I took my youngest in for his birthday check up. He was SO excited. I made a big deal about it. I told him, first see the doctor, then get a toy and a sucker, then we will go have lunch on a patio somewhere with Daddy. He’s got a sunny disposition and based on his actions he was a little combo of nervous and excited. It made me laugh and feel a little excited too.
The doctor walked in hurriedly after my boy aced his hearing and vision tests (I have to brag!) The doctor always starts with his colorful height and weight chart. He shows me where my son is on the chart, how much he’s grown, etc. I never really pay that much attention because (besides knowing which rides he can get on at Six Flags) they are just numbers and honestly I hate that they start their lives being compared to other kids.
So I was sort of tuned out, looking brightly at my one-day-away-from-being-six-year-old when the doctor mentioned that my son went from the 50th percentile in weight to the 70th percentile. I looked at the glossy chart. “Huh, okay.” I shrugged.
The doctor said maybe it’s because he’s not being as active as he used to be (pre-pandemic) and that many people have gained weight. I said “okay” again and hoped he would change the subject. He kept on with what I felt was his well polished sermon that was supposed to shine a light on whatever I was doing wrong as a mother.
He said that if his weight increased like that every year then it would get really out of control fast. “Okay” I said as I glanced at my still glowing son, trying to see if he understood. I strained to not look uncomfortable for my son’s sake but I was really done with the conversation.
Then the doctor said, “Is he eating too fast? It takes our bodies a long time to register that we are full and kids sometimes eat too fast. Simple changes like fruit as an after school snack instead of chips and a soda really make a difference.” My memory flashed back to my son eating a big shiny bowl of cantaloupe with this bare hands a few days prior. “He likes cantaloupe” I said. But the doctor didn’t seem to care or maybe he didn’t believe me.
Exam done; my boy got his toy and sucker and we left. He was still radiant and I was heart broken. I knew I would never go back to see that doctor. And he’s a great doctor. He’s the pediatrician that we have seen for 14 years starting when my stepson was born. The pediatrician who taught me to breastfeed, that taught us how to get the kids to eat solids foods, that wrapped my son’s fractured arm and tested my other son for ADHD. He would never treat my kids again.
Was I overreacting? I discussed it with my spouse as we sat under a cloudless sky, eating on a patio as we had promised. The day suddenly less rich. Tears streamed down my face.
There are other factors at play here (things like distance, insurance, etc) but here are the vivid reasons I made my choice:
I not angry (although I had my moments) but I am sad. I’m sad that this relationship is ending. I’m sad that our medical field has gotten so blind-sided by fat phobia that they can’t see a bright healthy child when one walks into their office. And I’m sad that this won’t be the last time my children are shamed because of the size of their bodies.
I’m most sad that I didn’t stick up for my son in that moment.
I’m sad but I can also see the sunlight through the clouds. I’m writing this and you are reading this and that’s something. Maybe it will make you think. Maybe it will help you act. Maybe the next time your mom mentions how your daughter has “thickened up” you’ll shut her down. Maybe when your grandkids are around you won’t say things like,” I ate too much popcorn at the movie. I’m such a fat pig.” Maybe when your nephew admits that he doesn’t want to play basketball because all the other kids are taller than him, you’ll say “So what? If you like playing then play!”
Maybe you’ll refuse to be weighed the next time you go to the doctor. Maybe you’ll advocate for yourself or someone else when weight is being blamed for a serious medical issue. Maybe you’ll respect that all people deserve good medical care. Maybe you’ll demand good medical care regardless of your size. Maybe you’ll start to see health as more than just weight. Maybe together we can redefine health to look at the whole person, even if they are only six.
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