Friday, May 28, 2010

A Mother's Confession About This Old House

If you were looking carefully at the landscaping, you might have noticed some other changes around the house.

When buying an older home, we knew that lead paint could be an issue. But what did that mean, exactly? Where was the lead paint? How much of an issue? Since lead has been outlawed in paint since 1978, surely it had been resolved by now, right?

And then, when we were painting the nursery, we used an at-home lead paint tester and discovered that all of the old windows were testing positive. This completely threw me off balance. At this point, I think I was already 7 months pregnant. There was no way we could figure out a solution and have it implemented before the baby was born.

We did our best, but I felt completely overwhelmed. No matter how much research I did, I still didn't feel like I really understand what was needed. I kept trying to get companies out to test everything around the house and tell us our options, but it didn't go well. Some refused to do any residential work. Many just didn't call me back. One company sent a guy out who looked around, told me we should probably replace all of the windows, took a soil sample, and never called back.

I felt underinformed, in over my head, and like I was swimming in a sea of knowledge and experts without actually having a clue about what was useful, relevant information.

We did the best we could. We found a local contractor to replace the majority of the windows, and took out two loans to do it.

He was horrible. I've already blogged bitterly about this experience here and here. It was just such an awful experience, and it dragged on for over a year .... which was, of course, the first year of Eleanor's life.

And then, after Eleanor's one-year well visit, we found out that she had an elevated lead level.

When we got the phone call with the results, I was so shocked and horrified. And, instantaneously, so very, very guilty. This was my innocent baby that, through shoddy, ineffective parenting, I had allowed to ingest poison. I think I spent the next week in tears. It was constantly weighing on me. Everyone knows that lead is a hazard; how could I not have known exactly what to do to protect her? How could I let this happen? What kind of defective mother am I?

So yeah, you can understand why it's taken me nearly a year to admit it publicly, that my daughter had an elevated lead level (ELL). It's been this deep, dark secret that I carry around with me, that I think about every time someone compliments me as a mother. I smile and nod, but inside I'm thinking, "You might think I'm a good mother now, but if only you knew the truth ..."

Here's the good news: Eleanor is okay now. A normal blood lead level is <3 micrograms of lead/deciliter of blood. What is concerned the "Action Level" by the CDC is 10mg/L or more. At it's peak (that we know of), Eleanor's was a 7. So she was in the "warning" stage, and wasn't actually considered poisoned. A month later, she was down to a 4, and by her 15-month appt, she was back at the normal level.

The bad news, and what I will always have to live with, is that we are not meant to have any lead in our systems at all, and there is no safe level. We will never know how even that brief exposure has affected her brain's development. If she ever has a learning disability or even is a particularly unruly teenager, it could be caused by the lead. I'll never know.

And we'll never know what caused the elevated lead level. Were the original windows the culprit? Or did replacing them make things even worse? Even though we made it clear to the degenerate window contractor that we were doing this because of lead paint concerns, I know now that he didn't take any of the precautions he should have to prevent lead dust from contaminating the work environment. You know: Eleanor's nursery, playroom, living room--all the rooms where she spends the most time. Is it his fault? Or is it our fault, because we didn't replace all of the windows? Did she just chew on some defective toy from China? We have no idea.

All we do know for certain is that her level was elevated, and there will always be a risk with that. We didn't do enough before she was born. We've done everything we could since to remedy the situation (but I'll get more into that in the next post). I am now fully aware of how impossible it is to be the perfect parent. No matter how hard we try, I have to believe that some failure is inevitable. A letting down of the guard here or a misstep there. I can only hope that I do enough things right to make up for that.

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