FOR SEVERAL WEEKS my 6-year-old had been savoring the sensations of her first loose tooth.
I remembered my own loose teeth: the novelty of moving the tooth with the tongue; the sweet drop of blood, proved on the Kleenex; the surprise at the sharpness of the root side when it first begins to lift out of the gum; the trick of popping it back into place and smiling as if it's not really loose at all.
A disciplined regimen
She had been full of expectant delight as this event unfolded in her mouth. After weeks of patient waiting, one day in the grocery store, she happily performed a disciplined regimen of exercise, moving the tooth back and forth and almost out, over and over, relentlessly, without stop.
As I stood at the checkout counter and she waited on the bench in the window with the sunshine, she exploded with joy and accomplishment. "It's out! My tooth is out!" We wrapped it lovingly in a fresh Kleenex and she carried it home.
It was presented to all who expressed interest with the same joy and pride with which its emergence had been heralded.
At the dentist
Two days later on her routine trip to the dentist, she proudly displayed the empty space. "I lost my tooth." Congratulations were made, as well as the acknowledgment that the adjacent tooth was also loose.
An offer from the dentist to pull out the second tooth was warily accepted with well contained anticipatory excitement. Gauze was applied. The tooth was wiggled back and forth and removed with one swift movement.
The gum bled, and the shock, betrayal and disappointment at the pain it caused ran across my daughter's face. The tooth was wrapped in gauze and put in my wallet while she attended to her bleeding gum. The next few hours were spent with her lower jaw slightly open and blood-tinged saliva pooling under her uplifted tongue. "It still hurts."
To make matters exceedingly worse, this working-mother Tooth Fairy overlooked her obligations. The tooth lay abandoned and neglected under the pillow in the morning.
The Tooth Fairy returns
Since then, my daughter's mouth has recovered, her good will has been restored and by distraction and deceit on my part, and indulgent humor on her part, the Tooth Fairy made a makeup visit.
The midwife in me, the one who works in hospitals with intravenous tubing, "nothing-by-mouth" orders and fetal monitors, has been aroused. In the hospital, I work to protect a woman's ability to birth her baby the way that is right for her, and often I look to home birthers and birth centers for my inspiration.
But once again life has tapped me on the shoulder and I am renewing my resolve to bring the traditions of midwifery, the joy and pride of the first tooth, to women birthing everywhere.
Emily De Ferrari writes from Baltimore.
Pub Date: 8/06/96