As Stella’s occupational therapist put it, “Stella has internalized the joy of eating.”
Her feeding aversion is, well, history. A memory. Though not a distant memory, of course. We still get nervous if she goes for a long stretch without eating. We still watch her eating behavior like mama and papa hawks, and breathe a sigh of relief when she finishes a bottle. But mostly, we are in complete awe of Stella’s incredible appetite. Her ability to down six ounces in less than five minutes. It’s nothing short of a miracle. But then, miracles don’t come easy. You have to work for them. You have to be patient. And you have to believe. There were moments when this wonderful outcome didn’t seem possible. But deep down, we always knew she could do it. That the tube had to go. There was no question.
Stella’s intake for the last week has been between 770 to 875 mls a day. Of course, her formula is made at a 20% higher caloric concentration than typical breastmilk or formula. So she’s getting quite a lot of nourishment, which is quite evident in her diapers! The really crazy part, for us, is that she now takes in 160-180 mls at a time. We remember the days of her taking only 20 to 45 mls, and thinking, “Well, that’s good! She’s eating, and we can build on that!” Then we were absolutely thrilled when she showed she could take 100 mls on occasion. We remember her screaming at the sight of the bottle, arching her back and tossing her head back when the bottle was offered. Now she lunges toward the bottle and pulls it to her mouth. She cries UNTIL she sees the bottle. It’s just astounding.
I remember driving one day, during a wind storm that hit at the height of Stella’s eating troubles, listening to Patty Griffin’s “Love Throw a Line” and singing and crying. This was back when I was so sick with worry, and so overwhelmed, that I couldn’t eat or sleep. I stopped at a light and looked up to see a mighty, towering evergreen tree whipped up into a frenzy by the wind. The trunk was bending and swaying and the bows were being tossed about so vigorously that the tree looked angry, as if it were fighting back at the storm. Yet, it was clear that this tree could handle the winds. In fact, it was designed to withstand such a storm and had lived through hundreds of them. I saw myself in the tree and its wild, fitful dance. In that moment, even though I’d been feeling like I was losing my grip, I knew I could handle it. That I would help Stella recover, and that we would be okay. Even as Stella and I struggled, we were staying strong at the same time. Just like that tree. I’ll always remember it.
Yes, we’ve weathered a storm. That said, during our stay at Seattle Children’s Hospital, I was struck by how incredibly lucky we are to have Stella–a healthy, happy child, who had a temporary, treatable issue with eating. There are so many children and babies just struggling to survive. Babies like Kayleigh Freeman, who was born weighing just one pound and who has defied all the odds, and bounced back after countless surgeries and trials. (We bought bracelets to support her and will wear them with pride when they arrive!) This experience with Stella has truly opened my heart. I already loved all babies and children, but now there is a whole new layer to that love. A compelling urge to help little ones in need. Cody and I already sponsored a child, and recently, I signed us up to sponsor another little girl–her name is Anyi and she lives in Honduras.
We’ve learned and grown so much over the past five months. (Can you believe she is five months old???) We are truly blessed. Stella is thriving and, as always, an absolute joy. I want to help other parents find the same feeling of happiness and relief that we have experienced. In the coming weeks, I will find a way to put my strengths, talents and passion to work for children who are struggling. If I can make life even just a little bit better for even just one other baby, well, it would make our experiences all the more meaningful.
You know that feeling after a storm has passed? Quiet and calm settles in over everything. There is a striking stillness in things recently battered by what seemed like relentless winds. The scents and colors of the earth are more vibrant thanks to the rain. That’s what it’s like around here now. Brighter and more peaceful. Except for the teething.
Ha! Now we get to focus more on all the “normal” baby challenges and happenings. Every time I bend down to pick up the teether toy that Stella has dropped for the thousandth time, I smile.