Friday, February 12, 2010

Rocket Man

As I sit here preparing to write this post it’s dawning on me how long ago these events occurred. We’re talking about Baby James when he really was a fragile little baby. I hardly even remember that time when his head needed supporting and his movements seemed like they were in slow-motion and he needed burping after each feed. That’s a world away to where he is now, a robust, fast-moving, eat-anything machine.

So these are my recollections around 12 months after the event.

As with all parents, and I’m sure it’s doubly so with first-timers, Kylee and I observed Baby James in great detail. We watched him in our arms, we watched him in the arms of others, while he slept, and I would smell him all the time. We were taking in his being with us. It was fantastic. I was both amazed and proud, its clichéd because it’s true. Anyway, as it was, we started noticing something, his soft head was developing a flat spot.

We had read about this phenomenon and had followed the advice of the books. We had routinely switched the end of the cot Baby James was facing, apparently this will cause the infant child to turn towards the door. He didn’t though, he had a definite preferred side to sleep on. So as we noticed the development we would ask our friends if it was normal. Of course it is they’d tell us, followed by their own experiences of their child with a slight flat spot which sorted itself out as they grew older. So we continued using our book-smarts to address the flat spot issue.

And then we went to the paediatrician for Baby James’ six week check up. Doctor examined his patient, checked his hips, did some other poking and prodding and then announced at the end that Baby James had a flat spot on his left side. Yes we know, we told him, like this was news to us, the helicopter parents from hell. Hurry up and be the second opinion to the suburban medical advice that we’ve already received and tell us that it’ll sort itself out is what I was thinking. But he didn’t say this. Instead, we were referred to a physiotherapist who specialised in infants as the doctor was concerned that the favouring of one side to the other might also result in the shortening of Baby James’ neck muscles.

This is where we met Wendy our physio. She was fantastic, and as a new mum herself, she approached her patient with the same care that she would her own. It’s funny because you would obviously prefer not to have to need a health professional for your eight week old child but I really enjoyed appointments at the physio. At our first appointment, Wendy enjoyed Baby James’ smiles. At our next appointment she commented on his sitting ability. At subsequent appointments she marvelled at his rolling and then worming ability. All the time I felt proud that I was somehow a catalyst in these events.

Anyway, our physio advice at appointment one was to continue what we were doing but to also place a wedge under Baby James’ hip and shoulder while he slept in order to roll him off his favoured side and we would monitor his flat spot for a month. If there was little or no improvement we would be referred to an orthotist who specialised in remedial helmets for such conditions. When we were being shown the type of helmet that Baby James might possibly need, both Kylee and I went, ‘oh, we’ve seen other babies at the shops wearing those. That’s what they’re for?’

We left this appointment and we tried to be optimistic that the flat spot would right itself. We tried to be positive about the remedial helmet if it was required. But speaking for myself I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the potential prospect. Again I can only speak for moi, but I guess there was an element of wanting your child to be ‘normal’, whatever that is.

Well, as the month did pass Kylee and I would often discuss whether improvement was happening. We were often subjected to the trick of the eye, one angle we believed that we could see a change and from a different angle the flat spot looked the same. Baby James’ condition certainly wasn’t helped by his lack of hair as his shiny bald scone had nothing to hide its bumps and quirks.

In the end we decided against worrying and whatever would be would be. As it turned out we did take Baby James to the orthotist, her name was Bianca and like Wendy the Physio, she took great interest in her patients.

It was during our time at the orthotists that we came to learn that the medical term for Baby James’ condition was plagiocephaly. We further learnt that this condition has become more common in recent years as one of the pieces of advice for parents from the SIDS movement has been to place babies on their backs while they sleep.

So Baby James was to receive a helmet. The fitting process involved plaster of Paris being applied to his melon, not the easiest of tasks when involving a squirming, unwilling participant. From there a mould was made and I was given a pattern book to choose a design from. I choose the gender appropriate blue with trucks, planes and randomly a ‘no dogs’ logo. And there we were, set for the next 8-12 weeks depending on how Baby James’ cranium responded to manipulation.

Kylee and I joked amongst ourselves about Baby James new headwear. At times he looked as though he was about to hop on his motorbike, other clothes made him look as though he was about to jump in the ring for a sparring session, but my favourite look was when we dressed him in his wondersuit. Baby James came across as looking like an astronaut; our little Rocket Man. And I would mangle the lyrics to Elton John’s song, singing with appropriate falsetto but tunelessly;

‘Oh, its gonna make everything be alright, cos you’re a Rocket Man.’

Baby James wore his helmet 23 hours a day for what turned out to be around three months. We took him to the shops in it and I remember furniture shopping one time when the assistant (a woman in her 50’s) came over and told us she thought the helmet was a great idea and that her grandson could use one too to stop him from bashing his head as he ran under the dining table. We had to explain the exact purpose to her, but to be fair I’m sure Baby James’ gained an undeserved confidence around hard surfaces as he avoided the bruises that would have come his way as we often heard a clunk that signified contact between helmet and house.

Mostly though people went about their business and if there was a comment it was mostly how cute Baby James looked in his headgear. Occasionally there was the odd question from mothers who had babies with the same plagiocephaly condition who were seeking information. And only once was my ire raised when some stupid Gen Y girls laughed at what they considered to be a comical look, fortunately for them they were faster moving in the crowd than I was with the pram and by the time I saw them again the heat had left me and the moment of their insensitivity had also passed.

With fortnightly trips to the orthotist improvement was discernable and Bianca was happy with his progress, as were we. At the ten week appointment it was decided that one more week would do the job, this turned out to be … hmmm …. what’s the opposite of a false start? A false end? A phantom something or other? Well, whatever it’s called, with a little bit of disappointment at having our eager anticipation dashed, we ended up having an extra week as it turned out.

Now, the end result is a much improved noggin for Baby James. Not quite perfect, but then who has a perfect nut, no-one in my family that’s for sure and that’s his gene pool. And now that he’s getting a fuller head of fair hair, nature is helping him disguise his uniquity (made that word up just now) and hopefully Baby James will have my hair genes and no-one will ever be the wiser.

‘Oh, its gonna make everything be alright, cos you’re a Rocket Man.’

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