health

Accident Free For [0] Days

In yoga, during savasana, my instructor doesn’t simply say “relax.” For if she did, I would think, ‘I’m relaxed’ when really, I’m not. Instead she speaks softly, gently, working her way down our bodies, reminding us to ease tension, eventually, everywhere. At the end, at the point I always think, ‘OK, I’m really relaxed now,’ she says, “Now release your tongue from the roof of your mouth.” Sure enough, it’s always there, the last part of me, tense. Often, I’m tense.

After these three days, I’m in dire need of some savasana.

I do my best to keep my children safe. Our kitchen cabinets are locked. Prescription medicine is unreachable. Bookcases are attached to our walls. I long for the day when I can walk up our stairs without stepping over a gate. Guests do not know how to open our toilet lid. And yet, my children still get sick. They still get hurt.

Around 12:30am Saturday, James woke up struggling to breathe. He had no symptoms prior to this–no runny nose, no fever, no cough. I grabbed him out of his crib and ran downstairs, yelling for Andy who was gaming. He couldn’t hear me, because he had headphones on, so I yelled louder and started banging on the wall. This, by the way, is not how to calm a child who is struggling to breathe. While I was yelling and banging and trying not to panic, I thought of croup. Sophie had croup once. She, too, woke up suddenly, in the middle of the night. But she was able to breathe. Her only symptom was the classic, seal-like cough. James, on the other hand, was panicking. It was cold that night, so I took him outside. I was only wearing a T-shirt, but I wasn’t cold. Rather, I was scared. Andy called the pediatrician on call. He suggested 911 but James wasn’t blue. He was just struggling, a lot. I sang “You Are My Sunshine” to him over and over and over while Andy gathered a couple things. And then Andy and James left, to the closest ER.

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James is fine. He had an x-ray, which was fine. He was given nebulized epinephrine via an oxygen mask and the respiratory tech (according to Andy) was very impressed with how long James allowed the mask on his face (which is surprising to me, as I can’t get him to keep a hat on for the life of me). He was given an oral steroid. And he had to stay for four hours for observation. During this time he enjoyed juice and drawing all over the sheets and Andy’s shirt with a crayon. He finally fell asleep around 4am, and both he and Andy were home around 5:30am.

I took him to see the pediatrician today. His lungs sounded great. Now he has a runny nose, fever, cough and double ear infection, but he can breathe.

I used to think blood on my children wouldn’t bother me nearly as much as choking or struggling to breathe. For blood can be stopped (most of the time) and smiles come easy, especially with princess Band-Aids. It’s the internal stuff that scares me. But then there was tonight.

Sophie had spilled some paint on the kitchen floor and all day long she wanted to use our Swiffer to clean it up. But the boys and the Swiffer do not mix well. So we told her after we put the boys to bed, she could mop the kitchen. (I know this is a phase but it would be most wonderful if she offered to do this for us 10 years from now.) All day she reminded us. Finally, the boys were in bed and she was delighted, Swiffering. Andy and I were in the living room discussing our kids-asleep evening. I had at least a half hour of freelance work to do. All the rooms downstairs needed cleaned. We wanted to watch an episode of “Breaking Bad.” Etc., Etc. Huge crash.

We ran.

Sophie was frozen, stunned. She started to take a step toward us when we noticed glass, everywhere. Her feet were bare.

“STOP!” Andy yelled. “DO NOT MOVE.”

She’s not used to yelling, not like that. Now she was scared. And really wanted us. She started to walk. I ran into the kitchen and grabbed her. I saw a drop of blood on her leg, another on her ankle. We had her sit on the window seat. The bottoms of her feet were covered with the tiniest bits of glass. She started sobbing.

I wanted to sob, too.

There were nine glass bowls, nested, on our kitchen counter. We had used the tenth for dinner, and failed to put the remaining nine away. Imagine someone as short as Sophie using something as tall as a Swiffer. Her hands were low on the pole, which meant the rest of it swung carelessly around the kitchen as she worked. Somehow she must have swung that pole right into the nesting bowls, sending all nine of them flying.

We carried her upstairs and made a bath in which we had her sit on a stool in the tub (so she wouldn’t put pressure on her feet). This worked well. There were, amazingly, no cuts on her feet (just bits of glass that needed washed off) and the two small spots of blood on her leg and ankle healed quickly. It could have been much, much worse.

I know I can’t keep my children in a bubble. But I hate not feeling in control. At first, I was so angry with myself for leaving the bowls on the counter. But then, I looked around our house. All our dining room chairs are on top of our dining room table (to keep the boys from climbing up them, then onto the table, then onto the chandelier, which, unfortunately, has happened). All our kitchen chairs are on top of our kitchen table. The piano bench is on a landing of our stairs. Things are gated. Doors are locked. Breakables have been removed. Little CPR pamphlets I picked up from the class we took are scattered about the house. Our smoke detectors work. We had the house tested for mold. There’s only so much one can do.

Still, when things like this happen, and happen one right after another, I feel like I’m failing at my job. I feel tense, all the time. I agree to three books at bedtime instead of two. I’m more lenient with the Halloween candy.

Andy found the entire 11-11-11 thing to be rather silly but still, I made my wish at 11:11am. It was for health. For everyone. For a long, long time.

I suppose now, while no one is crying, I should focus on my health, my tension. And maybe not even yoga. Maybe just savasana. For the entire hour.

I think it would be so funny to have one of those workplace signs in our house, telling all how many days it’s been since our last accident. The thing is, I’m pretty sure, ours would always say “0.”

“The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind.”  –G.K. Chesterton

A Perfect Example of Why …

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Owen is in therapy. (Seriously, how is this even possible?)

We’ve started doing more aggressive exercises, which involve two people (one holding him down and pulling his shoulders down, the other twisting his head) every night. It’s part of the bedtime routine, though (James in pjs, Owen in diaper only, bottles made and ready to go, exercises for Owen, hugs for Owen, Owen in pjs, bottles fed, sleep) so they actually happen. I know the twisting and turning and holding is good for him, in the long run, but still, the way he looks at me while we’re doing them simply breaks my heart.

“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” —Thomas Merton

A Mother’s Instinct

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I worry about James. I always have. At 27-1/2 weeks I was worried about him, even though I was told, at the time, that his rate of growth was fine. But in the end, it wasn’t. At birth, Owen was double the size of James. If my water hadn’t broken on its own, six weeks early, I know at my next scheduled ultrasound I would have been sent to the hospital for a c-section because of how small James really was. James was in the NICU longer. One of his ribs protrudes so oddly that, for a couple scary days we were worried it was some sort of mass (an x-ray and ultrasound confirmed it’s just bone). He suffers from eczema, which at times, can be severe. As such, he often can be found in this position:

James Bottoms Up

I like to think he’s simply doing downward dog but I know he falls into this position often to more easily scratch his head. He does it so much that he’s losing hair on the top of his head—akin to when he only slept on his back and lost hair back there because of that. We have a prescription cream, and it helps, but we’ve yet to rid him of the rash entirely.

That’s not all. None of my children have had ear infections—except James. And now he has a recurring one. At his 9-month appointment we were told he’s in the 1 percentile for weight but that it’s OK—his charted growth curve is upward moving. And yet, at this week’s appointment when the pediatrician confirmed James’s ear infection had returned (and I felt like a terrible mother for dismissing so many signs all last week), new stuff came up. Like the fact that in addition to the eczema, James will sometimes get hives. And that his diapers aren’t what they should be. And that he is still so small.

And so today, after Owen’s PT appointment, I had to take James down the hospital hall for blood work. I will never, ever again complain about having blood drawn. (OK, maybe a little if they have to dig to find a vein, but never like I used to). I’ve decided watching your 10-month-old have blood drawn is 10,000 times worse. The needle is smaller, yes, but the blood takes so long to fill the vials (and using most of my strength to hold down my screaming baby didn’t make the time go any faster).

The pediatrician wants to test him for allergies. And thyroid issues. And many other things, things that have to do with nutrient absorption and other big words I probably should be looking up instead of writing this post.

In the scheme of things, none of this is a big deal. He’s happy (most of the time). And healthy (for the most part). And nothing that I’ve written so far scares me—truly, it doesn’t. What does, though, is mother’s instinct.

People, women, in particular, talk about it all the time: Trust your mother’s instinct. Trust your gut. Listen to that voice inside of you that nags and nags and nags, despite logic and evidence and people telling you to stop worrying, particularly people who have had years of medical training.

I worry about Sophie.

I worry about Owen.

I worry about many, many things (ranging from why recycling pick-up never showed up this week to my career outside of mothering to the tragedies in Japan).

But I can always, with some deep, inward thought, let my worries go or, at least, lessen a bit—except with James.

So then I worry that I’m worrying so much about my mother’s instinct that I’m simply making it seem like it’s something huge I should be trusting when, in reality, it’s just superficially inflated, because of all the worrying going on in my head. Or something like that.

I imagine, I hope, his blood work comes back perfectly normal. And that with more humid weather his skin improves. As he grows, I suspect his rib won’t protrude so noticeably. And maybe, ironically, he’ll actually end up bigger than his brother.

And yet, I can’t shake it. I’ve tried as part of me fears there’s going to be an asterisk next to my name on James’s chart and I’ll be labeled an excessive worrier by his doctors. But then another part of me thinks back to when I had not yet met him yet, but held him, inside of me, and I knew—I knew—something wasn’t quite right. And it wasn’t. I’m not an ultrasound technician. I’m not an ob/gyn. Only a mother. With an uneasy gut.

I hope it’s wrong.

“Instinct is the nose of the mind.” —Madame De Girardin

Comparing My Children

Everyone says, Don’t compare your children. No two children are alike. Every baby develops at their own pace. When dealing with babies who are premature, you must consider their gestational age in terms of developmental milestones. Don’t worry so much.

I know all this. Honestly, I do. But I also don’t know a single parent who hasn’t compared—either their child to another child or their child to that child’s sibling. We may not talk about it, admit to it, but we do.

My boys will be 10 months old Saturday. They’ve been eating solid food for about a month now, and just recently we introduced Puffs. I can pour a small handful of Puff’s on Owen’s tray and, as long as I watch him closely, he typically does OK feeding them to himself. James, on the other hand, has given us a few scares. So we feed him broken-in-half Puffs, one at a time.

I can’t imagine the boys eating birthday cake when they turn 1, in two months. At their 9-month-appointment the nurse practitioner assured as that they would.

I began thinking about Sophie and her eating habits. To be fair, she wasn’t premature. And she hated baby food (whereas the boys love it). Still, just for fun (OK, OK, to compare) I looked back to the day Sophie turned 10 months old. She was eating spaghetti.

I looked some more.

At 9-1/2 months, she was cruising.

At 10-1/2 months, she was reading. (OK, not really, but she was standing and pulling books off her bookshelf and making considerable messes for me to clean up.)

Owen gets around pretty well now, but he moves like an inch worm—he’s yet to crawl on his hands and knees. James is following in Owen’s footsteps, but gives up (or becomes content with some other activity) sooner. They can both sit, unassisted, but only for very short periods of time. And they have yet to get themselves in a sitting position.

No one’s concerned. Continued physical therapy and exercises at home have been recommended (by both their physical therapist and pediatrician) and that’s all. This is normal, everyone says. By the time they’re 2, they’ll be caught up. It’s best not to compare.

But I do.

And then I think back to last night. My parents were visiting and my mom was holding Owen, who was content to be held. She commented on his baby-ness, how nice it is that he still likes to be held—most 10 months olds don’t. I remember a friend saying the same thing about her twins, who were born early. She worried about them being behind but loved that they were so baby-like for so long. And there’s something to be said for that. Because, in the scheme of things, they’re only babies for such a short period of time.

And then I think back to the spaghetti. I can’t imagine two times the spaghetti mess. Or two boys, accomplished crawlers, crawling off in different directions (or, soon enough, cruising, walking—running—in different directions). I can’t imagine finger paint projects times three, drippy ice cream cones times three, new running shoes times three, new bikes times three, new (OK, they won’t be driving new but still) cars times three, my God, college times three.

And then I’m a little more content with their development, wiping pureed peas off chins while Sophie spills a glass of milk all over our cloth-covered (what were we thinking) dining room chairs. I relish, and appreciate, their baby-ness. And will wait until they turn 11 months old, to revisit my blog archives and compare.

“Comparison is a death knell to sibling harmony.” —Elizabeth Fishel

Our Little Scuba Diver

Owen (and James, to a much lesser degree) suffer from torticollis. Their left ears tilt toward their left shoulders and they always look to the right. As a result, Owen’s head is misshapen. His right cheek and forehead are more pronounced (and, as such, more kissable, I say).

Owen started physical therapy early September. We took him to a chain therapy center recommended by our pediatrician. The therapists there were incredibly kind and if Owen was a teenager, I truly believe he would have received adequate—if not excellent—treatment. But he was an infant. Looking back, I should have known the place wasn’t an ideal fit. Everyone who worked there doted on him. I asked, at one appointment, if they saw many babies. They said no (hence the doting). They claimed he was doing much better and only needed to be seen monthly.

Two weeks later Owen finally had his appointment with a plastic surgeon at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital (the wait for an appointment was quite long). This is recommended for all babies struggling with plagiocephaly, which means abnormal head shape. While the National Institute of Health’s Back to Sleep Public Education Campaign has greatly reduced the occurrence of SIDS, it’s greatly increased the occurrence of plagiocephaly. Newborns are spending too much time on their backs. The solution? Back to sleep, yes, but much more tummy time and much less time in car seats, bouncers and swings.

Part of our appointment at the hospital involved an educational seminar. We were told about the important of tummy time, proper positioning (exercises) and ridding our house of our beloved My Little Lamb swing. I admit, I left that seminar angry. I felt like I was being blamed—that Owen’s misshapen head was my fault. I felt like a terrible mother.

I don’t know why Owen has torticollis. I do know it’s more common in twins. I also know that while I tried to do tummy time with him as much as possible, I could have done more. And with a toddler and twins, we used our swing—a lot. I’m no longer angry at the nurse who gave the educational seminar. And, most days, I’m no longer angry with myself. It is what it is.

Back to Cincinnati Children’s. After the seminar, Owen’s head was measured and he was seen by a plastic surgeon. Turns out, his plagiocephaly was only borderline for needing a molding helmet. In addition, we were told, helmet therapy is best suited for babies with flat spots on their heads. Owen doesn’t have a flat spot. Rather, because of the torticollis, one side of his face is simply more forward than the other. Weekly physical therapy was recommended instead.

We pulled Owen out of the chain therapy and into Cincinnati Children’s therapy—the only opening was in Mason (a good half hour away). I took it. And am so happy I did.

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Here’s Sadie working with James.

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Sophie loves going to therapy with the boys and she now knows the drill: shoes off, hands sanitized, one toy from the toy cabinet (usually kitchen supplies for the play kitchen) and a sticker at the end for good behavior.

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And here’s Sally working with Owen (the exercises often are tough for him).

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Sally is our main therapist and we love her. She’s smart. She works Owen hard but also provides many hugs, kisses and let’s-take-a-breather-so-you-can-stop-crying moments. She’s so incredibly patient with Sophie (who loves to “help”). And me (I’m always late). And Owen (even when he’s teething and his muscles are tight and he therefore cries the entire time). Sadie is a student, working with Sally. She spends a lot of time with James, who is seen every other week. You would never guess her to be a student. Her insights and exercise explanations seem to come from someone much older. We’re grateful to both of them.

For awhile, Owen was in therapy twice a week. (Allow me a woe-is-me moment: Hour-long appointments a half hour away require much planning and patience plus there’s a $20 co-pay per child per visit.) But now Owen’s down to once a week. He had a follow-up appointment with the plastic surgeon and a molding helmet was officially ruled out. But, in addition to the PT and regimen of exercises at home, he’s required to wear a Benik vest, more accurately called a Benik Contralateral Torticollis Bracing System.

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front view

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back view

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side view—it’s this strap which keeps his head midline

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It’s not his favorite thing. It greatly restricts his movement and he’s had to relearn basic things he’s been doing incorrectly, like rolling. He’s most upset when left on the floor, alone (which I try to do for as long as I can, so he can relearn those things, but usually I can stand the screaming for only about 10 minutes). We strive for about four hours of wear time daily.

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A Bumbo and blocks help.

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His big sister helps.

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And working on a puzzle with all his siblings helps, too.

This bracing system, along with positioning, exercises and physical therapy, seem to be helping. I know, someday, this will all seem like a minor blip in our lifetime together. But right now, it seems so very much more than that. But I’m thankful, for many things. I’m thankful that, medically, this is all we’re dealing with right now. As someone who wore back braces in high school because of scoliosis, I’m thankful Owen’s wearing this bracing system now and not as a teenager. I’m thankful for Sally and Sadie and all the wonderful people who work in the physical therapy department at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Mason. I’m thankful for my mom who will often watch Sophie (or come to the appointment and help out there). I’m thankful that the therapists are so willing and equipped to handle siblings when help is not available. I’m thankful for Wendy’s drive-thru (the appointments are at 11am—Sophie and I munch on lunch during the long drive home).

Finally, I’m thankful for this blog as a means to educate. Maybe, maybe, I could have given Owen all the tummy time in the world and never once put him in a swing or bouncer and, maybe, he’d still have torticollis. But (and it pains me to think this) maybe not. So if you have a baby, and he’s awake, put him on his tummy. Even if he fights it. And reserve the car seat for the car. I know it’s a pain but when in a restaurant, take your baby out. Hold her. Limit bouncer use. And swing use. (It’s so hard, I know. We, literally, put ours in the attic so we wouldn’t be tempted to use it.) Limit high chair use and stroller use, too. It’s funny, all these things we have that parents 100 years ago didn’t—as usual, more is not always better.

I think James will be released from PT soon. And Owen should have to wear his vest for only six months, if all goes well. I actually think it’s kind of cute. I call him my little scuba diver. Sophie often cries if he’s in it and crying. But many days, when I put him in it, she suddenly shows up wearing a hat, too.

“When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.” —Buddha

Comparing Lives, in a Waiting Room

Today I took James to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s Crestview Hills location for a simple ophthalmology follow-up. (No glasses necessary—he passed.)

In addition to the normal waiting room time to get into the appointment, I had an extra 30-minute wait in the waiting room once drops were put in his eyes to dilate them. So James and I watched people come and people go—infants, toddlers, teenagers, parents, grandparents, siblings, caregivers.

Initially we sat across two women—one was a nurse. I wasn’t sure if she was the mother’s sister or, simply, a nurse, there to help the mother with her child. The mother was sweetly mothering her beautiful nine-month-old girl. The mother and I talked about teething—her daughter had just gotten her first two teeth. While the mother was away, filling out paperwork, her daughter made a terrible noise and grew extremely red in the face. The other woman, the nurse, calmly started up a portable machine, inserted a tube in either the baby’s mouth or nose (I couldn’t tell which), said sweet nothings to the small child and slowly, slowly, the baby’s red, scrunched up face softened, grew paler, and less afraid.

Shortly thereafter James and I noted an older man enter the waiting room with his teenage son, who frequently shouted, who was clearly nervous and who garnered a lot of stares. The older man—the boy’s father—looked rough. If I saw him on the streets, sans son, I would have never guessed he’d be the type of man who could calm his panicking, yelling child with calm words, a rubber ball for distraction and a gentle hand on the shoulder.

Near the end of our wait another teenager entered the room with what I assume wasn’t his mother but his caretaker. He was tall and solid—a big guy. He wore baggy blue sweatpants, a dirty white shirt and old leather shoes. I could see plastic braces on his ankles. His pants were wet. His caretaker noticed and began trying to convince him to go to the bathroom to change. Finally, he agreed. At this point I was walking around the room, bouncing James in my arms, trying to keep him calm. A few seconds later the teenage boy returned, eyes locked on James.

I smiled at him. I said hi. A couple times. I smiled again. Yet his eyes remained locked on my son as he continued walking toward us. His caretaker rushed behind him.

“Look at the beautiful baby!” she said. I couldn’t help but take note of the nervous tone in her voice.

She inserted her small frame between me and the teenage boy, using all her strength to push him back. While pushing, the boy kept his eyes locked on James. And then, something snapped. He softened. His gaze dropped. He turned around and walked away.

Sometimes, after I’ve had a long, trying day with my children, and everyone is asleep, I collapse in my big leather chair, with a big glass of red wine and think about how hard my life is right now.

I’m a fool.

My children are, for the most part, healthy. I don’t have to travel with a nurse and special machinery. Their infantile behavior will be short-lived—something I only will have to deal with while they’re infants. Potty training will end before puberty hits. And I doubt I’ll have to deal with panic attacks in crowded waiting rooms or one of my sons charging a stranger’s seven-month-old. And the very physical aspects of mothering will someday end for me. My children will (I hope) grow up. They’ll become independent, not require machinery to function. They’ll move away. While there’s a sadness to that, there’s also great pleasure, too. And so many (too many) parents never, ever get to experience that. For parents of handicapped children, often, they’re mothering, and fathering, in that very physical sense, until they’re gone.

And yet. I heavily sigh. I sip. I long for more time to do nothing.

Yes. I’m a fool.

“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” —Scott Hamilton