This is the twenty-first part of a fiction serial, in 775 words.
When the doctor asked me if I had any questions, I was still in a daze. I had a hundred questions of course, maybe more. But I just shook my head. She said that I would get another appointment when Leah was six months old, as she would be able to tell more by then.
Sitting in the car in the car park, I couldn’t bring myself to turn the key to start it. I didn’t cry, I just felt numb.
On the way home, I started to think about having to tell Olly what she had said. Then there were my parents and brother, the few friends and former colleagues that bothered to stay in touch, and Olly’s sister in Canada. I decided we should not say anything to anyone until after the next appointment, and that was what I would discuss with Olly when he got home.
He was so casual about it, I wanted to hit him. “Well she said she couldn’t rule out brain damage. She didn’t say Leah has it. Maybe she’s just a late developer? I think we should give it more time, and I definitely agree we shouldn’t say anything to anyone else about this for now”. With that, he turned on the television to watch the evening news, and it was all I could do to stop myself screaming hysterically at him.
I went upstairs with Leah, and sat in her room for two hours, staring at her.
There were two ways I could deal with this in my own head. I could adopt a ‘why me’ attitude, cry about it, feel hard done by, and probably end up resenting my child at some stage. Or I could stay strong, and deal with it. Whatever else happened, I couldn’t love her any the less. And none of it was her fault. I decided I would cope. I would not allow the negative thoughts to intrude on my mind, and would be Leah’s mum, through thick and thin.
The second letter from the hospital arrived sooner than I had expected, and gave me an appointment for exactly three months after the first one. At least they were efficient, and I wasn’t going to have to resort to phoning up to check. I started to do some research too. Meanwhile, I took her in for her booster jabs, and grabbed a few leaflets while I was at the doctor’s.
Two days before the hospital appointment, I had a checklist written down. All the things Leah should be able to do by now.
Roll from her back to her tummy
Sit up with support
Be able to get into a crawling position
Grasp a toy using both hands at once
Reach a small object using her finger and pick it up using her thumb and all fingers
Pick up a small toy with one hand and pass it to the other
Play with her feet when laying on her back
Hold her hands up to be lifted
Make sounds like ‘Da’, ‘ga’, ‘ka’
Squeal and laugh
Like to look at herself in a mirror
Eleven things. Simple enough things that any baby should be doing at six months old. Checking them off against my close observation of Leah made for depressing reading. I could only confirm ‘Making sounds’. Leah said “Gah”. It was all she ever said, and it just came out at random, never in response to anything I was doing with her or saying to her. She said the same thing to Olly when he was holding her, and he had joked about changing her name to ‘Gah’.
I didn’t think that was remotely funny.
Arriving at the hospital for the six-month check, I was forewarned, and forearmed. I had toughened myself up over the last ten weeks, and had a new focus. As expected, the South African doctor went through the motions of assessing those eleven checks, though she did them without telling me what she was doing. Then someone else came into the room, and introduced herself as Polly. She went through much the same routine with Leah after the doctor had left the room, though she spoke to me all the time, explaining what she was doing, and why.
When she seemed to have finished her examination, I came right out and asked. her. Is it brain damage? Was it caused by oxygen deprivation at birth? Can anything be done? Polly looked very sympathetic as she listened to me. Then she told me what she thought.
“It is still too early to tell, Angela. But I think you have to prepare yourself for some severe developmental issues”.