Emma has an ear infection. This makes about one million and one for Emma, and five total ear infections between my younger three kids in the last three months. Our pediatrician confirmed today that her second set of ear tubes have fallen out and her left ear is infected. Actually, we first saw the infection when I took her in for her asthma three days ago. We decided to wait and see if it would resolve, but three days later it is no better and, with Emma's history of escalating infections, we now need to treat it. This means yet another dose of antibiotics.
Today I came home from taking five kids to the pediatrician, speech therapy, and the pharmacy to see that someone had posted something on facebook about why it's horrible to give kids antibiotics for ear infections, and I doubted myself. (If you are that person and you're reading this, believe me I love you, and I love all the helpful and intriguing things you post, that's why I read them--I'm about to describe a problem in me, not you.) Should I be giving Emma antibiotics again?
I do believe antibiotics are overused. I know they destroy the helpful intestinal flora. I believe that this harms the immune system. I know that all kinds of things we do in this day and age screw up our immune systems--from all the crap additives in our foods, to (possibly) the additives in vaccinations that over-accumulate due to our overly aggressive vaccination schedule, to constantly wiping out our intestinal flora with antibiotics. Two of my children already suffer from an autoimmune disease, celiac disease, possibly because of something I exposed them to or didn't expose them to when they were babies. But what am I to do?
I became defensive at this point, arguing at length in my mind with the imaginary people out there who might fault me for the constant rounds of antibiotics in this house.
"You don't know our history!" I yelled in my mind while I made dinner. "You don't know that I agreed with you and tried not to over treat Emma when she was a toddler. You don't know that she had constant ear infections and fluid in the ears for six months, that she cried every night for hours and banged her head on things, and that when we did try antibiotics it took round after round of different kinds to finally clear up the infection, only to have it return again. You don't know that I postponed the ear tube surgery because I didn't want to put her at risk for an unnecessary surgery. You don't know that when she exhibited severe speech delays the following year I blamed myself for not treating the infections sooner."
"Well," the imaginary better-than-me mother argues, "all of this could have been avoided if you had been feeding your daughter healthier food, practicing better hygiene, and giving her more vitamin D as well as doses of all of these natural antibiotics I know of. Don't you know garlic is a natural antibiotic?"
"Yes, I do!" I counter. "In fact, one winter when Matt and I suffered from a severe chest infection and had no health insurance we tried your little garlic cure. I chopped and chopped fresh, raw garlic and we choked down clove after clove of that pungent placebo! And we drank echinacea tea and took vitamins, and you know what? None of it helped! We hacked and coughed and suffered until we caved in and paid to see a doctor. Twenty-four hours on Amoxicillin and we were both cured! Garlic might be a natural antibiotic, but it doesn't compare to Amoxicillin, sorry."
"But have you organically farmed your own vegetables infused with probiotics?" Super Mom continues. "Do you home-culture your own kefir? You know, home-cultured kefir contains over fifty strains of beneficial bacteria that will restore your children's gut and immune systems! I also noticed that Emma's bedding wasn't washed in hot water using home-made laundry detergent in the last week, and your vacuum doesn't have a hepa filter on it... hmmmmm... overlooking these details will only exacerbate her asthma, which is sure to get worse with another round of antibiotics..."
And so it went in my mind, as it so often does. Am I right? Am I wrong? Should I be doing more? Will I look back on how I parented and regret it later? But, dejected, I conclude that I cannot do everything. I am raising five children, homeschooling three of them, juggling doctors and therapists, and spending hours every day on meeting my children's special dietary needs. What are these special needs?
Currently I cook:
--Gluten free--no products from wheat, barley, rye, or oats because two kids have celiac disease
--Dairy free--because it causes behavioral changes in Naomi
--No food dyes--because it causes major behavioral changes in Naomi
--Low soy--because I suspect that too much soy affects Naomi as well
--Low corn--because I suspect that Hannah may have a sensitivity to this
--Low nitrates/nitrites--because they cause behavioral changes in Naomi
--No tree nuts--Hannah is allergic to them
--Any fruits in the apple family (apples, pears, plums, apricots, peaches, cherries) need to be cooked first--Hannah is allergic to them unless they're cooked first (oral allergy syndrome)
Which leaves us with: meats (as long as they're not infused with broth that contains gluten), vegetables, fruits (as long as they're cooked first if they're in the apple family), rice, potatoes, and beans. These meals also need to be cheap--we're not made of money. This means I spend 2-5 hours a day on our meals (finding recipes, shopping, cooking from scratch, serving, cleaning up).
I have limited time and limited resources. Money does not grow in our backyard, and those vitamin supplements and natural antibiotics cost money I do not have. I live in a rental house where I can not organically farm my own food supply. I can only do so much. I am maxed out. And what good does it do for me to try to keep up with Super Mom if I am so stressed out that I snap in anger at every thing my kids do wrong? Is it worth it for my kids to have perfect immune systems if I have to give up the time to build real relationship with them, to train them in the things of God, to laugh with them and hug them? No, that is a sacrifice I will not make.
So I will measure out syringes of Amoxicillin for Emma and feed her yogurt. Some day maybe Emma will grow up and look with horror on the amount of antibiotics I pushed through her system. Some day maybe she will ask me why I didn't home culture my own kefir to naturally cure her every ailment. But I think I know what I will tell her now: "I did the best I could possibly do for you. I loved you with everything I had."