Monday, February 28, 2011

Being a Father and Counting Your Blessings

When I began this Blog in 2004, I looked at it as if it was an on-line diary. If you go back to some of my first entries, they’re basically about myself and my girlfriend Aly, who later became my wife. It wasn’t really interesting to anyone, except me. After I figured out my voice (ugh) and what I wanted this space to be all about, I tried to keep it to mostly non-personal stuff: pop culture, sports, dopey ideas that flow through my head. Every once in a while, a personal tid bit or two would slip into the mix, but it’s rare. It seems that the handfuls of readers that I have appreciate that.

For this entry, I’m going to change it up a bit and write about something a bit personal and if you want to stop reading, I’d more than understand.

My youngest daughter was born three months ago and things have been pretty awesome. She’s energetic and beautiful and smart and has one of the best smiles I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing and aside from nights where she doesn’t sleep, it’s been almost perfect.


The second day of her life, Aly noticed that our daughter wheezed a bit when she breathed. She contacted the nurse and we were told that it was probably no big deal, they’d run some tests and we’d get the answers soon. Within an hour we were speaking to doctors about brain surgeries and other remedies to this breathing issue. They weren’t exactly what was wrong with our daughter, but they had a few ideas, one of which was that the brain was sliding down the back of her skull and pinching a nerve that controlled the vocal chords.

Luckily, this diagnosis was incorrect and brain surgery was not the answer. However, our baby spent 10 nerve-wracking days in the ICU where the nurses told us what a strong kid we had. In an attempt to buoy our spirits they wondered why she was even there, but we knew; we could hear her wheezing and we were told that she couldn’t cry at all otherwise she could pass out. By the time we left, the doctors felt that the problem was vocal cord paresis. They weren’t sure whether she’d ever be better. Obviously, this freaked us out because it seemed so final and questions abounded: would she be able to breathe ok? Will she be able to speak clearly? Will she have this wheezing for the rest of her life?

Until we saw a specialist, we wouldn’t know.

Finally at the end of December we spoke to an ear, nose and throat specialist, who allayed our fears and said that our daughter has something called Laryngomalacia or a floppy voice box. The wheezing we heard was stridor (basically the opposite of asthma) and that within two years, though probably sooner, our daughter will be over this and she will breathe quietly like a “regular” kid, all with no impacts to her health.

Aly and I were more jubilant than we had ever been in our lives.

Over the last two months, the breathing has gotten better and there are times when she’s so quiet it’s as if she wasn’t in the room. However, she does have her episodes. When she is nervous or in an unfamiliar setting, when she’s hungry or upset the stridor will start back up and her breathing volume increases. To my wife and myself, this is part and parcel of what makes our daughter, our daughter.

The fact that our daughter’s breathing makes other people nervous is not something we really put a lot of thought into. For the last three months, this has been one of the longest, coldest, snowiest winters in recent memory. Because of that and the fact that not only do we have a three month old, but also a rambunctious three-year-old, we haven’t left the homestead very much. If we do, we may hit the mall or a family restaurant where the daily din drowns out any noisy breathers.

This past weekend, we went to a quiet pizzeria on Saturday and on Sunday I brought her to the grocery store. Both times we were questioned or stared at. At the pizza place our daughter’s had just woken up from a nap and she didn’t know where she was. Her breathing was noticeably louder. The teen age girl sitting behind us kept turning around and staring at our daughter as if something was wrong. She did this more than a half-dozen times. I should have said something, but the girl was with her mother and I didn’t want to cause a scene.

In retrospect, I wish that I did.

The next day when the baby and I went to the grocery store, a similar thing occurred. She was hungry and the stridor was really starting to kick in and it got progressively louder as I stood inline waiting to pay and for my groceries to be bagged. The bagger kept asking me if my baby was ok. I assured her that she was, but she kept pushing me, “It sounds like she’s crying. Is she crying? No? Is she sick? It sounds to me that she can’t breathe? Is she alright?”

Combined with what happened the night before, I sort of snapped (and looking back, I really shouldn’t have). I told her, “There is nothing wrong with my girl. She’s not sick. She’s not crying and she can breathe just fine. She happens to have a condition that is eventually going to clear up on its own and she’s fine. She’s perfect. SHE’S JUST FINE.” I think the bagger was a bit shaken up by the tone of the last part and she apologized profusely and we were on our way.

Here’s the thing: my daughter’s breathing is jarring when you first hear it. I get this. The first night that she slept in our bedroom, I couldn’t fall asleep because of a combination of her loud breathing, my worries for her future and wondering if she was going to be ok in the morning. But mostly it was the loud breathing. It really does sound as if she is having trouble getting oxygen into her little lungs.

I guess that I understand the concern that people have for my daughter and I’m not sure why I reacted the way that I did to the grocery bagger—in all honesty it’s probably residue from the night before. Though honestly, I’d rather have someone ask me what’s wrong than to continuously stare at my daughter like that teenage girl did in the pizza place. What made me respond the way that I did is how she drew this uncomfortable moment out by asking question after frantic question as if I had no idea what was going on. Looking back on the incident, she seemed to have some sort of genuine concern as to the welfare of a fellow human being.

What really bothers me the most is just how I can not seem to put either instance behind me. Aly was pretty shaken up by what had happened on Saturday night and I told her that it was our family’s problem, it was the girl’s problem. She was the ignorant one who had to stare and make us feel uncomfortable. And while I believe that, it’s hard for me to take my own advice about the grocery store employee, who really wasn’t doing anything other than expressing concern. But when you get two days in a row of “someone else’s problem” (and this coincides with another incident from the previous weekend and another constant questioner) it’s hard to stick to your guns, even when you know that you’re right.

And make no mistake, I’m not unlike these people. I’ve been on the other side, I’ve been the kid staring at someone different and truth be told, most of the time I’d probably make a comment too.

Other than “quit staring and keep your mouth shut”—which I figured out some time ago—these last two days haven’t really taught me much. They should have and I’m trying hard to search for a lesson in these interactions. Maybe the lesson is: eventually my daughter’s breathing is going to get better and people will stop staring and stop asking questions; other people aren’t quite so fortunate. Maybe it’s time that I count my blessings. Raising kids isn’t easy, but that’s what being a father is all about.

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