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If knowledge is power…silence is ignorance…

By M.Hood Rocks

The birth of my first child was truly a testament to the power and love of God! Nothing spectacular about my pregnancy—I had gained a total of XX pounds ( “XX” only because I truly cannot remember how much weight I put on!) and was a glowing, jet black, broad nosed but happy as a lark whopping 225 pounds, the day before she was born.
Oh, I lie about the ordinary nature of my pregnancy—she was overcooked and I was induced after 41 weeks. She had it too good in-vitro and knew it! I worked till the very end (I think two days before I delivered) and I remember the frantic phone calls from colleagues if I was more than 20 minutes late to work and sighs of relief when I finally waddled into the office. The entire office was on “baby watch”…I have indeed digressed.
I had the perfect child. She weighed in at 9.8 pounds and was a beautiful, physical manifestation of God’s awesomeness. Life was a dream and I was a combination of drunk and high on new motherhood.
Then at 14 months, my daughter was diagnosed with a condition known as precocious puberty. In a nutshell, her brain was receiving signals at an abnormally young age to undergo puberty. This was not hereditary. No one on either side of our families had experienced this. It was a random condition that occurred in one out of 10,000 healthy kids, I was told.
I was devastated. My perfect life had indeed come to a rude, screeching halt! It didn’t matter at the time that it wasn’t life threatening. Nor did it matter that medical science had a solution. It also didn’t matter that my amazingly hands on husband (who noticed the early symptoms) was remarkably supportive and stayed positive when I was losing it.
Then within a few days, I snapped out of it and got into super-mommy-who-would-go-to-the-end-of- the-world-for-her-child mode. No one was going to die over this and my faith kicked in. We went online and started the research and education. Then went to the Paediatrician and found the best endocrinologist in the area. I did my research and even found and joined an online support group, to my mother’s utter shock and disapproval! She didn’t understand why I felt the need to talk about it. Prayers should have been enough.
Speaking of prayers, I remember going to the endocrinologist with my mom (who of course flew in from Nigeria almost as soon as she heard—God love that woman!) and for the first time, found something in this situation to ROFLOL about. The treatment would require that my daughter got a shot every 30 days. This sounded like a heck of an inconvenience, but certainly doable. Then came the kicker: She would have to take the shots every 30 days till about the age of 9 when puberty naturally began!!
To that my Ibo Catholic mother responded, “God forbid! I cancel that in Jesus name…I will pray and fast and God will do this for me!”
My American doctor’s retort, “Ma’am, I’m a scientist. I believe in medical solutions. I can’t speak for any other cure.”
I know it took everything in my mom to sit there silently while her heart was telling her to grab her daughter and grand-daughter and run away from this descendant of Satan pretending to be a doctor. But it was a hilarious moment and I remember holding my laugh. Then my daughter started laughing. She obviously couldn’t grasp what was going on, but something made her laugh at that moment and I lost it. I laughed so hard at my mom’s reaction and even harder at the doctor’s straight-faced response.
To give credit to both—I knew everything was going to be okay through a combination of constant prayers and the 30 day routine of shots. In fact, I was mentally prepared for about eight years of shots. But this awesome God of mine had a different plan—I think he wanted to get back at “the scientist” for doubting his might!
After about a year and a half of shots that we were now doing on our own at home every 30 days—I remember that ritual so well: I would hold the lollipop and hug my daughter’s head tightly against my chest, while her dad squeezed her thigh and gave her the shot. She would scream her heart out and once it was over and the lollipop was in her mouth, life was good again and “naughty mommy and daddy” weren’t the bad guys anymore…I digress again.
God had a different plan and after a year and half of shots and regular visits to the hospital, “the scientist” was happily proved wrong! All my daughter’s hormone levels checked out and stayed normal. It was indeed a miracle that she had been cured. God had indeed done it for my mother as she asked him to! I don’t think the scientist ever used the words “miracle or God.” I think she preferred the phrase “highly irregular.” But she was thrilled all the same. Strong as my faith was, I wasn’t totally convinced that a miracle had indeed occurred, and subjected my daughter to a few more unnecessary shots and doctors visits, just to make sure. “The scientist” assured us after the last visit, “She is fine. All you need to do now is let her grow up like a normal child. Stop worrying!”
It’s been about seven years since the last shot. My daughter is now 10 and has begun to show the signs of puberty. How thrilled I was when the realisation hit that her nipples were swelling at age 9. Training bra shopping was such an honour and not the fearful experience it would have been had I needed to do it at age 6! I am also happy to report that at age 10 she hasn’t began her menstrual cycle.
Yes that’s the downside of untreated precious puberty. These kids start out being the biggest and tallest and their growth curves are off the chart: in the late 90thpercentile in height and weight. But it gets worse. Untreated, girls with precocious puberty could undergo puberty, complete with pubic hair and even begin their menstrual cycle as early as 6 or 7. In boys, their voices break around the same age. They reach puberty at an abnormally young age and they peak just as young.
They are the tallest in class and amongst their peers by the age of 5 or 6, and then they stop growing by age 8 or 9 and stay at that height into adulthood. You’ve probably seen people with untreated precious puberty. They are very small and abnormally short adults. They aren’t quite dwarfs, but not much taller than midgets.
I am thankful for a lot of things.
I am thankful first for my faith and the strength it gave me to do the right thing in seeking answers. I am thankful for a husband whose diligence as a father led him to notice symptoms I might not have seen till later. I am thankful for a mother whose belief in God and prayers kept me strong. I am thankful for the privilege of living in a country with an excellent health care system (okay, I’m not saying it is perfect…) and brilliant, committed “scientists.” Ultimately, I am thankful for growing up and living in an open society that gave me the courage and confidence to ask questions and seek answers about things I knew nothing about. I found and joined a group of women who shared their experiences and through whom I discovered an amazing network of brilliant doctors. My endocrinologist aka “scientist” is my friend to this day and I pop by to see her from time to time when I am in the States.
I live in Nigeria now. I love living here. I love that my kids are growing up around their grandparents with a solid understanding of their culture, who they are and where they come from. I also love the sense of community here. But paradoxically, I am often floored and fearful of the level of ignorance in this country. Even amongst people who ought to know better. People, who have lived in open societies, yet allow themselves to be silenced by fear of what people will think and say.
I say fearful because I am a true believer that silence oftentimes leads to ignorance and ignorance could ultimately be deadly. I see it every day in this society. Silence on domestic violence, rape, child abuse, AIDS, cancer, corruption…The list is endless.
Nigerians as a people do not believe in therapy. We are a loud and boisterous bunch, yet we don’t believe in talking or reaching out when we are in need of emotional help. Here, discussing personal issues is equivalent to “airing dirty laundry!” Yes, cancer is still considered taboo and a disease not to be spoken of. We prefer to suffer in silence. Those who can afford to, sneak out of the country, suffer and die in silence. Then we read the famous obituary that so and so died after a brief illness.
I am not advocating that people write and lecture about beatings, rapes, their HIV status and the like. More power to those who are able and willing to share, with the intention of helping others. But silence is not the answer. There is no dignity in suffering silently. I am also aware of the society we live in. Many Nigerians believe that the great majority of our citizenry are not a compassionate lot. And that in fact, it is safer to “keep your secrets secret,” because the same people you confide in are those who wish you ill and will be amongst the first to expose you….There might be some truth to that, but I refuse to let that be a justification for silence. You don’t have to join a group, but for goodness sake talk to someone—a mother, sister or immediate family member.
In my time of need, confusion or when I just need to get stuff off my chest, the first people I turn to are my sisterhood. They are a small group. In fact they don’t qualify as a group: sis and mom. But I have also been known to share personal stories with people I know may not have my best interest at heart. Why? For very selfish reasons—I let it out and the burden is lifted. Even through fake sympathy, one can gain strength.
My story ended well because I chose to ask questions rather than hide in fear of something I couldn’t understand or explain. My daughter is a beautiful, tall 10 year old now. My fears for her today are not at all health related. Instead my prayers for her are that she continues to thrive in everything that she does, and stays the amazing person whose love and thoughtfulness are daily reminders of God’s love and awesomeness in my life!

For more information on precocious puberty click here

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