I remember being in Noah's NICU room, sitting helplessly in a chair watching as nurses and doctors attempted to gag my child several times a day. A natural reflex they told me Noah didn't have. A sign of his severe neurological damage. Sometimes they would use just one finger, sometimes to prove a point they used more than one finger, cramming it down into the depths of his tiny, newborn throat. "See," they said. "He can't gag," as if I was in denial. He was so drugged I often doubted the truthfulness of the finger test they kept doing over and over again. I often thought they were using that as a tool to try to convince me into the method of starving him to death as they had requested we do, annoyed that we kept ignoring the pushes from the social workers they sent to my child's bedside while I sat and prayed to God to simply spare his life.
Noah never did demonstrate a
gag reflex in the NICU, but that's wasn't relevant to me. In the large
scheme of things I was just fighting for his life. In fact, I can't
remember the first time I remember Noah gagging. But wouldn't all
those doctors be so proud... he gags frequently now. No finger test
Noah's gag reflex is a part of his sensory processing
challenges. The gag reflex to Noah is how he's able to signal that
something is overwhelming him or upsetting him, and if I fail to remove
what ever it is that is causing him to do this, he'll gag until he
continually vomits. The problem being, I don't always know truly what
is causing it. This morning I greeted him, getting him dressed and
ready for the day and he gagged. Maybe he didn't like the shirt I was
wearing, maybe the light in his room was too bright, much too soon.
Maybe he thought the smell of his urine soaked diaper was too much,
maybe the socks I put on him were too pilled and not soft enough up
against his skin. I don't really know. There are several things that
set Noah off, and while I'm good at guessing what the trouble might be,
I'm by no means an expert... yet.
It didn't happen for many
years. I want to say maybe it started around the age of three. Now
it's clearly a defense mechanism for him. It is the fastest way he has
to tell us that something is bothering him. In the beginning I blamed
myself. First it started out with self-hate for allowing anyone
whatsoever to put a finger down my child's throat for the sake of trying
to medically prove the extent of my son's neurological damage. Then
the blame came in forms of I'm overwhelming my own child, to blame that I
didn't know all the exact triggers - and I still don't. Sensory
processing disorder (or SPD), often has a tendency to make a parent feel
like the failed somewhere along the way. I don't know if Noah's
sensory gag reflex could have been prevented. It's especially hard to
work on when there isn't any clear understanding of all of Noah's
I know that he prefers super soft clothing and that
touch, smell and noise can all be triggers. But sometimes he can just
look at me and gag, and I can't say that my heart doesn't sink just a
little bit when that happens. Because I wish it didn't. Because I wish
I knew how to help him get past it. Because I love him more than life
itself. Because it's one more thing that leaves you feeling completely
helpless as a special needs parent.
Noah's Miracle by Stacy Warden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.