Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Goodbye Thumbkin

I've been struggling with this post. I don't know exactly what I want to say, how I want to describe this situation, or even if trying to write this now is good for me. But here it is nevertheless. Brain purge. Gotta get it out, even if it's not done percolating.

My daughter was born perfect. 7 lbs, 7 oz. Wailing cry. Lots of blonde hair. Kicking legs. Ten little toes. Eleven little fingers.

Maybe more like 10 and a half fingers. My daughter was born with a partial extra digit on her right hand. A half-sized thumb that developed alongside her regular full-sized thumb. Thumb and Thumbkin. It had its very own little nail that I trimmed along with her other ten fingernails. It was precious, if unexpected. It was a part of her, her body. It was her normal.

And two months ago we had her extra thumb surgically removed.

Removed.  What a forceful word. And it sounds so void of emotion. Like it was an irritation to be swept away. Like her thumbkin was something that had snuck in and so we sent the bouncers over to turn it out. Like we didn't really think about it. Just something we needed to be rid of. But her thumbkin wasn't refuse, wasn't trespassing, it was part of my sweet beautiful baby girl. It was part of the only hand she knew. The hand she grew while inside of me. The hand I've kissed hundreds of times. I love that little hand. It was perfect. And now it's different. Now her hand looks just like most people's hands.

We were fearful her thumbkin would make her a target for bullying. That having a different number of fingers would affect how she felt about herself in a negative way. Limit her positive contacts. Keep her from her full potential.

We were scared by the what ifs.
And now we feel better (mostly).

And yet I still struggle with our decision. At 17 months her little friends didn't notice her hand, didn't care. But in a few more years they would noticed. Some of them would have cared. Some of them wouldn't have. How would she have felt about her extra thumb? We didn't wait to find out. And I'm not sure that was the right decision.

Perhaps she wouldn't have minded her extra thumb. There was actually a surgeon at the hospital who was polydactyl himself and who'd obviously accepted his extra digit. Should we have let her live that possibility? Was it wrong of us to take that from her?

We were trying to be compassionate. We were trying to make sure she had a healthy body to serve her quick mind, unhampered by uneccesary work-arounds for fine motor skills (the extra thumb pad was a hinderance to her, did trip her up when it came to unscrewing caps and picking up small objects).

But the fact that we weren't just concerned about performance but that we were so concerned about her having a feeling of oddity due to physical difference bothers at me. Aren't we humans all different? What does it say about me that I can say I strive to accept everyone but then I go and physically change my own daughter?  I wouldn't have circumsized her if she'd been born a boy. I take a child's bodily integrity seriously. Nevertheless I signed her up for surgery at 17 months because her thumbkin made it more difficult to pick things up [okay, so that's maybe acceptable] and because I think she'd be teased someday [and it's that "and" where my guilt comes flooding in].

I hope we made the right choice. I look at my baby girl now, count the fingers of her right hand, and find myself wincing when I come to "...four, five." It just seems to me that something's missing rather than something extra being taken away. It wasn't really extra, it was her.

I hope she is satisfied with the decision we've made for her. I hope she knows it wasn't made lightly. 

Eating paint and making some handprints the night before surgery


Anonymous May 13, 2010 at 3:36 PM  

Oh Thomasin, as parents it's so hard when we have to make decisions for our children, not knowing what they would choose if they could tell us. I am sure she will always know you didn't make it lightly and that you did it out of love. Because whatever choice you would have made would have been out of love, because you love her unconditionally. The fact that you struggle with your choice even after the fact is just more proof of the awesome Mama you are!

Anonymous May 23, 2010 at 7:44 PM  

You make choices every day in how to raise your child, and as long as they come from the heart then they're always right.

the grumbles May 24, 2010 at 1:17 PM  

She will appreciate the care and worry you put into this decision, it speaks volumes about how much you love her. I think either choice would have been the right one- I knew a kid with an extra toe growing up and no one thought anything about it. But I also knew a girl who had something similar to your daughter's situation and they chose to have it removed and everyone felt good about it.

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