Sunday, June 28

Please think of the skinny babies

It's hard to be a skinny baby.

I mean, I don't exactly know how a skinny baby must feel, because A) I wasn't a skinny baby and B) I don't even remember being a baby.

But my son, Branko, was a skinny baby. Having a rare chromosomal mutation meant his physical appearance was slightly different than average. He was skinny, and I mean really skinny, as in less than first percentile skinny. His head was less round and more oval, with an unusually long neck due to extra space between the vertebrae in his spine, making him look slightly more giraffe-like than infant-like. He was, and still is, the cutest thing I've ever laid eyes on.

And let me tell you, it was hard. Not for us, his parents, but for the rest of the world. Specifically, the rest of the world's eyes. Branko didn't quite fit the expectations of what a baby was supposed to look like.

It must have been hard for the random strangers who, after asking his age, would wrinkle their noses in disbelief. It was as if I had just told them Branko was actually a baby rocket scientist with a freshly completed PhD dissertation. Nobody wanted to believe he was only X number of months old.

Their eyes and furrowed brows would radiate some obvious thoughts: Why doesn't this baby weigh the same as my nephew Johnny who seems much fatter and juicier and should I remind this mother that she's supposed to actually FEED her baby??

Apparently, skinny babies can rapidly sting the eyes and hurt the brains of people who are used to seeing all those gushy, squishy, and round typical babies. Some new parents even provide weekly weigh-in updates on Facebook for their newborns, so everyone is aware their baby is NOT of the skinny variety.

"3.25 weeks and 15.789 pounds already!!!!!"

It was easier in the wintertime, because I discovered that if I put a turtleneck, legwarmers, winter boots, a one-piece snowsuit, two hats, and a scarf on my skinny baby he could usually pass for "normal." We would even receive positive attention in public, including the odd "enjoy every moment" or "it goes so fast" or on a rare occasion, "he's adorable!"

Skinny babies don't get much love in any sort of group situation, especially when there's chubbier babies sitting around, being all cute and roly-poly. They suck up all the attention in the room, garnishing comments like "I want to eat you" or my personal favourite, "I just can't handle the cuteness!!!!"

I used to wish for someone, anyone, to want to eat my baby.

Most of the time, I felt pathetic. As his mother, it was my number one job to feed him and keep him healthy. And I had failed. In fact, finding that one thing, the magic bullet to make him gain weight became my obsession for more than two years.  I naively thought food was going to “cure” all his medical problems.

If only he would eat. His bones would be strong. He would definitely walk. We would also win the lottery, of course. All our problems would be solved, forever and ever!

My obsession with food and weight faded abruptly when Branko had his first pneumonia at the age of two. We had our first experience with the ICU, a close call with a breathing tube, and a brand new attitude towards eating.

Being forced to hope for your child's survival makes all other hopes seem ridiculous and extravagant. We realized it didn't matter if he ever ate kale, or tried carrots, or looked a bit plumper in the face. When we were discharged, I honestly didn't care about what, or how much, he was eating. As long as he wasn't on the verge of dehydration, I was happy.

Since then, we've realized that a scarce appetite, ongoing respiratory problems, and a few sensory issues are most likely the cause of his lack of interest in food. He now eats the same thing every day, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I am sure a dietician would gasp in horror at the lack of variety, but whatever. He's walking, talking, and not lying in an ICU bed. That's what matters.

If you are lucky enough to meet a skinny baby, or even a baby that doesn't quite look exactly like every other baby in the room, pay close attention. Even though it might be hard to resist the delicious, chunky thighs of those other babies, please, YOU MUST RESIST. Hold that skinny baby, maybe pretend to eat him (but just pretend). The attention might make a new mom's day.


  1. My adorable brother is a skinny baby-- ok, now he's a skinny 'big kid.' After two healthy kids (my brother, nearly seven years prior, but permanently etched in my mind, was a pudge-ball) it scared me a little to see how thin he was because I knew it wasn't good news.

    But boy is he cute! Even with circles under his eyes. Even when he was so light I could photograph him in our plastic toy shopping cart. Even with sunken cheeks. I was scared sometimes, and sometimes I made the innocent comment 'he looks so round now' only to hear my parents say that no, he's still at the (tiny number here) percentile. He looked a good bit like a baby Legolas.

    Sorry to ramble, but the point is-- I love kids no matter how they look. Alive and warm is amazing! Huge baby eyes are amazing! Your Branko is beyond cute and even if he was beyond thin, too, I just wanted to tell you that on a small level, I can relate. Thank you for sharing.

    (I mean it by the way. His eyes are just... melting over here!)

  2. Love this. My son was four before he was diagnosed with not one but two micro dupes at 16p11.2. One of the characteristics of kids like him is low body mass. Before his diagnosis I dreaded him being weighed at Dr appts bc I knew we'd get questions, concerns, looks. He was labelled FTT at 2 years old. People actually thought I was neglecting him. Skinny babies have it hard. Thank you for sharing your story.