Nurturing the Child with a Cold
By Donna Bruschi
Originally published in 2014, updated in 2020
The warmth of the last several weeks has me feeling hopeful that the relentless cold and darkness of the coming months will not happen after all! The longer nights, shorter days, chill, and dampness depress me, and I find it hard to be happy, and even more, difficult to accomplish my daily tasks.
And worse, every sniffle or hint of a scratchy throat sends a frisson of terror through my heart.
Because pandemic be damned, it's also the season of runny noses!
As we are slowly drawn into winter, cold and flu-like illnesses abound. When my children, parents or partner gets sick, I may manage to avoid the worst, but these illnesses drain me.
As terrible as I feel, there is also a little one who feels just as bad, but doesn't have the perspective that comes with adulthood. And each time my kids are sick, I ask myself why they have to suffer so much. Over time, I have become numbed to it, but honestly, it still pains me.
Tending to a sick child brings up a whole array of emotions in me.
I can feel empathy and confidence as I nurse or cuddle, refill their mug with hot chamomile tea, and serve cold applesauce to soothe their sore throat. I can feel helpless and doubt my judgement: Is this 'only' a miserable ear infection? Or... is there also an infection brewing in their mastoid bones?
And, the worst is when I am worn out, angered with the situation, the incessant gloomy days, my mom calling to say she can't help out after all, my husband letting me know he's having to work late, and all three kids uncomfortable in every way imaginable and whining, because that is the only way they can communicate what they are going through.
And in these moments, I just want to scream, or cry, or get in the car and keep driving.
And even after all these years, and with all my experience, I still feel guilty and anxious when I feel this way. Even though, mentally, I know it's a very human and an absolutely normal way to respond in a very stressful situation.
I can clearly remember the first fever I ever experienced in my baby.
My firstborn was 4 months old and one evening, he felt hot! I checked his clothing but he didn't seem to be overdressed. I felt him again and then took his temperature. It was moderate - 100 or so - but fear welled up. He was flushed and he had been inconsolable all day. I had stayed home from work and we had slept in my bed nursing all day, into the evening.
Now it was after 10 pm. I was worried. And I did not know what to do!
I called the pediatrician and got his answering service. Our doctor called back, asked a few questions, and then reassured me. He said it might be teething or a virus. He recommended that I check his temperature through the night and if it went higher, I could give Tylenol. He said that I could call back if anything else developed. This brought a sense of relief! My son did not get worse and I don't actually remember how long he was sick that first time!
I remembered this phone call each time I felt a fever come over my children.
By the 10th fever or so, I felt empowered and relaxed, and by the 20th, we had a new pediatrician who believed in the healing power of fevers. I called once when my son had a fever of 104 degrees. He said, "Oh -- that's a good fever! Is your son drinking and urinating? When he wakes up, does he know where he is, and who you are?"
I answered yes to all and he said to keep going and call back if my son was not doing any of those things. Of all the things my pediatrician has said, this has become the foundation of my nurturing.
Then my son had a string of ear infections that seemed to never end.
Our pediatrician had a medication for everything and in addition to those, we added garlic oil, sliced onions over the ear, cranial sacral therapy, warm hats, a dairy-free diet, hot baths, ear drops, and any number of other home remedies.
I felt very vulnerable and questioned my instincts as a parent because he was still sick on a regular basis. The sleepless nights and hours of laying awake, listening to his congested breathing and whimpering, left me totally frazzled and filled with self doubt.
What else could I do?
Because I have seen my kids weather many a cold and come out on the other side as healthy and happy as one could want, I tried to take a longer view. I pursued educating myself on ear infections and found another doctor, an Anthroposophical MD who would help to strengthen his constitution with herbal and homeopathic remedies.
I calmed myself knowing that in time, the ear infections would pass.
He was sick now, but he would get better. He was in pain, but nursing gave him immunities and physical comfort. Holding him and caressing his head helped him relax and ease into the deep, healing sleep that he needed. Staying near him kept him calm and feeling stronger, without any worry that I would abandon him.
And as he recovered, I read endless books and played long games of cars and cards. We watched movies while cuddling and I would pause the show when he dozed off. I slipped away to eat, clean, or use the bathroom until he woke again.
I have grown as a mother through my kid's illnesses.
I now feel better equipped to deal with them being sick, but it doesn’t make the emotional aspect of dealing with them any easier. Every time they are sick, I feel a knot in my stomach knowing my kids are in pain!
I have also learned something very important about nurturing a sick child. You cannot take away the illness, but you can offer your child your presence and loving, tender comfort, and that eases their suffering.
The nurturing heart and touch of a mother holds its own healing!
When your child wakes in a feverish fit and you are near to wipe the hair from their face; when you offer your shirt to wipe their runny nose on; when you spoon-feed them tea infused with your prayers; when you hold them in your loving arms for security and comfort; you are helping your child to heal!
The next time you find yourself facing a long stretch of runny noses or hacking coughs, remember that by providing simple mothering, tender love, caresses and care, you are providing healing for your child!
And, in this season of darkening days, I can also look to some bright spots.
Halloween is coming with its promise of conquering ghosts, goblins and demons! The candlelit pumpkins and sweets of the season abound, even if Trick-or-Treating is on hold because of the pandemic.
Thanksgiving is soon after, with traditional comfort foods, even if it will be celebrated via Zoom this year.
A couple of December birthdays, Hanukkah and Christmas mark the shift of the season. The longest night will pass and even though the days are cold and usually snowy, the sunlight returns with its promise of warmth and abundance.