a displaced fracture. Immediately, the consulting orthopedic doctor recommended surgery.

Now, if you know me at all, you know that I am extremely holistic in my approach to treating the body, which means that I believe that the human body is fully capable of healing itself. There are days when I feel like my belief system about healing is at war with the traditional medical system.

Whenever health challenges arise for my family, I prepare for battle. I spent much time in meditation prior to her consultation with the surgeon asking for clarity. I know in my heart that I did not want to go to “war.” I practiced cultivating genuine compassion and love toward the surgeon and envisioned a collaborative relationship that honored his talents and my wisdom. I prayed for strength to put down my weapons (blame, anger, judgement). I asked for guidance in letting go of my attachment to what I wanted so I could see clearly the highest and best decision for my daughter.

We saw the surgeon yesterday. I tried my best, I am human after all. I have low tolerance for a doctor who tries to shame an 11 year old into surgery. He told her that if we allow it to heal as if there may be a bump on her foot where the bone has expanded and that she may not be able to push off of her forefoot very effectively when she runs, and that she may be a cripple at 80 years old all because she didn’t have the bone fixed. Not once did he mention the risks of surgery, but he supplied abundant horror stories about what may happen if we don’t do surgery.

Side note: As a Physical Therapist, I have seen an abundance of failed or worse unnecessary surgeries. I genuinely believe that surgeons have the best interest of the patient in mind, but I also believe that their training fails hard in teaching them how to truly heal the body. I believe the vast majority of surgeries are unnecessary.

When I told him that I was a Physical Therapist and that I had been doing myofascial release, craniosacral therapy, and acupressure on her several times a day since the injury, he told her that there is really no way to know if what her mother is doing is causing more harm to the bone.

WHAT?! I work with the divine intelligence of the body I wanted to tell him. You work with a picture on a screen. There is a difference. I didn’t say that. I fear being burned at the stake.

In the end, he gave us the option of doing conservative care (my way) or surgery, but he made it clear that in his opinion surgery was the best option. The moment he left the room, my daughter said “I do not like him at all.” Truth be told my daughter says this about a lot of people. But I smiled gently because I understood what she felt. I felt it too. I felt the strength of a man who had an entire medical system rallying behind him and supporting his medical opinion. All I had was a case study of a healed clavicular fracture from myofascial treatment and conviction in the innate wisdom of the human body.

What has made this incredibly hard is that I also believe that what you believe matters. For example, if you believe that your body needs surgery in order to function properly then I would suggest you have the surgery. If you believe that the body knows how to heal itself then I would suggest you pursue a more conservative form of treatment.

But what do I recommend to an 11 year old who doesn’t quite yet know what she believes?

Most days she thinks I am the crazy yoga lady who is strangely happy sitting on a cushion for over an hour with her eyes closed. And she also knows that I leave the house a lot to go help people feel better. But I am pretty sure when her pain went away after I held her foot for 30 minutes she thought I was pretty darn cool.

So I suspect that she oscillates between my mom is crazy and my mom is my favorite person in the whole universe. Whether she admits it or not, she values my opinion. What if I sway her to go the conservative route and that fails, won’t that be my fault? Or worse what if I let her have the surgery and that fails, won’t that be my fault too? My heart reminds me that both cannot simultaneously be true. So where is the truth?

As her mother I want to take all her pain away, heal her foot, and move on our merry way, but I have come face to face with the reality that I don’t have that kind of power. I must allow this to be her journey. It is her foot after all. I knew if it were my foot, I would choose the conservative route, but part of me kept thinking how can I let an 11 year old make such a big decision. What if she chooses conservative just because she is afraid of surgery or because she didn’t like the doctor? Or worse, what if she chooses conservative because she believes in her mother, and that fails? What if she blames me later on for problems with her foot?

These thoughts were all circulating in my head during savasana when my yoga teacher’s voice broke through the chaos with these words:

“I attune to feeling good.

I allow the well-being that is natural to flow.

That which feels good I look at most often.”

I repeated the words to myself several times. I realized all the thoughts circulating in my head were not aligned with feeling good. I was wallowing in doubt and hopelessness rather than flow. That which feels good I look at most often – why my heart asked me am I so focused on all the possible negative outcomes? What if we went the conservative route and her foot flourished? It healed exactly as it needed to heal in its own perfect way. And even if she did have surgery, more than likely the outcome would be good there too.

When I got home that night, I asked Finley to close her eyes and imagine having the surgery, her foot healing and in a couple of months she returns to the ice rink, laces up her skates and walks out on the ice. “How does your foot feel in your mind?” I asked her. She winced uncomfortably and said “I feel pain, it doesn’t feel good.”

“Okay,” I said. Now close your eyes again and imagine that we don’t have the surgery. That I keep working with your body and we allow the bone to heal on its own, and in a couple of months you return to the ice rink, lace up your skates and walk out onto the ice. “How does your foot feel now?”

“It feels good,” she said.

And in that moment I knew what she believed in her heart. It was still and will forever be HER journey, but now I knew how to guide and support her.

I attune to feeling good.

I choose to believe that her foot will heal in the best way for her.

I allow the well-being that is natural to flow.

I hold in my heart an image of my baby girl, fully healed, gliding gracefully on the ice, wind in her hair and smile on her face.

That which feels good I look at most often.

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