I really do intend to get through Child Abuse Awareness Month. And I really do intend to impart what I hope will be useful information, along the way. It’s just that talking (writing) about child abuse triggers my PTSD to the extent that I am schlepping myself around exhausted, not particularly eating, and not particularly interested in anything much. And then there are the dreams. Good thing I have little Noga to keep me entertained with her hijinks and motherly kisses.
I have flashbacks about the little 9 month old who had learned how to turn over and try to wiggle away from having his diaper changed, so his father grabbed him by both legs and gave him a few vigorous shakes, so that he broke both his legs. That baby turned out to have multiple rib factures in various stages of healing, so it looked like nobody had much patience for him.
Or the little girl who came in from the Souther Tier, always a bad sign. The Southern Tier is a set of mountains south of Rochester, NY, where things go on that make the movie Deliverance look like Mary Tyler Moore. This girl kind of stumped us for a while, because of the polka-dot pattern of three-inch-diameter burns over her whole body. Her parents, who were filthy, with greasy locks, reeking of beer, were no help at all. They only brought her in because several of the odd burns had become infected. One of the professors in the ER that day solved the mystery: he brought over a light-bulb, and voila! The end of the bulb fit the burns exactly. The parents eventually admitted that they had been “disciplining” the girl by applying the end of a lit table lamp to her skin. I’m happy to say the girl was whisked away into the hospital, where she was healed of her physical wounds, and got to do play therapy and art therapy and music therapy and even school, which she had not had the opportunity to attend while languishing in the Southern Tier. She was placed in a good foster home and eventually adopted.
It was not unusual to see intentional injuries that simply don’t compute, at least not to me. A grandmother “disciplined” her grandbaby by pouring black pepper down the baby’s mouth. The baby died, and on autopsy was found to have its windpipe completely packed with pepper. Another grandmother gave her grandbaby an enema of boiling water. That poor child lived, but had to have five feet of intestine removed, and multiple reconstructive surgeries to try to avoid the year-old baby having to grow up with an ileostomy (wearing a bag on its abdomen to collect stool). An irate babysitter held a toddler under scalding water in the bathtub, resulting in third-degree burns over 100% of the child’s body. He died. And the list goes on and on.
Children chained to their beds, brought in with some incidental illness, and we see the raw and scarred ligature or handcuff marks. A teenager who was raised in a crawlspace under the house, and was essentially feral, brought in because he had vomiting and diarrhea. Otherwise, he would have spent his entire life in the crawlspace.
Why did they do these horrible things to their children? They were bad children, said the caretakers (torturers I say). Bad children, so they deserved to be burned, imprisoned, tortured, some tortured to death.
I am not crying now, and that is because I dissociate when I think about these things. But I am making a lot more typing mistakes than I usually do, so that shows that it’s getting through somewhere. I want to get hold of those parents, grandparents, babysitters, and do the same things to them that they did to their children. Break their bones. Burn them with hot light bulbs and lit cigarettes. Etc, etc, etc. It’s amazing how creative these monsters can be at torturing their children. We’re not talking getting carried away with a spanking here, we’re talking thinking up things to do to cause grievous physical harm.
The key to avoiding many of these atrocities, I think, starts at birth. It’s a great time to screen for child abuse risk. Have a good look at the mother and father. Watch how they relate to each other. Watch how the mother relates to her newborn. Is she in love with her new baby, or does she only want to sleep, and when the nurse brings her the baby to feed, does the minimum required and sends the baby back to the nursery so she doesn’t have to be bothered with it?
Social workers can help immensely, especially if they can make home visits to at-risk families. There’s nothing like going to someone’s home to get a sense of what really goes on there. That’s one of the reasons it distresses me that physicians seldom make house calls anymore. If you only see the baby when the mother (or other caretaker) brings them in for their shots, you really only have a snapshot of what the home environment is like; although let me tell you, some of the routine office visits I’ve had have been hair-raising: if this is how they treat their kids at the doctor’s office, what must it be like at home???
I’ve managed to give you some snippets of what’s causing my child abuse PTSD. These are only a few of the things I have seen. I am going to try to soldier on with this, and hopefully manage to navigate through some of the other types of child abuse that damage our children, who grow up to be damaged adults.