Monday, September 17, 2012

Parental Panic

We've all been there: In that moment when something goes wrong with our children and our stomachs seize and our chests tighten and our minds go blank and then race: "Please let nothing be really wrong."

Luckily, knock on wood and all that, my moments of parental panic during these first nearly 18 months have been momentary and not truly panic-worthy. But don't they all feel like the world is crashing around us?

Last night, I had my most recent moment, and the most serious one since Munch was very little--when he had bronchialitis at 4 months old and he needed to be nebulized in the doctor's office; when he'd gotten a bruise in the middle of his tiny 5-month-old forehead when a day care buddy threw his bottle and hit Munch in the head.

Last night, at 11:45, Munch's cries rang out through the monitor. They sounded different, dry somehow. I went in to find him on his back, gasping with each intake of breath. He, it seemed, couldn't breathe. I cried out for my husband, rushing into our bedroom as Munch continued to try to cry silently and gasp on the inhale. My heart was pounding and my mouth dry, my own breath coming quickly. What will I do, I thought, if he just stops breathing? I felt sure, in my white-panic brain, that he was dying in my arms as I watched, and there was nothing I could do.

It wasn't like he had sucked a Trix into his throat as I did at 9 years old and couldn't breathe for a REASON. He had been asleep, soundly, and now he was struggling for breath. I saw fear on my husband's face and that more than anything terrified me.

And then, it was over. He had hardly even opened his eyes. It must have only been 30 seconds. And he was again sleeping soundly, breathing normally, chest rising and falling regularly, in my arms.

Munch slept. I cried. Hubs examined. I had him call our pediatrician, the first late-night phone call since before Munch  turned a year old, the first since before he was 9 months old. The verdict: Croup. Not serious. Common. Often don't know your kid has it. Yes, in fact, he has sounded hoarse when he cried the past few days.

Remedies: Keep him calm. (Um, so, running through the house yelling for my husband while my own heart races ISN'T the best way to help my son? Got it.) Nebulize him. Try a steam room (read: bathroom with hot shower) if he continues to have trouble. If all else fails: ER.

He was fine the rest of the night and chipper this morning. These moments of parental panic seem so silly when they're over and when you realize nothing big truly was at stake. Nothing tragic was imminent, nothing even really bad. The time I scooped peanut butter out of the jar with my finger, then gave Munch his pacifier with the same hand, only to realize I had PB under my nail (this was when Munch was about 6 months old and still hadn't tried PB). I stood over him and watched for anaphylactic shock to seize him.

Or, when he was even littler, 2 months little, when he was asleep in my arms and then started breathing in quick bursts, huh-huh, as if he'd been crying very hard . He did this for about 20 minutes; I had another night of watching him like a hawk. Our pediatrician told us that babies drive their parents crazy with their little breathing quirks and likely Munch was DREAMING that he'd been crying and his body was reacting as if he really had been.

I am calmer post-croup, but my doubts linger. "I hope this is croup. And not something more serious like, say, congestive heart failure." This is where my mind goes. Jumps pneumonia and straight to the ICU.

And now, I watch. And even though this was "nothing" (*hopefully* knock on wood and all that again) these moments remind us of what is at stake when we have these little people, with pumping hearts and firing synapses and lungs that need to fill every few seconds. Everything. Everything is at stake when you become a parent. And I'm better about the things that could lead to a panic moment than I was when he was born--for instance, he barrel-rolled off a hardwood step in our living room yesterday and I cuddled him, ran my hands over him, and set him off to play again.

But sometimes--sometimes, I am reminded. A breath away.


  1. LOVED this post! I am the same way. I try not to be too negative and always think the worst but your mind can be your worst enemy. Plus as their parents we are their advocates and need to be in tune with them, especially when they don't have a "voice" of their own to explain what is wrong. I definitely struggle with the worrying aspect of parenting. I find it very hard not to.

    1. I'm glad I'm not alone! I try to be a "roll with it" mother and mostly I find I'm a cry first, think second mother. I also don't particularly like being out of control--um, hello, the definition of parenthood!