My pediatrician is a good doctor who has never been wrong about the health of my children. When he didn’t perform tests or express concern about Leah’s runaway weight, I felt comforted. In the meantime, I busied myself with fielding questions from family, friends, preschool teachers, and random people in the grocery store. Their awe at Leah’s size was compounded by my small stature. Here I was buying milk and lugging a baby who looked like she should be lugging me. I wasn’t surprised they had questions. I was surprised that those questions were laced with accusations.
What are you feeding her?
Steak and a dozen eggs daily.
What are you eating?
Steak and a dozen eggs daily.
Is your husband tall?
No, my husband is not fat.
Early during my pregnancy we did receive something of an omen about Leah’s amazing growth. I was eleven weeks along with Leah when I went to my obstetrician for a routine check-up. My doctor was measuring embryo Leah to verify her delivery date and monitor proper growth. After the initial take, he kept measuring, swirling the ultrasound pad with increasing concern across my jellied belly like he was looking for metal.
“The date’s wrong,” he said.
“The date’s not wrong,” the nurse staring at my records said.
“This measurement can’t be right,” my doctor said. “We were wrong before. The date has to be wrong.”
“What’s wrong?” I said. My question was followed by silence, which is not how you want such questions to be followed. The doctor took another measurement.
“The baby is bigger than it should be as indicated by the dates,” he said. “Usually sizes and dates don’t vary this much at this stage. Your baby’s a full week ahead.”
“And that’s not normal?” I said. “It’s the top end of normal,” he said. “Stop eating Miracle Grow.” He gave one of those doctor laughs that’s sup- posed to blow away the tension in the room but instead sucks out the air. He also told me not to worry, a thoroughly useless request, and said we would measure again next month. When the next month showed everything within expected parameters, Leah’s miraculous growth was relegated to an amusing anecdote. I didn’t think about it again until she hit 24.7 pounds at seven months.
Month seven of Leah’s life was the kind every parent dreads because it involved an unexplained fever of more than 104° that wouldn’t succumb to Children’s Tylenol and Children’s Motrin. Grandma was called in to watch the older girls, while my husband and I sped off to the emergency room on a Saturday night with Leah in my arms.
The pediatrician on call examined our whimpering little girl. He listened to her chest to check for RSV, a virus that can cause serious lung infections in babies. The lungs were clear. He shone a light in her ears., which were not red and oozing pus. Finally he said it might just be a different virus, which is what doctors say when exams are inconclusive.
“How much Motrin did you give her?” he asked.
I looked at Leah draped in a tiny hospital gown with the tie wrapped twice
around her. It was the first time she’d worn something that didn’t fit like a sau- sage casing.
“I gave her the dosage for seven months,” I said.
The doctor paused. The nurse paused. The entire hospital might have paused to stare at me, my husband, and our gargantuan baby.
“That’s why her fever won’t go down,” the doctor said. I could see the phrase silly mother pop up in his eyes like the words on a magic eight ball.
“You need to go by weight, not age. She needs the 2 to 3-year-old dose.”
I had thought about giving her the dosage for her weight and not her age when the fever first presented, but who gives a seven-month-old the dos- age clearly recommended for a two- year-old without incurring a light knock on their door from Social Services? We gave her more Motrin. Her fever plummeted, though it did not subside entirely. It turned out that Leah had a urinary tract infection—very rare for an infant. Fortunately, the infection was a fluke. Leah was soon healthy (and fat and happy) again.
Minor health scare in the rearview mirror, I focused on Leah’s upcoming nine-month wellness check-up. I anxiously awaited the weigh-in, hoping her height and age were catching up to her weight. I ignored some rather obvious clues that my hopes were like the bubbles Leah loved to pop: the size 3T clothing I was buying her, my inability to find a baptism dress because stores only carry sizes up to twelve months, her hands and feet spinning like happy pinwheels at the end of her limbs whenever she spotted food. Needless to say, the ninth month weigh-in showed Leah was at her highest growth rate yet. Again, I expected to be put on a poster, this time with the word “Warning” written in bold letters across the top.
“One year. She’ll slow down by one year,” our pediatrician said. Three months later he followed that with: “18 months. We should see a slowdown at 18 months. But in the meantime, no whole milk and no juice.” At one year of age, Leah was put on a diet. Then at eighteen months, with only a small decrease in her gain rate despite all efforts, our pediatrician finally said: “Looks like she might just be a big girl.”
Yes, big girl was her diagnosis. Leah didn’t have a genetic disorder like the boy from the report on Discovery Health. She wasn’t gorging on sweets. In fact, the only ice cream and cake she’d had up until that point was on her first birthday. Usually I made her sisters eat dessert after she was tucked into bed. I hid in the pantry when I snacked on cookies. It felt awful and wrong and mean, particularly when all that awful- ness and wrongness and meanness resulted in her measuring 35 inches and 35 pounds at age two. That’s when the CDC officially starts calculating child BMIs. That’s when Leah officially became obese. That’s when I officially became a bad mother.