The Big Bad Cough and Mama’s Fears

Three weeks ago my sweet little girl started coughing. I had been coughing the week before that and so I assumed we both had caught the cold that was going around. Then on a Monday night she was trying to sleep and just couldn’t stop coughing. Her cough seemed to be choking her and she was waking herself up almost gagging on the sputum when she could finally cough it up.

I tried everything I could think of. I held her near the humidifier, had her sip cold water and stood in the steamy shower. The only thing that seemed to stop the coughing was to keep her awake. So at 3 am I decided to just let her stay awake. We played quietly in the dark and watched a little bit of Blue’s Clues. I was exhausted but too scared to let her sleep. I just held her close and let her nurse as much as she wanted and prayed that the cough would go away so she could get some rest.

At 5am I woke up my husband and said we needed to go the pediatrician as soon as it opened. We go to the hospital for pediatric visits here in Japan. So he dropped us off and luckily we were one of the first patients there. I looked around at all the other little sick children and worried that she would catch whatever it was they had too. She was so tired though that she just wanted to be held. I put her in her “pouch” (we use the Baby K’tan) and she snuggled up close to my chest and looked up at me with tired eyes and said “Mama I really want to sleep now. Is that ok?” I kissed the top of her head and told her to close her eyes and everything would be alright.Image My mind was racing with fear and panic. I had been going over her vaccination schedule and worried that I had missed something. She had not (has not) received her last DPT vaccine. I was terrified that she had pertussis. Although, I know it is not as dangerous for a preschooler as it is for an infant, I was still scared. I had made the mistake of reading too many stories about pertussis that ended fatally. My heart raced and my stomach was in knots.

She finally got about 45 minutes of uninterrupted sleep snuggled up next to my breast and I closed my eyes as we waited to be seen. The doctor called us in and she tried to listen to Violet’s chest without waking her but Violet stirred and started to scream terribly. She listened to the front and the back and said her left lung sounded a little weak. So she asked us to go across the hall for blood work and a chest x-ray. We had been through this last October and it was so traumatic for Violet. I was dreading it but I knew we needed to figure out what was going on.

We got to the blood lab and she was shaking and crying uncontrollably in my arms. The nurse held her arm out and Violet clung to my chest. I try so hard to be brave when these things happen but I was sleep deprived too and scared as well. Silent tears started to stream down my cheeks. I just whispered in her ear that I loved her and asked her to please not look at the needle but to look at me. She looked into my eyes and cried out in fear as the needle pierced her soft, milky skin.

When it was over she was trembling and kept trying to tell me she wanted to be brave. I told her she was brave because she did it. My husband and I are always trying to tell her that feeling her feelings is o.k. I wanted to express to her that being brave doesn’t always mean that you don’t cry. Even brave people cry sometimes. So she smiled through her tears and exclaimed “I’m brave, mama! I’m brave!” We both half laughed, half cried. Then we walked down the hall a little further to have her x-ray done.

She had just had an x-ray in October and knew that it wasn’t going to hurt but she still began to panic. I am still learning how to handle parenting in our gentle style when something has to be done. I don’t mean that I get angry when she cries or even impatient in a situation like this. What I mean is I struggle with getting the other people to wait and understand how she is feeling. In a medical office (in the US or here in Japan) the nurses and doctors often just want and need to get a procedure or test done. They see crying, fearful children every single day and I guess sometimes they get numb to it. I have often felt pushed aside or felt that my daughters feelings were not validated in situations like these.

When she was 2 years old and receiving a vaccine, somehow I was pushed out of the office and had the door shut in my face. I had cried during her 9 month well baby check up because I felt they were being too rough with her at that clinic and was branded weak by an overpowering nurse. So for some reason on this day she decided I just needed to leave the room. I have seen other parents leave their baby/toddler with the nurse too. I don’t know if I have ever seen this at the doctor back home. I am fairly certain that I haven’t.

Violet was crying and I was struggling to keep her still for the vaccine. So the nurse grabbed her from my lap and forced me out of the door. It happened so fast and took my breath away so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to stop it from happening. The door was closed in my face and I was left there on the other side listening to my daughters terrified screams, screaming for mama. I stood up against the door calling out her name. Other parents stared at me but I didn’t care. I cried and cried out her name. When the door was finally opened I gave the nurse the angriest look I could muster up through my tears. I cradled my sweet girl and promised her that I would never let that happen again. I still have nightmares and suffer from guilt that I wasn’t more assertive. I have learned from that experience though and I have never again let a nurse or doctor take her from my arms.

Back to the most recent experience. When we were trying to get her x-ray taken I couldn’t get Violet to hold still and stand in front of the x-ray machine. She wanted me to hold her. Of course I couldn’t hold her during the x-ray. So I stood beside her trying to hold her in place. Two male technicians were in the room and they ended up grabbing her arms and holding her arms out to either side. One of them grabbed directly on to where she had just been poked with a needle for her blood work. I wanted them to wait and to let her calm down first. But again, it happened fast. And they had a remote that they could control the x-ray machine with. So all of this only lasted 10 seconds max. Still I felt like I had failed to let her work through her feelings and come to do it on her own. Maybe she never would have. I am not sure. How do other gentle parents handle situations like this?

I feel that my lack of ability to speak proper Japanese often impedes my ability to parent the way I want to in public places such as this. We left radiology and made our way back to the pediatric ward to wait for the results. She was too shaken up to fall back asleep and just nursed through her tears until she finally calmed her breathing once more. Forty-five minutes later we were called in to get the results. The doctor showed us the x-ray and pointed out the little white lines in her lungs that showed she had an infection.

Mycoplasma. Again. She just had mycoplasma in October! How could this be. Violet never had a fever this time around and so I didn’t know her cough was anything serious. The cough was much worse this time around though. Much more violent. We were given a 3 day dose of zithromax, an expectorant and bronchial dilating patches that go on her back. I was relieved that the diagnosis wasn’t more serious, in my mind I was fearing the worst. Pertussis or TB. We went home and had a little lunch and I held her upright on the couch as she took a little rest.

We ended up going back to the hospital 3 times in 2 weeks. On the second trip we were given a nebulizer for free that we get to keep at home. It is small and portable. I was so thankful to have it and it brought me comfort that we had something to give her relief during the night. I held Violet in a cradle position but more upright, while sitting on the sofa every night for 2 weeks. She slept for about 5 hours max each night and I slept maybe 2 hours. It was a long and exhausting 2 weeks. But thankfully she is finally not coughing anymore. We are sleeping in our family bed again and my body is trying to recover from the lack of sleep.

It was so hard to watch her struggle with this cough. She had a decreased appetite for those 2 weeks as well. Thankfully, she could still nurse whenever she wanted and I was never worried about her getting dehydrated or going without nutrients. Full term breastfeeding has so many wonderful benefits. Even though she was sick we definitely enjoyed our time at home together. We snuggled, we drew, we read,we laughed, we danced, made muffins and she ran around the house naked (one of her favorite things to do).



The night before Violet was to return to nursery school I started having severe panic attacks about her getting sick again. I heard from a friend that TB was becoming more prevalent in Japan and we did not vaccinate her for that. My heart raced and I couldn’t catch my breath. My husband and I scoured the internet for information on TB in Japan and the BCG vaccine. My mind often gets the better of me and what ifs start haunting my mind. Ever since the Tsunami I find that my worry and panic are at a higher level than they used to be. When it concerns my daughter’s health and safety especially. Gabe and I finally arrived at the decision that she was safe to go to school but that we would definitely get her vaccinated when she was 100% well again.

My mind still plays tricks on me though and I go back and forth as to whether or not it is necessary. It is so hard to live and raise a child in a foreign country when you are not fluent in the language. I kick myself for not studying harder. I feel ashamed and feel that i have let her down. Also, I really dislike my tendencies to panic and worry. I am trying to rest in the peace of knowing that I cannot control everything. I can only do my best to make well informed decisions. Being a mom is hard work! It is the best job I have ever been granted but it is definitely not easy.

How do you deal with worries about illness for your children?

What are your favorite cough remedies?

What are your feelings toward vaccination?