TW: This post mentions suicidal thoughts.
To the ultrasound technician who scanned my daughter (for the third time in a week) post-emergency appendectomy:
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
You had no idea of the weight your kind words carried. You had no idea the impact you were about to make on a total stranger. You couldn’t have known how invaluable your courage to speak up would be to me.
You obviously knew my six-year-old daughter had just endured a ruptured appendix six days prior, so you knew the stress I was under in that regard. You commented on how large and inflamed her appendix had been in the previous ultrasounds, a look of concern across your face. “Thank goodness she’s okay!” you said, as you prepped her for yet another scan to ensure no abscess had formed in the empty space where her appendix had once been.
You spoke directly to my child. You asked her questions, only looking to me if she didn’t know the answer. She clearly felt at ease with you, smiling and giggling as you both chatted about nothing in particular. As the scan was wrapping up, you did something seemingly small; but to me, it was everything.
You moved to wipe the sticky blue goo off of my daughter’s belly. You paused, considering, then turned to her and asked, “I’m sorry–I just started wiping without talking to you first! Would you like to do this yourself?” My daughter grinned, nodded, and took the towel you offered.
I noticed. “Thank you so much for asking her,” I told you.
“Of course!” you responded, smiling and moving on to the next task.
My daughter needed to provide a urine sample next. Her Daddy tried, I tried, but to no avail. We decided to try something new since we had been trying for a couple of hours now to collect it with no luck. I taught her right there in the ultrasound room how to collect it herself, explaining the wiping process required beforehand and all in great detail. I figured she didn’t particularly like her privacy being invaded, despite her assuring us that wasn’t the case. As she shut the door behind her, determined to do it herself, you spoke up.
“Y’all are such great parents!”
“Aw, thank you! We really are trying every day so that means a lot!” I replied.
“But really. She is very clearly so emotionally intelligent, and very clearly loved.”
This is where you had no idea the other burdens I carry — and how you helped me bear the weight a little easier that day. I got teary-eyed; I couldn’t help it. I asked,
“Wait, really? You can see that?”
“Oh yes. Especially when you thanked me for asking her if she wanted to clean herself up. I knew exactly what you were doing and I applaud you for it. That’s such a big deal!”
I wanted to hug you, a complete stranger, so tightly at that moment.
“You know?! Yes! Her bodily autonomy is so important to me. Not only does she need to be able to speak up to say ‘no’ and to voice what she wants, but she also needs to see what she deserves from others. I want her to know what respect for her space and her choices looks like coming from adults other than her father and I. So when you stopped and asked her, I drew attention to it on purpose, so she would know this is a good, safe adult who understands boundaries.”
You were enthusiastically nodding and softly clapping as I explained my thought process. Something about your body language and genuine emotion made me feel safe. Safe enough to perhaps overshare to a stranger. If my trauma-spillage bothered you, you didn’t make it known. Tears streamed down my face as I told you things I’ve never said out loud to anyone other than my inner circle.
“It’s not often other adults understand what I’m doing, and it’s definitely not often anyone positively comments on it. If anything, they look at me like I’m aggravating because I’m dragging out their task by talking to my child and giving her agency. I didn’t come from a household where boundaries and personal space were a given, and they were rarely acknowledged or respected when they were made known. So I guess I don’t really know what I’m doing — I don’t know if I’m messing it up or doing it right. I don’t have a reference point like others do. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is thank you, thank you for saying you see it, thank you for saying you understand and support it. When you asked her about cleaning herself up, I knew you had to either be trauma-informed or you just grew up in a really healthy household.”
You took all this in without ever making me feel stupid or like I was oversharing (even though I definitely was). You replied, “Definitely the second one. My parents were really, really good at boundaries and personal space, so it’s natural for me. I am so sorry you didn’t have that. You’re doing a beautiful job, you really are. And I actually am working alongside a trauma specialist right now–she is teaching me about somatic therapy, have you heard of it?”
I was so happy to hear someone talk about things I deal with every day! I excitedly answered, “Yes! My therapist is a trauma specialist and she practices somatic therapy with me every session. She asks me things like, ‘where do you feel that? In your chest? Your stomach?’ and I tell her where the feeling hits me the most. It’s surprisingly very liberating and gives me a sense of control and connection with my body again.”
You seemed excited about this conversation too, as you said, “yes yes! We are often so disconnected from our physical bodies due to trauma and we don’t even realize it!”
At this point, the other ultrasound tech who had been quietly listening interjected and said to me, “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but if you don’t mind sharing, who do you see?”
I smiled. Together, we had provided a safe space for someone in need to ask for help. As I gave her the information, my daughter came out of the bathroom grinning with success and confidence.
My daughter, my husband, and I moved on down the hall to the next stop in our emergency room visit. I freely teared up again. He put his arm around me and kissed the top of my head.
“She said she saw it. She understood what we were doing, and she thinks it’s beautiful and important. Babe, someone saw it. All of the effort. All of the stress. It’s not for nothing.” He squeezed my shoulder in quiet support and said, “of course she does, love. Look at her. That’s all you.”
To the Children’s Hospital ultrasound tech whose name I’ve forgotten amidst the anxiety of yet another ER visit: Thank you. Thank you for your vulnerability. Thank you for your willingness to share. Thank you for putting yourself out there with no way of knowing how I would respond. Thank you for just being kind when you didn’t have to be. Thank you for listening to my mini-trauma-dump and making me feel heard. Thank you for your unexpected, but apparently much-needed, validation and support.
You had no idea that I regularly grapple with the fact that a lot (but not all, thank God) of my family of origin doesn’t support me in this endeavor. In many ways, they have rejected my efforts to raise my children with boundaries and autonomy, and any attempt to explain myself (which I know I do not have to do) has been met with hostility. This has caused a great divide amongst the family–and sometimes, it feels like if I would just do what would make them happy instead of what my kids need, all of the animosity would end.
All of this adds up and sometimes causes me to second-guess myself — which brings me panic and self-dread.
But you and your unexpected empathy restored my confidence in my decisions that day. It shook me to my core, in a good way. Your vulnerability is an awe-inspiring gift of strength, and in the throws of navigating parenthood and who I am outside of my family of origin, I had lost my own. Thank you for reminding me to use it.
My depression and anxiety had been flaring majorly as I rushed down the hall hours beforehand, desperately trying to find my child and my husband in the ER. I remember reading the numbers on the walls, trying to find room 34, when my brain quietly said, “what if we just weren’t here anymore? You wouldn’t feel like this. No one would be angry with you anymore. Everyone would be happier.” I literally shook my head to disrupt the thought. No. Not right now. Not today. No.
It was too much — my trauma, my family, my daughter’s emergency surgery, the second ER visit post-op, the stress that comes with starting a new career while staying at home with our toddler, arranging last minute care for our other children as we stayed in the hospital for five days, trying to find a sense of normalcy amidst it all — my depression was waging a war within me.
But you, dear ultrasound technician who didn’t have to do what you did, you grounded me. You brought me back. And you were none-the-wiser.