I am very proud of Hazel’s accomplishments in overcoming her challenges with feeding. We first knew something was seriously wrong with my daughter when she aspirated breast milk on the second day of her life. She was whisked away to the NICU, and we didn’t get to bring her home until she had a g-tube placed. This began a nine-month -long journey into feeding therapy. We were terrified that she would aspirate again, but desperately wanted to believe that our child was completely normal but somehow lacked growth in the womb. We thought that if she could learn to coordinate her suck and swallows, then she’d be fine and lead a normal life forever. Denial is part of our journey. 🙂
We started with a feeding specialist the first week she came home. We powdered rice cereal to thicken her milk, but then it made it impossible for her to suck through the hole of the nipple. (Would you be able to drink a milkshake through a cocktail straw?) I remember talking to Hazel on the drive to her feeding appointments and just saying, “Just drink one milliliter of milk today, that’s our goal.” We would anxiously watch her stats, using a pulse oximeter to make sure her oxygen didn’t dip too low. At first, I was only able to feed her by mouth once a week at therapy appointments. At home, I’d feed her by tube while giving her a pacifier and holding her to still have that important bonding time. Eventually, I was able to try to feed her by myself at home once a day. We didn’t have a pulse ox at home, so this was very scary for me! She did increasingly well, and soon we were practicing drinking at every feeding time.
We monitored how much she drank at every feeding, then had to supplement with the remainder of the prescribed milk dosage with the feeding tube. Eventually, I made the decision to stop thickening the milk, and she didn’t show signs of aspirating. We found the right orthodontic nipple that allowed her to drink with a weak suck, and finally, after many months of training, she was able to drink throughout the day on her own!
The biggest challenge came when we decided to test to see if she could support her caloric needs by drinking by mouth alone. No more overnight feeds to supplement her calories. Would she wake up and let me know she was hungry?
We decided she was ready for a week-long trial when she was just five months old (that seems so long ago!). I remember the date – February 9th. Her father was away for military training for four months and this was my first long-term period as a single mom. I wanted so badly for her to succeed!
That first night, she woke me for a feeding on her own. I was thrilled! She continued to take in enough calories to maintain her slow and steady growth curve. She fed herself by mouth that first week, and we continued to feed her by mouth every day after. Her g-tube was removed in May of that same year.
I learned many parenting lessons during this struggle with feeding. I learned to push my daughter – just enough – to challenge her to reach her limits and go beyond. I learned to experiment and try new things. I learned to question the parameters placed on my child. And I learned to trust myself more as her mother than all of the experts who only see her for a fragment of each week or year.
I’m very proud that we succeeded, after a lot of hard work, in getting Hazel to feed by mouth. It was an amazing accomplishment for her, and I am proud of the dedication that I placed in helping her realize her potential. The lessons we learned about testing her limits will help us continue to be proud of her many future accomplishments.