Danielle Herzog’s son in his awesome helmet
“It’s not your fault.”
I wanted to believe him. Considering he was a doctor who specialized in cranial therapy and development, I should have believed him. But I didn’t.
I looked down at the beautiful head of my 6-month-old baby sitting in my lap and felt a rush of guilt spill over me.
I saw the flat spot. I had seen it since he was born. My husband and I tried to adjust the car seat; to use a baby positioner; to try to turn his head more one way rather than the other. But none of it had worked. After six months of trying, now we were here in a specialist’s office being told our baby needed a helmet.
According to a study in the journal “Pediatrics,” 47 percent of infants have flat spots on their heads. And although many of them don’t require helmet therapy, the practice is becoming more common.
But it didn’t matter that the doctor said it wasn’t our fault and it was caused by how he had been positioned for months in the birth canal. It didn’t matter that he said many parents have had to helmet their children. What mattered is that I felt like I couldn’t help my child—that I couldn’t fix him.
I couldn’t sleep the entire week we waited for his helmet to be made. I worried about whether I’d be able to hug him. I feared he would be uncomfortable or not able to move easily. And I worried what people would think. Would they think something was wrong with him mentally? Would he get stared at? Or worse, mocked?
I had never met anyone whose child wore a helmet before. I had no reference to call or shoulder to cry on that could relate. It was a scary, unchartered territory for me and my husband.
When the specialist slipped on my son’s helmet for the first time, the tears instantly spilled from my face. He didn’t look like my son. He didn’t look like the little baby with the soft head I nestled against late at night. He looked…different.
We made the helmet look like a baseball player’s batting helmet by covering it in vinyl stickers from a website the specialist told us about. I spent over an hour positioning each and every sticker just right.
As I braced myself for what that first day would be like for my son, I was surprised by the reality. He didn’t even notice his helmet. He didn’t cry; he didn’t fuss. He didn’t seem to care that his head was now covered 18 hours of the day. His smile still glowed, and his personality still shined. He ate and slept normally and was the same baby as before.
The truth is, people did stare, and they did think something was wrong with him mentally. But it was okay. I took it as an amazing opportunity to educate them on what it really meant to wear a helmet. I told them he had a condition called Plagiocephaly, and it was a physical, not mental issue.
That’s not to say people didn’t do a double-take when they saw our son. And yes, we did hear ignorant comments from time to time. But what we mostly heard were things like “he’s so cute” or “I love what you did to that helmet.”
Very quickly, I took pride in our little guy and his uniqueness. And three months later, when his helmet came off and his head was perfectly shaped, I felt happy that we went through that experience.
I soon became a resource to other people who found themselves in the same situation with their children. I could finally be the one who tells them that it really isn’t their fault. And maybe they’ll believe it, like I had so desperately tried to do when it was happening to me.
But I think the greatest thing I realized in all of this was the person who really changed for the better from having the helmet wasn’t my son, but rather me. All my fears and anxieties took me to a place of new understanding.