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Mom Feels Like A 'Failure' Because She Missed Signs Of A Serious Illness In Her Son — 'What Mom Doesn't Notice Something Like This For Three Years?'

Photo: Ben White via Unsplash / siam.pukkato via Shutterstock
upset woman and small hand in hospital bed

Parenting a child who has a serious illness can be difficult to navigate. Many parents even blame themselves when early signs of health concerns are missed or disregarded. This sentiment echoed through a post shared on Reddit's "r/breakingmom" subreddit, a space designated for mothers to vent their feelings and frustrations.

A mom feels like a 'failure' because she missed signs of a serious illness in her son.

In her post, she expressed deep regret for having overlooked symptoms of severe anemia in her teenage son over the past three years. Sometimes a symptom of more serious illness, anemia occurs when the body has a deficit of healthy red blood cells, as described by the Mayo Clinic.

This mother's story began when her son turned 13 during lockdown. She noticed that he was becoming increasingly lethargic, lost interest in physical activities, and his skin tone had turned pale and slightly yellowish. "But as a child he was tan because he was outside all the time. As a teen on lockdown, he didn't leave the house much," she wrote.

The boy's gradual loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed together did not immediately raise alarm bells. Instead, she attributed his lack of enthusiasm to typical teenage behavior. In addition, his fatigue, even after engaging in exciting plans like family trips, became normalized as part of their routine.

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"We just planned our vacations with that in mind — one activity and back to the hotel to rest — because we thought he maybe just couldn't go at OUR pace," she explained.

However, things took a turn during a family vacation that involved hiking to a waterfall. The teenager struggled with cold water while swimming in, what seemed like, bearable conditions, and needed assistance from both parents while swimming back, which the mom believed to be "dramatic."

It wasn't until noticing his blue lips and face under warm weather conditions that anemia crossed her mind. "And even then .... I just thought he would be slightly anemic and needed to eat more meat," she wrote.

feeling like i failed my child reddit postPhoto: Reddit

Several months later, during a doctor's visit for flu testing, she had him tested for anemia. The results were shocking: her son was severely anemic, to the point where he might need a blood transfusion. "My child is so severely anemic that the doctor sent us to the ER for blood tests in case he needed to be transfused. And I didn't notice," she wrote.

"I feel like a failure in the parenting department right now," she added.

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Her post was met with supportive responses, assuring her that she wasn't a failure.

"Everything you said was a logical conclusion! I probably would have thought similar things myself ... The first chance you had, you told a doctor. You aren't actively hurting your kid," one person responded.

Another praised her for eventually identifying the issue and taking decisive action.

feeling like i failed my child reddit post commentsPhoto: Reddit

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"Not a failure - this stuff is so hard to figure out sometimes," they wrote. "It takes a lot of trial and error to figure out what is wrong and the fact that you listened and eventually found the problem proves you ARE a good parent."

Despite feeling guilty over missing signs of her son's illness, she remains determined to do her best for him and expressed surprise at his pediatrician's oversight, too. "Honestly, I'm surprised that of all people his pediatrician missed it. But he has grown 5 inches since his last well check, so I suspect his growth spurt made it worse," she wrote.

So, what can parents learn from this story? Well, anemia is more common than you may think. According to Cedars-Sinai, one in five children in the United States is diagnosed with anemia at some point. Anemia can come in different forms, from sickle cell to iron deficiency.  

However, there are some common symptoms that parents can look out for if they're worried about their child's diagnosis.

Like this mom's son, "lack of energy" is a common symptom, along with headaches and irritability. There are plenty more symptoms, like a sore tongue and jaundice. It's important to note that it often has no symptoms. Tests like hemoglobin and hematocrit, complete blood count (CBC) and peripheral smear are ways to find out for sure if your child is anemic.

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It's important for the well-being of both parents — and their children — to be more forgiving of themselves.

According to the Washington Post, parents today monitor their children and prioritize family time more than ever before. That means parenting hasn't declined over time, but parents are still harder on themselves than ever. Why is that? 

"Parents want evidence that what they are doing is effective," The Washington Post wrote.

They do research and ask questions in forums, like what this mother did, seeking validation and objective proof that their parenting strategies are sound. And it's always a great thing to want to be the best parent you can be, but it should never come at the cost of feeling like a "failure."

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Ethan Cotler is a writer and frequent contributor to YourTango living in Boston. His writing covers entertainment, news, and human interest stories.