March is Autoimmune Awareness Month

We all worry about our kids, and often that worry is wasted on things that end up being completely fine. In honor of Autoimmune Awareness Month, I wanted to share a story about something in parenting that never occurred to me to worry about.

It was a beautiful and otherwise unremarkable day in May, and I was at a regular annual physical appointment with my second daughter.

“Mom, her thyroid seems large. Do you see that?” I looked up from my phone. The pediatrician had her thumb and first finger on either side of a lump on my daughter’s neck. Was that not normal? She even had me feel it – seemed like neck to me. Looking concerned, the doctor gave us an order for bloodwork. We hadn’t noticed any unusual symptoms or behaviors, so she told me that it could be nothing – though she seemed skeptical.

I made the appointment for bloodwork, and when the day came, it was one of those surreal, parenting experiences that I really had to coach myself through. I kept thinking, “Just here for bloodwork for a six-year-old. This is completely normal and fine. (NOT!)” Meanwhile, we were in the hell hole that is everyone’s favorite local blood draw office (if you know you know), and I was sweaty. When it was our turn, I was instructed to hold my daughter with my arms AND legs in case she squirmed. I shouldn’t have been surprised that she took it all like a champ and was an absolute trooper.

Soon, we had the results, which the pediatrician described as “highly abnormal.” After a pediatric endocrinologist appointment, we had our diagnosis: Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

According to the Autoimmune Association, autoimmune disorders in general cause a person’s immune system to attack healthy tissue or cells that it recognizes as a threat. Some of the more recognizable autoimmune disorders include Celiac Disease, Type I Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Multiple Sclerosis. In the case of Hashimoto’s, the immune system causes hormone producing cells in the thyroid to die, leading to an under-active thyroid (hypothyroidism). Some of the symptoms that my doctor mentioned include fatigue, weight gain, slow growth, and increased sensitivity to cold.

Hindsight definitely made me question some things. Maybe there were subtle signs (do occasional afternoon naps count as “fatigue?”), but this diagnosis essentially came out of the blue. My daughter started on daily synthetic thyroid hormone, and we have to do bloodwork a few times a year while she’s growing. For now, she’s perfectly healthy, and we are lucky we caught this so early. But I definitely worry about the future. We don’t know exactly how this might impact her as she gets older or whether she will be diagnosed with any other autoimmune disorders, which her endocrinologist said she is at increased risk for.

A few takeaways from this experience… first, you just never know what will happen, in parenting and just in life. Also, my kid constantly impresses me with her resilience through all of the appointments, tests, and pills – kids are just amazing. Most importantly, it became incredibly clear to me that THIS is why we take our kids to the doctor every year. And in related news, did you know that 80% of people with autoimmune disorders are female? To all the moms out there: time to schedule that annual physical!

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