Friday, November 16, 2012

In sickness and in health

I don't think there can be anything more stressful in life than your child getting sick (or hurt). I guess that it was bound to happen eventually. I just didn't think it would be so soon. She's only 3 and a half months old.

Michelle got her first cough and cold. She caught it from my nephew Reggie who had been sick since Halloween. It was a cold and rainy night for trick or treating this year. (So many people have told me you don't catch a cold from being in the cold but you DO! I ALWAYS caught colds in the winter. You're out in the cold and damp and your nose starts to run and you wipe it and germs get in and you've got yourself a cold.) We didn't think a baby Michelle's age could get sick and even if we thought there was a danger it wasn't as though we could avoid exposure. It was my Mom's big 70th birthday party and everyone had to be there. We also had a smaller celebration on my Mom's "real" birthday. Reggie didn't have any direct contact with Michelle but of course he was at the same table, was coughing, touching things. My sister and my Mom were alternately holding Reggie and then holding Michelle. She seemed fine the next day. She sneezed a few times but it didn't seem that unusual. Later that night however, the nightmare began. It was after midnight and I heard Michelle coughing which was strange. I hadn't heard her cough before. When I went to check on her she was wheezing. Her nose was running and all stuffed up. She woke up crying and it was difficult to console her. Poor little thing. I know how much I hate having a cold. Everyone feels like a baby when they have a cold. And it's far worse for a baby when she has no idea what's going on, why it's suddenly hard to breathe and her nose is sore and runny.

She was understandably upset and wouldn't go back to sleep. I walked with her, rocking her and singing to her for hours trying to console her. When I tried to breastfed her she would take a sip, turn away and cry, take a sip and turn away and cry. She couldn't breathe through her nose which made suckling almost impossible. She had to choose between breathing and eating! I kept trying to clear out her nose with a Kleenex. I'll have to get one of those nasal aspirators to clear it out. I didn't want to drag her out to the store to look for one while she was sick. It's tough for babies who don't know how to blow their noses to clear out the congestion. And you can't give them anything (not that over the counter cold meds do much anyway. I've never found one that helped. The only one I ever really liked was NyQuil because it's yummy and knocks you out at night so you get some sleep at least.) With a child there's not too much you can do for a cold but wait it out.

I made a makeshift humidifier by putting boiling water in a bowl and throwing a towel over us to breathe it in. I thought it might help to clear out her sinuses. She wasn't too keen on the experience. I'll have to look for a humidifier the next time I'm shopping as well. Oh and some Kleenex with lotion. A great invention. So much softer on the nose.

Thankfully the congestion seemed to subside enough for her to breathe a little so that she could feed. And then she fed voraciously. Every hour instead of every two hours. I guess it's like they say -- "Starve a fever. Stuff a cold." She was probably also dehydrated from losing so much fluid. At one feeding she drained both breasts and still seemed thirsty. I tried giving her some water in a bottle. She made a face like "Are you kidding me?" and didn't drink more than a drop. The doctor had told me at the last check-up that I could start giving Michelle a little water if I wanted. I only tried it once and she wouldn't drink it so I didn't bother trying again until she got sick. I know you're supposed to drink lots of fluids.

At one point when I tried to feed Michelle she went ballistic. It didn't seem like milk was coming out. She was screaming as though the world was ending. I was worried I may have actually run out of milk. She'd been feeding so often maybe my breasts couldn't keep up with the demand. To be sure,  I went and got the pump to see if anything came out. The milk was still flowing so that wasn't the problem. Michelle was just frustrated. Luckily she got over it and started to feed again shortly thereafter.

It was a horrendous day. She was fussier than ever and I felt so bad for her. She wouldn't nap for more than a couple of minutes all day. I was so exhausted and drained I started to cry. I wondered how I was going to survive the next 40 years or so worrying about her. I can't even deal with the simplest things. I fell apart when I accidentally cut her thumb once while clipping her nails and now I was crying over the common cold. How would I find the strength to deal with all the challenges and heartbreaks children bring? I get so stressed out when something goes wrong, something beyond my control. I always hated being sick myself but having my child sick is a billion times worse. I wanted to be able to fix it, to cure it, to make her better instantly, to take it on myself to spare her. But of course it wasn't something that I could change. It was a case of the sniffles and would have to run its course, as hellish as that course might be, for Michelle and for me.

I consumed plenty of orange juice and chicken noodle soup thinking that some of it would get to her through my breast milk. I had heard that breast milk was full of antibodies. I guess I had hoped it would make her immune to everything but babies are so vulnerable. Everything is new to them so if exposed to a virus, it's very hard to fight off.

I figured that plenty of fluids and a lot of rest were her best bet for a quick recovery so I didn't mind feeding her every hour or so, day and night when she demanded it and I tried to stay with her almost constantly so that she'd sleep (she would wake up and cry the instant I tried to get up. She finally settled down late at night the next day and I had to rush to put the garbage out while I had the chance. Meanwhile I was in my pjs, hadn't bothered to get dressed all day, hadn't showered or done my face. I looked like a zombie. But at least there was no one outside at that hour anyway.)

The next day Michelle was a little better but I had caught the cold. Figures. My throat was sore and my nose was running. I wish someone would come up with a cure for the common cold. All 200 strains of it. I've had so many colds in my life I would have thought I've had almost all of them by now.

It's hard. Before becoming a Mom I only really had to worry about myself. Now I worry about her and if something happens to her it's far worse than if it happened to me. I love her more than my own life. It terrifies me. I can be a bit of a control freak. Part of me just wants to keep Michelle in a protective bubble and keep her away from the world so she's not exposed to anything. People have warned me that when children start school, they are constantly getting sick because they are exposed to so many germs from other children. Children get sick all the time because their immune systems aren't fully developed yet. It's scary. But I can't protect her from life. I can't keep her away from other children. I try to be careful. I wash my hands a hundred times a day. I try to clean everything. But then you go out and you can't control what everyone else is doing. She is going to touch things and people and be contaminated by germs. It's inevitable. You can't control the world. You can't guarantee a clean environment (you could drive yourself crazy and become OCD, wearing gloves everywhere or sporting a Hazmat suit and running around sticking biohazard stickers on everything.) Everyone could be contagious. Everything could be a hazard. At some point you have to relax, lighten up, let life happen. As a child I didn't worry too much. I was a bit of a tomboy for a while. I spent the whole day outside, playing in the dirt, catching frogs and snakes. And I survived. My brother accidentally ate a piece of bread full of beetles when he was a toddler ("Wait a minute. We don't have raisin bread!" my mother screamed as she realized what he was eating in the backyard) and he survived. Some people argue that being exposed to some germs helps to toughen children up and make them healthier later in life. If you do live in a completely sterile environment with no exposure to anything then you never develop antibodies or immunity. So maybe Michelle getting sick so early has an advantage. It may toughen her up. It may give her body a chance to learn how to heal itself and recover from an illness.

In the scheme of things, this really is no big deal. It was just a bit of a rude awakening, seeing my child sick for the first time. It's not pleasant. I want the best for her. I can't bear to see her suffer even in the smallest of ways. But maybe it's a learning experience for us both. I get to be a Mom and comfort her. I'm making sure we're both getting plenty of rest and fluids. We stayed in our pjs all day. Michelle seems to be dealing pretty well with the cold now. She was smiling and back to her old self again. She had her tummy time, played on her gym and in her jumperoo. I cheered up a little too when I realized that she's OK. It is just a cold after all.

At some point I'm going to have to learn to let go. To relax. It's not the end of the world (even though sometimes it feels like it.) This too shall pass. Life isn't perfect. She's going to get sick occasionally. Sh%$ happens. She'll be exposed to all kinds of things out in the world and from other people. I can do my best to protect her and watch out for her (and hopefully not let her eat any beetles!) but I can't drive myself crazy worrying or try to keep her sheltered. I can't keep her in a bubble, as much as I may want to.

Maybe this is another rite of passage for me as a Mom. Somehow when we're sick we need Mom most of all. When we catch a cold, many of us wish we had Mom there to nurture us, tuck us in, bring us orange juice and chicken noodle soup. To hug us and love us and tell us we're going to be OK. Now I get to be the nurturing Mom helping my little one to feel better. Michelle is learning at a very early age that I am there for her, in sickness and in health, that I will always be there to comfort her and help her through anything. And maybe I'm learning to lighten up a little. As a new parent, I'm nervous about anything going wrong. It's all uncharted territory. But once you have dealt with something, you gain confidence. You realize that it's going to be OK. Each small catastrophe that we survive (whether it be a cut finger or a runny nose) makes me a little stronger.


  1. The 1st cold is the worst! It gets easier because you know what to expect & what to do to help your babe feel better.

    A few tips that have helped me: use your receiving blankets instead of kleenex, sure it's more laundry but it's easier on her nose...or there's Boogie Wipes, they are a bit pricey but makes a world of difference on the nose...they make Baby Vicks rub but remember to put on her chest, not under her helps. Along with the aspirator, buy some Hydrasense...also expensive but really really worth it...get the bottle with the built in dispenser (as opposed to the individual packets) it's saline that you shoot up her nose...sounds awful but really clears her out & if you do it just before nursing, she'll be clear enough to get a good meal...

    Hope you're both feeling 100% soon!

  2. Thanks for the advice. Never heard of Boogey Wipes! I've seen commercials for Hydrasense. I'll have to try it. So many things I want to get but too sick to go out and get them. Michelle's a bit better but my cold has gotten worse. I feel like hell. The last couple of days have been BRUTAL. I'll be so glad when we can breathe again!