I knew going in that being a parent would mean I’d be willing to sacrifice for my kids. I didn’t realize it would have me planning to take good care of an organ in case my son needs it someday. But here we are.
On the outside, my little boy is a totally normal toddler. In fact, he was the biggest, bounciest, most robust baby in the NICU, which was where he spent the first eight days of his life, and where the nurses were caught off guard by how substantial he was compared to their other patients.
On the inside, things are a bit more complex.
It was the beginning of my third trimester when we got the gut-drop news from the perinatologist: What had looked like fairly common urinary tract dilation during the anatomy scan was actually an early symptom of a kidney condition with a lifetime impact and a wide range of potential outcomes.
In those early post-diagnosis days, I focused on the immediate — scaling back my workload, withdrawing from my ballet class, scheduling twice-weekly non-stress tests and fluid checks — as I began to absorb the impact of the long-term implications. I was about to go from being the parent of one perfectly healthy child to the parent of one perfectly healthy child and one newborn facing an unknown array of medical challenges.
Oh, and my husband had just accepted a job in Milwaukee — about 3,000 miles away from our hometown and support network.
Kidney problems, as it turns out, are sort of complicated in that they can evolve quite a bit as a person grows.
They can get better, and they can get worse. They can also get better and then get worse and then get better again, or vice versa, and then some. We’re fortunate that the Milwaukee area has world-class pediatric urology and nephrology. And so far, we have had great outcomes. But that could change.
That’s why there’s one thought that has been ever-present in my mind since before I even met my son, since the first meeting with our first nephrologist (or was it the urologist? They all run together): Someday, he is likely to need a new kidney. And I’m going to be first in line to give him one.
My dad, a retired paramedic with multiple replacement joints, follows medical news with both personal and professional interest. He thinks by the time we need a kidney, they’ll be growing them in industrial organ farms. That sounds great to me.
But just in case they’re not…
Sometimes I don’t feel like the world’s greatest parent. Sometimes I look at the number of Happy Meal toys around my house and worry about all the Chicken McNuggets that could have been healthy vegetables lovingly prepared by me. At least once a day I am deeply concerned about the extent to which I may be screwing my kids up in some way that won’t reveal itself until they’re grown and it’s too late to do anything about it.
I’m also prepared for the day when I voluntarily have my abdomen cut open so surgeons can literally take an organ from my body and use it to extend my son’s life. So is my husband. And almost all the moms and dads I know would willingly do the same. The only thing that makes us unique is that we got an early warning that it might be necessary.
And at the end of the day, that’s all your child really needs — a parent who loves them so much that they’d volunteer to be knifed open by a complete stranger and literally hand over a functioning body part in order to protect them.
If you manage to get some vegetables into them on top of that undying, unconditional love? Bonus.