Motherhood can be rife with feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Am I a good mother? I feel bad giving him the chocolate, but I feel bad not giving it to him. Is it better to let her cry it out or should I rock her to sleep? Are timeouts cruel or essential? I am reminded of one of my favourite Saturday Night Live sketches featuring Mike Meyers and Nicole Kidman enacting children playing in a park sandbox. Kidman is the typical blonde pigtailed girl in a pretty party dress, while Meyers plays her counterpart — the hyperactive, harness- and helmet-wearing bundle of energy. “My mom thinks harnesses are cruel,” remarks the girl, to which the boy replies, “My mom thinks they’re very necessary.”
Another source of motherhood guilt: to medicate, or not to medicate. So, that is the question. During my nearly two and a half years as a mother, I have heard many of my mummy friends struggle with the decision of what to do when their child falls ill. Should I give him the doctor-recommended medication or should I monitor him and try to treat it naturally? There is no one right answer to this question, unfortunately. The decision of how to treat your child’s illness must be considered based on each individual child, each mother, and each illness.
Here is my advice: You have to make an informed decision. Doctors are not omniscient, they are trained professionals (like lawyers, doctors, accountants, and so on) and like all human beings, they are not always right. Doctors are meant to make recommendations to their patients based on their experience and education; their word is not gospel. Doctors are trained in one branch of medicine, which I refer to as “conventional treatment.” Conventional doctors and paediatricians are therefore not typically familiar with the branches of homeopathy, naturopathy, herbalism, and holistic healing, all of which have been proven to be effective methods of diagnosis and treatment.
I have a story to tell you: when my daughter was just over a year old, she awoke from her afternoon nap with a high fever; it arrived suddenly and without warning. She had a few other symptoms, but nothing severe (her appetite was decreased; she was a bit fussy and clingy, as sick children often are). But she didn’t seem sick — she still wanted to play and laugh and run around at home. Because the fever was high, however, we gave her homeopathic remedies and ibuprofen in the evenings to keep her comfortable.
During the period of her illness we visited two paediatricians and spoke to another paediatrician on the phone. We consulted with three doctors in total. The first suggested it might be conjunctivitis; the second, a throat infection; the third was stumped. None were convinced of their diagnosis (nor was there any agreement between them), and yet they all recommended and prescribed a course of antibiotics. Just in case. In the face of uncertainty, each doctor turned to antibiotics as the default prescription.
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and have absolutely no positive effects if the infection is viral. Antibiotics destroy the good (and bad, if any) bacteria in our bodies. So if one has a bacterial infection, antibiotics are quite effective in solving the problem. If the problem is viral, however, antibiotics kill the good bacteria that the body needs and can have long-term negative effects on the immune system and one’s gastrointestinal health. In addition, there have been many studies recently that link the overuse of antibiotics to the onset of autism in young children. Knowing this, antibiotics should only be used in emergency situations and when the doctor is certain that the infection is bacterial (this is not always an easy diagnosis to make, but possible nonetheless).
In the end, it was determined that Sienna had Roseola, a virus that is common amongst children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years. There is no treatment for Roseola and it is not serious. A small percentage of children will experience a febrile seizure (a potential concern whenever the child experiences a rapidly rising fever). Although scary, such seizures are rare and are not known to cause any long term damage.
If your child starts running a low grade fever, it is likely that your paediatrician will recommend paracetamol or ibuprofen to “manage” the fever. A low grade fever is considered anything between 99 and 102℉. Fever is the body’s response to infection, whether viral or bacterial. A fever is not an illness, but a natural treatment for an infection.
My Bible for infant and childhood illness has been Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child by Zand, Rountree and Walton. This text offers invaluable information regarding nearly every childhood illness from A-Z. They provide information on the illness as well as the conventional and alternative treatments available. The authors write:
Based on this knowledge, fever should be viewed as a treatment, as opposed to a symptom of an illness. If the fever is carefully monitored and stays below 103℉, medication is not necessary. In fact, it may be more beneficial to allow the fever to do what it is trying to do, which is fight the infection. Medication, such as Calpol, serves only to bring down the fever and it does not treat the virus whatsoever. Such medication, therefore, prevents the fever from “burning off” the infection, which is counterproductive to healing and recovery.
Another bit of advice: my wise Swedish mummy friend, Maria, taught me to always look at the child’s general condition. “A child with a mild cold may have a 105℉ fever, while a child with a serious illness — bacterial pneumonia, for example — may have only a 100℉ fever” (Zand, et al.) Therefore, the number of the thermometer is not necessarily indicative to the severity of the illness. If your child has a high fever, but seems “normal” (playing, laughing, smiling; perhaps a little lethargic, but generally him or herself) you can conclude that the general condition is good and immediate medical intervention may not be required.
If you choose to avoid conventional medication unless absolutely necessary, it is beneficial to investigate alternative medicines to treat your child. In Canada, I consult with a naturopath, a homeopath, and a paediatrician, and usually in that order. Although sometimes I have to pay out of pocket, I have found it is always money well spent. The visit to the paediatrician is covered by government health care, while the naturopath and homeopath bills are usually covered by health care benefits from one’s employer (a fact which people may not be aware).
In Malta, things work a bit differently. The paediatrician is likely private and therefore paid for out of one’s annual insurance benefits. Homeopathy, unfortunately, is not covered. That being said, homeopathic treatment is not as expensive as one might assume. The initial consultations for children (which last upwards of 1-2 hours) range from €35-80 and will typically include a follow up appointment. That is a one-time fee which allows the homeopath to take a case history and determine the child's constitutional remedy. The remedies are very inexpensive (€5-10 depending on your homeopath) and the results of priceless.
One homeopath whom I have had the pleasure of consulting with on my daughter’s health in Malta is Ashley Ager-Dimech. Ashley is a Classical Homeopath and principal at the Tigne Hollistic Centre in Sliema. The following is Ashley’s perspective on treating childhood illnesses with homeopathy:
In the two and a half years of her life, I have been able to treat my daughter’s various illnesses almost entirely with homeopathy. I have never had to give her any antibiotics or conventional medicines (besides ibuprofen). I do not think this is random or luck, but rather the result of my own vigilant research and careful choices.
If my daughter ever does develop an illness that requires conventional medicine, I will not hesitate to give it to her. Such conventional medications, after all, are invaluable in certain situations. The problem is when medication is overused. When and if I do use conventional medicine, the decision will be based on the recommendations of my practitioner, my own research, knowledge, and experience, as well as my motherly instinct. Never underestimate the power of your instinct — it was born within you from the moment your child began to grow in your belly. Your motherly instinct allowed you to birth your child, even through the pain; it allowed you to protect and nurture your child; it kept you sane through sleep deprivation and days of colic. And it will continue to grow and shift and change, just as your child does.
A mother’s guilt never goes away, I imagine — we will always be faced with events and decisions that will cause us worry and pain. A mother’s guilt comes from love; loving your child so completely, that you want to always protect and provide for him or her. As mother's, we must embrace the guilt, take a deep breathe, keep well informed, and be confident in our choices, because mother truly does know best.
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