Reflecting Allowed

Don’t Vitaminize, You Heightists!

“I’m big and you’re small”
(so says my kid’s friend from daycare to her yday when they meet at a playground).

Today I discovered there is an actual term “heightism” (found it in the Merck Manual of medical stuff). I wonder how it took me so long to find an official term for something so obvious in society.

No hang on. It took me this long because I am tall, and privilege blinds us or diminishes the effect of our privilege sometimes. At 170cm (5’7″) I am tall for an Egyptian woman. Not so much that there aren’t many women my height, just v few women taller than me and quite a few men shorter, in my surroundings. It is rare that I have to look up too much to someone. I know how it feels to look down on someone. Physically i mean.

I don’t generally make fun of shorter people. As a woman, it’s actually awkward being with another woman who is much shorter. Makes me feel less feminine somehow. Most (but not all) my close friends are tall-ish. I’m heightist? My mom (also tall-ish) used to make fun of my much shorter cousin. My cousin told me when i was pregnant that just for those jokes (not mine, my mom’s!) that i’d get a short child. My husband joked “she can be short as a kid as long as she gets tall later”.

My little girl is so petite. She was born low birthweight but thankfully without other health issues. She latched and breastfed not perfectly but still did from early on. I was grateful and thankful, because low birthweight kids can have so many health issues. When she stayed small-ish i was advised to supplement w formula. But she didn’t like it and I was one of those awful/wonderful breastfeeding attachment parenting Nazis. She grew alright the first year then sort of slowed really badly after 18 months. She doesn’t eat well (picky eater or food critic?) and moves a lot so i thought nothing of it. Her pediatrician was kinda cool about it too. Then we considered going to a specialist in growth for kids.

She’s now almost 4 and the weight/height of an 18-24 month old. It’s cool for me to be carrying a 10kg 3.5 yr old kid (i have back problems) but it’s not cool that she doesn’t get taller. Apparently.

She is (thank God) otherwise “normal” developmentally. But not diagnosing/treating her could result in her never growing “properly” possibly totally missing puberty (another “normal” to tick off that can affect her entire life).

The tests she had to go through to diagnose her have been so many and so traumatizing for her that i think they’re worse than the actual diagnosis. Thank God she doesn’t seem to have a wider syndrome or a life-threatening illness (i think!) but.. Yeah…traumatic.

Today we had to do a special MRI on her head that requires contrast and sedation. Awfully worrying to be doing for her age.

I’m pretty strong. What made this most difficult for me was that i could not ask my late dad (an anesthesiologist) what he thought. As the anesthesiologist gave her the mask while the nurses held her down, he gently ran his hands over her hair.  He was so gentle. And then I had to leave her for half an hour and pick her up later to wait for her to wake up.

Thank God she was fine. And there is no tumor in her pituitary. But there is something her doctor will have to explain to me when we show her all the results from last week and this week. We’ll see.

As I learned about what growth hormone deficiency was (that’s probably what she has and hopefully it’s treatable in a straightforward way) I began to realize what part of my mom guilt had been based on. Heightism. And something else.

People saw my child not growing and blamed me.

They blamed me for breastfeeding her for two years claiming I spoiled her appetite for real food. As if breastmilk wasn’t the best and only food ever created JUST for human beings! They ignored all the health and psychological benefits. And the beauty of it all.

They blamed me for her picky eating, claiming i wasn’t trying hard enough. My girl has a strong gag reflex. If you forced a grain of anything she didn’t like down her throat she’d throw up her lunch. There was little point in trying. She is better now but still picky.

And now, even now, when they hear she is doing medical tests and doing an MRI, they ask if we should try giving her vitamins.

Are you f@#ng kidding me? Who puts their kids thru anesthesia and MRI for Goddamn vitamins!

And the only reason I have these conversations with people at all is the heightism. The convo starts with,

Stranger: “oh, your daughter speaks so well for her age”

Me: Actually she’s 3.5

Stranger: oh, but she’s so small for her age

Me: yeah. She was born small and it turns out she has growth hormone deficiency

Stranger: doesn’t she eat?

Me: err she doesn’t eat too well but she’s not malnourished. She actually has growth hormone problems. She’s doing blood tests and an MRI to diagnose it properly so she can get treatment

Stranger: oh, maybe you should give her vitamins

Me: aaaarrrghh

(actually no i just politely explain that no, vitamins won’t do it. And yes, ppl ib Egypt are that nosy).

So now you know 🙂

I wish it were just a height problem and  I could raise my kid to overcome the adversity. But it’s more and we need to get on with it. Inshallah all will be good

I am thankful every day it is not something worse. I just want people to get over their heightism and stop vitaminizing, please.

16 thoughts on “Don’t Vitaminize, You Heightists!

  1. Both our Daughters were big babies and breast fed for a long, long time. Both girls are slightly taller than me and Leslie. Ironically, the flip side is that Moms are criticized for holding their kids back by breast feeding “too long.” There are studies that show nutrition results in bigger bodies if it is consistent over a whole childhood but the answer is certainly more complex than vitamins and a single child in a whole population.

    The amount of love a person receives isn’t reflected in their body size.

    1. Hi Scott. Among Muslims, there is a Sunnah – a kind of religious recommendation – to breastfeed for two years and many families follow this. Bottle feeding may also be more closely associated with social class and wealth in the developing world. I thought that recommendations from Western medicine were to breastfed, and generally for up to two years. There is some public resistance to this – I’ve heard of women being thrown out of restaurants and chased out of public spaces for nursing their children. Part of the weird prudishness of N America. All the flesh you can handle on TV, but no breastfeeding in public.

      1. Yes Mark, you’ve added a lot of things that were on my mind. The Islamic thing re breastfeeding and yet the resistance to it even here and definitely with our social class – as if educated women don’t breastfeed. The stupid talk about breastfeeding not being useful beyond 6months. But yes, the current WHO standard is either one or two years (can’t remember, but i remember some organizations recommend one and some two – and most say “or longer if mom and child wish”).
        And I agree on the hypocrisy of ppl uncomfortable w breastfeeding in public. It’s hilarious though that in Egyptian society women of working class breastfeed in the open and its the educated who cover it up or do it privately. I did, though, see ppl do it in public (but not showing flesh) when i lived in Houston. You need to be a mom of a constantly hungry child to understand that it’s not breastfeeding that is anti-feminist, but people making women uncomfortable having public lives while they breastfeed that is the problem. Once i felt liberated to nurse my kid in the car or to seek any place in public, my life got so much better. Otherwise i’d never go out!

  2. So sorry to hear about these concerns but if it’s something that can be ‘fixed’, then good you caught it early. As for other peoples hangups about height, let that be their problem not yours. I’m only 5ft and tho I’d like to be taller, really? It’s not exactly the worst problem ne can have. Much lve x

  3. Sorry to hear about these concerns, Maha. Here in the UK at the moment we have a so-called epidemic relating to childhood obesity. Now I have friends who have kids who they are worried are getting fat (even though they are not). One more thing for parents of toddlers to worry about, then. Cheers.

  4. Hi Maha,

    I’ve been there too. I remember taking my son to see friends in Alex and someone said to me, /Huwa 3aSfurah/ – He’s a “little bird”, and she was blaming me for this. He wasn’t especially small, but skinny – at least by local standards. Free parenting advice is pretty easy to find, and generally annoying. If you want it, you can always read Dr Spock.

    1. Mark, I was raised on Dr Spock in the early 50s and was bottle fed by my well educated Mom. It was considered sophisticated or more precisely in the term of the day ‘convenient’. Strangely, with both my parents being artists and kind of early hippies the bottle feeding thing seemed out place. Everything modern and space-age was the fad at the time. Maybe breast feed in zero gravity is too messy?
      Jokes aside, social pressure weighs disproportionately on women–especially on the child topic. My older daughter had behavioral difficulties in middle school and her lack of regard for authority (guess where that came from) caused the vice-principal to call my wife frequently. The assumption may have been from a daughter/mother dynamic category in their psychology of troubled children manual but it didn’t fit our family.
      Fortunately, my wife is not tolerant of stereotyping and our daughters have turned out strong and maybe a bit dangerous to mess with. Our older daughter breast fed both her kids and they are healthy and very active. This a kind of left-field question but I wonder if breast feeding is a sign of close family bonds? Back to the idea of convenience, I can’t think a more wonderful inconvenience than children.

      1. Hey Scott,

        Yes, children are a wonderful inconvenience. The Arabic word for child, /Tifl/ comes from a root that means “uninvited guest” – which pretty much sums it up. I’m a boomer too, and was only technically bottle fed – the neighbors had a cow. I got quite fat.

        It’s funny how parents are always blamed for their kids malfeasance. One of my son’s math teachers once phoned me to complain, saying that my son was not interested in memorizing the multiplication table. I laughed and asked him on which planet are children interested in doing that? He never phoned me again. (That kid is now majoring in math. Shows how much I and the math teacher know).

        1. Mark, “uninvited guest” say a lot about how regard guests:-) Being able with birth control to “decide” to have children and it’s still a crazy optimism to walk into something you secretly know will challenge every attempt to be in control you can think of.
          My older daughter studied Criminology and was told she was too curious about how crime worked so she switched writing insurance policies and doing risk management assessments. Many things happen that are predictable if you understand humans well enough. Younger daughter works contract in water resources and management for the city of Edmonton plus designs and delivers waste-management courses for all of Alberta. She was told “girls are no good at math and the sciences.” Lucky for him my more reasonable wife was able to correct him first.
          Seems there’s a very unpredictable science in judging how people will turn out.

          1. Can i comment on the first point u make? As someone who has/had fertility issues, the decision was really opposite. The decision to actively make efforts to conceive. It’s strange how this alters our relationship with what is normally a spontaneous and natural biological inevitability for other people.

            1. Maha, we did have some delay conceiving Anna as the first baby. Thermometers and ovulation cycles made us awkward and feeling like lab rats or subjects in an experiment. We recovered our relationship during the Lamaze classes and going through the process with other couples. The 29 hour labor was a test though (Anna was 9 lbs 6 oz and had her own plans from the start).

              Do you think your trouble conceiving makes you more alert to your daughter’s health? I imagine the struggle to have her makes even unintentional suggestions that you are a sloppy mother sting all the more. And, people often don’t think before speaking.

              I interpret the “uninvited” part of the phrase as more like unexpected or unpredictable. What it’s like to be a parent doesn’t make sense until you are one.

              1. I think knowing it gives me mommy impostor syndrome. As if i don’t deserve ro be one. I question whether i tempted fate by doing IVF rather than accepting my infertility. I wish i was a blogger then. I know i wrote some stuff at the time, privately. I should dig it up and see. I do know the process was horrible and so artificial i was adamant to go the natural route w breast feeding. Need to think about it some more

              2. Maha, sorry the birth processes was rough on you. This is pretty personal for open discussion and your business to work out. When does being a mother really start and who can fill that role? My grandmother and her sister looked after me as did our neighbor who taught me all sorts of cool things and always encouraged my curiosity. She trusted me to be responsible in direct ways that maybe my biological mom didn’t have time for. So many dimensions to being a mother and one person can’t do the whole thing.

                As for the impostor thing, I’ll comment there.

  5. Thinking of you Maha – hope all goes well x It is awful to have to put your child through any sort of medical procedure; I can imagine that would have been a very stressful and scary process. What is it with society’s Mother Blame?! Mothers seem to cop it for anything and everything that seems in the slightest bit unusual about their child. My child was always pretty low weight for at least the first 6 months and I had some feeding issues at the start, and remember how stressful it was going to those appointments with the nurse…having him weighed and never putting on ‘enough’. Regardless of how supportive they tried to be, you never failed to get the impression that it was somehow YOUR fault. He was otherwise hitting normal milestones etc so in the end I stopped caring and worrying about the weight thing, but people’s attitudes can be VERY unhelpful and stressful to new mothers (and just mothers in general)! Thoughts with you.

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