Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Drop by Drop

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.


  1. This story warmed my heart this morning. Thanks for sharing. And for the record....I think you are an amazing and self-less mother. I admire you.

  2. Hard core mom!!!!

    I have witnessed an NG tube being inserted on Josie more than once. It's not that horrible but it's also not fun.

    Hey just curious, what NICU were you at? In town? And they had to take the feeding tube out every time!? That WOULD really suck. Josie had her NG tube for feeds her first month but we didn't get to try actual oral feeds til months later so I am guessing that's why it was different. Still... I woulda thought an NG tube would allow for oral feeds? Or maybe preemies can't do an NG tube bc the tubing isn't small enough to be an NG tube? Do you know lol? Thinking aloud per usual.

    Regardless it seems like a good way to traumatize the babies AND parents. But ya do whatcha gotta do right!?

  3. p.s. I am so glad to hear he's starting to feel better I meant to say before I got caught up in recalling the NICU days. Hope things get easier soon!!! :)

  4. Thanks! :) Right now it is just a bunch of snot -- he is not "sick" anymore, just clearing out all the junk.

    We were at TMH. There were a few good nurses but for the most part nobody communicated with anyone else and I was reduced to unintelligible sobbing in my car on more than one occasion. It's like they had never encountered a parent of a preemie before. (???) The issue with him was that he didn't have a feeding tube at all, but we were threatened that he would get one if he didn't eat enough, at each and every feeding, which was every three hours, so there were a lot of occasions to worry. In retrospect it wasn't that big of a deal, but I was coming at it from the perspective of being completely surprised to be a mom so soon, completely disoriented, and so worried about him that I do not remember much of anything from that time period except driving back and forth from the NICU. And they were always so nasty about it, like, lecturing me that my son needed to eat more "or else." And then they would tell me all about the infections that an NG tube can cause, etc. etc. There was such a weird punitive vibe going on in the NICU. Sometimes I thought I would just stick him under my coat and steal him. He was only 4 pounds, I totally could have done it. I would have gotten to Georgia at least before they caught me, ha ha. I am only half kidding. ;D

  5. I cried. I will blame it on new mommy syndrome forever, but that was really touching and sad. Lisa, you are such a strong woman and exactly what your babies need whenever they need it. Amazing mother. Which is why I constantly bother you for advice.

    I've said it once, and I'll say it again. I want to mirror my mothering habits to yours. I'm blessed to call you family and proud to call you friend.

  6. I always wanted to steal Josie too. Mom instinct but if I did she'd have died within an hour or so. Aren't you glad that chapter is over with??? I am! Any time you might feel like venting let me know bc sometimes it still helps me just talk about everything and we could totally swap frustrated moments... like when the neonatalogist was like, so she has an over 50% chance of not being mentally retarded -- the day before her open heart. When these people go to school are they not taught any compassion... let alone any bedside manner fitting someone with a brain? ugh

  7. I have so many stories about tone-deaf NICU staff. My favorites (if I had to whittle the list down) were (1) the doctor who came into the room and told me to watch out because parents usually go home and get divorced right after the baby goes home, (2) the nurse who lectured me for not producing enough milk, and (3) the nurse who told me that she and all the nurses had been talking about me for several days because I had been seen using my phone in the NICU. They had openly seen me using it, because no one had ever once told me not to, and instead of just saying, "Oh, phones aren't allowed in here," they let me go on for days and days and then told me that they were all discussing my horribleness in the coffee room. ANd I suppose also the fact that I was supposed to pump every two hours, except that every three hours I was kicked out of the NICU for shift change, so I had to take the manual part of the hospital pump out to my car on the parking deck and pump, because there was literally no private location for pumping. IN THE NICU. You know, they say that stress limits a mother's ability to lactate...

    Man, I thought I was over it, but I'm all mad again ;D Seriously, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to just be kind.

  8. I hope all this has been written down and sent to the powers that be at TMH's NICU. This is crazy. My mom spent a good chunk of her career as an NICU nurse, and would not have put up with any of this crap on her watch, I guarantee you! She spent a good part of her time off hemming blankets for babies whose parents hadn't had time to prepare or couldn't afford a layette, too.