"My husband was rocking our two-month old daughter on his knees when I walked into the room and screamed: “WHAT HAPPENED TO HER EARS?” He turned his head, alarmed. “What happened?” he said. “Her ears!” I said. “They’re huge!” .“Oh.” He relaxed. Nothing was really outstanding.
"But there was something outstanding: her ears. From behind they loomed large, like protruding handles. I’d never seen her from this angle. Normally I was over her, breastfeeding her, changing her, or putting her to sleep. When I took her out for summer walks, her dainty features and luminous eyes always got so many comments. “She’s beautiful!” people would say.
But lately I’d been noticing a new type of comment: “She looks really smart!” Was that the equivalent of saying an unattractive woman had a “great personality”?
Don’t get me wrong: after four years of infertility I was so grateful for my daughter, who really is adorable. Trying to get pregnant for so long meant I also swore that I wouldn’t be one of those helicopter over-achieving parents, hoping to get my kid on a path into Yale by age two. My husband and I were pretty laid back, jeans and t-shirt type of people, even though we’d both had cosmetic surgery (him, a nose job; me, a stem cell face lift.) But this wasn’t just about looks — it could affect how other kids would treat her.
“I have big ears,” said a friend to whom I made the unfortunate choice of confessing my ear worry without first checking out hers.
“Oh, was it a problem for you?” I innocently asked. “Well, aside from being called Dumbo in grade school…” she said. Argh.
What to do? Online mom forums were no help, because anyone who asked about the issue of big ears got attacked by the other mothers who found their own kids’ protruding ears adorably yummy. (One mother defended a questioner by saying, “Kids are cruel, and most of you folks wouldn’t think twice about someone’s decision to circumcise their child or pierce their ears, so what’s the issue with this??”)
“Newborn moms spend too much time examining their babies because they have too much time home alone with them,” my doctor said. But then I turned her around. “Oh, I see what you mean,” he added. He told me she’d probably grow out of it, that it was due to her sleeping on her back.
The plastic surgeon didn’t agree. Yup, that’s where we took her after investigating other options, like the Baby’s Bonnette from France, which was a netting hat that promised to hold babies’ ears down during sleep, or the Ear Wells from England, small ear-shaped plastic “splints” that corrected ear deformities and “bat ears,” which is what my daughter had. My husband wanted it done professionally.
“Your daughter’s ears are not going to flatten out after she spends time on her tummy,” said Doctor David A. Staffenberg, who specializes in craniofacial surgery. (Boy, did I feel horrible when I was chatting with another mother in the waiting room who told me her daughter needed surgery to split the skull bones open.) He said she was the perfect candidate for Ear Wells, a more cumbersome splint which shaped and caged the ear in plastic and held it to a baby’s head. The only problem? We were quite late to the game. It had taken me a over a month to take action — and now the cartilage was beginning to set.
"Some mothers come to me straight from the hospital,” said Nurse Practitioner Amanda Young, who said she’s splinted about 250 babies’ ears, and Dr. Staffenberg ten times that amount. I flinched at the cost — $350 for the first pair, and then after ten days, if another set was needed, another $250.
“It’s cheaper than plastic surgery,” said Dr. Staffenberg, noting that from the age of about 6 or 7 ears could be pinned back in surgery under anesthesia, which can cost around $8,000.
“And painless,” Young added. She’d had some six-month-old patients with promising results, although she wouldn’t guarantee any for my baby.
“What’s the harm?” my husband said.
Indeed. Aside from looking like she had a Bluetooth on each ear, and the judgment I got from anyone who saw it (until I started lying and saying it was for an infection). Oh, and the fact that she didn’t like it, demonstrated by the way she furiously turned her head from side to side to fall asleep. The left one came off after a day.
“Most babies don’t notice it,” Young said, replacing the Ear Well free of charge. The pair lasted almost until the next appointment, and for the last few days we taped the ears down with the medical tape they’d given us. (The nurse practitioner said that in the south, that’s how everyone does it!)
And guess what? Her ears improved. At the appointment the staff agreed she didn’t need any more intervention. She was perfect.
…Except for her cheeks. Without protruding ears, didn’t they look rather large?