When people hear the phrase ‘baby weight’, they often think of the extra pounds mamas hold after carrying a baby and then delivering them into this world. Contrary to popular belief, this is not what I am referring to. To me, I am referring to my baby’s physical weight. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined the hardships our family would face to get our children to eat. I always thought that once my baby’s intestines were back inside their belly, they would do all the things a “normal” baby does...aka EATING. It has been an extremely exhausting process - both mentally and physically - and I’m even getting teared up while writing about it.
My eldest, Theo, struggled to gain weight in the hospital. I began pumping and he would receive my milk through a bottle. The next step was to fortify the breast milk to help him gain weight. But anytime he had a successful feed, he would vomit it all up and then some. We were feeding him every 2 hours around the clock. It was just horrible - at night the nurses advised me to wake him up by changing his diaper then using a cold cloth in hopes to heighten his alertness and thus consume more ounces of milk. Then every time Theo made weight gains, his milk volume would increase and the cycle would begin again. It felt like we could never catch up. I so desperately wanted to get the hell out of the hospital - mentally I wasn’t coping at all. The staff agreed that home would be a less stressful environment for everyone and hoped less stress would improve eating.
Being discharged from the hospital is a surreal experience. You feel excited but with that comes so much guilt about leaving the other families that will be there for longer periods of time, or even worse the ones that don’t get to go home. And above all you’re terrified! When you’re in the hospital with your baby for long periods of time there are so many people checking your baby 24/7. When you go home you’re not only a new mother but also nurse.
When we got home with Theo, he would drink only half of his small bottles. I continued to pump for a couple more months but he still wasn’t gaining weight. I decided to throw in the towel as our whole freezer was full of unused breast milk! We tried every medication for his reflux but he continued to constantly vomit. My day consisted of trying to get him to eat at the perfect time so he could get in the correct volume and subsequently being covered in vomit throughout the day. My husband was super supportive and tried to feed Theo as much as he could when home because of how stressful I found feeding. Everyone would tell me that Theo could sense my stress but this only made things more stressful.
I kept asking myself: “I am his mother, why can’t I feed him?” My whole life revolved around getting a certain amount of ounces of milk into him my month and later G-tube, then reporting the information weekly to our nurse practitioner/pediatrician/family doctor. It was extremely frustrating because my husband would be able to calmly feed Theo and he would drink his whole bottle. It was so infuriating because I was the one that was producing the milk, I was the one that was home with him all the time and I was the one up with him constantly through the night but yet when daddy fed him a bottle he ate it all and went to sleep… Like what the hell!?
The trauma from being in the hospital plus literally NO sleep at all left me in very bad shape. I couldn't understand why I could not get him to eat and felt like a complete failure. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and severe PostPartum Depression.
As mentioned in my bio, I am a fitness enthusiast! I thought I would be that mom that always comes with the perfect healthy snacks and have these amazing homemade recipes. Instead I was the mom with the unhealthy underweight baby. I wanted to be a mom so badly, but here I was feeling like I would get the “mom gene”.
Despite my mental state, I was determined to join a mommy playgroup...right, is that what a good mother is supposed to do? It took everything I had to get to that playgroup, but I did it and ended up meeting a lifelong friend and many other fabulous mamas. But the thing about this mommy playgroup is obviously all you talk about is all things baby, which usually includes eating and growing.
Everywhere I went it seemed that people always commented on my son’s size….even strangers! One of the worst memories I have is the first time I went to a singing class with Theo. I was so proud of myself for getting out the door and excited to be doing normal, non-hospitalized things. We went around the room and said our kid’s names and ages. I remember telling the group that my son was six months old and I can vividly remember the reaction of 2 other mothers in the group. I remember exactly what they look like, what they were wearing and their faces. I remember them grasp as their jaws hit the floor when I told them my son was only six months and approximately 10Ibs. They couldn’t believe how small he was. Then when you are not sleeping and you were plagued by the trauma you went through at the hospital, comments like these would put me over the edge.
I felt like a failure and a horrible mother. I had dreadful thoughts about me and my baby, and struggled to connect to him. To read more about our feeding struggles and tube feeding, you can read the feeding and tube post on the blog. But I want to get back onto the topic of weight.
As a woman it would be completely offensive to say to another woman after they’ve had a baby “oh wow, you’re still hanging onto a lot of baby weight”. For me, I would take the same offense when others called my baby small. When someone would make a comment regarding my child’s size it was not them matter-of-factly stating the fact that he was small, for me it meant he was small so he was sick. He didn’t have enough nutrients for his brain to grow, he could have to be admitted to the hospital again...and above all I am the biggest failure in the world for not being able to feed my kid.
Looking back on it, of course my kids would be small! He was not held or fed through the mouth for 2 1/2 months. Of course my kids are going to be delayed at walking and crawling and moving their head as they were literally addicted to opioids for the first two months of their lives
How to get through it when you’re in the thick of it:
Things that helped me were:
1) Getting my husband/family members to feed my son the bottle as much as possible without me being in the room.
2) Going to a friends house during meal time as he would usually eat better with other children around.
3) Asking help from grandparents for feeding, especially on the weekends.
How to deal with negative feeding comments:
When you’re in the baby phase, all you seem to talk about is how your baby sleeps, eats and & poops, and that’s pretty much it (or at least that’s all I heard). But when your child isn’t achieving these basic baby survival markers, and you are in constant communication with a medical team, simply hearing a conversation about another child’s positive weight gain, is enough to really put someone (ME) completely over the edge. I remember getting together with a group of my university friends that I hadn’t seen in a while for a play date. At this point Theo was being fed through his G-tube. During the playdate, everyone casually was feeding their babies and food was a huge topic of discussion. I remember leaving and driving home while connecting Theo to his G-tube in the car ride. I was bawling my eyes out. I was so angry and upset that my son had gone through so many obstacles and was still struggling with eating. He literally had a hole in his stomach to eat. One of my closest friends in the whole world called mem after the play date. She mentioned I seemed a little off and asked if I was home yet. I should’ve been home in about 45 minutes but the G-tube bag wasn’t distributing the milk properly and I had to stop many times on the way home to reconnect the bag. I would often give feed Theo small feeds in car rides because he was elevated in his car seat and this helped prevent reflux. I explained to her that I know it’s a normal thing to talk about eating but all we did was talk about eating and snacks and Theo doesn’t need anything right now through his mouth. I explained to her that I just feel so overwhelmed. She said so many wonderful things to me and reminded me that she had no idea how hard things must be for me. People like these are your tribe! Keep them close to you. and Despite them not fully getting what you’re going through, if they’re able to divert the conversation or simply acknowledge that talking about weight and feeding is a really triggering issue, these are the people you want to stick with.
Unfortunately I have tried to talk to other people in my life about how these comments can be hurtful. To them they may might just think it’s a casual comment about their kid’s development, but to me it’s a constant reminder of what my kids have had to go gone through, and the worries I have still about their growth and development. The unfortunate thing about having medically complex children is the people you think will really understand you sometimes don’t, but sometimes people come into your life who are able to support you in unimaginable ways.
Everyone’s got their crap and everyone’s got their story but as a friend you need to know your audience. My closest friends would never tell me about their kids' doctor’s appointments because they know that I’ve literally lived in and out of the hospital with both of my children for three years. It’s not that they don’t think I don’t care about them and their child, but they know and understand still grieving my experience.
1) Avoid situations where there is a lot of baby talk. Even if it is a baby shower, your mental health comes first! Celebrate with your friend with a private dinner date. If they are a true friend, they'll totally support you.
2) Remove people from your life that trigger your trauma and do not support you. Family or not - YOU have a family now and that comes first.
3) Consistently remind yourself of the GOOD and UNDERSTANDING people in your life. Stick with your tribe no matter how big or small.
Last week we talked about comparisons. About what your child is eating, and when.
This week, we're discussing comparing again, because it is a huge deal.
I'm not talking about comparative suffering - I'm talking about simple mom-to-mom talk and discussions.
We see it everywhere, on mom groups, in playdates, even just simple text message conversations.
Most of the time it's harmless, unintentional curiosity. But almost always it is damaging.
A little back story - Adam got the common cold around 5 months old. We were pros at tummy time at this point. We put a gym mat on the hospital floor, and a clean sheet over top, so that Adam could continue to develop and play as best as the situation allowed him to, but in a hospital setting, tethered to the wall by a suction tube.
We made it work. We brought in books, toys, a cute Finding Nemo activity centre with lights and sounds.
However, when Adam got sick, we pulled him off of the hospital floor and said absolutely not. Because even something as regular as a common cold is a huuuuuge deal when you're in a hospital and everything is monitored microscopically.
Adam no longer did tummy time.
We got his surgery date soon after, and kept him in a bubble. He stayed in his isolation/ private room, no visitors, nurses had to gown up, absolutely no leaving his crib to play on the floor… we had him quarantined so nothing would get in the way of his surgery.
Obviously after surgery he didn't have tummy time. We weren't putting him back on the hospital floor.
Plus he had a new button Gtube we didn't want to put pressure on.
When we went home, we tried tummy time ...Adam was now 8+ months old, this is vital development time!!!! However, we couldn't do it because the pressure on his stomach would cause reflux and we didn't want that.
So ….we were recommended an in-home occupational therapist. This was a huge pill for me to swallow. As a teacher I assure my student's parents that therapy is a good thing and it will only help!
...But I couldn't take my own advice. I couldn't admit that Adam was behind at something, and needed help. We did though, and I am glad that we did. Because it pushed me to keep pushing him, more than I would have. Instead of just staying "oh he'll catch up" we both worked so that he did, and he did so very quickly and very well.
The point is…
Adam barely crawled. He was stuck on his back from month 5-8 for the reasons above. He missed out on vital developmental practices. While most kids are doing tummy time, we're keeping him in one spot so he's at his healthiest for lifesaving surgery.
People don't know that.
So when they ask me "hows tummy time?" Or "when did Adam start crawling"
He didn't. We worked for weeks with an OT to get him crawling and redevelop those muscles and skills.
Adam finally started to crawl near the end of our time with the OT. He skipped the army crawl stage, and went straight to standing up and cruising.
Within a week, he was walking.
Not your typical journey.
Sounds great right?! Nope. Apparently those muscles they work while crawling are important for development to aid in their walking and standing…. Yeah whatever. I was happy my kid was walking.
The thing is - now Adam runs, jumps, swings, rolls, spins - everything. Just. Fine. Perfectly. Normal.
It is irrelevant to anyone else when, why, and how.
No one is going to ask your child on the playground "hey when did you start to crawl" or "how old were you when you began to walk"
It's irrelevant. Do not stress about it! If there is something delaying your child significantly, your paediatrician will notice and tell you. It's not up to mom groups to inadvertently shame you into thinking your child is less or is achieving less than theirs.
We need to focus on what our children CAN do and not what they are not doing.
The same thing goes with eating.
Everyone asks about the start date for purees, baby led weaning, whole foods, milk, a sippy cup…
Curiosity gets the best of us, but it's also comparison and shaming whether we realise it or not.
Mom's put pressure on each other and it's damaging!
Each baby will reach these milestones in their own time.
Just because Karen over there is feeding her kid bananas with the peel on as part of her BLW practice, doesn't mean that Susan is in the wrong for cutting her kid's banana into smaller pieces.
The fact of the matter is, both kids are eating. So Karen needs to keep her opinion and her self righteous feeding regime to herself.
If you're feeling pressure or stress about any of these things, please reach out to us. We promise you that we will be nothing but motivating and supportive. We've guided a lot of friends through these stages - comparison is the last thing you need to stress about. We've got you.
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