When Will I Stop Watching Them Breathe While They Sleep?

3 years ago

When I was a teenager, I babysat for a family who lost their youngest child to SIDS. I didn't know anything about SIDS, but knew that this family had put their healthy infant son to bed one night and he never woke up. It was terribly hard on the family, their lives altered and filled with grief in an instant. As their regular babysitter, it affected me too. I became hyper-vigilant for a long time after, afraid that any of the young children who I babysat would suddenly stop breathing in their sleep.

In time, the memory of that little boy faded, and my schooling and career took me away from regularly caring for small children. Then I had children of my own, and that old fear came back in an instant. As an adult, I knew more about SIDS and what puts a child at risk, but I also had croupy babies, and one child with asthma. So I worried.

When they were really wee, I got in the habit of checking on them several times while they slept, just to watch them breathe. It didn't matter if they were napping or down for the night, I'd invent reasons to go by their rooms and just watch and listen. I never actually thought that they wouldn't be breathing; I just needed to check. I still do it, at least once a night, even though they are five- and six-years-old.

This past Thursday night, Woo had his first bout with croup in over a year. It was a bad one, and it caught us by surprise. We`ve all enjoyed a winter of relative health, and save for an adjustment to new asthma meds, Woo`s breathing issues have been a non-issue. Little people are supposed to outgrow croup, yet here he was, lying in bed complaining of the tightness in his throat and sounding like Darth Vadar.

Past experience has taught us that sounding like Darth Vadar is the point at which you go to the hospital. Well, past experience and that time that the nurse from Tele-health called an ambulance to our house. On Thursday though, we had given him Advil to help with the swelling, and while we discussed going to the hospital, his breathing started to get better. I decided to lie in his bed with him, to comfort him when he coughed. I was with him when his breathing got worse again a few hours later, and then when he came home from the hospital, untreated after a three hour wait.

Something in the time that he left the house had made the croup better, either his wakefulness, enough cold air, or a different humidity in the hospital. He didn`t meet the threshold for the steroids, so he and Willy came home and his crappy, coughing, wheezing, Darth Vadar-like breathing returned for a few more hours in the night. I lay beside him and listened to every breath, willing it to get better, consoling and rubbing his chest when he was worse. As I lay there, I thought about the number of times that I have wondered at what point I will stop my routine checks to see if they are breathing, but now I know.

Credit: mattero_bagnoli.

Not yet.


Married to Willy and mom to 6 year old  Woo, and 5 year old Goose. Photographer. Wine lover. Victim advocate. Tomboy. Sens fan. Ex-ex-pat. I write about life, as I see it at Life  in the Hutch.

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