While other moms were enjoying being pampered on Mother’s Day, Hilary Wheeler Miller was nursing a broken nose that she suffered after being headbutted by her 3-year-old son.
“He stood up really fast and just plowed into my nose,” says the 40-year-old mom from Littleton, Colo.
As a result of the accident, Miller’s nose is now broken in two places and she’ll need surgery later this month to straighten it.
After an emergency C-section for her son’s delivery, Miller thought the worst of baby-induced pain was behind her. But childbirth was just the start.
Miller also got a fat, black-and-blue lip when Nicholas bit her as an infant. During a later roller-skating outing, he pulled her down and she shattered her right wrist, requiring a cast for two months. Miller also has been sickened with various illnesses that her son picked up at daycare, including strep throat, three rounds of pink eye, and a severe case of bronchitis that took months to treat.
“Never once did I imagine having a child would be hazardous to my health,” she says. Today, though, there’s an “ongoing saga of danger surrounding my life now that I have a child.”
Advice books, magazines and Web sites for new parents talk at great length about the aches and pains of pregnancy and childbirth, and the subsequent sleep deprivation and exhaustion. But beyond that, parents are more likely to learn the hard way about various other owies that babies and young children can innocently inflict.
Parents who’ve been knocked around a few times by tiny tots quickly find themselves strategizing about how to deflect flailing arms and legs, flying toys and utensils, razor-sharp fingernails and fists that tighten around strands of hair like a Vise-Grip — and then pull! They search for ways to ease the pain of strained backs from endless hours of carrying around youngsters (often only on one hip, which makes matters worse) and strained necks from gazing at baby while feeding (which is widely recommended for promoting parent-infant bonding).
Kris Cambra was in so much pain in April when her 2-year-old son, Truman, poked her in the eye, that she went to the emergency room.
“Think of having a paper cut on your eye,” says Cambra, 34, of New Bedford, Mass., who was diagnosed with a corneal abrasion.
“The doctor used an ultraviolet light to look at my eye and then she said, ‘Yep, you have a scratch on your cornea and it's shaped just like a fingernail,’" she says.
Thankfully, Cambra doesn’t have any lasting eye damage. But the experience has heightened her awareness of the need to stay on guard with her son, who she says is more physical and prone to tantrums and flailing than her daughter, 7, ever was. “You think, you outweigh them, you’re much bigger than them, so what can they really do to you?” A lot, actually.
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Judy Ward, a pediatric nurse at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, says she’s heard about a range of child-induced injuries from parents who’ve called into the hospital’s Answer Line with questions about child health and behavior over the last 12 years that she’s fielded calls.
Her first bit of advice: “They probably didn’t mean it when they headbutted you.”
It may not always appear to make sense at the time, she says, but there are valid reasons why young children do seemingly inexplicable things, like beating up on their poor parents.
“They are, from practically the moment they are born, exploring their world,” says Ward. “Sticking their finger in your eye is no different than sticking it in an electrical socket.”
Tantrums can leave collateral damage
“Pre-verbal” children who don’t have the language skills to communicate their feelings and desires can be difficult because they get frustrated and then act out physically, Ward explains. “Biting, headbutting, tantrums, all of these things are because, ‘I want to go out and play and now you’re putting me in my car seat and I don’t want to go,’” she says. Sometimes kids want more attention or need a change of scenery.
Sometimes they absolutely must have an age-inappropriate pair of Pocahontas earrings. Just ask Sherry Gavanditti, who remembers every dark detail of an outing with her daughter Emily 14 years ago.
“My 2-year-old was fascinated with Pocahontas and decided quickly and loudly while on a shopping trip to a local Wal-Mart that she just had to have a pair of long dangly Pocahontas earrings,” says Gavanditti, 46, of Cleveland. “She was always a very sweet baby and is a wonderful young girl now, but at that time, when I removed those earrings from her tight little grasp, she screamed bloody murder with a spine-curdling ending and ripped the flesh off my right cheek with her tiny little nails like she was dangling from a 10-story building.”
The tantrum continued as Gavanditti left the store (without the earrings). In the parking lot, her daughter “spread out like a 10-foot spider to block entrance to the car and to keep from being placed into her car seat.” She screamed all the way home.
“I came home from Wal-Mart with a bloody face, a black eye and scratches all over my upper arms and chest,” Gavanditti says. “To this day, I tease my daughter about her one and only temper tantrum that almost cost me a trip to the plastic surgeon.”
Ouch! Baby’s a biter
Even infants can inflict excruciating pain to their mothers long after the recovery from childbirth. When Heather Allard’s son, Brendan, was 6 months old and teething, he used her nipples as chew toys. “He bit both of my nipples with his new bottom teeth while breast-feeding and sliced my nipples nearly clear off,” she says. “I have a scar on each one to prove it. My husband said my nipples looked like a pencil eraser breaking off.”
Now 2 and weighing in at 30 pounds, her son wants to be carried around all day. “His favorite place is to be parked on my hip,” says Allard, 40, of Pawtucket, R.I. Not surprisingly, this takes a toll. “My back and hips hurt all the time, my left arm feels like it’s going to snap off and my feet ache.”
Allard also has two girls. And like Cambra, her son is more physical — having, for instance, “headbutted me several times from every angle,” she says.
“Maybe it’s a boy thing or maybe I’m just getting old, but man, I’m in constant pain,” Allard says.
Hitting where it hurts
Dads take their hits, too, often to the family jewels.
“A couple of weeks ago my [3-year-old] son came from the side, jumped in the air, and drove his knees into my groin,” says Laurence Sampson, 43, of Denver, whose two young girls also put the hurt on him at times. “Painful, as you might imagine. Most of the time I see it coming, and just roll my leg over for protection.”
You can’t always protect yourself from these parenting accidents, but it pays to “be aware and alert,” says Dr. Jennifer Shu, an Atlanta-based spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and co-author of “Heading Home with Your Newborn.”
“You need to try to stay one step ahead of your child,” she says. So if your baby is a grabber, don’t wear dangling jewelry. If your tot is a scratcher, keep fingernails trimmed. And if your child leaves toys on the stairs, turn on the light and look around before you walk them.
Eye pokes can be difficult to prevent, Shu says. “It’s tough because you don’t want to go around wearing goggles all the time.” But there are practical precautions such as not picking up a child who is holding a crayon or pencil.
Still, accidents will happen. And while parents may never forget some of them, especially the ones that require a trip to the ER, it’s easy enough to forgive their devilish little darlings.
Even with a broken nose, Miller, the Colorado mom, hasn’t been scared away from the possibly of having more children — “after the trauma of the nose wears off.”
While parenting two young sons, Los Angeles-based writer Jacqueline Stenson has endured a black eye, a corneal abrasion (separate incidents, same eye), toe-curling nipple pain, neck pain, back aches and countless bumps and bruises … not that she’s complaining.
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