“My, what beautiful daughters you have! Are they twins?” asks yet another person. I’m at the supermarket with my two precious daughters Mei and Min Min, browsing the organic produce section looking for something to cook for dinner tonight.
“No,” I reply curtly, grinding my teeth. “Mei is seven and a half, and Min Min just turned six.”
One could be forgiven for thinking my girls are twins. Mei is only a little bit taller than Min Min but otherwise, my two lovely girls could very well be identical because despite my very best efforts, I just can’t get Mei to put on weight.
Mei falls in the bottom 2 percentile of weight for her age. Could this girl I love more than life itself and carefully feed every single day with the most nutritious food I can make, be malnourished? We are probably eligible for sympathy money from World Vision. Mei looks like a starving child, all skinny legs, jutting hip bones and starkly visible rib bones. Meanwhile, there’s me- health advocate, vitamin pusher, blogger, co-founder of the Thinking Moms’ Revolution. I’m counting grey hairs, I’m grinding my teeth (thanks to stress and frustration, my calcium and mineral levels are fine) and fretting how on earth I can get food into this beautiful but tiny little sweetheart who is not thriving despite my very best efforts.
Mei was diagnosed with moderate autism, after years of therapy, diets, biomedical intervention, homeopathy and the many other things we did, we are now at the enviable place in our lives where she has lost her ASD diagnosis. That’s right, Mei is recovered from autism. She’s like one of those mythical unicorns you’ve heard about, but never actually seen. But here she is, living proof that you can recover from autism. She is also skinny as hell.
“Mum, I have something to tell you…” says Mei at the dinner table, telling us what she did in school today. Her hand poised with a spoonful of rapidly cooling food, hovering in the air. A carefully prepared GFCF dinner made of expensive imported organic grass-fed Australian beef, organic vegetables and rice sits neglected in front of her. I try to ignore the untouched food in front of Mei. I try not to praise Mei’s little sister Min Min who is on to her 2nd helping. Nor do I think of the other children I know with the voracious appetite of a Golden Retriever.
“Honey, please eat your dinner,” I tell her for the zillionth time (while I grind my teeth, trying to hold back the frustration in my voice). My mission is to get as much food as I can into that little vaccine- injured belly. To add some much needed padding on to those skinny limbs. I can’t count how many times Hubby ends up eating the expensive leftovers, loathe to waste the precious food. But I won’t give up. I will get some muscle on those gorgeous little bones if it kills me.
The next day I’m back at the grocery store, grinding my teeth at the parents I see feeding their children candy and fast food. I try not to shoot bitter looks at them, daggers in my eyes at their big and healthy kids. Oh the irony. But I remind myself, Mei is more than worth her weight in gold.
“I will find that magic recipe for Mei” I tell myself. A healthy dinner she will eat without prompting, food that she will devour happily without me nagging her to take yet another bite. Something delicious and healthy that will put a few more ounces on. I’m not asking for pounds, just a few measly ounces would make me happy. Anything. Perhaps some imported New Zealand lamb chops with organic mashed potatoes? Coconut rice with fish marinated in turmeric? GMO-free organic miso soup with wakamame seaweed and enoki mushrooms?
Mealtimes are so difficult for her, and for me too. At dinner, Mei tentatively licks the first mouthful of food, testing it, then carefully places it in her mouth, processes the taste and texture thoughtfully, chewing and swallowing, oh so slowly and carefully. Then more pauses. Such supreme indifference to food (well, real food at least). For once, I’d love to see that joy and abandonment to food that is usually reserved for illicit ice-cream treats and birthday cake. I sit there silently, gripping my chopsticks so tightly my knuckles turn white, teeth grinding away, biting back a growl of frustration. If Mei had her way she would happily live on chicken nuggets, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to put pieces of Dr. Frankenstein’s buzzards into my little angel.
I try not to weigh Mei too much. I don’t want to give her a complex about her size, though I clearly already have one. Fortune smiles on us and the bathroom scales give us the good news. A few desperately needed ounces. All that effort has been worth it. I cheer her progress and she throws her little pencil-thin arms around my neck and tells me she loves me. As we hug I relish the contact and feel of her, holding her close while trying not to notice the bony hips and knees digging into me.
It’s been one of those weeks, where I struggle with the feeling of being a bad mother. I push my misery away, chose to focus on the positives, of which there are many. I am blessed. I remember to celebrate the little victories, bask in the love so evident in my little family. Hubby decides to celebrate by having lunch at our favourite cafe, so off we go. A new waitress approaches our table “What lovely daughters you have!” she says “Are they twins?” Grind, grind, grind.
About the Author
Marissa Bagshaw is a mother of 2 children who are recovered from autism. Her blog Spectrum Mum in Malaysia is inspired by her daughters’ journey through autism. Marissa is the founder of KL Biomed, a support network for autism families doing biomedical intervention in Malaysia and neighbouring Asian countries. She is also a co founder of the Thinking Moms’ Revolution.