Chris has been very sick these past few days, and is finally on the mend. On Saturday night it was particularly bad; he hadn't eaten anything for over two days and would only drink about 1/4 of a cup of liquid all day. I was starting to worry that he would be severely dehydrated and have to go in to the hospital for an IV. In the middle of the night he woke up just as I was going to bed, so I woke up and went to sit with him. I tried al the usual inducements -- a cup, a straw, promises of cookies or stickers, and nothing worked. He wouldn't drink. So I put on a movie and sat him in my lap and fed him gatorade with the oral syringe the pharmacy gave us. It held a teaspoon at a time and I would fill it and then push 1 mL at a time into his mouth, wait for him to swallow, do it again, and so on, until he had taken about half the bottle of Gatorade. I even got a couple of teaspoons of PediaSure into him before he said he was full.
It had all the makings of a really frustrating situation, but for some reason I felt warm and fuzzy. Why?
I realized it reminded me of his infant days, doing whatever I could to get him to gain a tiny bit of weight. In particular, it reminded me of the first moment that I ever felt like a Mom, for real and for true.
C was eight weeks early and so I wasn't ready -- mentally or physically -- for him to arrive as suddenly as he did. Getting him to eat at first was a big struggle, because the effort of eating from a bottle or nursing would exhaust him, so he would fall asleep and not get the calories he needed. The alternative, as the nurses pointed out every time they walked in the room, was for us to go home and them shove a feeding tube down his throat. We asked if we could stay and they said no, parents aren't allowed to stay, because it's too emotional to stand there and watch your child get gagged with a hose.
So every time I sat down to feed him in the NICU, I had that hanging over my head -- don't fail, or your kid will be gagged and tortured as you helplessly drive home, miles and miles between you and your tiny, suffering kid. So to say that I took mealtime seriously would be an understatement. He had to meet a predetermined number of mLs of food every day, in a predetermined amount of time (usually 20-30 minutes) or he would get a feeding tube. They raised the amount by 5 mLs every day, so there was no getting complacent or resting on your laurels -- success one day only meant a bigger struggle the next. He always ate better for me than he did for the nurses, so I went to every feeding I possibly could, which for me meant camping out in the NICU from 9am until midnight every day, except when I got kicked out for shift change or had to eat.
One morning when I arrived the nurse said that he had not eaten well at his 6am feeding. She looked at me with her arms crossed, eyebrows raised, as if I had somehow caused this to happen. She repeated the omnipresent threat that he would have a feeding tube by the end of the day, handed me a bottle, and left the room.
Something in me hardened against the nurse, and I looked down at Chris. He was obviously hungry, he wanted to eat, but eating itself was wearing him out. I had concocted a plan on the drive home the night before, and now I was ready. I washed my hands with hot water and soap and sat down with the bottle and Chris. I pushed on the side of the bottle nipple so that about 1 mL of formula squirted into his mouth. He swallowed. I did it again. He swallowed again. I continued this way through all 45 mLs, pausing only when the nurses bustled in and out.
Somehow that tipped the balance, and from that point on he started gaining weight and took over his own eating within just a few days. He never had to get a feeding tube, and the nurses would call home to tell us how astonished they were at how well he was eating. Three days after that first top secret feeding mission, he came home with us. I felt like a real mother because I had followed my instinct instead of what someone else told me to do, and it worked out for the best.
Sitting in the big wingback chair this weekend, eking Gatorade into C one mL at a time, I felt a bit of that sureness in me again. It might sound strange, but it was a really good memory.