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!)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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!