Imperfections

Our babies have flat heads.

At our two-month appointment in January, I asked about it and was told not to worry (we saw a nurse practitioner for that one, not our regular doctor). At the four-month, I asked again, because they were still flat. Our pediatrician said it would probably be fine, but she said we could have the craniofacial specialists check it out.

I was simultaneously scared to have it confirmed and not have it looked at. But I did the grownup thing and made an appointment. (It’s a huge university/hospital complex at the top of a big hill in northwestern Portland. Huge buildings and structures everywhere you look–honestly I felt like I was in the Jetsons or something!)

Anyway, the woman we saw there was wonderful–very warm, loved the babies, and was very open with us. It was clear that she had no agenda, wasn’t going to automatically make us do helmets, but was very objective. She measured their heads, and sure enough they were flat. Emmett’s worse than Malcolm’s, by a lot. We’d already been able to see that, but the numbers were stark. There’s a certain measurement difference cutoff that would make a baby eligible for a helmet; Malcolm’s was below, and Emmett’s was above. But both have acquired positional plagiocephaly (the medical term for flat head).

She gave us exercises and stretches to do with both of the babies, to work on their torticollis, which would also help them move their heads and necks better. She wanted us to have the babies do fifteen minutes of tummy time every few hours, which was WAY MORE than what we’d been doing, and quite frankly, way more than the babies wanted to do. We were to come in again two months later to check the progress.

We did fairly well with the tummy time, and the babies got a lot better about tolerating it. We would give them toys and squishy books, or lay them on our laps facing out/down, and they would be okay. The stretches really helped their neck tightness ease and loosen. We also had them do a lot of supported sitting–in the Bumbo, activity seat, jumperoo, exersaucer. Lots of playtime not laying on their backs.

By the follow up appointment, Malcolm’s head had gotten noticeably less flat, and his measurement difference dropped in half. Emmett’s had also gotten less flat, but his hadn’t improved as much, and he was still over the ‘cutoff.’ Too flat.

Time for a helmet.

The specialist was again very honest and caring. She told us that after a year or two, heads/skulls aren’t really that malleable anymore, so if you wait, a helmet either takes longer to round out the head, or won’t work at all.

Three weeks ago we had our first appointment at the orthotist so his head could get scanned for his custom helmet. Doesn’t he look like an adorable little Ewok?

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Last week we went back to get the custom-fitted helmet.

The night before, I took a special photo of his cute, happy little self.

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At the office, still happily unaware.

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The doctor had to adjust the helmet openings to fit his head. It’s made of molded foam and has a rounded back to guide his head growth over time.

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Here he is back at home, getting used to wearing the helmet for an hour. This first week is a schedule of increased time wearing it so he can get used to it. Starting at the end of this week, he’ll wear it 23 hours a day. He’ll have it for 3 to 6 months, depending on his growth.

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It’s been a few days now, so he’s worn it for hours at a time, including for naps. He seems to be doing just fine with it. When we go to put it on him, he moves his head around to look at it, and then I swear, he recognizes it and lowers his head so we can put it on. When we take it off, his head is sweaty and his considerable hair is plastered to his forehead. But that’s just how it goes, so we’ll be washing his hair and cleaning the helmet every day during the one-hour break.

Okay, so those are all the facts about Emmett’s helmet.

Now for my feelings.

I’ll sum up: as the orthotist put the helmet on him that first time, tears welled up and rolled down.

When the craniofacialist confirmed the flatness for both and that Emmett would probably need a helmet, I felt my heart sink. Sadness. Guilt.

My poor little babies. Their heads were perfectly fine when they were born. But since they slept in the Rock N Plays pretty much all day and night for the first however many weeks and months, and they both leaned their heads to the right, they got flat spots on that side. I could have held them more. Or forced them to sleep in the co-sleeper (they didn’t sleep as well in there and also spit up more). I could have carried or wore them more. (With naps, feedings, and pumpings, and two babies…I don’t know how.)

The specialist told us that twins are extra susceptible to flat heads, especially Twin A’s (the twin closer to the ‘exit’, if you will). Emmett was our Twin A and his head was wedged in my pelvis for the last three months in utero (Malcolm was breech; neither of them ever flipped), so I guess it’s logical that his little skull already had some extra pressure on it.

So in theory, it happens to a lot of babies and it’s not my fault. But I still feel like it’s my fault, like I let him down, like I didn’t do my job. I dreaded the fact that something was Officially Wrong with one of my babies. We have been so incredibly lucky that our babies have been so healthy thus far. I know that many twins have a lot of medical issues right away, and that sadly many babies come down with flu, RSV, whooping cough, and all kinds of other scary things. We’ve avoided all that so far. I also know that flat heads and helmets aren’t really a health problem, and that he’s still a healthy baby, and I should shut the fuck up with my whining.

But oh, my sweet little baby. We already get looks and comments all the time because they’re twins–and now there’s another reason people might gawk and say dumb shit. He won’t know any better, but I will. I know that we’ll be glad to be helping his head round out, and it’s only temporary, and he won’t remember, but I feel bad that we’re making him look ‘different.’

I’m getting used to it, sort of. I’m happy that Emmett doesn’t care and is his usual self. I still think he’s really cute. It’s harder to kiss his adorable little face with the helmet in the way. And I still have a little sinking, sad feeling when I see it. My poor baby.

Nobody’s perfect, and everyone has a ‘thing’ or issue. But I didn’t think I’d have to accept imperfections for my small babies quite yet. I know that over time there will be plenty more and it won’t be a big deal. Maybe this first hurdle is the biggest.

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Update: He outgrew the helmet three months later! Read the post here with more details about the experience with the helmet.

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39 thoughts on “Imperfections

  1. I can understand why you are emotional (in fact in the first half of the post I was thinking, wow, she’s really matter of fact about it), but you did such a good job catching it and getting it sorted. Nothing at all to feel guilty about! And Emmet looks like a tiny football player now, so that’s cute!

    • As someone who had a myriad of health issues as a baby, this post hits home and would resonate a bunch more with my parents. But I will be the first to say, keep doing what you’re doing and treating them as ‘normal’ babies and it will all work out. Also, I think Linsday had a great outlook – he is an adorably cute tiny football player πŸ™‚

  2. Make him a face shield so he can look like an astronaut, or better yet, a cape so he can look like Evel Knievel. πŸ˜‰ Then he can get all the girls.

    Stop worrying and feeling guilty. You’re doing a great job, and they’re wonderful babies.

    • Ha! They’ll start crawling soon and will surely be doing plenty of stunts without extra costume inspiration! πŸ™‚

      And thanks. πŸ™‚

  3. That last picture is just so adorable!!
    Anyway, it wouldn’t be parenthood without a few tests. Your babies look great, you and Andy are amazing parents and this will soon be just a war story you’ll share at play dates or school functions.
    Also, timely that you posted this because I saw a baby the other day wearing this type of helmet and I had no idea what it was for.

    • You’re so right about tests–and I do feel silly because this is such a little ‘test’.
      Does that mean you didn’t ask the parent of that helmeted baby? I’m already nervous/pre-defensive about comments/questions. :/

      • No, I didn’t ask… and if someone does ask, give them the benefit of the doubt until the asker proves otherwise.I think most people, if they ask you, are either geniunely curious or are dealing with a similar issue. I mean, I was really curious but I didn’t know the mom, for one and two, I figured I could look it up or something. I have asked stranger moms about cochlear implants though if I notice them on their kids, just for my own edification/education.

        And nothing is just a little test. It feels huge emotionally when you’re in it. When Alice was born, the pediatrician at the hospital said she had hip displaysia and in the moment, I freaked out a little, as a new, emotional, hormonal mom. It ended up resolving itself but for two or three weeks, I worried endlessly and it didn’t feel so little then, though it feels little now. So, don’t apologize. Just because it’s not a big deal to anyone else or because it’s not more serious, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a big deal you and Andy, and that’s okay. You know what I mean?

  4. We had a similar worry with Hotaru… she always preferred sleeping on one side and the back of her had has a bit of a flat spot… not enough that we got a helmet, but enough for some concern. She also has an eye that droops a bit – and I am shocked when people comment on it. I do tell them politely to to “F— off.” She’s my daughter and I know what we went through to have her, and she is more than I ever could hope for.
    One area that did concern me a bit was the amount of tummy time your boys aren’t getting (and the worry that as light weight as it probably is, Emmett will probably notice the added weight of the helmet). I am wondering if there may be more that they can get (I am no baby expert and only have experience with my daughter), I’d ask the doctor about this. I started swimming with Hotaru when she was three months, and its clearly made a difference for her. I am hoping that you’ll find something and that you’ll have the strength to tell the insensitive folks to “F— off.” politely. Emmett will know you’ve got his back. And Malcolm will see it too. That, they will remember.

    And that last photo of him is awesome!

    • Hotaru is so adorable–I love your updates of her. πŸ™‚ I hadn’t noticed her eye, and that really sucks that people would notice/comment on that! Good on you for telling them off.
      The tummy time did get a lot better/more once they learned to tolerate it. Lately, Emmett has learned to roll to his back from his tummy after about thirty seconds, so he doesn’t get much anymore. πŸ™‚ But they do sit a lot during the day, which hopefully helps too.

  5. HUGS! Your honesty is refreshing, and you are doing a GREAT job as a mother! No, you can’t protect your children from everything, and yes, that is going to be difficult for their ENTIRE LIVES, but you’re learning how to manage it well, and you are caring for them and enjoying these little adventures.

    Also, that swirly pattern is so badass.

    • Thank you–hugs to you too! That’s a good point about protecting them. I guess I want to protect him from rudeness or stares, but since he’s a baby that’s really more about me, I guess!

      The swirly pattern was the least dumb of the options, though we honestly questioned whether we should put him in a blue helmet, since he is the “green” baby! Ha!

  6. Good luck! Like Nancy said, parenthood is full of all kinds of ups and downs, but that’s what makes it so amazing. You find strength and courage you never knew you had. You are a mother πŸ™‚

  7. Here’s some love for you and your beautiful boys- BOTH of them! The helmet is nothing in the scheme of things and he’ll be glad you did it for him when it all comes down to it. I had caps on my teeth when I was 4- a silver “grill” if you will. Even though it didn’t fix my bite, I know my parents did it out of love for me. And, hey, who else can say they had a grill as a kid???

    • Thank you so much! It’s all so close right now, but I know that in twenty years this will have been such a small blip. Wow, you were ahead of your time with your grill!

  8. Hi Julie,
    Your boys are beautiful. Sorry for this difficulty for Emmett. My life would be a lot better if I could know the future, but alas, we just have to take things as they come. I think you guys are doing great with the challenging life of being twin parents. Thanks for the beautiful photos and the openness. My grandson will be 1 year old next week and we love interacting with him so much. What a blessing for us. He’s had to have tubes put in his ears (about a month ago) because basically he has been sick since Thanksgiving. But yea! Since the tubes he has been well. Still we felt bad to have to put ear plugs on him on Saturday to have him in a pool. Luckily modern medicine fixes so many things. Thanks for your continued blogging. I always enjoy reading what you are doing. All the best to all four of you!

    • Thank you Frank! Wow, he’s already one?! Time does fly! Glad his tubes are helping him feel so much better. All the best to you and your family! πŸ™‚

  9. He’s a mini Speed Racer! Lila hated tummy time so much – it was hard to get her to do any time that way. And she slept in a Rock n Play, too – for five months! Don’t beat yourself up about what you could or could not have done. Babies have minds of their own! You are such an awesome mom for being proactive about making the appointment with the specialist and getting Emmett on the right track. Babywearing was a big help for us in the head/neck strength department, and also soon the twins will be sitting up by themselves so there will be that upright time, too. It was about this age that I used my pregnancy pillow doubled up and formed into a “U” to support Lila sitting up by herself. The months with the helmet will fly by, don’t worry!

  10. My son is about the same age as your boys and we have a very similar story. Slept in rock and play for about 3 months, favored one side, hated tummy time so we didn’t press it…developed flat head. At 2 mo. appt. doc said don’t worry. At 4 mo. appt. doc said don’t worry. At 6 mo. appt. doc said it would probably correct itself but it is pretty bad. But he told us to go see a pediatric neurologist about it. I am wondering if we should see the type of doc you saw because that sounds more appropriate. Frustrating for sure … but the helmet looks a lot cuter than I envisioned and your little guy seems to be happy in it, so those are positives. Hopefully it reshapes itself in the shortest time possible. Good luck with it.

    • It can’t hurt to get it checked out and see how bad it is/if it falls past the cutoff! Good luck! And thank you. πŸ™‚

  11. The boys are looking so happy, healthy and adorable! That is what’s most important. Your being concerned if “you could have done something different etc” sounds like you are a parent indeed. Sounds like you’re doing want needs to be done and soon this hurdle will be behind you. Let those babies move around: roll over back n forth, sit up, (even fall down a small bit), turn and twist, do baby push ups and army crawl-wiggle at tummy time. They may fuss at the struggle yet as teacher I know they are learning how to move and crawl. This is the perfect time for them to be on the move.

    • Thank you. πŸ™‚ They’re not quite ready to crawl yet (which I’m glad for!) but I know it will help their heads when they do.

  12. the last picture of E is so ridiculously cute! this must have been hard to learn, and hard to face, and hard to write. and really, the helmet is pretty stylin’. πŸ™‚ it’s awesome that he doesn’t seem to phased by it, and it’s really just so good that you were able to address it now, before it becomes even harder to fix. i think more people go through things like this than we realize, and i hate to think that people will say shit. people suck sometimes. but both boys always look so happy and they are so loved and if anything, this will be the kind of thing that you’ll tell him about one day and he’ll be like, “wow really? that’s crazy.”

    when i was a baby, my feet turned in (pigeon-toed/bow-legged, but like really, really extreme, i guess, in that it would have meant that it really impacted my ability to walk/I would have had a limp/etc), and my parents were really worried about it and took me to a baby orthopedist and all that. they had to get special shoes (which were basically really sturdy shoes that i had to wear on the wrong feet) and a metal pole that connected at my ankles, to correct the turning of my feet/legs. i had to wear the pole only at night, i think, and i was pretty little (3 or 4 months old?). my mom’s story of that first night, in which i apparently cried forever and broke everyone’s heart, is hard to hear, but she said by the next night, i somehow knew it wasn’t an option, and accepted it, much like your story of Emmett just knowing and going with it.

    Obviously my story isn’t the same thing, really, but the reason I’m telling it is that it was really, really hard for my parents to accept and they worried that they were hurting me and all of that… but they knew it was the thing they had to do and so they did it and I of course have no memory and now it’s a crazy story they tell sometimes and I’m like “whoa, I would have been bow-legged enough to have trouble walking? Ack.” and sometimes look down with my silly “from where I stand” photos and am glad that my legs are just fine. I didn’t mean to write a novel but just… sending lots of hugs and am so glad you shared this and just know you’re doing the right thing, and it’s being fixed, and don’t blame yourself. xoxo

    • Aw, thank you. πŸ™‚
      That story of baby you with the foot pole sounds so sad. 😦 But it’s great that it worked so well! Yeah, that must have been so hard and sad for your parents. Hurray for a happy ending. πŸ™‚

  13. I completely understand where you are coming from. I have a little boy called Isaac and he was breach. His head was perfect at birth, but after a few months it got flat on one side and after another month his ears were out of line and his forehead was starting to push out more on one side. He had torticolis as well. We tried osteopathy, but ended up getting a helmet as things weren’t really improving. Our big problem though was that Isaac hated having his head touched! The scan of his head was ok, but the fitting was awful and our consultant said he’s never had a baby react like Isaac – he just screamed and screamed. The first week with wearing it in, one and off every hour and then two or three hours to build up to 23 hours a day was so terrible. He was so distressed and couldn’t be put down at all……………. it really was a trying time. Our saviour was the “jumparoo”………… Isaac has had his helmet for 8 weeks now and at the 6 week check had an 8mm improvement which we were thrilled about. He’s more used to it, but still cries out when it goes on, and just rubs his head all over when it comes off. I cannot wait for our next appointmenr at 10 weeks to see how much more improvement there has been and find out how much longer they think he should wear it. When I was pregnant, I never anticipated having to make such tough decisions. And it was a tough decision, but we are not terrible parents, and it’s not that we haven’t held our babies enough or cared for them well enough at all………. sometimes things just happen and we just deal with them as best we can. Anyone that passed judgement or makes comments about little babies in helmets is just ignorant! I’m sure people have judged me, but for the most part I’ve had people tell me how cute Isaac looks, like a little spaceman or racing driver – which is pretty cute! Well done to you, keep going forward and know you are doing an amazing job as a mother, making tough decisions for the love of your children. Your twins are absolutely gorgeous xxx

    • Oh, your poor Isaac! So glad to hear his head is making a big improvement already! So glad you’re getting positive comments about him. πŸ™‚
      Thank you so much!

  14. Or go for the comic book reply: When people ask, lean in close and say “He’s Magneto” πŸ˜‰

    I had similar guilt over Xander because we didn’t get him circumcised. Most kids? Not a problem. Xander was the exception, so he got circumcised at age 6. Worst week or so of my life, bar none.

    I _always_ wonder if I’m doing the right thing for him. I think it goes with being a parent πŸ™‚

  15. Pingback: 7 months! | We Have Twins?!

  16. Every time I have a melt down about not being able to breastfeed (my first “thing”, much like your situation with Emmett), my husband looks at me and says, “Is he happy? Is he healthy? Is he thriving? Then we’re doing all we can do for him.” It’s incredibly hard to argue that logic. I constantly worry if we’re doing the “right” thing.

    Your boys are happy and healthy and thriving. Good job, Mama!

  17. I’m so late responding to this. I read it soon after you posted and then didn’t have a chance to write until now. First, I’m so impressed by how matter-of-factly you described the process, and the entire time I was reading the beginning I was thinking that if I were in your place I’d be a total mess at the very least. Tummy time is freakin’ hard to “enforce” (let’s not even get into the whole thing that some people said to me about how if your baby doesn’t crawl and goes straight to walking then she won’t be a good reader — WTF??). Recently I was asking a friend, “Am I terrible mother if I don’t give M seven different things to eat for lunch?” and she responded that any mother who asks that question or questions whether she should have done something differently is proving with her questions that she is a good mother. That was rather terribly written, but hopefully you get her point! Anyway, Emmett looks pretty darn happy, which is proof that you’re a great mama to both your babies.

    • Aw, thank you so much. I know what you mean about questions…I guess it means that we’re thinking and putting effort into things and stuff. (Heh, I’m so articulate.) I swear that I’m not really an emotional wreck worrywart–but I do seem to have one side of me that tries to do that, and the other part of me rolls my eyes and just carries on. You know?
      And Emmett is–both of them are, really–indeed generally happy, and I think that’s just our great luck. So glad that he’s adapted to the helmet quite seamlessly.

  18. Pingback: Helmet Graduation! | We Have Twins?!

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