Some of you may have seen this video posted by my sister-in-law. Actually, most likely very few to none of you saw it. But I wanted to talk about it briefly and explain what you are looking at. First off, here's the embedded video:
The wires you see are part of a device called a Sleep Apnea monitor. More about that in a minute...
I have my own YouTube account, but there are very few clips of my children on there at least until more recently. I've guarded our privacy a little bit. The world has teeth and it can bite you with them anytime it wants. That being said, I'm not mad that Katie posted the video she took with her iPad. I sound like a total dork and I don't think I realized she was recording it. I was a bit surprised when the clip showed up in my YouTube subscriptions later that week.
Things were a little helter-skelter at that moment that got captured. My in-laws had just arrived from Chicago. We were getting Sammy and the girls ready for bed. But of course, everyone had to wait until Grandma (and Aunt Katie and Uncle Nate) arrived.
The part I want to talk about are the wires that are coming from the leg of Sam's sleeper. They'd become a part of our nightly ritual at that point and weren't news to us. We would joke that with them on he was "wired for sound." But they were new to the rest of Lisa's family. Kate wanted a clip because they reminded her of a song by a band she is obsessed with; "Plug In Baby" by Muse.
But why is Sammy wearing a Sleep Apnea monitor? (you might be asking) Does he have Sleep Apnea? Nope! According to every checkup he's been to, he's 100% healthy. And he continues to get bigger and rowdier and cuter every day. He is joy to me and to Lisa and the girls.
But we naturally worry. Everyone who knows us knows that we worry and why. It's been almost three years since Lucas died. Sammy is several months older than Lucas was. Every day that goes by, he gets a little bit further through and away from the danger zone for SIDS. Statistically, the chances are worst until four or five months, then incidents drop off dramatically at six months. The risk drops to almost nil at one year old. More specifically, Sammy is very different from Lucas in a multitude of nameable and unnameable ways. He learned to hold his head up very well very quickly. He learned to roll over faster and more confidently. He's more active, more alert.
When he was born, we were very happy to use an Angelcare monitor any time he was in a bed sleeping. For those not in the know, besides being a regular baby monitor with sound, the Angelcare that we have also has a movement sensor pad that goes in the bed under the mattress. If the baby stops moving for 20 seconds a sensor beeps once. If they don't respond within 10 seconds after that, an alarm sounds. And this thing is VERY sensitive. Even if you can't see the baby moving as it is sleeping soundly, the sensor can pick up very small vibrations and the indicator light is very reassuring.
This worked great for Sammy's first few months before he learned to roll over. As long as he stayed in the relative center of the bed everything was great. However, Sam started to roll over while awake pretty early (age three months?) and then started rolling over in his sleep. He seems to prefer to sleep on his side or stomach (the little stinker). If he rolls too close to the foot or head of the crib, the sensor can't find him and it goes off in a false alarm that's pretty scary at 3am. Eventually, this started to happen EVERY nap and EVERY night, sometimes more than once. Each time, we'd run in his room and each time he was just fine. Even when there was an alarm and we arrived in his room to find him just fine, it was still frustrating because it wasn't clear if he had just moved into the wrong spot or he was really going to be in trouble and we had woke him up just enough.
During more than one of these sleepless moments, I jokingly lamented to Lisa that what we really needed was some sort of futuristic type of shirt or onesie that would measure his actual heart rate and breathing rates instead of just his motion. In some sci-fi soldier movies or future war documentaries they show the soldier on the front line wearing all sorts of gear that detects their pulse and breathing and displays it on a monitor at the command center. What we needed was something like that for Sammy, something that would monitor his actual vitals no matter where he moved in the bed and would record this information in a way the doctors could perhaps retrieve later.
This went on for a few weeks and we mentioned it to some friends and family. Even though my other children were staying overnight at the g'parents' houses within the first few months of their life, we weren't yet comfortable with Sammy doing so, even if we were to send the Angelcare monitor with him. My folks didn't argue and I think they felt the same way.
My mom goes regularly to a support group with other people her age who've lost grandchildren to SIDS and there were a few things she'd learned that she shared with me. The first was that there were other grandmothers in her group that had lost their FIRST and ONLY grandchild. My mom has five living grandkids and so feels blessed in this way. The second thing was that for those families that did have subsequent children after losing one child, they often requested a Sleep Apnea monitor from their pediatricians. She thought we could ask for one too, but I initially said no. For some reason, the way my brain works we didn't need an apnea monitor because Sammy didn't have apnea. Still, she'd gently mention it on occasion. When the Angelcare monitor was working great with no false alarms, I thought it would be silly and obtrusive and not something that we needed.
But as Sammy got more mobile and rolled around his whole crib all night, I continued to lament that what we really needed was some very expensive high-tech sci-fi gadgetry that probably didn't even exist yet, even as a prototype. I still didn't connect the dots until my wonderful wife said "You know, they actually have that --or something like it. Your mom mentioned it at least once." See, I don't know everything. Who knew?
Anyway, so we talked to Sam's doctor and he said it was possible and not that unusual. He gave us some time to think it over (which was really only a few hours). A very helpful guy delivered and set up the machine the next day, with thorough lessons on proper use.
The machine itself is about the size of a large lunch box or purse. It comes with a carry bag and shoulder strap so it's even portable. [Note to self: take some pictures of the thing and post them.] It plugs into the wall for power, but it has a 15-hour battery just in case. It sits outside his crib beyond his reach. For Sammy, there is a small elastic strap that goes around his chest at armpit level with two sensor pads on either side. The two small wires that you see in the video --one white, one black-- come from these pads and go along his skin down his body, past his diapers and out the leg of his sleeper. Then the wires go between the bars of his crib and plug into a socket wire for the machine. The thing is sophisticated enough that while it is on, there are two different kinds of alarms; one for user error and one for actual emergencies. It's sophisticated enough to know the difference. A user error indicates that a wire has come loose or the pad has slipped off his skin enough that it needs to be adjusted. The emergency alarm indicates if it is a heart or lung problem, based on the light that is blinking on the machine. More importantly, it records every breath and heart beat digitally in solid state memory that the doctor can access later if necessary to spot problem trends.
The strap doesn't bother him and it works well. We've had a few alarms and some of these have been at night. But they've been user errors for every time. He'd kick the wires loose or the elastic strap would slip just a bit. Every time except the one when his breathing was a bit slow, but it perked right up with all the racket of the alarm.
So my son is on a Sleep Apnea monitor and that is what the wires are that you see in the video. And let me just say that we have had a continuous stream of much more restful nights of sleep thanks to that little machine. True, it may be a bit of overkill. And it is still no guarantee against SIDS --because there isn't one. Believe me, I looked. But it has been very worth it.
I am relaxed. This is going to work.