How do you know when your child is sucking her thumb? She’s covered from head to toe in her own excrement and remains peacefully asleep. True story.
Although few things have come easily to me in life, hard work and determination have often overcompensated to pave the way for success. This reminds me of the six months that I poured into marathon training back in 2010. I had a dream; prepared and completed every scheduled run despite numerous injuries; and met my marathon goal by finishing in less than four and a half hours. These are the kind of personal victories that, unfortunately, make one a little prideful.
I saw no good reason not to carry over that pre-baby “I-can-do-it-all” confidence into motherhood; that is, until I discovered a subtle bulge on the right side of my four-month-old son’s forehead. Additionally, from an aerial point of view, I observed that the back right side of his head was also misshapen, almost flattened.
Like a fish to water, I took to Google in a tiger mother fashion that, in less than one minute, undid all of my formal public health training. What was wrong with my son?
As it turned out, my son was plagued by two concerns: torticollis and a flattened head. In the medical community, these two conditions present a chicken-or-egg kind of conundrum: Which came first? Torticollis is a tightness of muscles on one side of the neck and may have origins in the womb with respect to uterine space constraints. Plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome), on the other hand, refers to a misshapen head resulting from a child’s position in his/her bed, carrier, etc. Regardless of the timing, my son’s sucking of his right thumb made both considerably worse.
Several months later, after an unsuccessful round of physical therapy and innumerable failed attempts in repositioning, I had to check my pride at the door. I became the mother with a son who needed to wear a cranial helmet. For three sweltering summer months, he wore his helmet 23 hours a day.
When you are a public health scholar, it is easy to believe that everything in life can be prevented. I would argue that, in motherhood, this is probably the worst mistake you can make. In the end, I found peace in my struggle and actually grew fond of the little blue helmet. It also protected my son’s head during a very dangerous stage in a little boy’s life: learning to walk.
Today, almost exactly two years later, I find myself in a familiar place. My daughter seeks her thumb at every opportunity, and I am reminded that perhaps without the humility that raising children requires, we may never get beyond our greatest barrier to a full life: ourselves.