Back in mid-November, when Stella’s NG tube was put into her cute nose and down into her then-hungry and confused tummy, I was understandably freaked out. I wondered if it was the right thing to do. I worried about how it would affect her. So I did the worst possible thing I could do. I turned to the internet for answers. What I found, mainly on message boards and on random, unofficial-looking “medical” websites, was horror story upon horror story about how NG tubes make feeding aversions worse. How they lead to complete oral aversions, make reflux worse and pave the way to surgically inserted g-tubes. I was so scared.
I did have the good sense to realize that the people most likely to turn to the web are those who, like myself at the time, are struggling. If things are going well with your child, or if you’ve overcome an issue and are no longer in it, you’re less motivated to go to the web and tell your story. You don’t need answers and support. You’re not desperate for any tidbit of information you can get. I knew that out in the real world, there were probably lots of babies who’d been on NG tubes for a short time and then resumed normal eating. Through my occupational therapist, I learned about the amazing Libby. And then, one night, through comments she left here on this blog, I met an incredible mother named Rocio and her son Diego.
That evening, Rocio did what I had done. She felt a rising sense of panic after reading terrible anecdotes about NG tubes online. She then came across Stella’s story and was encouraged to see that Stella was making progress with eating. Rocio and I began to communicate regularly via email. In a sense, it felt like we were in this together. This woman I had never met who understood everything I was going through and vice versa. We were going to get our babies off the tube. And no other outcome was acceptable. As scared as we were, we knew they could do it.
Rocio’s son Diego was born prematurely, at 28 5/7 weeks gestation. He was tube-fed from birth, first through his mouth, then, after graduating to “level 2” in the NICU, through his nose via a nasogastric (NG) tube, just like the one Stella had. As Rocio explained, Diego developed reflux while learning how to eat, which set him back. As in Stella’s case, the pain all but eliminated his desire to eat. After spending three months in the hospital, Rocio pushed to have Diego sent home, so that he could enjoy a more comfortable, cozy, non-medicalized environment. So, Rocio and her husband bravely learned how to maintain the NG tube, and headed home with their son, unsure about what the future held.
Rocio was on the same nauseating rollercoaster we had ridden. So many ups and downs. Exhilarating upswings of hope followed by crushing disappointments. Early on in our communications, at the very end of December, she told me, Diego was “not passing the 25 to 30 cc mark of drinking his bottle per feeding.” (There are about 30 cc’s or mls per ounce.) It was a tough time. But once in a while, he finished entire bottles–it took over an hour, but he was FINISHING them. And more progress quickly followed. One day, she told me that Diego took 90 mls in 45 minutes. He was showing that he could do it.
On February 4th, I received an unforgettable, elated email from Rocio. She told me that Diego had been without a tube for three weeks, and that he was thriving. In fact, he was gaining approximately one ounce per day! Based on all the research I’ve done and my learning from the director of the Austrian tube weaning clinic, I know that this is amazing weight gain, especially so soon after the tube’s removal. Rocio was thrilled, and I truly felt her joy.
A GI doctor confirmed that Diego’s tube was gone for good. At this point, Stella had been without a tube for exactly one month, and it was also clear that her tube was gone for good. We’d done it.
Like Stella, Diego still had some difficulty swallowing. For us, thickening Stella’s formula did the trick. Last I heard from Rocio, Diego was going to have “ECI (Early Childhood Intervention) therapy because the swallowing study projected that he still needs to learn how to swallow better.”
I asked Rocio what she believed was the key to Diego’s success. Her answer was simple. First, Diego needed time to mature. Having been born so early, he didn’t have enough practice. (Babies learn to swallow in the womb.) Then, Rocio needed to get over her fear. Naturally, she worried that he would get sick or be undernourished upon the tube’s removal–even if a deeper part of her knew he no longer needed it. Lastly, she pointed to the removal of the tube as the most important aspect of his feeding progress. Rocio explained, “Pray and have faith. Babies will eat without [the tube] once they feel the need and understand that if they do not want to eat the regular way, they will have no other way to do so.”
Rocio fought for Diego. She faced incredibly challenging circumstances with Diego’s premature birth and extended hospital stay. She had to push just to take him home. Then she found the support and therapy he needed. Then she made the big decision to follow her instincts and take out the tube. This is a beautiful, healthy boy who has overcome some daunting odds. And he’s very lucky to have Rocio as his mother.
Whenever I think about Stella’s challenges with eating, that very trying time in our lives and how we overcame it all, I’ll think of Rocio and Diego, too.