The first time a healthcare provider told me that I had symptoms of sleep apnea and I should ask my doctor about a sleep study, my first thought was “I don’t want my kid to see me using a breathing machine.” Back in the days I used to watch the Biggest Loser, I saw people with families crying because they had to use a breathing machine. You were supposed to feel sorry for / disgusted by the poor sad fatties who had medical conditions. I internalized the belief that using a breathing machine is shameful, and I didn’t want my kid to see that weakness.
And then I told myself “wait a minute. That is fucked up that I would actually consider not finding out if I have a medical condition so I don’t have to show my son that I am treating it. There is NO shame in getting medical help for a serious medical condition and I will gladly tell my son THAT. Fuck TBL.
Well, today, my son said something to me that made me skip a beat. We were about to take a nap and I said “okay, you lie down and I’ll get my machine ready.” He said, “okay, you get your machine ready.” And then he said “someday, I’ll have a machine too!”
For a brief moment, knee-jerk responses flashed through my brain. “Hopefully you won’t. You had your tongue tie fixed when you were a baby, and mama’s doctor says the back of her tongue is large and sits high in the throat. And it all depends on what your airway and mouth is shaped like and maybe you won’t gain weight in your throat like I do and there are a lot of factors…..”
And then I realized I couldn’t predict the future. Who knows whether he will have sleep apnea or not? Thin people do. Fat people do. It may be completely beyond our control. (Or by the time he grows up, we may have an evidence based means of preventing it; who knows?) And so reassuring him that he might not get sleep apnea wasn’t the thing to do. What if he did? I didn’t want him to feel bad about it like I did, when I first found out.
And besides, he obviously hadn’t learned the shame that I had previously internalized. He wasn’t dreading using a machine. He was just looking forward to emulating his mom. And honestly, overcoming that shame and treating my sleep apnea anyway was the best thing I ever did for my health. So if my kid does end up having sleep apnea, I want him to have a positive attitude about treating it. CPAP is an extremely effective way to treat sleep apnea, but it has a very low compliance rate.
So I was not about to teach him that shame today. I’m sure the fatphobic world we live in will take care of that later, in spite of whatever I teach him at home.
So I shrugged and answered my son. “Maybe you will and maybe you won’t. If you have sleep apnea you will need one and if you don’t have sleep apnea, then you won’t. See, Mama has sleep apnea so I use a machine, but Daddy doesn’t have sleep apnea so he doesn’t need one.”
And that was that. Once shame was taken out of the equation, it turns out there was nothing to fear.
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