Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Perfectly Normal

If you are a very lucky parent, you are familiar with the title of this post. It’s what your pediatrician tells you every time your baby does something that freaks you out. And make no mistake: your baby will do many things to freak you out.

The baby is projectile vomiting? Perfectly normal. The baby’s poop is the color of a shamrock? Perfectly normal. The baby hasn’t pooped for a week? Perfectly normal. Baby won't stop screaming? Perfectly normal.

Sunday evening, Spiceboy and I experienced the most terrifying and yet—according to our pediatrician and numerous websites—perfectly normal episode we’ve ever had with Alice.

It was a tough day, by parenting standards. Alice had been super sensitive all day, clinging to me every time I tried to put her down, refusing to go to her dad—very unlike her.

By the end of the day, she was especially inconsolable. I decided that wearing her in the baby sling was the best way to keep the peace, so I handed her off to Spiceboy while I put on the sling.

Alice was having none of that.

She began wailing, then screeching. That’s when inhaled a huge breath, as if she was about to scream, but she just kind of froze that way. Her mouth was open, her little fists clenched tight up around her tearstained cheeks, but no sound was coming out of her mouth.

I took her from Spiceboy. Thumped her on the back. “Breathe, Alice,” I said, not liking the panic in my voice. “Take a breath.”

Except she didn’t. She just stayed in that frozen scream, no air coming in, no air going out.

That’s about the time her face turned blue. Then, as interminable seconds ticked by, her eyes drooped closed, and she slumped against me.

I felt as though I was wading through quicksand. Every second was an eternity. I couldn’t move quickly enough, couldn’t think quickly enough. I bounced her on my arm, patted her on the back again, thinking my daughter isn’t breathing, my daughter isn’t breathing, my daughter isn’t breathing. Oh. Dear. God.

Then she exhaled with a cry and opened her eyes. Her color returned, bright splotches of red dotting her chubby cheeks. Spiceboy handed her a teether, which she grasped in her sticky little fist, lifting it to her mouth with all of the solemnity of a churchgoer receiving communion. She perched on my arm, gnawing her teether, looking around with wide, wet eyes, like what’s the big deal, yo?

I bounced her a little, watching her breathe. In and out. In and out.

Only then did I permit myself to breathe. In and out, in and out. Then I covered my face with my free hand and I sobbed.

Later that night, I sat on the bed and read Alice her stories. While I read, I buried my nose in the top of her head, ran my hands over her chubby legs, her tiny wrists. I help up my palm, and she pressed her tiny palm to mine. I breathed her in, this daughter of mine. I breathed her in and with each exhalation, sent my thank yous out into the universe.

Then I put her to bed and went straight to Google, best friend of frantic parents worldwide. And I discovered that my daughter had just had her first breath holding spell.

Now THERE’S something they don’t tell you about in parenting books or classes.

Apparently it’s fairly common among children under five years of age. They become frightened or upset, and they hold their breath until they pass out. Perfectly normal, the websites (and my pediatrician) assured me.

And that, I suppose, sums up the entire parenting experience in a nutshell: Perfectly normal, except for when it scares you shitless.