The first year of your child’s life is filled with love, hope, exhaustion and sheer terror. To tell my story, I need to go back a couple of years before she was born. I had previous abdominal surgery to remove uterine fibroids and then went through 12 horrendous months of fertility treatments. There were a lot of needles, nursing myself, pelvic exams and hope. It was month 13 when we did IVF and received the amazing news: “it worked!!”
My pregnancy was not the most comfortable 9 months. I was sick for about 8 months and developed sciatica since that amazing daughter of mine was living very close to my ribs on my right side. My left side suffered. While I had a scheduled C-Section for a week before my delivery date, she had other plans and I went into labor a week before that. Luckily, I only had to experience labor for about 4 hours before my doctor performed the C-Section (I had to have a C-Section due to my previous surgery).
When this little being was shown to me, I could not believe it was real. Maybe it was the morphine but it felt surreal. When you wish for something for so long and then it comes true, it is an amazing feeling.
The first weeks were a blur: little sleep, my husband and I pretending we knew what we were doing and then the fun post-partum hormones. Oh those hormones! I was literally a mess. I was crying constantly and was afraid, not of being alone with my daughter, but of feeling alone. It was a terrible feeling and I felt I was failing as a new mommy. Luckily that only lasted a couple of weeks and I had great support from my family and friends during that time.
Those first months, my husband and I noticed some rashes which we found out was eczema (her cousin had it, so we weren’t that surprised). I also noticed that while I got my first real smile from her at around 8 weeks, she did not smile very often. I was worried she would be “too serious” or sad. My head really went to a strange place when I worried that she was depressed (I have struggled with depression and it runs in my family). I knew that made no sense, but I was a neurotic new mother!
At five months, I noticed she wasn’t nursing/eating as much and I worried that my supply of breast milk was not enough for her. After days of weigh-ins at the pediatrician’s office, it was decided to hospitalize her. You simply are not quite ready for that phone call: “I think she is losing too much weight and needs hospitalization. Bring her to Children’s” (Boston). While I was tearful and terrified, I got our stuff together as my husband came home from work and we headed to the hospital.
Failure to Thrive. Reflux. Dairy allergy. These were her diagnoses during her 11 day stay in the hospital. I spent every minute with her during those 11 days. I could not leave her side. The diagnoses were the easy part; the hard part was switching her from my breast to a bottle filled with awful smelling hypoallergenic formula. Nurses and doctors soon learned of a personality trait that my husband and I already knew: our daughter is stubborn.
After a few days of assessment and trying to get her to drink from the bottle, we were told that she needed an intervention as she was not gaining any weight. She needed to have a nasogastric tube placed so she would be satiated. This involved a thin tube inserted in her nose which then went to her stomach.
We. Were. Terrified.
I went into the procedure room with her while my husband waited outside. He knew it was better for mommy to be with her at that moment and he was honest in saying that he was not sure he could keep it together. She had the tube in for a few days and she was fed the horrible smelling formula this way. At feeding times, they would give her a pacifier (we never used them before) so she could get used to the feeling of sucking and becoming full. Genius.
My husband and I went a bit overboard when it came to which type of bottle to try. We bought every single brand that existed at that time and tried them all. Guess which one she liked the most? The cheapest one!
The nurses, who were simply amazing angels, came up with an idea to get her to drink her formula. They added grape Pedialyte to give it a bit of sweetness and flavor. Now, my husband and I would gag when this cocktail was made, but it started to work! She would drink little by little to the point that when she would wake up at night she would be scratching me and kicking me as her hunger was so deep. She wanted her cocktail! We started calling the nurses “bartenders” as part of this process involved weaning her off of the Pedialyte.
The day we took her home was a great day. We were excited, nervous and exhausted. We were proud though when she took her first bottle like a champ at home. We finally started to see her weight increase and after a few months, although she was still not on the growth charts, she was doing well. Unfortunately at that time, she contracted her first stomach bug. Normally, babies can get through a stomach bug because they have “reserves” but she did not have any and started losing weight again.
Back we went to the hospital. This time we went to our local hospital thinking they would just give her an IV and then send her home. Not quite. They wanted to keep her overnight. This became a horrible experience for us both. While we had our own room, that was interrupted at 4 AM when we were woken to move into another room. A couple of hours later I told the doctor we were leaving. We tried another day at home but knew she needed more. We brought her back to Children’s and she spent 4 days there. Again, amazing treatment and most importantly, she got better.
When I think back to that first year and then the year after which included Early Intervention in MA and Birth to 3 in CT (we moved), it seems like a blur. Yet it was an emotional roller coaster with constant questioning of my skills as a mommy. Her feeding issues were treated and she strengthened her muscles and walked at 20 months. I can’t even believe we went through so much. Looking at my now 4-year-old daughter, she is healthy, happy and you would never know all she went through those first 2 years.
Life is a gift and my daughter is a gift. After all of the fertility treatments, my husband and I were blessed and the blessings continue, along with the hard stuff. I think we are made to experience difficulties not only to make us stronger, but to then be able to have perspective. I know how lucky I am to have a healthy and happy 4-year-old daughter. I am aware of the horrible illnesses and conditions babies struggle with. I keep that in mind, always.
I have been given a gift and I am in a constant state of acceptance, thankfulness and awe.