I should know better by now. With Stella and her feeding issues, the answers are never simple. There are no clean, black-and-white solutions to this layered, messy challenge. The clogged nipple seems to have been only part of the issue. The fact of the matter is, Stella is doing well, but as her occupational therapist reminded me today over the phone, Stella’s road to recovery is not a ramp. It’s more like a staircase. She’ll leap forward, then stall or regress a bit, then progress again, and so on. I needed the reminder, and regained a sense of peace after hearing it.
The “messiness” of the feeding issue spills over into other areas a bit. Because of her reflux and because we fill her belly at night during her slumber, she sleeps in a wedge made for just her by one of the OT/PT therapists at Seattle Children’s Hospital. This means that her movement is restricted, which could affect her mobility and development. So, we spend extra time working on rolling and do tummy time in short stints several times a day. Today, Stella’s hard work paid off! She rolled from her back to her tummy three times! We were thrillled to see this. On her ten-week birthday, she rolled from her belly to her back for the first time, and proceeded to do it every time we placed her on her tummy, but as her feeding issue worsened, she did it less and less. Then, around the time of her hospital stay, she stopped. For that reason, today’s acrobatics were heartening. This milestone gave us all a little boost.
And speaking of needing a boost, Stella accompanied me to my therapy session today, and was very content to just let me hold her as I talked. I go because I’ve been struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, and through the Community Birth and Family Center, I found an absolutely wonderful therapist who has helped me cope.
I’m doing much, much better now. I think back to the days when Stella wasn’t eating or gaining weight as she should, when I had no idea why and no clue how to help her, and I feel such compassion for that new mom who, in trying so hard to take care of her struggling baby, was losing her grip on her own wellbeing. I’m proud of my efforts, because I knew something was wrong, and despite any dissenting or skeptical voices (“Oh, you’re overreacting” or “She seems fine to me”), I trusted my instincts and kept pushing for answers. With help from Cody, I prevented Stella from losing weight. Stella and I were constantly at the doctor’s office, and every week, the scale showed that she’d gained weight, even if it was just two ounces. But I didn’t take care of myself, which sent me plunging in a downward spiral and was not beneficial to Stella, even though all I wanted to do was help her.
Despite the continuing rollercoaster of emotions, the ups and downs of Stella’s feeding progress, the stress level in our home is so much lower these days. Last night, Stella and I danced to The Kinks’ “Picture Book” in front of the Christmas tree while Cody strummed along on his guitar. We go for one or two long walks each day, and we really enjoy it. When Stella’s problems peaked, when she wasn’t getting enough to eat and was in pain, I couldn’t take her anywhere because so much time was spent just trying to get her to eat, and in between, she was hungry, agitated, couldn’t nap, and would cry whenever I put her in the carrier or stroller. Now she loves the carrier and can fall asleep in her car seat. We laugh a lot. We can now just “be” together. It’s wonderful.
Sometimes, I forget how far Stella and I have come. But when I look back, it’s easy to appreciate where we are now. If this were a movie, we’d be way past the part where the hero hits rock bottom and wants to throw in the proverbial towel. We’d be well into the montage where determination builds in each subsequent shot–punching slabs of meat, drinking raw eggs, jogging through Philadelphia and doing one-handed push-ups. Stella’s story is a comeback in the making. And who doesn’t love a comeback?