Three Things I Wish I Knew Before My Daughter’s Adenotonsillectomy 

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Remember when you had your first child and you used to check if the baby was still breathing at night? Other than putting your finger under your baby’s nose to feel for breath, it’s hard to tell. And every new parent is warned over and over again about SIDS to the point where we double-check our checking just to be sure. 

Well, I never had that problem. Since the moment she came home from the hospital, my daughter snored like a 60-year old man who has never trimmed a nose hair in his life. 

It was endearing. It was funny. It was helpful because we knew she was breathing. Until it wasn’t. 

We chalked it up to environmental allergies which can’t really be properly tested until your infant is a toddler or older. We also assumed it had something to do with her infant dairy, soy and egg allergies which led to her reflux and trouble sleeping. 

But then our little sound machine grew up. At every pediatrician appointment, I asked what could be causing the heavy breathing, constantly nasal sounding voice and ever-present throat tickle. Our pediatrician said it was likely an environmental allergy. We have a dog. We have carpet. We live in high humidity and pollen-rich area. It is what it is unless we are going to start combating those triggers (not happening, the dog was here first!). I didn’t mind the response, though, since I’ve been jonesing to rip up our carpet. It’s just not really a long-term solution since, well, dust happens. 

As our daughter went from two to three years old, I started hearing a change in her breathing at night. Guilty: we still sleep with the monitor on. She’s our one and only! Don’t judge. 

My mom instinct said she was developing some sort of sleep apnea. I’d hear irregular breathing patterns and points at which it sounded like she was holding her breath. It was here and there and one of those things that I thought was something to watch for but perhaps a non-issue. My overextended mom brain put it on a list of things to talk to her doctors about at whatever appointment was next. 

The dentist. I took my daughter to her bi-annual dentist appointment and the dentist asked if she snored. “What?! Yes, how did you know?!” The dentist then went on to say that my daughter’s tonsils looked large and asked if I had spoken to her pediatrician about it or if it was already being treated. I explained how I’ve been searching for an answer with no luck. Even a visit to the ENT a year prior after a string of ear infections left me where I started. 

Our pediatric dentist went on to explain that the dental community is more focused on enlarged tonsils than other medical groups because it can cause jaw displacement, speech impediments, and other negative changes to oral development. She almost mentioned that it can cause restless sleep or sleep apnea which can lead to the development of attention-deficit and behavioral disorders along with general crankiness from loss of a solid night’s rest. While my daughter has her cranky moments (“Threenager” is a real thing), I wouldn’t go so far as to say her general disposition was affected. However, there’s that “sleep apnea” term that I had been looking into!

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which your child’s breathing is partially or completely blocked repeatedly during sleep….The underlying cause in adults is often obesity, while in children the most common underlying condition is enlargement of the adenoids and tonsils.”

From there, I immediately scheduled appointments with the two, well-known, pediatric ENT’s in our area. Both took one look at my daughter’s tonsils and said they must be removed. They will only grow larger until age six and are already blocking a large portion of her airway now (at age three). They both also said it’s likely due to enlarged adenoids which will also have to come out. Because of her sleep apnea, we will need to stay in the hospital overnight for monitoring after the surgery.

At last, an answer! Although it meant surgery, which always has its risks, it also meant my daughter would be able to breathe freely and sleep through the night (read: I can sleep through the night!). Her surgery was scheduled asap, luckily overlapping with the end of camp and the week off before school as it’s a ten to fourteen-day recovery. 

The ENT and nurses gave me all the information I thought I needed – stock up on popsicles, have Tylenol on hand for a few days for fever, bring her pillow and prized possessions to the hospital for the overnight stay – but there were three things I wish I knew before my daughter’s adenotonsillectomy so I could have been more prepared:

  1. There may be an IV in your child’s hand overnight. The hospital did a great job of making my daughter comfortable going into surgery and coming out (shout out to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital). She had no idea what was going on. The last thing she saw was my face, her dad’s face, and a clown blowing bubbles over her as she was wheeled into surgery. My husband and I were the first things she saw when she woke up. But then she saw her IV. A needle jammed going right into her hand. She was not happy. Although not much could be done about it because it has to be visible to make sure it’s working and staying in place, it would have helped to know so we could talk to my daughter about it before. In the end, we improvised and kept her arm under a blanket until the IV could come out. 
  2. Your child will need to use the bathroom while connected to monitors and an IV. Seems obvious. But what we didn’t think to ask when we got settled into our hospital room after leaving recovery and what no one told us was how to disconnect her from the machines so we could take her to the bathroom. In a mad rush to get to the toilet upon that first “I have to go pee-pee” request, we unplugged everything and wheeled her IV bag cart to the bathroom. Again, no big deal, but when you unplug machines in a hospital there’s a persistent, loud beeping that follows until a nurse resets the machine. This can be a major irritant for a child that just underwent surgery, came out of anesthesia and is on a liquid narcotic for pain (along with irritating parents who haven’t slept for 24 hours and are running on adrenaline).
  3. Surgery, particularly anesthesia, can cause night terrors in children. This. This was the big one! This kept me from sleeping for two weeks straight (don’t worry, my daughter was well-rested). This initially seemed like my daughter was waking up from a sore throat or the scabbing that takes place during recovery. But then it happened, night after night. Every hour and a half on the dot. She’d wake up screaming, hysterical, inconsolable, eyes open and seemingly awake. After some Googling and a call to the ENT, I found out that night terrors can happen after a traumatic experience and usually go away in two weeks. The only solution is to ride it out. Sleeping with an overhead light on (not night light) and being there to comfort your child are your only aids. We made it through but it was absolutely gut-wrenching to see my daughter in such a panic. I had never welcomed daylight with such open arms.  

Thankfully, all went well with the surgery! I was shocked when my daughter actually wanted to play in the toy room at the hospital the next morning. Bless the giant box of Legos they had there that kept her quite busy (and forgetting about her IV). 

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I’m happy to report we generally breezed through the recovery period, eating popsicles in all shapes and sizes and drinking more cold apple juice than there is ocean water on this planet.

The ENT follow up visit showed that her adenoids and tonsils were double, almost triple the size they are supposed to be and were only going to get bigger over time. My daughter is now sleeping through the night and even made it through a mild head cold (thanks new school year) without it turning into a three-week, lingering plague.

Every night now, my daughter sleeps silently. The only downside is that I have to put my finger under her nose to know if she’s breathing. Through the night, I periodically wake up out of habit and check the monitor. Not a choking breath to be heard. Not a snore to be a chuckled at. Sweet dreams little girl!

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Born and raised in South Florida, Heather’s a Broward County native with a toddler daughter who acts like she’s in the prime of her teenage years. Heather juggles the laughter and negotiations that come with a four-year-old with her virtual career coaching business Shatter & Shine. As an attorney and former COO, her 15+ years of marketing, operations, legal, and start-up experience allows her to serve as a trusted career confidante to clients spanning industries and roles ranging from recent graduates to mid-career shifters. Her approach combines candor, collaboration, and confidence-building. She loves connecting with moms over the less-frequently spoken about challenges that come with motherhood. It’s in those honest moments that she feels makes us all feel better about doing our best.

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