I welcomed my daughter Leah when I was thirty-seven, a bit of a late start, and I admit I was a nervous mom at first. I’d always been a very competent, efficient woman, and here was something I was a complete novice at — motherhood.
So I read a hundred books about babies and wrote down every word my pediatrician said. I followed the rules to the letter, which is why I was shocked when my mother-in-law crossed the line.
Jack and I were visiting Estelle, my mother-in-law, for Sunday lunch and Leah started fussing. I fed her, changed her nappy, rocked her, but nothing seemed to work.
She even spat out her pacifier. Estelle was watching me with a superior look on her face. “Give her to me,” she said. “I’ve had five children, I know how to soothe a baby.”
She took Leah in her arms and picked up the pacifier. Then before I could say a word, she dipped the pacifier into a jar of honey and popped it into my baby’s mouth.
“Stop!” I screamed, lunging across the kitchen. “You can’t give her honey! The pediatrician said it’s dangerous!”
“Dangerous,” scoffed Estelle. “Please! I gave all my children honey, and they’re all fine. My mother gave me and my seven brothers and sisters honey. I think I know what I’m doing!”
“Give me my baby back!” I demanded angrily. “You don’t decide what’s right or wrong for us!”
Estelle thought she knew better so she gave Leah honey.
But Estelle kept rocking Leah who was sucking away at the dab of honey on her pacifier. “There, there,” she crooned. “Mommy has to learn to calm down, doesn’t she? You just listen to granny, Leah, and you’ll be a good strong girl!”
That pushed me over the edge and I pulled Leah from her arms. “Leah is MY child, not yours!” I screamed. OK, I admit I was a bit too much, but Estelle was practically calling me hysterical and incompetent.
Jack, who’d been sitting there like a lump the entire time joined the fun — on his mother’s side! “Come on, Laura,” he said. “I think you owe my mother an apology!”
“I owe her an apology?” I asked incredulously. “She’s just given my child food I told her wasn’t suitable and I owe her an apology?”
Jack looked at me with an exact replica of his mother’s superior expression. “My mother raised five children, darling, I think she knows what babies can and can’t eat!”
“Honey has Clostridium botulinum spores. It can make babies very sick!” I cried.
“Nonsense!” cried Estelle. “I get this honey from a local beekeeper. I eat this honey and so do hundreds of other people. None of us got botulism!”
“Because it only affects very young babies,” I explained in tears, but they weren’t listening. Two days later, Leah was weepy and sluggish and she could hardly suck. She couldn’t even hold up her head!
When she started having trouble breathing, we took her to the hospital where she was diagnosed with infant botulism. She was admitted immediately and put on a drip that administered an antitoxin.
Jack was shocked and ashamed. I could see that he didn’t quite know what to say to me. His mother had put our daughter’s life in danger and he had backed her! I sat by Leah’s cradle and watched her, while Jack paced the corridor and talked on the phone.
I could hear he was angry and caught snatches of the conversation. “The honey…I assure you…The doctors said…” And then in a louder, angry voice: “Laura told you…Your fault…”
Jack came back in but he didn’t say a word. He just hugged me. The doctors told us to go home. Leah would be spending the night in the hospital, and maybe a few more days, depending on how her respiratory system was affected.
We spent an anxious night, and the next day when we walked into the ward at the hospital, we were in for an unpleasant surprise. Estelle was there with a tall distinguished-looking man and he was examining Leah!
“What’s going on?” I asked angrily. “What are you doing here, Estelle? Leah can’t have visitors here.”
“We all know that these young hospital doctors don’t know up from down,” Estelle said arrogantly. “So I asked Dr. Gadavian to see Leah and tell me what’s REALLY wrong with her!”
I was speechless! I couldn’t believe the nerve of the woman. But then Dr. Gadavian spoke. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Mallow, but the initial diagnosis is quite correct. Your granddaughter is suffering from Infant Botulism. Did she ingest honey?”
“Honey?” Estelle was deadly pale. “Just a dab, on her pacifier… I did it with all my children…”
“Then you were very lucky,” the doctor said coldly. “This baby is very sick because of that ‘dab’ of honey.”
Estelle turned to me, there were tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “Laura, you were right. Please, please forgive me! I never meant to hurt Leah, never! I love her so much…”
Of course, we accepted Estelle’s apology, and within a few days, Leah was better. My mother-in-law became a lot nicer, and visiting her was almost pleasant.
She’s not an easy woman and never will be — which is why Jack’s siblings stay away — but she’s devoted to Leah and now she never gives my baby anything without consulting me first.
What can we learn from this story?
- Listen before you act. Estelle thought she knew better so she gave Leah honey before hearing Lauras’s reasons.
- Admit your mistakes. Estelle wouldn’t admit she made a mistake or apologize, so she called in a specialist who ended up proving her wrong.
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