How does a baby say ‘I love you’? By sneezing on your face

Jacob has a cold.  Which, according to the laws of mommydom, means that I also have a cold because the first indication that we had that he wasn’t feeling great was when he sneezed.  On my face.

sick mom

At ten months old (and CRAWLING!  YAY!!!!!!!), this is our second cold, and this one is milder than the first.  No fever, just stuffy with a very runny nose. No biggie and he can still go to daycare.  (Although I feel seriously guilty sending him to daycare, both because I know he doesn’t feel great and because wiping snot is disgusting when it’s my OWN kid. I can’t imagine having to do that to someone else’s kid!  Gross!)

sick child daycare

When he got his first cold, we panicked.  Jacob had a slight fever, so I sent hubby to CVS for infant Tylenol.  He returned 20 minutes later having spent $70 buying EVERYTHING in the baby care section.  He’s not allowed to go to CVS anymore.

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Actual picture of what $70 buys you at CVS

We took turns taking the day off of school to stay home with him and rushed him to the pediatrician twice, only to be told both times that it was a cold, that babies get colds, and that he’d be fine.  (They DID give us antibiotics for his ears the second time we went, although they said they weren’t infected, they just looked like they COULD get infected as the cold continued.  Insane first-time parents like us are probably why everyone is developing antibiotic immunities these days.  Honestly, they ought to just give parents pink, bubblegum-flavored sugar water to give babies and tell us it’s medicine so we can feel like we’re doing something to help.)

antibiotics

So this time, in the absence of a fever, we didn’t worry.*

*Okay we worried.  But I sent frantic texts to my brother, who is a doctor, instead of rushing Jacob to the pediatrician.  Because instead of giving me antibiotics, he tells me I’m an idiot and to stop it, which actually probably does more good than the antibiotics.

And by now, we’re old pros.  We have an arsenal of infant Tylenol and Motrin (in case he develops a fever), a good baby thermometer, nasal mist, and a battery-powered aspirator (Sorry Nose Frida fans, that thing is gross.  That little blue piece of sponge that they call a filter is NOT enough to convince me that baby snot is not going into my mouth.  It’s disgusting.  Plus, when I’m sick too, I can’t generate enough suction for it to actually do anything other than freak Jacob out that I’m trying to suck his brains out of his nose.)

nose frida

The biggest problem when he’s sick (other than my hypochondriac fear that it’s actually RSV, will turn into pneumonia and require hospitalization) is how to keep him hydrated.

I’m prone to horrible post-nasal drip and know that drinking when I’m sick sucks.  But I do it, because I know I need to to feel better.  While I don’t know yet if Jacob has inherited my sinus problems (and I’m praying he doesn’t!), I do know that he doesn’t feel like taking his bottle and we have not yet mastered this sippy cup situation.  And I can tell him that he needs it to feel better until I’m blue in the face, but I might as well be telling the schnauzers to stop barking at the mail lady for all the good it does.  (She’s their worst enemy.  She attacks our house EVERY DAY and we do nothing to stop it.  They are outraged and do their very best to let her know that they’ll murder her if given half the chance.  Except for the days when she actually comes to the door, because then she gives them treats and they love her.  Seriously, all you’d need to do to rob our house is feed our dogs.)

dog mailman

He normally takes five six-ounce bottles a day and we’re working on trying to add in some water as well on days when he doesn’t finish those.  But when he’s sick, it’s a struggle to get three ounces in him.  And a quick Google search told me that a baby can dehydrate quickly when sick.  (I also found a result that said babies don’t want to eat as much when sick and are fine as long as they’re producing 3-4 wet diapers a day.  But we’ll ignore that because dehydration sounds scarier.  I also sent my brother a video of him playing and my brother told me he’s fine and that I’m an idiot.  We’ll ignore that too.)  

google dispute facts

So Jacob needs fluids.

I know the current advice is to only offer formula or breastmilk from a bottle and water should come only from a sippy cup, but despite our daily efforts, Jacob thinks the sippy cup is a teething toy.  He also enjoys grabbing it by the handles and flinging it off of his high chair onto the poor dogs, who hang out there hoping for Cheerios.  But drinking from it?  That’s a no go.

sippy cup

Desperate times call for desperate measures.  And our parents’ generation gave us water and juice in a bottle and all of us eventually learned how to drink from cups.  So Pedialyte in a bottle it is for now.  We had some success with that, and then I used an oral syringe to get a little more in him, which he actually liked.  I guess it’s pretty hard to drink from a bottle when you can’t breathe through your nose.  Poor little guy.  But on the plus side, with me pushing fluids like a psycho, at least he’s pooping well!

Am I being ridiculous?  Absolutely.  And I’m fully aware that when eventual baby #2 gets sick, I’ll probably be like, eh, suck it up, you’re fine.  But I guess there’s a reason that first-time parents have a reputation for being nuts.  

first child third child

No more baby helmet! Just residual mom guilt

And we’re done with the DOC Band!

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Bring on those hats!

It was actually a little anticlimactic, to be honest.  Officially he was supposed to wear it for another week, but we asked for our last adjustment appointment to be our “graduation” appointment so that we wouldn’t have to drive 45 minutes each way again just to get pictures taken. So they adjusted the band, gave us a little certificate, and sent us on our merry way.  We were thrilled to not have to go back and they were thrilled to never see my face again.

But then, just under a week later, Jacob started getting red spots that took about five hours to go away, which meant we’d outgrown the helmet and were done early.

Which we celebrated by…questioning our decision to remove the helmet.

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Well, that’s how I celebrated.  My husband had zero qualms about being done early because either dad guilt isn’t a thing or it’s much milder than mom guilt.

As adamantly opposed as I was to the idea of a second helmet (and yes, I still think that’s a money grab in many cases), Jacob DOES still have a flat spot.  So am I being selfish for wanting to be done?  But on the flip side, it’s a DIFFERENT flat spot than the one the helmet was correcting, so did I cause this new one by helmeting him in the first place?

The reality is that no one but me (and I suppose other moms who have dealt with flat heads and are now hyper alert to them) is ever going to notice that his head is anything but perfect.  While I now have flat-head-dar and look at the shape of everyone’s heads (it’s terrible.  I look at my students and am like, “wow, you should have had a helmet!”), there are people who I looked at every day for years without ever thinking “Wow, your head looks like the east building of the National Gallery!”  

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Gallery_of_Art#/media/File:National_Gallery_of_Art_DC_2007ex.jpg

Pre-helmet, Jacob’s misshapen head was noticeable.  It isn’t anymore unless you’re really TRYING to find imperfections (and looking at him directly top down.  He’s got a tall daddy, so I’m thinking that won’t be the case for most people for the majority of his life).  By all accounts, the helmet was very successful in reshaping Jacob’s head.  And what it didn’t fix will most likely round out by his second birthday on its own.

So I guess what it really boils down to how to live with the mom guilt.

Pre-baby, it was just guilt.  Which I suppose comes with the territory.  I am Jewish after all, and if our people are known for anything, it’s guilt.  You’re welcome.  (See what I did there?  I learned at the knees of the masters!)

jewish guilt

I automatically assume everything is my fault no matter what.  I should have tried harder.  Been better.  Gotten more people out.  Yes, I was born decades after the Holocaust, but damnit, I should have done more!

So now that the helmet is done and his head isn’t a miraculously perfect round orb, I need to find a way to let it go.  I’m trying to tell myself that that’s the lesson I’m supposed to learn here.  A couple of people said to me, after I went public about the situation with Jacob’s head and neck, that we get the baby we NEED, not necessarily the baby we WANT. On the surface, that sounds terrible, because of course I WANT Jacob!  He’s the absolute best part of my life.  

But I get where those people were going because I think I needed to learn that I can’t control everything.  And if I can’t control everything, then not everything can be my fault.  Some things just happen and I need to learn to roll with it.

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That’s really a struggle for me and was part of why the inability to exclusively breastfeed Jacob was so devastating as well.  I had found something that I couldn’t control.  My mother called me arrogant when I expressed that to her, and she’s not wrong.  But up until motherhood, I lived a life where I was largely able to say I was going to do something and then find a way to make it happen, come hell or high water.  Failure simply wasn’t in my vocabulary.

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For example, I said I was going to dance on stage at a Bruce show. And I did.

It’s been humbling to have to change that without seeing it as failure. In my mind, Jacob was supposed to be the Galahad to my Lancelot (yes, I know only like three people got that. But I took an Arthurian legends class in college and it was cool.  And I’m a nerd. Get over it).  He was supposed to be perfect in all of the areas that I wasn’t.  He would have no flaws.  And while my mother will tell you he’s the most perfect baby ever, I’m still freaking out that he isn’t crawling yet.  And still blaming myself, because if I’d caught the torticollis earlier, wouldn’t he be?

Back to everything being my fault.

my fault

But I’m learning.  If eventual baby number two* isn’t gaining weight with breastfeeding alone, I’m not going to stress about supplementation because I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can’t control that.  And that, as much as it felt like it was the first time around, it’s neither the end of the world, nor my fault.

*I am not pregnant.  I am not planning on becoming pregnant any time soon.  I have a nine month old.  I’m tired.  I do want a second child in the future, but if you read into this to assume that that’s coming soon, I may slap you.

I definitely know more now about keeping baby number two’s head round as well.  I know the signs of torticollis, but the reality is that that may be unavoidable too.  I had low amniotic fluid the first time around, which is again out of my control.  But an earlier diagnosis, if that is an issue again, could be key in the flat head battle.  I know to reposition, I know more about tummy time, I know to wear the baby more.

I also know that if future baby number two needs a helmet, we’ll do it. And I’ll do my best not to beat myself up about it too much.

dont-beat-yourself-up-for-making-the-same-mistakes-instead-just-start-calling-them-traditions-2ba1b

 

What to expect when you’re expecting… a baby helmet

Hi, I’m Sara, and I’m a Google addict.

My baby also wears a DOC band for positional plagiocephaly (a word I learned in my frantic googling when my pediatrician first told us that our baby had a flat spot) that was the result of undiagnosed torticollis (which I caught, thanks to Google).  

when in doubt, google it

But there was a lot of stuff that Google wasn’t so helpful with when Jacob first got his helmet and I had questions, so now that we’re almost finished (THANK FREAKING GOD! We officially have two weeks left of him wearing it, but we had our “graduation” appointment already, so we’re pretty much there!), I figured a blog post (aka adding to the world of Google for other paranoid mamas) outlining all that stuff could help anyone who just got a baby helmet and was frantically trying to figure out if everything was okay or not.

learned more from google than school

Let’s start with how it all works at the very beginning.  In case you haven’t gotten your helmet yet, Cranial Technologies will go over most of this part with you.

Days one and two, you’ll leave the helmet on for three-to-four hour intervals, then check for red spots.  If the red spots go away in an hour or less, cool, put the helmet back on.  (They give you a paper to write down timing on.  Use it.  It helps.  Especially if you’re like me and spending the early days weeping about the helmet and can easily lose track of time.)  If the red spots take more than an hour to go away, call Cranial Technologies.  

Warning: probably not in those first couple days, but you WILL eventually get red spots that don’t go away immediately.  Try not to panic (I’ll get to that in a minute).

panic attacks online

IF your baby’s red spots all go away within an hour after like three of those checks, your baby can sleep in the helmet.

I figured that would be the worst part, but honestly, Jacob adjusted just fine.  He never even seemed to notice it was on.  We did freak out the first couple of nights when we heard loud thuds on the baby monitor, only to find he’d banged his helmet into the side of the crib.  Which also made me wonder how often he’d banged his unprotected head against the crib and it hadn’t made a loud enough thud for me to notice.  But at least he’s protected now when he does it, right?

no clue what we're doing

The first couple of weeks, you’ll need to take off the helmet and wipe your baby’s head down at diaper changes/any time he or she seems hot.  THIS IS A BIG ONE.  That sucker is an inferno!  It’s like wearing a Russian fur hat indoors at all times.  Your baby is going to get sweaty and gross.  So dressing him or her in ridiculously inappropriately cool clothes is important.  (Learned this the hard way.  We had our guy in a warmish car with a hoodie on and he got super fussy.  Turns out his whole back was drenched with sweat. Baby is going to be a little fireball with that helmet on.  Keep him or her cool!)

george sable hat

We did great the first week once we started dressing him cooler.  Then, Friday afternoon, Jacob got a red spot that didn’t go away in an hour.  And it was right after Cranial Technologies closed for the weekend (of course).  

So I did what any rational person would do: I panicked.  

Actually, I took the helmet off, because I Googled “DOC band red spots” and saw that red spots can lead to skin breakdown and I FREAKED that he was going to get a bloody head and we wouldn’t be able to wear the helmet until it healed and by then he would have grown out of it and then we’d have to spend another $2,500 that we don’t have out of pocket for a new helmet.

freak out and panic

But the take-the-helmet-off plan sucked too because we paid $2,500 for this hunk of junk and, damnit, it wasn’t going to fix Jacob’s head sitting on the counter!

That piece of plastic and foam was going back on his head, no matter how much I hated it.  So I slathered Aquaphor on Jacob’s head and the red spot was better by morning.  I also ordered some British “nappy rash” cream that the helmet mamas across the pond rave about for red spots off of eBay, just in case–which is currently sitting in a drawer because the Aquaphor worked beautifully. Cranial Technologies said to use a little cortisone cream, but the Aquaphor did much better for an irritation spot.  Just make sure you wipe the excess off before you put the helmet back on because it can *supposedly* damage the foam.  (I kind of think that’s like the airplane rule of shutting off electronics for takeoff and landing.  There’s a zero percent chance they’d let you have electronics on a flight at all if there was even the most remote possibility of them interfering with the plane’s equipment.  TOTAL BS.  But whatever.)

airplane mode

We got Jacob in for his appointment and they shaved down the spot that had been rubbing (by the velcro opening of the band), and the red spot there got better.  It did come back closer to adjustment number two, but the tech said that red spots tend to get worse when the band needs adjusting and that’s “good” because it means there’s been growth.

Their method of determining where to shave for red spots is… well… interesting.  They put lipstick on your baby.  Not on his mouth, but on the red spots, then put the helmet back on, wiggle it around, and shave where the lipstick rubbed off on the helmet.  Which seems legit.  I mean, nothing screams “medical professionals” like lipstick on a baby.

no-i-have-not-seen-your-lipstick_o_882524

All was well.

Then I went back two days later for another adjustment because we got red spots that wouldn’t go away again.

That was by far the most frustrating stretch of wear in the helmet so far.  And by then, I was pretty disillusioned with Cranial Technologies because A) they didn’t do any measurements at his official adjustment, just told us “oh, wow, it looks great,” and B) I had to take off work TWICE in the same week to get Jacob up to Columbia for adjustments.  Like, I do have a job other than shuttling him to the helmet store! (Yes, I’m calling it the helmet store.  Because they’re not doctors.  They sell helmets.)

And I got even more disillusioned when they shaved a little more foam out and then told me Jacob had heat rash.  It was 40 degrees out, which yes, was better than last week’s polar vortex-nado thing, but it was still cold.  How do you get heat rash when it’s 40 degrees out?  

things-that-are-dangerous-when-left-out-in-the-heat-RAa

In my frustration, I spent a while reading everything I could find on that 2014 study that claims the helmets don’t do anything and was thinking I’d just wasted 16.6 Springsteen tickets worth of money on this thing that was hurting my baby.  (Who am I kidding?  I don’t go to concerts right now.  I have a baby!  But that’s still my unit of measurement, soooo… maybe someday I’ll be going to shows again.)

springsteen-tickets

They told us to keep it off until everything was totally skin-colored and to put a little cortisone on the “heat rash.”  They also said that in areas where babies have “stork bite” birthmarks (which I totally didn’t think was a thing when our pediatrician said it at first… I had to Google!), heat rash is more common.  And Jacob has a tiny stork bite under his hairline, right next to the helmet-induced red spot.  So we went home and followed directions.

I will say this–Cranial Technologies deals exclusively in baby helmets, so they do know their stuff.  The spot that they shaved out stayed skin-colored and the other spot WAS heat rash.  It went away in a day, but started creeping back if we let him get too hot in the helmet.  We were out of it for about 30 hours that weekend before I realized (thanks Google) that baby powder helped.

baby powder lost freedom

Now I know baby powder is the current baby antichrist, but if your DOC Band baby has heat rash, it’s a miracle cure.  The Johnsons and Johnsons kind is cornstarch now, not talc (meaning don’t use the old bottle from the 80s that’s under your sink!), so it’s less bad. Just make sure you shake it away from the baby and just use it in his or her hair where baby gets sweaty/heat rash.  And if your mom guilt won’t let you use it for that, just remember, all of our moms used the bad talc kind of baby powder on us and liberally shook it right from the bottle onto us and none of us have powder-related breathing problems.  

good mother.jpg

Heat rash crisis averted.

Last, but DEFINITELY not least, the smell.  I Googled HARD to figure out the best way to combat the smell before we even got the helmet because my lovely pregnancy sense of smell decided to stick around postpartum and I do NOT want a baby who smells like a foot.  And not a cute little baby foot, I mean a stinky husband foot!

smelly-gif

Google didn’t disappoint.  One random mama on BabyCenter’s messageboards posted that she used wintergreen rubbing alcohol.  So I ordered some from Amazon (then later discovered that Safeway carries it for much cheaper.  Oh well).  And that stuff WORKS. Granted, he now smells like a stick of gum when he goes to bed, but his head is mercifully stink-free the rest of the day.  

face smells like peppermint

So my method is to put the wintergreen rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle (it’s like absinthe green, which definitely leaves a green tinge on the foam over time, but… well… who cares?), spray it in the helmet, scrub with a toothbrush, then wipe out with a towel. Let it dry for the full hour the helmet is off, then back on it goes.  Between the wintergreen alcohol and the baby powder, we’ve had zero smell issues, and we definitely have a sweaty baby, so I can attest to this stuff working.

Happy helmeting!

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Forget FOMO, I’ve got FOLM. Thanks Obama–I mean Facebook

I am a crazy perfectionist.

Which may sound strange if you know me in person, because I’m also a mess.  My desk at school is currently a raging dumpster fire of papers, my car looks like I live in it, and let’s not even get started on my closet. But I’m an organized mess.  I know where everything is at all times and I don’t let my mess get in the way of my quest for perfection.

hot mess

I’m also insanely competitive, which, if you’ve spoken to me for even three seconds, you already know.  I’ve joked before that that’s why I like eBay–not only do you get to shop, it tells you you win when you buy something.  And I love winning.

Combining being a perfectionist with my competitive nature, however, has been a disaster in motherhood, especially once we hit the torticollis and helmet bumps in the road. Because that helmet feels like a giant neon sign saying that my baby isn’t perfect, and as he is an extension of me, it feels like it’s screaming to the whole world about one of my flaws.

not competitive as long as i'm winning

Yes, I know I’m ridiculous.  But it’s still how it feels.

And it all ties in to the latest feeling of failure, which I’m calling FOLM–Fear of Late Milestones.

Much like FOMO or Fear of Missing Out, FOLM has always existed, but is exacerbated by the social media era.  I’m sure that moms hundreds of years ago worried when they went to the park, or factory, or public execution (hey, hundreds of years ago, people had pretty sick forms of entertainment) and saw that other babies who were the same age as their babies were walking already and freaked out that there was something wrong with their baby. But it’s worse now that it’s all broadcast on social media.

craziest-thing-since-leaving-facebook-ive-had-nomo-fomo-71338

Last weekend, I saw videos from two different friends, whose babies are within a couple of weeks of Jacob’s age, and their babies were crawling all over the place.

Jacob is not crawling.  Nor does he seem anywhere close to it.

I cried. I Googled. I cried some more.

The reality is that babies are expected to start crawling between six and ten months, and Jacob is eight months old.  So it doesn’t mean he’s behind.  According to our physical therapist, part of that is disposition; Jacob is the most chill baby ever (which he certainly did not get from me, the anxiety queen), so he’s content to sit and watch the world.  He’s also huge, weighing in at over 21 pounds at eight months, and bigger babies tend to reach some of the gross motor skills milestones later, as they have more weight to lug around with them.

oh-i-am-getting-so-much-done-around-the-house-now-that-my-baby-is-crawling-said-no-parent-ever-73f8c

He also seems to have no desire to crawl yet, which may be my fault.  He’ll reach his hand out for something (which really looks like he’s using the Force.  Mama’s inner Star Wars nerd is so proud of her little Jedi!), and one of us usually gives it to him.  Who needs to crawl when you have a mommy slave?

star wars hate jar jar

But I crawled at six months, walked at nine months, identified letters on the fridge at 18 months, and wrote my first novel at 22 months.  

Okay, that last one was more like at 25 years.  But still. I was exceptionally precocious with all developmental milestones.  

And Jacob was supposed to be even better than me with all of that.

I’m fully aware that my competitive nature has not won me any friends.  In fact, it’s cost me a lot.  Because not only do I try to be the best at everything, I succeed just enough to be insanely annoying.  My mom was only in labor with me for eight hours (which is considered supersonic speed for a first baby).  I told her I’d beat that, and I did, giving birth to Jacob six hours and one minute after my water broke.  She lost eight pounds off her pre-pregnancy weight with me.  I lost nine after Jacob was born.  Etc.

not a competitions

Do you hate me yet?  I kinda hate myself reading that.  (And I bet I hate me more than you hate me!  Okay, okay, I’ll stop…)

So watching Jacob not be the first to do everything is difficult, because there’s nothing that I can do (besides continuing his physical therapy and doing as many of his exercises with him as I can) to catch him up.

And even more upsetting, our physical therapist showed us a scale of things he should be able to do, and he’s definitely behind in a few areas.  Even though the tilt from the torticollis is gone now, he still has residual shoulder strength issues.  She said it’s really the chicken or the egg here–did his weak shoulder strength cause the torticollis, or did torticollis cause shoulder weakness.  

She did assure us that there was nothing we could have done to prevent it either way, but I still feel like it’s my fault.  Torticollis CAN be caused by low amniotic fluid, which I had.  Yes, I know that wasn’t my fault on the logical level, but if it’s possible that my body did this to Jacob, I still feel like I did this.

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On the plus side, our physical therapist assured us that he’s making progress, that we’ll keep working, that we’ll get him to where he needs to be, and that the age that babies walk and crawl at has no correlation whatsoever to the age that they hit any other developmental milestones at.

She also recommended I get serious professional help because I’m actually competing with myself for what age Jacob does things at.

upon-closer-inspection-your-issues-are-not-the-type-that-can-be-easily-fixed-you-may-want-to-seek-professional-help--ebfd8

Not really.

But that’s another one of those hard first-time parenting things, because what my brother and I did is my only real basis of comparison for what Jacob should be doing. And I hate worrying that he’s not exactly where a chart says that he should be.

Until then, feel free to keep reminding me that just because he’s not the first one to do something doesn’t mean he’s actually late. It does take both early and later babies to make up those average age ranges after all.

everyone-is-always-happy-when-youre-above-average-unless-its-your-weight-f9998

Happy holidays, folks!  I’ll see you in the new year!

So your baby needs a helmet. Step one: cry. Step two: deal with it.

Ah, the dreaded baby helmet.  See my previous post for the lead up to realizing we’d need one.

life is tough

So basically, I wish we’d gone to Cranial Technologies for an evaluation the second my pediatrician pointed out his flat spot, because the earlier you helmet your baby, the less time you spend in one.  But my pediatrician advised waiting, (which seems to be her advice on a lot of things, which doesn’t mesh well with my personality.  I’m impatient. And a hypochondriac with anxiety issues who has a major addiction to Google.  I don’t wait well.) so we spent an agonizing two months flipping Jacob like a pancake while he slept and praying he wouldn’t need a helmet.

short-stack-pancake-costume
https://www.twotwentyone.net/pancake-costume/

Now that he has one, however, I feel like a total moron because A) it’s not THAT bad, B) no one actually cares, and C) we could have been done already if we’d just gotten an evaluation sooner.  And the people at Cranial Technologies would have caught his torticollis and all would be well now.

But despite preaching daily to my students to stop worrying about what everyone else thinks, I’m insanely obsessed with my image and what people think of me.  On a logical level, I’m fully aware that no one actually notices 95 percent of what I do.  On an anxiety level, I think every single person I saw today noticed the chipped nail polish on my right ring finger and judged me for it.  

studio

When you have a baby, that feeling of everything being under a microscope is even worse.  Even though I felt like that about having to supplement with formula, and the reality was that zero people cared that I wasn’t exclusively breastfeeding, a helmet was going to be SO much worse.  EVERYONE would see it.  What would I tell older relatives? That girl I didn’t like from second grade who was my Facebook friend was going to think I was a terrible mother.  I debated getting off social media for however long Jacob needed a helmet for.  And I’m a social media junkie.  THAT’s how serious this was.

judging facebook

So what actually happens when you might need a baby helmet?

We went to Cranial Technologies on a Monday.  They made us strip Jacob down to a diaper, put a stocking cap with a hole in it for his face over his head, and held up a fan with flashing lights to get his attention while they took pictures.  Then they brought us to a room to scare the crap out of us.

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Not really.  But they definitely pitch it as worse than it is when you’re there.  And like the scared sheep–I mean parent–that you are, I’m pretty sure everyone in there says “baaaaa” (or wails it like a crying banshee as I did) and then schedules an appointment to get a helmet.  

Worth noting: the place sells helmets.  They’re not doctors.  If you even THINK you’re borderline on a helmet, go to a pediatric neurosurgeon to get real measurements and a REAL diagnosis.  If real doctors tell you you don’t need a helmet, you don’t need a helmet.  Cranial Technologies wants your money and thinks you need a helmet.  They told us that our numbers were “moderate-severe” when we were there, but on the official report, the numbers were all in the moderate category.  And if you actually GOOGLE his numbers, most of them are on the milder end.  I’m not saying the helmet doesn’t work; it’s a great product and service, and some kids totally need it, but they’re still salespeople.MjAxMy03MmMyMmY0Mjk3YzdjZDM5

And the reality is that you agree to the helmet, despite some research saying they don’t do anything, because you want to know that you did everything you possibly could for your kid. End of story.  Does it actually work or do heads start rounding out on their own once you correct torticollis and they’re sitting up more?  Who knows.  

Their insurance team then calls you two days later and in our case, tells you that insurance won’t even think about covering the helmet.  Which I already knew, because the Google Queen combed through our policy and found that “cranial remolding helmets” are only covered for post-operative craniosynostosis and are considered cosmetic and unnecessary otherwise.  Viagra?  Totally medically necessary under our policy. Preventing a baby from looking like a conehead for the rest of his life? Cosmetic. Makes total sense.

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So we bit the bullet, said we’d pay the $2,500 for a helmet, and scheduled the next two appointments.  The first one was easy.  Another stocking cap (this one without a face hole cut out, so he looked like a baby bank robber) and more pictures and we were on our way home in under 15 minutes.  

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http://looneytunes.wikia.com/wiki/Baby_Buggy_Bunny

The next appointment was hard because it’s when they actually fitted him with the helmet.  And I’ll admit, I cried when I saw him in it.  I joked that he looked like a Spaceball, but seeing that white orthotic helmet on him was absolutely devastating to my sense of self as a mother. What were people going to think of my son, let alone me? When I’d seen those helmets before, I assumed there was something wrong with the baby, which meant other people were going to think that.  I couldn’t handle the thought of that.

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Jacob was clearly as upset as I was about his helmet.

The one small, silver lining came in the form of decorating the helmet.  I researched online (of course), decorating the helmets and discovered that some car wrapping companies will wrap the helmets.  But there were none who advertised that they did that within an hour of where we lived, so I started reaching out to local companies, then remembered that a former student’s dad owned a sign company.  I sent her a quick message asking if that was something they’d be willing/able to do, and she replied immediately that not only would they custom design Jacob’s helmet, they’d do it for free because of the difference I made when she was in high school.

Yes, I cried again.  

We settled on an aviator-style helmet (I voted for R2D2.  Hubby vetoed that. I’m still bitter.) because it would look more like a hat than a helmet, and we got it put on two days after he got the helmet.

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At which point, I came clean on Facebook and Instagram and got nothing but wonderful, positive support.  And many parents shared stories about their own children’s imperfections and struggles, which was a great reminder that it’s okay to not be perfect. I, like everyone else, try to present the best possible image of my life on social media, but NO ONE is perfect.  The helmet is temporary, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Jacob is adorable in it, and I love him more and more every day, helmet or not.  

So if you’re struggling with the decision, stop.  Take a breath.  Because the helmet has one truly awesome benefit to it: you get to worry a little less.  There’s no more repositioning, or pillows, or freaking out that he’s sitting in something that might briefly touch his flat spot and make it worse.  You’ll still worry that the helmet won’t work or that they’ll recommend a second one and you’ll have to pay $5,000 total out of pocket (they recommend a second helmet to everyone.  See above.  They’re salespeople).  But once I went public, my stress level actually went way down.

Does it suck?  Yes.  Without a doubt.  But as long as it helps, it’ll be totally worth it.  And if someone stares in the grocery store, it’s their problem, not yours.  Your baby is perfect; you’re just making him or her a little more perfect so no one nicknames them Beldar. (Only my dad got that joke, but it’s okay!)

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Hang in there, mamas!  

Uh oh, plagio: the flat head diagnosis

I know I’m jumping around a bit with this post, but it’s what’s happening now, and finding other blogs on this topic helped me.  So if I can pay some of that forward, it’s worth sharing.

Jacob’s pediatrician pointed out that he had developed a flat spot on the back right side of his head at his four-month checkup.  Hubby and I then descended into a shame spiral of shock and embarrassment that we missed it, panic that it was there in the first place, fear that we caused it, etc.  Seriously.  We turned into the seven dwarfs of parenting guilt.

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https://sweettmakesthree.com/mom-guilt-bingo/

“Just try to keep him off of it for a couple of months,” the pediatrician advised.  “You can keep a wedge under that side of his mattress so it’s easier for him to turn his head the other way, and do a lot more tummy time.  If that doesn’t fix it, you can always get a helmet.”

Sara the Hysterical Google Queen took over.  

So I learned ALLLLLLL about plagiocephaly (flat head on one side), brachycephaly (flat back of the head, which I didn’t think was a concern, based on the pictures I found online and then compared frantically to Jacob’s head), and every other kind of cephaly there is (I was already a microcephaly expert from the single, non-Zika-infected mosquito bite I got while pregnant.  Have I mentioned that I’m a hypochondriac?).

What did I learn?  That repositioning could help and that this probably happened because he was such a great sleeper–which he did NOT inherit from me, the worst insomniac in the world.  So because my perfect baby started sleeping through the night at two months old (don’t hate me), his little head grew crooked.  

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And a lot of nasty people on the internet said it only happens to parents who didn’t hold their babies enough. Guess what?  I hold my baby all the freaking time.  And this still happened.

But I’m Super Mom!  I could fix this!  I can fix anything if I try hard enough!

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I repositioned like it was my job.  For two months I barely slept, but not because Jacob, the most perfect baby in the world, was waking me up.  No.  I barely slept because I woke up every three minutes to make sure he wasn’t sleeping on his flat spot.  I became an expert at flipping him over without waking him up.  I joked I was going to patent a baby spatula for perfectly turned babies.  

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http://quoteaddicts.com/author/kelly-ripa

I bought seven, count them, SEVEN different types of flat head pillows, ranging from $15 to $110 each (I only bought one of the expensive ones).  I sent him to daycare with one.  I put one in his stroller.  I put one on his changing table.  I put one on his floor gym.  But I only let him sleep on them for supervised naps while I stared at him the entire time to make sure he wouldn’t magically flip onto his belly (which he wasn’t doing yet) and suffocate.

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I studied that head from every angle, trying to convince myself that I was seeing improvement.  I wasn’t, but it also wasn’t getting worse.  I will say that.  The pillows do prevent it from getting worse.

And I kept Googling.  But as we got closer to his six-month checkup and his flat spot hadn’t improved, I started worrying more.  My baby was going to need a helmet.  I could feel it.  

One day, I took him for a long walk when his dad went out of town, and I took some pictures because he was so cute.  And when I looked at the pictures, one eye looked bigger than the other.  Cue the panic.  I had read, in my frantic Googling, that plagiocephaly could cause facial asymmetry. (Note: we later learned he has no facial asymmetry.  Literally, they measured digitally and there’s none at all.  I am a crazy person.  But in this case, the craziness was a good thing.)

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Once I Googled the facial asymmetry with plagiocephaly though, I started finding another word a lot, which I had mostly ignored because I didn’t think it was an issue: torticollis.

Symptoms: head tilted in one direction with chin pointed toward another.  Often causes difficulty breastfeeding on one side and difficulty looking in the direction of the head tilt. Rolling to one side only.  A flat spot.

It was like one of those scenes in a movie where the protagonist figures out who the killer is.  He hated breastfeeding on the right side, where he’d have to turn his head to the left.  He only rolled to one side.  And as I began scrolling through pictures in my phone, he was facing the same way in every one.  Jacob had torticollis.

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We took him to the pediatrician immediately, who wasn’t nearly as convinced as I was, but she did say it was time to visit the helmet place for an evaluation.

She wanted us to wait to see what the helmet people said about starting physical therapy, which I wasn’t comfortable with. Knowing that I’m my baby’s best advocate, I reached out to my network of moms and got a recommendation from a family friend to a WONDERFUL physical therapist who deals in infant torticollis.

Long story short, I think our pediatrician should have caught the torticollis (or at least mentioned it to us when she noticed the flat spot, because had I looked for that in pictures sooner, I would have spotted it. And I think dealing with the torticollis at four months would have helped the flat spot enough to potentially avoid the helmet), but it’s too late for that now.life is tough

I’ll do another post about the helmet situation (we’re in it now.  It sucks, but we’ll deal), but trust your gut, mamas!  If you think something is wrong, say something to your pediatrician.  And if they won’t hear you out, go to a specialist.  Jacob is doing AMAZING in physical therapy.  The torticollis is now gone, we’re just working on some residual muscle strength issues in his shoulder, and in another few weeks, all of that should be absolutely perfect.

And if you want to learn from my experience, make sure you’re changing the direction that your baby sleeps in frequently starting at birth and doing lots of tummy time even if your baby hates it (and they ALL hate it!).  And if you have to get a helmet, I promise, it’s not the end of the world.

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Breastfeeding may be natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy

Breastfeeding is hard.

There.  I said it.

You know what?  I’m gonna say it again.  Breastfeeding is REALLY freaking hard.  In fact, it deserves the other f word because it’s so hard, but I like having my teaching job so that I can afford all the cute baby stuff that Jacob needs, so you’ll have to settle for freaking.

Everyone out there makes you think breastfeeding is the easiest, most natural thing in the world.  It may be natural, and I’m sure for some women it’s easy, but going around preaching that it’s the simplest act on the planet is a recipe for disaster for other women.

I was never worried about breastfeeding.  My mother always talked about how great she was at it (no, mom, that wasn’t remotely traumatizing as a kid to hear about that constantly.  Not at all.), and as I take after her in all regards (seriously, we’re the same person, it’s freaky), I figured it would be a piece of cake.

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The hubby and I took a breastfeeding class and were the least concerned people there. (Partially because hubby finds everything hilarious.  The teacher mentioned milk ducts at one point and he drew a picture of a duck with boobs labeled “milk duck.”  I married a child.)  Why was everyone else there worried about breastfeeding? It was easy, right? The teacher certainly assured us that it was.

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How hard can it be if even a rubber ducky can do it?

“Every woman has the ability to exclusively breastfeed her baby,” she told us—a line that would come back to haunt me with harrowing feelings of guilt and failure.  She advised us to throw out any free formula that we received ahead of time—the formula companies prey on new mothers, she told us, and mail out formula when you register for gifts, just hoping that you’ll get discouraged and use it instead of breastfeeding.  But EVERYONE can do it, so you’re being lazy if you use formula.

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I dutifully went home and threw out the Enfamil starter pack that had come in the mail. I wasn’t going to be a lazy formula mom.  Uh uh.  Not me.  No way.  Breastmilk all the way. I’d even eat all organic food and nothing processed so my baby would be getting the best quality breastmilk.  He was going to be the next Einstein and it would all come from my boobs.

Fast forward another couple of months.  Jacob was born two weeks early because my fluid levels started dropping in my 36th week.  They hadn’t been super high to begin with, but I drank double my body weight in water daily for the next couple of weeks and figured my levels would be better at my next appointment.  They were not.  In fact, they were so much worse that I was sent to the hospital at just under 38 weeks, kept on IV fluids for two days, and then induced.  I’m only sharing that detail now because I’m 99 percent convinced that the low amniotic fluid levels were related to low milk production later.  I’ve found zero research connecting the two, but I would put money on some doctor finding a correlation someday.  Please comment if you had something similar!

After a fairly uncomplicated birth, we had a beautiful baby.  Granted, his birth weight was probably somewhat inflated after those two days of IV fluids, and all newborns look vaguely like aliens, but he was perfect in every way.

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The lactation consultant came into the delivery room, saw that not only was he already latched (I paid attention in breastfeeding class after all), he was already eating.  She pronounced my latch flawless and was out of there in under two minutes.

Another lactation consultant came in a day or two later (that hospital time is a blur. I think the nurses monitor when you fall asleep and pick that exact moment to come in and wake you up), advised me to keep his head more in the crook of my arm, agreed that I had an impeccable latch, and went on her merry way.

I was an earth goddess, breastfeeding my baby.  All was well.

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Except it wasn’t.  When we went to the pediatrician for our second visit, Jacob was still losing weight.  And when we went back two days later he should have been gaining weight, but he wasn’t.

“I think it’s time to try supplementing with some formula,” our pediatrician said.

I promptly burst into tears.  She comforted me as best as she could, throwing around phrases like “low supply,” “not a big deal,” “happens to so many women,” etc.  But all I could hear was, “You failed your baby and now he has to have formula and won’t be as smart or healthy and it’s all your fault.”

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Much heartbreak, an insane amount of pumping, medication, and the world’s worst lactation consultants ever (I’ll blog about that another day—they literally told us to hire someone to watch the baby so I could spend five-to-six hours a day pumping to increase supply) later, we added in formula supplementation, and Jacob finally started gaining weight.

I continued breastfeeding and supplementing with formula after until just after six months, when he started completely refusing to nurse.  I’m still pumping to get him whatever benefit there is from the tiny amount that I can sneak into his bottle, but I’m fully aware that the pumping is entirely because of mom guilt and to keep my feelings of failure at bay.guilty

Even now, when he’s seven-and-a-half months old, eating solid food and above the 80th percentile for weight, I’m ashamed of the fact that he subsides on mostly formula.  I feel like I failed him.  I’m sitting here, writing this, and a tiny little voice in my head is saying, “Maybe you shouldn’t publish this.  Don’t let people know that you failed.”

Except I didn’t fail.  He’s above the 80th freaking percentile for weight.  I think his thighs are bigger than mine now.  He’s the happiest, healthiest, best baby in the world (as my mother will stop you on the street to tell you. Seriously, if a random woman stops you on the street to tell you that, say hi to my mom). And while there is some ambiguity about whether my low fluid levels caused low milk production or whether it was Jacob’s disorganized suck that tanked production, the reality is that it doesn’t matter.

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That’s the real point to this post: (yes, it took me 1,000 words to get there, and yes, I’m about to get major hate mail from the “Breast is Best”ers, but I don’t care) feed your baby and don’t let anyone (other than yourself) make you feel guilty about how you do it.

I barely left the house for the first three months because I was convinced that if I skipped a breastfeeding session it would cause irreparable damage to my already-low supply. And I wasn’t comfortable breastfeeding in public because Jacob wasn’t good at it, and I’m just not a whip-my-boobs-out-in-public kind of girl.  I was terrified that people were going to judge me if they saw me feeding him formula, so I tried to only feed him in private.  I refused to talk to anyone about what was going on because I thought that they would judge me.  I cried more over breastfeeding than I have over anything else in my life.  And I felt utterly despondent because, as a huge control freak, nothing I did could fix this.

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But guess what happened when I finally came clean?  Absolutely no one cared.  Actually, that’s not true.  Once I talked about it, people told me all about how much trouble they’d had too.  The low supply, the clogged ducts, the agonizing over not knowing if the baby was getting enough to eat, the infections, the tears, the guilt.  I wasn’t nearly as alone as I thought I was.

I realized how horrible it is to tell people that “Every woman has the ability to breastfeed her baby,” and that formula is for lazy moms, and I grew increasingly angry at that attitude.  If every woman could do it, wet nurses wouldn’t have existed and no one would have invented formula.  I’m so grateful that I live in an era where all I had to do to feed my son when my body couldn’t was go to the grocery store.   

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Saying that every woman can do it is a blatant lie.  And it’s a harmful lie because in those early months, when sleep is scarce and women feel isolated at home with a newborn, adding in feelings of failure makes everything so much harder than it needs to be.

When eventual baby #2 comes along (don’t get any ideas, it’s not happening yet!), I plan to breastfeed him or her.  But if it isn’t working this time, I’m not going to let the baby’s weight get too low or cry (too much) because I now know that formula isn’t the devil and some things are out of my control.

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If breastfeeding was easy for you, cool.  Congratulations.  If it wasn’t, you’re not alone. And if you need to hear you’re doing a great job when it feels like you aren’t, drop me a line. Because mamas, as long as your baby is eating, you’re doing a great job.

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