Well nourished

Super Stella can eat a pancake in a single bite (practically).

Super Stella can eat a pancake in a single bite (practically).

Sometimes I worry (shocking, I know) that Stella and I don’t venture out often enough for grand adventures. You know, to the Woodland Park Zoo or Pike Place Market. But then I turn on the vacuum or open the refrigerator door, and she goes absolutely bonkers with joy and excitement, and suddenly I’m certain in the knowledge that she gets her share of thrills right here at home.

The fridge is by far her favorite destination at the moment. She’s developed a particular fondness for a large bottle of light dijon dressing. If there happens to be some Cava chilling in there (which is often the case), she’ll  make a beeline right toward it, and I’ll smile and think to myself that we are incredibly alike.

Food and drink remain a big focus of our days. But a shift is underway–a very healthy shift in thinking and eating. Stella is eating plenty of food via bottle, spoon and finger. I think–I really, really think–that she has finally convinced us to chill the F out. Really. This is big, and it’s about time. I mean, on how many occasions has she rebounded from eating “less than usual” to eating “more than usual”? Tons. How many bottles has she drained? Countless. How many Cheerios and pieces of tofu has she stuffed in her mouth? So many that her grocery bill is starting to rival mine and that is really saying something, people.

I purchased a horribly edited but very helpful and well intentioned book called Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron. The purple tome has helped me change Stella’s diet for the better (and by “better” I mean healthier and fresher). The book is frustrating on one hand, because it confusingly cross-references itself to the point of eye-crossing ,book-hurling annoyance, but it’s also empowering in that, by patiently plugging through key parts of the book, I’ve established a real plan for giving Stella a complete, incredibly nutritious, age-appropriate diet. Until recently, I really felt like I was just winging it. I had the feeling I could do better. Also, Stella has enjoyed three nasty colds in as many months, so I’d been wondering if there was a way to boost her immunity, even just a little bit, through her diet.

In a nutshell, the book encourages you to make baby food yourself, using lots of “super foods”–not just fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes, but with those that are especially jam-packed with nutrients. At the heart of Super Baby Food is Super Porridge, which should constitute the baby’s biggest and most hearty meal of the day. You make it by throwing grains into a blender (I’ve been using brown rice and millet this week), then cooking them in water. You make a few servings at a time and put them in individual containers in the fridge. Come meal time, you take out a serving of Super Porridge and add stuff to it. In ice cube trays, I’ve frozen portions of pureed fresh vegatables and fruits of the “super” variety (including kale and papaya). So I pop one or two of these veggie/fruit cubes in the porridge and microwave briefly, and mix it up with a bit of flaxseed oil and brewer’s (nutritional) yeast. Every other day, I add an egg yolk to the porridge, per the book’s suggestion. On Sunday, I hardboiled four eggs and put them in a sealed container in the fridge. I eat the egg white as I mash the yolk before dumping it into Stella’s porridge. And the shocking thing is, she likes it. She really really likes this porridge stuff. Her favorite seems to be Super Porridge with a cube of mashed avocado, a cube of mashed papaya and an egg yolk (the flax and yeast are givens). I make an effort to prepare the porridge in a way that is appetizing. I’m not down with making her food that is nutritious but unappealing–what fun is that?

According to the book, yogurt has enormous health benefits (big revelation there, right?) and should be the base of one meal per day. I haven’t full-on incorporated this into our routine yet, because Stella is not supposed to have dairy until one year of age. However, I do stir some rice yogurt into her morning fruit meal, and I plan to grab some soy yogurt at the grocery store. I’ll probably do my bowels a favor (I owe them one after months of Pagliacci Pizza, RoRo’s BBQ and Mighty O donut dependence) and stock up on some Greek yogurt for myself.

Super Porridge may sound a little crazy and, well, it is–when you compare it to our old mode of using Earth’s Best jarred baby food and cereal (which I still use here and there as I am not going to become militant about what Stella eats and want her to enjoy a wide variety of foods). Super Baby Food isn’t exactly “simple.” But the level of effort wasn’t too excruciating this first week. I get the sense that in another week or two, I’ll be in the flow of it, making only small batches here and there. I expect this plan to become a habit that doesn’t require the current level of thinking and deciphering. Besides, I feel so good about feeding Stella this way. I love knowing that even on days when Stella doesn’t eat much, each bite she takes is off-the-charts nourishing. At times I still want to chuck the book out a window because it’s such a convoluted read, but I am really grateful for the hearty bits of wisdom nestled within pages full of rampant bolding and italics, near-criminal use of indentation, and random tangents and unneccessary side notes. All told, I love the book and how it’s enabled me to boost the quality of Stella’s daily meals.

I am finally taking better care of myself. As I plan her meals in advance,  I find that I am doing the same for me. I eat when she eats. We eat together, and though feeding her used to feel like a dreaded chore, it’s becoming more fun. I wore earrings and a skirt yesterday, and felt somewhat cute for the first time in ages. Nothing fancy, mind you. But I brushed on a bit of my beloved Jane Iredale SPF 20 Warm Silk mineral foundation, thought for more than five seconds about my outfit, and even accessorized. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I may shave my legs soon. (It’s blond and fine so not very visible. At least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself.)

Maybe it’s because we visited Stella’s OT last week for pointers. Maybe it’s the weather or my improved attitude rubbing off on Stella. Maybe it’s a growth spurt or her new homemade super food. Perhaps it’s all of the above. For whatever reason, Stella is chowing down. She seems to enjoy eating more than ever before. I’ve said this before many times. But maybe now, after all these months, we can stop the counting and obsessing and begin a new era of enjoyment. It would be as nourishing for Stella, and myself, as anything I can put in a bowl or bottle.

Bon appetit!

Open wide

So, as I reported earlier, we visited Seattle Children’s Hospital this week to see Robin, Stella’s wonderful and very wise occupational therapist. We wanted to check in and see how Stella is doing with solids. We were worried because she wasn’t eating as much as a nine-month-old is “supposed to” by now. She had not been showing any aversive behavior, and once in a while she’d chow down on bananas, avocado or toast, but overall, her intake of solids seemed pretty low–maybe 1/4 of a cup for an entire day and a few bites of finger food. And it was taking *forever*.

Well, Robin assured us that Stella was just fine. In fact, Stella has no feeding problems anymore, at all. I knew this deep down, but it was an incredible relief to hear it from our trusted expert.

We realized that the problem was us–not Stella. Robin gave us some very valuable pointers on how to feed Stella more effectively. It turns out that we’d been so afraid to push Stella, based on early battles over breastfeeding and bottle-feeding, that we weren’t offering her enough via spoon. We were way too timid. Stella doesn’t need to be coddled. Ever since our meeting with Robin, we’ve pretty much been “shoveling it in” and Stella has been enjoying 1/4 to 1/2 cup of baby food plus a few bites of finger food at each of her three meals. Just like she is “supposed to.” It’s amazing!

She seems to really enjoy my homemade blueberry puree mixed with a bit of cereal, and that makes me so happy! That said, Stella has a nasty cold, which is making food less appealing to her–especially chunky things like finger foods. She’s thrown up immediately after some of her meals due to coughing fits, but it’s tapering off as the worst of her illness appears to be over. It hasn’t slowed her down too much, but I’m interested to see how eating goes when she feels better.

Stella had been taking enormous bottles, up to nine ounces at a time for a total of 30 ounces of formula a day. Contrast that to the days when when 3 and a half ounces was HUGE! So in the two and a half hours before her first nap, she was getting 400-450 mls (that’s up to 15 ounces in the first couple hours!). No wonder she wasn’t into solids. She was full! As a result, we’re in the midst of a schedule shift. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but it’s made me anxious.

We had our old schedule *down.* I knew roughly how much she would eat when, and it created a nice comfort zone–for me as much as Stella. Well, as she grows we need to adjust, and that’s what we are doing now. But a low-level panic infiltrated my day. By fitting in these larger meals of solids, we are messing with the timing and amounts of her bottles. She doesn’t seem hungry enough to take a bottle RIGHT after solids. I don’t know exactly when she’ll get her 24-30 ounces for the day and it makes me nervous. I have to watch for hunger cues more closely. So, I am officially out of the comfort zone, and am figuring out what works and what doesn’t. It’s a bit of a throw back to when Stella had her tube and when we were weaning her. I never really knew when she would want to eat. I just had to pay attention and wait–not my strong suit.

I’m giving myself pep talks, and they are effective.  They sound a little bit like this:

“If I can survive the anxiety of a newborn that won’t eat, pumping around the clock, mastering the use of a god damned supplemental nursing system, navigating the complexity and chaos of hospitals and healthcare, inserting and maintaining an NG tube, getting no more than three hours of sleep at a time for two months, weaning my baby off of the tube and curing her aversion without (completely) losing my mind, I think I can figure out a new feeding schedule. Damn it, I can do just about ANYTHING.

And so can Stella.”

Return trip

It’s not an emergency. Nothing is really “wrong.” But we’re about to head back to our old stomping ground: Seattle Children’s Hospital. We’re going there to see Robin, Stella’s occupational therapist. Stella isn’t warming up to solids the way all the charts and books say she “should” by now, at the ripe old age of nine months, so we’re looking for some reassurance and perhaps a few tips on how and when to best offer food to Stella–without getting pushy. As we learned with the bottle, pushing only makes her want to eat less.

This morning, a vision from the past won’t leave my brain. I’m not sure why. It brings me back to our first appointment with Robin, before Stella got her tube and back when my entire day was consumed with the struggle to feed Stella. That morning, Robin filled me with hope. She watched Stella scream at the prospect of eating, she watched us spend a half an hour battling with Stella to get her to take three ounces. And then she said, “I’m going to see you through this,” and I suddenly felt a lot less helpless. But that’s not the moment that’s been on my mind.

I remember departing the room where we’d met with Robin, and walking down the hall toward the waiting room with Robin at our side.  Coming toward us at a brisk pace was Robin’s next appointment, a new mother accompanied by her own mother and arduously lugging her baby, left hand gripping the handle of the car seat. She walked with her entire body at an angle, as a counterbalance to the weight of the baby and her seat. She swung the seat forward a bit with each step, lurching along. The baby was peaceful but alert, with an NG tube taped to her right cheek. That terrified me at the time–I didn’t want Stella to wind up with a tube. But it was the mom who got me. There was such determination in her face and in her stride.  She was clearly focused on the task at hand, eager to learn more about how to help her baby. Eyes locked on her destination. Moving awkwardly, but forward. I’ll never forget that mom.

We’re off. I’ll let you know what happens.

Nine months

Stella's a little shy in the pool--at first.

Stella's a little shy in the pool--at first.

So, Stella has been outside the womb for just about as long as she was in it. This seems like a big milestone to me and my uterus.

Stells (that’s not a typo–it’s one of our nicknames for her) celebrated her nine-month birthday on Sunday. The occasion was marked with a Waterbabies class (with a stop at Bellevue’s Downtown Park beforehand), and a walk to Gasworks Park. The next day, we went in to Dr. N’s office for her nine-month check-up. Ah, yes. Time for those dreaded percentiles.

Cody and I let out a sigh of relief and our shoulders dropped about six inches upon seeing the number on the scale: 19 pounds, 2 ounces. We knew that if she wound up at 19 pounds or so, she’d be at or above the 50th percentile for weight. I know, I know. It doesn’t even matter. One look at Stella tells you how happy and healthy she is. But we’ve got a nasty, lingering case of feeding aversion/tube-induced PTSD  and are grateful for any extra reassurance.

After the measurements were taken, the doctor came in, shook our hands and started tapping away on his touchscreen. He’d plugged in Stella’s stats in order to show us her growth curves, charted electronically.

“Look at this beautiful curve, ” he said, highlighting the fact that Stella’s weight was right between the 50th and 75th percentiles, just as it had been at her six-month check-up. He continued, with a bit of sing-songy positivity in his voice (which I loved), “And this curve looks great…” We saw that, for length/height, she was in the 75th percentile, just like last time. We were flying high.

Then, pointing to a dot, adrift above the highest percentile curve, he noted, “And this is how smart your baby is.” He was kidding, of course, but her head size was clearly “off the charts,” as they say. Last time, it’d been on the highest curve. Her head circumference has risen by a few percentiles between each check-up apparently. It’s not uncommon, really, and not a concern. Unless it keeps going, of course. In which case learning to walk will be a lot more challenging.

In short, Stella is thriving. Her doctor told us to feed her solids three times a day (I’d limited it to two, fearing that she might not take enough from the bottle otherwise), and to stop tracking how much formula she takes outside of that. He also suggested changing her formula to the normal 20-calorie-per-ounce concentration, which we have done. At one point, in the wake of all this, I stuttered, worriedly, with what I’m sure was a look of concern and confusion, “Um, so, like, h-how much f-formula does she NEED now?” The doctor kindly told us that we’d worried enough, and that we could stop now. Worry had become like air to us. So we are pretty much adapting to life on a new planet.

He also pointed out that, in a way, we are allowing Stella to wean herself off of the Ranitidine by not upping the dose as she grows. It reminded me of the progress she’s made int hese last three months. She’d been on two reflux medications until a couple months ago. We’ve lowered the amount of Simply Thick we put in her bottles, with the goal of soon weaning her off of that, too. She is back to the “normal” caloric density for formula–just like I’d predicted (boldy, it felt at the time) in her early tube-free days.

And that brings me to my point. So often, these days, when I look at Stella’s impossibly beautiful, beaming face, I can’t help but cry. Especially when she laughs. I remember, somewhere in the dark, dark days of December, bawling at most commercials. Our situation and those post-partum hormones were brutal–even bland Sleep Country USA ads opened deep, previously forgotten psychic wounds, apparently. But there was something especially gripping about the “Peace on Earth” spot for Pampers. Those soft, gorgeous baby faces! Those cherubic, chubby cheeks! Yes, those cheeks. Those cheeks, free from evidence of medical intervention. Those perfect baby lips, moving as if the baby is nursing in her dreams. They tormented me. Because to Stella, eating was a nightmare, not a dream, and our view of her angel face was obscured by two kinds of tape and a long yellow tube. Those babies were chubby and sleeping in a sprawled out fashion–not being force-fed while sleeping swaddled and strapped into a giant foam wedge. That commercial just seemed cruel to me at the time.

I go into her room and look at Stella every night before I go to sleep–despite that fact that by doing so I risk letting our super creaky floor wake her up. I have to do it. How could I miss out on the most beautiful sight imaginable? It is a triumph, a joy and a reminder to be grateful. I just watched the Pampers commercial again. And I have to say, Stella would fit right in with that bunch of sleeping angels–those arrogant bastards.