If you’re a mom and you’re anything like me, you’re pretty much convinced that you happened to give birth to the most beautiful baby on Earth. For me, that not only meant weird lapses where I stared at her like a crazed mommy stalker. It also meant that I had flat-head-blindness.
When my daughter was just three months old, our pediatrician noticed a little bit of a flat spot on her head. My response? “She’s perfect, shut up!” (Okay, I didn’t say that to a medical professional, but I wanted to.)
Plagiocephaly or brachycephaly, often called “flat head syndrome,” is when the baby’s head is flattened on one side. A common problem with infants, approximately 47 percent show flat spot signs since the sleep-on-back mandate became the norm in order to battle SIDS. Our doctor recommended extra tummy time for a few weeks and a few new sleeping methods.
At four months, we were referred to a cranial specialist.
I’m not going to debate flat head treatment. That’s for you and your doctor to decide. Plenty has been said on both sides of the issue. When we went to see our specialist, they showed us the pros and cons of helmet treatment. We were torn. On one hand, our daughter had a lazy eye, and this could help treat it. On the other hand, this was primarily a cosmetic issue. We ultimately left it up to the Insurance Gods, who surprisingly covered the helmet treatment in full.
We were in.
When I looked through the helmet pamphlet and began Googling images of happy babies looking ready to throw a touchdown, I was immediately filled with fear and shame. We should have done more tummy time. We should have mixed up her sleeping patterns so she spent less time in the swing with its hard back (the “magic swing” that allowed us to get more than an hour of sleep at a time).
We should have somehow stopped her from being premature, which is one of the common probable causes of flat head syndrome. I have no idea how I would have stopped that from happening, but at that moment, I felt certain I could have done something.
After the tears ran out (I was still post-hormonal and, honestly, anything related to my child basically turns me into a puddle of ugly crying), I set our first appointment. We were ready to turn our little muffin into Pasadena’s new starting quarterback.
We soon realized that our daughter had no knowledge of the helmet’s existence, much less did she give a flying football if it was on her head. In fact, she seemed to enjoy banging things against it (oohh, loud sounds!) – a habit we had to train her out of once we removed the helmet.
Then I discovered another hidden benefit to the helmet. I’m not saying my baby rolled off the couch to the floor a foot below, but if I was saying that, I’d also mention that the helmet would have kept her head perfectly safe during said fall.
Part of my anxiety about the helmet had absolutely nothing to do with my baby’s well-being and everything do with my own insecurities. What would everyone think? Would they assume something more serious was wrong with her? This anxiety immediately coupled with shame. How could I be so shallow?
Perhaps sensing my emotions, our cranial technician suggested adding artwork or decals to the helmet. You’ve probably seen these photos going viral, but I’d like to state for the record that we were O.G. proponents of the decorated helmet. My artist-husband, with some sharpie shading assistance from me, turned her helmet into R2D2, and a new nickname for our daughter Reed was born: Reed2D2.
Creating Reed2D2’s helmet resulted in a number of positives. First of all, the simple act of taking control of the uncontrollable, and decorating it in way that fully expressed the kind of family we were (Star Wars-obsessed nerds), gave us back some power.
Plus, drawing and coloring her helmet had another bonus: a distinct flood of happiness. A study on art-therapy showed that after only 45 minutes of art-making, three quarters of subjects registered lower cortisol levels, the adrenal hormone activated by stress (also the reason adult-coloring books are so popular these days). Taking action and creating a piece of art that my daughter would wear out in the world gave us an immense sense of relief.
Beyond the physical act of creating the best baby helmet on the planet (I’m not exaggerating, she was damn cute in this thing!), it helped us interact with the outside world. Instead of feeling anxious about her helmet, I felt proud. By having it whimsically decorated, people rightfully had the impression that it was something we felt comfortable discussing.
Other parents, who had either gone through helmet treatment or were considering it, also felt at ease telling us about their personal experience. We didn’t receive looks of pity or odd stares. Instead, Reed2D2’s helmet gave people permission to smile. And smiling is contagious (a scientist said so!).
The biggest benefit of all? Our daughter’s helmet-wearing period happened to fall during Halloween, which means our Halloween costumes were lit that year (I’m not using that term correctly, am I?). I’m talking vintage 1970s Princess Leia dress (#ripCarrieFisher), Jedi Knight robes, and Reed2D2 in full robot glory.
Lastly, we now have a souvenir that perfectly captures our daughter’s head shape as an infant. Weird thing to put on display? Maybe for some people. But we’re proud of our formerly flat-headed baby and her nerdtastic helmet.