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Chandra's Blog


Entries in momstinct (2)


Momstinct Part Two

Last week I wrote an entry on Momstinct, or the fine line between trusting your mother's intuition and simply spinning your worry wheels. The update is that two doctors have told me they do not believe what is going on with Hayden is a tumor but more likely related to the condition he was born with now causing ENT problems. We consult with the surgeon who did his early operations next week and feel confident that we are in good hands here at CHoP. We have expected further surgeries since he was little and are just so hugely relieved that the sky is not falling.

I'm not prone to panic, but I don't always have the best judgment when crisis strikes. My family jokes that I am the one who will stand paralyzed over a choking victim mentally debating whether or not this is really worth a call to 911, because I don't want to bother them, and what if I call, and by the time they get here, the person has hacked up the hot dog and is cheerfully eating a slice of watermelon? I'm the one who jumped up, in the midst of my throat closing over an allergic reaction to crab at a black tie function and quietly left the table, because I didn't want to embarass myself or my husband's colleagues. I figured it would be more dignified to die in the bathroom or at least the bar, which is where someone saw me and saved my life.

Because of this, I have married, made friends with and generally surround myself with people whose instincts I trust. They have been so valuable as I navigated the fears of last week. 

So here is what I know about Momstinct. It's real. It comes up when something is not right. I think of my friend Linda Davis, who diagnosed her own toddler's autism back in 1999 when it wasn't a buzzword, when she had only seen the movie Rainman, when her own pediatrician said it wasn't true. (Read her story here) Her momstinct was devastatingly correct. 


And I think about my friend Jess, who wrote in the comments on the original article that her eyes flew open at home the instant her nine-year-old tripped over a rope and smacked his head on a concrete floor. (But she notes that the image that came to her was a much more dire crisis--him running into the street and being hit by a car.)


Momstinct exists for minor situations, like the mother who looks up and realizes the house is too quiet,  and finds her toddler baby-powdering the living room. It exists as a warning--that guy who is just a little too friendly in the check out line? Have someone walk you to your car. It exists to steer us out of danger, like the creepy opthamologist who told my fourteen-month-old he loved her and kissed her on the lips at the end of an exam--we never went back and we reported him. 

This week, Momstinct sent us to the right doctors who will help us figure out the best path for Hayden. I believe Momstinct is real, that it serves a purpose, but like the boardwalk fortune teller with the bourbon breath and the fake eyelashes, my momstinct might not always be 100% accurate. 

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With thanks to everyone who has held us in our hearts as we navigated this past week. 


Hayden and I conquer the long trail to the top of Multnomah Falls



Eleven years ago, our son was born with a rare craniofacial syndrome. It was a lot to manage in his early life, but maturity has brought the promise of easier years, and only some monthly appointments and the annual visit to the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia, our checkup with the team of eight specialists remains.

In recent years, Hayden and I have come to regard his summer craniofacial team evaluation as a pleasant date. We take the train to the hospital, we visit with all the doctors who have seen him through surgeries and therapies, we eat sushi lunch in the atrium cafeteria, we pick up trash in the city when we see it and we leave with the assurance that all's well, see you next year!

But this past summer, there was a hiccup, a road bump at ENT. They saw something, tissue, bulging. A mass. We waited for an hour while specialists paraded in and peered up his left nostril. I grilled him—had he been hurt? Bumped heads with his little brother while wrestling? Maybe, Hayden shrugged. Maybe he had gotten hit in hockey, he said, but I wondered about his helmet, and the protective cage?

We were sent for a CAT scan; the results a relief. ENT said it looked like a hematoma, a swollen, severely deviated septum. We knew Hayden’s anatomy included asymmetry—as an infant we could not put a feeding tube up the left side of his nose. We were told to go on with our life...

“And keep an eye on it.”


Fast forward six months to last Christmas. Hayden was snorting, or as well call it 'snucking'; inhaling the snot in one swift sniff down the back of his throat frequently. We wrote it off—change in climate, allergies, a cold, a sinus infection. I didn’t do anything about it. I’d read articles about the burgeoning Superbugs, a result of overprescribed antibiotics. Whatever it was, his immune system was strong. I gave him Gummy Vitamins and Emergen-C; he would kick it on his own.

When you live with someone, you stop noticing things. But when we had my family over for dinner, or his friends gave him sideways glances during movies, we realized how often Hayden snucked. Thirty, forty, fifty times an hour. My husband worried he would be teased. We offered steam showers, tissues, Claritin and bribes of $5 at the end of every day if I only heard him five times. Hayden wasn’t bothered by it. He insisted blowing made no difference; it couldn’t come out that way. Anyway, he said all his hockey teammates were sniffling.

“It’s winter, mom!”

My husband travels out of the country frequently for work.  Last weekend, after Skyping with the kids, he asked if Hayden had been hit in the face or broken his nose?

"It looks swollen."

I said I had just noticed the same thing, a swelling, but only on the left side. I called Hayden over, pinching the phone between my shoulder and ear. It didn’t hurt him when I touched it--the swelling was spongy under the pressure of my fingertips. Hayden couldn’t recall any injury.


That night, I woke up with a start. In the dark, I rolled over and scribbled on my bedside journal – Hayden, snuffling, swelling, mass, DOCTOR!


I felt sick to my stomach when I read it the next morning. Worse, that prickling all over my neck was hives. Anxiety, the pinpricks of my hackles; my momstinct had been activated.

At first I ignored it. Hayden was healthy--look, there he was pestering his little brother and feeding his breakfast crusts to the dog! Crisis-mongering runs in my family; I didn't want to be some panicked Chicken Little. But something deeper shoved to the surface growling, "No sky's falling on my fucking watch!" I picked up the phone.

I called the ENT who had seen him in the summer. Even with a description of the symptoms to the nurse, they were swamped and couldn’t see him within the month. Throughout the day, I'd be making my kids eggs, or opening the mail and suddenly my guts would liquidate under a squirt of adrenaline.

Something is wrong with my son.

Years ago, I left the message board for parents of children with Hayden’s condition because they were full of doom and gloom—they warned not to get too complacent with kids doing well, urged us to be wary of the Other Shoe Dropping. I didn’t need people feeding that. To this day I can’t drive past the highway exit for the Childrens Hospital without feeling a primitive clutching in my chest, eleven years later. They had my son for the first few months of his life—there is still the totally irrational fear that they will take him back.

For twenty-four hours, I walked in a fog. I could not see Hayden when he recounted to me some plot twist in Hunger Games or begged off his math work; I could only see the bulging alongside his nose, hear the frequency of his sniffing. I whispered my fear to my sister. We were with him every single day. How had we not noticed this? I echoed it with my husband long distance. He is usually good at talking me down, but his mother was diagnosed with the cancer that ultimately took her life when she was younger than we are now. We wanted answers.  

I called his pediatrician and she said to come right in. He had no fever, was typically chatty and sniffly and snucking away and annoyed by my attempts to straighten his unruly hair while he swung his legs on the exam table. She looked in his nose and invited me to do the same. I saw it--a shiny, hot pink bulge of tissue that completely occluded the nostril, pushing out into his face.

 She said it could be his deviated septum, exacerbated by a whopper of a sinus infection. 

“For four months?” I gulped, because spring is just around the corner. I could not believe I had let it go so long. Where was my momstinct then?

“We’ll start with antibiotics, and I’ll call the ENT. A hematoma should have resolved itself since last summer. It should not have gotten bigger. He needs to be seen ASAP.”

All day, I reeled. Is this the beginning of a nightmare? My five-year-old called out ‘Heads or Tails’ while she flipped a quarter on the kitchen counter and suddenly everything carried meaning. I chose Tails, and if I was right, I bargained, Hayden would be fine, a simple sinus infection. The coin came up Heads, three times in a row. A sign? I panicked. Should I trust my momstinct, my waking in the middle of the night, the hives pulsing on my neck? Or was I simply a victim of worrying, because I come from a line of worriers, because my oldest started out his life in the NICU?

Because worrying is the other thing mothers do?

 I struggled not to fall into maudlin musing about the everyday—the little brother curled on the couch, head on Hayden’s shoulder while they played Minecraft, a photo from a friend of Haybes celebrating his first hockey hat trick. Would these moments be filed away under Before in a schism of diagnosis?

At the end of the day, Hayden’s pediatrician called while he was out skateboarding in the driveway with friends, the picture of health in the golden late afternoon light. She had spoken to the ENT.

They want me to watch carefully for the next two days, to take photos of his face. They want to know if the swelling responds to 48 hours of antibiotics. If not, the ENT will schedule an emergency appointment with Hayden, and it will not be because of a sinus infection or a deviated septum.

So I wait and wonder, swinging wildly between Everything is fine! to Disaster is upon us! I try in vain to take my pulse, to find out deep down how I feel. Do I scratch the hives on my neck and sink glumly into my faith in mother’s intuition, or cling to my general Pollyanna optimism?


Can a mother’s instinct, tainted by a mother’s inherent worry, be wrong?


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