August turned one 3 months ago. It was a wonderful birthday party full of friends at the public pool near our house. Splashing, playing and eating abounded and not a single meltdown was to be had (adult or child!).
He had his 12 month appointment on his birthday, and his stats were perfect. He measured ahead in height, and a bit below average in weight, but his head circumference was right on target and his milestones were all being met. We were elated.
He was due for vaccines which we obliged (because FUCK the antivaxx movement) and a blood draw to check all sorts of levels. The blood draw was a little rough, because let’s be real – He’s tiny, and his veins are even smaller than he is! Regardless, he bounced back and was completely unphased by the time we met up with our friendies for a pancake birthday breakfast!
We got home, and he went down for a nap as easy as pie, after all it’d been a busy morning! Then my phone rang. And everything changed.
His blood results had already come back:
August had elevated lead levels.
The nurse on the phone assured me that “this happens” and that it wasn’t a “big deal”, that we just had to feed him a lot of foods containing high levels of calcium, iron and vitamin C and it would “get better” and they’d “redraw at 13 months.” And did I have any questions? No? Ok, bye now!
I’m sorry… What?
And then I made a huge mistake. I googled it.
“Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child’s health, including damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems.”
I’m sorry… What?
A million questions rattled through my brain. How could this have happened? How do I fix this? How long has this been happening? How can we make this go away?
As it turns out, when a child’s lead levels come back elevated, the doctor’s office is mandated to report the results to the state public health department. Not two days later, I got a call from my assigned case worker from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). She was assertive. I can’t imagine having her job. She asked me questions about our living situation. Yes, we own our old home. No we do not have any current construction happening. She told me she’d be out to our home with some scientists to figure out where the lead exposure was coming from. And did I have any questions? No? Ok, bye now!
It was a plan, at least. In the meantime, we just had to continue living in a home that was poisoning our baby and we had no idea how to stop it. I don’t know how to express to you the feeling of dread.
The home you bought and filled with your life.
The home you brought your brand new baby home to.
The home where you feel safe, and comfortable, and at ease.
Is poisoning your baby.
I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t. How could I sleep, knowing that the very walls, windows and doors surrounding us were creating damage in my child’s brain and nervous system and development and behavior and hearing and speech?!
I didn’t want to stay in our home. I didn’t want to invite friends over. I didn’t want to see or speak to anyone who had recently been in my home… Because I felt guilty. What if my home had harmed them or their babies?!
The guilt was all consuming.
And yet – None of it was my fault. If it hadn’t been for August’s routine blood draw at his 12 month appointment, we would NEVER HAD KNOWN.
The time came for our case worker and her scientist friends to scour our house with their swabs and scanners and test tubes and sample bags. We just stood there. What could we do?
As it turns out, there were multiple areas of our house that had lead paint – the largest being our original windows. The interior and exterior of the windows had been taken care of since lead paint was banned (1976), but the sashes (between the outer screen/storm window and the interior moving piece) were covered with chipping, peeling, loose lead paint chips. And every time we were opening and closing our windows, the lead dust was blowing into our home – and all over our furniture, floor, August’s toys, everything.
And what do little kids do before they learn to walk?
They put every single thing they touch into their mouth.
Every. Single. Thing.
Covered in lead dust.
I wanted to vomit. I wanted to cry. I wanted to light a match, torch the house, turn around, walk away and laugh maniacally.
But in reality – We pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, and hired Feldco (shout out to their entire team who did a FAST, THOROUGH & SPECTACULAR JOB) to replace nearly every window in our home. My parents came into town multiple weekends in a row to help us with the rest of the construction, painting, cleaning, sanitizing, and replacing that was listed on our mitigation and abatement report that we received from our case worker and her scientist friends.
And we got it done.
We got it fucking done.
Through sleepless nights and tears and endless trips to the hardware stores and peeling hands and feet (because the lead specific cleanser we used was so abrasive and drying it literally took off my skin) and stress and endless support from family and friends (WE CANNOT THANK YOU ALL ENOUGH). We got it fucking done.
When August went in for his retest at 13 months, his levels had already come down 25%. When August went in for his retest at 15 months, his levels had come down 50% from his initial levels. He’ll be retested at 18 months, and fingers crossed he’ll be back in normal range.
Tomorrow, one of our case worker’s scientist friends comes for his very last inspection and swab. Nothing against him or the team personally, but I wish to see them again NEVER. And hopefully we can finally say, “No we don’t have any questions. Ok, bye now!”
We did it!