Not All Roses

01codyandheather_FullResDespite our recent weather, not everything is sunshine and rainbows in the world of a newborn. The past couple days has been taxing on me, and no doubt on Heather.

We both have deep desires to be the best parents and spouses possible, and part of our ethos is to reduce our reliance on unnecessary or “convenience-oriented” tools. I guess you could say that we prefer the ‘au naturel’ approach to life.

I guess that’s not always under our explicit control…

Continuing my thought, we would rather eat whole foods and supplement with naturally sourced vitamins than to have frequent doctor checkups and medication. Or we’d rather spend time with exercise, chiropractic, massage and physical therapy than to undergo surgery.

02codyandheather_FullResWe recognize that the medical model of fixing problems is appropriate and necessary at times, but the human body is capable of astonishing feats of rejuvenation if we reduce the catalysts for the troubles and foster a great healing environment.

That is all to set the framework to explain our recent challenges with Alora.

In it’s most simplistic form, she’s a lightweight.

Alora was born (7lbs 1oz) 10 days prior to her due date (38.5wks), and through gestational age assessment (http://www.medcalc.com/ballard.html) she shows to be 38wks old. However, in part because of her size, and perhaps some other genetic dispositions, she has had a challenging time establishing “normal” feeding.

It has been truly amazing to watch how Heather’s body has adapted to motherhood. Almost immediately with pregnancy, her breasts had started changing, and (though I don’t have any comparison) they appear perfectly suited to provide exactly what our child needs. Every professional she’s seen has cooborated that is the case. On Saturday, Heather’s milk came in, and that too has been astonishing. Having her nipples weep for milk when Alora cries is something I hadn’t expected! However, despite her great tools for the job, Alora has not been strong in latching.

Initially (on days 1 & 2), it was presumed that the cause of the problems was merely her tiny mouth. On day three (Saturday), with her weight still dropping some (down 8oz) we received something called a “nipple shield” which is a small rubberized cap that essentially sits over a nipple to allow babies to better latch – usually they are used with moms who have flat or inverted nipples.

03codyandheather_FullResIn the case of Alora, she had been thrusting her tongue before and during feeding which pushed the nipple from her mouth. We found that the shield provided some solace the false “nipple” was more firm, and subsequently harder to eject.

We remained consistent with the task of regular feedings and were faithful that that would help rebound her weight back to normaal markers. Heather had mostly sleepless nights working like crazy to get Alora to latch and feed, but with mixed success over long sessions.

On day 5, when we went in for a first pediatric appointment, Dr. Amy also voiced some concerns about low weight and thought that getting in to see a lactation consultant at Bartlett Beginnings would be an important step. She made a call and we were contacted the next day by Debbie to coordinate an appointment.

Tuesday afternoon, at the lactation consult, was probably our toughest moment yet as parents. As we first sat down with Debbie, we explained the back story. Born, 38wks gestational age, small mouth, tongue thrusts, trouble latching, fussy, distracted feeding, etc, etc.

From my overprotective vantage point, I gathered that Debbie doubted our story to some degree; I was sort of waiting for her to explain to Heather that she had been doing it wrong and that it really was an easy process to feed a newborn.

What caught us off guard in the appointment was the gravity of Alora’s situation. We had reason to believe that Alora was starting to get the hang of latches & feedings, even though she had her moments of fuss. As it turns out, with the ridiculously expensive scale at the hospital, Alora was still 11% down from her ideal weight after her 6 days of life.

Then the bomb dropped.

“You see, at 12%, the Hospital will admit a newborn until they are able to correct the situation,” she said.

What!? We’re on the verge of having our child involuntarily admitted to the hospital? Dammit. Why hadn’t we asked more astute questions? Why hadn’t someone helped us understand the facts and consider more aggressive actions?

Feeling helplessness, frustration, exhaustion as well as physical discomfort was a lot to wage against.

Fortunately, Debbie was a good fit for our situation. As is standard practice, she wanted to see what Alora could do in nursing and then weigh her again to identify exactly how much milk she had consumed. Heather went to work offering, encouraging, and cajoling Alora to feed. Despite the time that had passed since her last feeding, our newborn remained uninterested. Debbie stepped in to help (I guess in that position you can’t be shy!). With Debbie’s expertise, she squeezed, massaged, aimed and adjusted both mom and baby, with shield and without, but still Alora wouldn’t nurse.

04codyandheather_FullResThe next step was to make sure that there was decent milk supply. Heather pumped, and in the course of 10-15 minutes, she had produced almost 2.5 oz, per breast. For those of you who are inexperienced: that’s a veritable faucet of breastmilk. Verdict: the supply was great.

Debbie again tried to help Alora latch, but this time with a small syringe and small tube feeding Alora while she attached and nursed at Heather’s breast. These were the big leagues. Debbie was insistent that our child receive more milk and she wasn’t holding back with techniques. Both naturally and with the nipple shield, Alora continued to resist. Ugh. Frustration doesn’t encompass it.

Our lactation consultant stepped back and explained that we (er, Heather) had been making an excellent effort, but even as a professional who assists with breastfeeding for a living, this was a troublesome feeder. Debbie further explained that the likely explanation was that, from her perspective, Alora was acting more like a 37wk old baby; she was uncoordinated with the various components of nursing. Essentially what I heard was that she was admitting defeat with the natural approach of breast feeding.

I think it was around there that we had a good cry, right there in front of Debbie. I still tear up thinking about it. Here we were doing everything we could, and it still wasn’t enough.

05codyandheather_FullResAfter we recollected ourselves, Debbie explained that we must get milk into Alora, and that because of the unique situation, she suggested moving to 24 hours of direct bottle feeding so we could be assured that Alora was taking in 2 ounces at every feeding. This was an extraordinarily rare recommendation. Debbie took Alora in her arms and proceeded to start her first bottle.

Ouch. Isn’t that supposed to be the job of a mother?

That was at 5pm. We headed home, put Heather to bed to get some rest as Alora slept in her newfound milk coma. During the appointment, I had realized just how exhausted, both emotionally and physically, Heather had become. My instincts of loyalty and protection kicked in. While in desperate need of rest, she didn’t need to think about alarms, or feeding times, or filling her glass of water; it was her sole job to rejuvenate her energy stores. I woke her briefly to pump, but stayed up myself trying to anticipate her needs, keep an eye on the time and (repeatedly) change diapers. With the significant uptake in milk, Alora was off to the races as it pertained to filling diapers. At one point, I changed 3 well-fed diapers in 10 minutes!

Heather and Alora are doing much better now. This morning Alora was up 2.5 ounces (which is great), and Heather is much more rested. I’m thrilled.

Simultaneously though, after my stressors and long day yesterday, now I’m on empty. I woke up with one of the most sour attitudes that I’ve had in a while, and it feels like I could cry at any moment. It hasn’t entirely been ruled out that I’m not experiencing some kind of hormone shift as a father… Either way, its been helpful to write out my thoughts to purge my brain and to share with others what our story entails in this first week of Alora’s life.

Thanks for reading along and letting me get that off my chest.

Perhaps next time, I’ll share more of the highlights!

‘Till next time,
-Cody

06codyandheather_FullRes

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8 Responses to Not All Roses

  1. Lauri Brown says:

    Hang in there! God will see you thru this!

  2. Kelly Gesick says:

    Oh my! I feel for both of you! Your first baby is always an exhausting challenge to adjust to and when you add in any feeding trouble it adds a lot of worry and stress. With Juliette we had very similar issues (she was 3 weeks early and 5lbs!) and regardless of my efforts I couldn’t make her latch. It took me three months of pumping and bottle feeding (she was ready before me- I had to overcome the emotional stress of it all) before I even wanted to try breastfeeding again. What matters is that you both will do whatever it takes to care for your child and you will survive (and once you adjust thrive) the exhausted, chaotic haze of the past week and the weeks to come.

    To Heather- you’re a wonderful mamma and your daughter will grow and thrive. Don’t lose heart over this unexpected challenge. She will get there and you’re doing exactly what you need to until that moment.

    To Cody- keep up the wonderful work of caring for and supporting Heather and loving and embracing your daughter and fatherhood. It is a blur of emotion and physical exhaustion but so wonderful all at the same time.

    Alora is beautiful. I’m so happy for you both!

  3. Trisha Lee says:

    So sorry to hear of your guy’s frustrations. I had similar issues with my first daughter. Has the birth center or Debbie told you guys about LLL (Le Leche League) chapter meetings in Juneau? They meet every first Monday of the month at 1p and every third Saturday of the month at 9:30a at the birth center. The ladies that run it, Anjanette and Sarah, are great sources of information. They helped me to breastfeed successfully with my second daughter who is now 5 weeks old. it’s also a way to network with other moms who share similar stories. They also have a group on Facebook called “Juneau Breastfeeding Cafe” that we all belong to for meeting updates and to ask questions. Hope to see Heather there if this is something she’d be interesting in attending 🙂

  4. Emily says:

    Cody and Heather–thanks for being willing to share this week’s experiences with us. All three of my girls were in a very similar situation and I spent months working with Debi. I’d be more than happy to talk to you guys about our experience if you think it would provide any help or comfort to you. I’m very sympathetic to how emotional and difficult a non-feeding baby can be. I’m sending you all warm thoughts and email me if you want to chat more.

  5. Rosa Carvalho says:

    Cody and Heather, thanks for sharing all the experiences you are living with little beautiful Alora. I remember having a peak of exhaustion at one point during the first week of my son’s life. After that everything went better. I am happy that Cody is taking it out of his heart by talking about all the stress and frustration with us. I keep all of you in my prayers and I am in awe to see these darling little Alora’s pictures. Lots of love, Rosa

  6. Mary says:

    I truly feel for you both, Cody and Heather and for your exhaustion at this time. At least Alora is still getting breast milk and at least she is now eating. Tia and Ed had a very hard first week with Leo as he could not Latch easily do to being tongue tied top and bottom. Once those where cut he still had to heal but started latching fine and gaining weight and both parents finally got some sleep at the same time. With our newest, little Peregrine, luckily he latched easily and immediately and hasn’t let go since. (not really but the boy likes to eat). The issue they have is that he is fussy and crys if he is not held constantly. That has been pretty tiring for both parents. Cody, as a new Daddy it is perfectly normal for you to have hormone and emotional times just as much as Heather or any Mum. When Emily was born, it really hit Jonathan hard hormonally and emotionally. We had had a very free-spirit free roaming life up to this point not worrying about getting on in terms of food, shelter, money……we could always sleep in the truck. But with a baby came a sudden whoosh of wow that is over we have a baby to take care of. We took her on a camp-out at one week and a surprise blizzard descended. I totally freaked out (more than any other time in my life) We couldn’t find a place to pitch the tent and then My hand got really cold. We finally just threw the tent down without stakes and Jonathan got it unzipped and we crawled inside. We warmed up enough to get the sleeping bags out and got in to them and got warm. Emily slept through almost the whole ordeal except for contentedly nursing as needed. Becoming parents is a huge deal and a life changer. We are nor responsible for another human life and it is sometimes hard and scary and emotionally overwhelming. I with hold you 3 in the light and pray that Alora gets to a point soon where she can latch and nurse comfortably and that it will be more serene and doable for you both. HugZ and a prayer wending it’s way to you guys. Mary

  7. Jennifer Scott says:

    Welcome to parenting!

    I wanted to be all natural and breast feed for two years. No bottle or pacifier would come near my baby! I met with the lactation consultants and lost so much sleep trying to feed every two hours instead of pumping and letting someone else bottle feed McKinley. I never slept, Dan and I fought, and it led to my post pardum depresson.

    You will learn that when it comes to parenting, being easy-going and rolling with the situation is a must. Trust me, obsessing about every little detail and making trying to avoid medical interventions like vaccines or formula, will not matter in the long run. Taking care of yourself now, will!

  8. Summer Davis says:

    I’ve been wanting to write since you posted this, but I was on my phone and, as per the norm, I had a lot to say about the subject. I have nursed three children and each one has been a vastly different experience. My first didn’t latch well at first and it was really a learning experience for both of us. I have an explosive let-down and it would choke him which would then discourage him. Oddly enough, that’s still his personality. Anything too difficult he shies away from. I also have flat nipples but opted to not use the shields for several reasons, one was because of nipple confusion if I ever wanted to stop using the shields, another was because I was informed that they can diminish supply. The supply, it turned out, wouldn’t have been an issue. I could nurse triplets and still have leftover. We eventually worked things out but nursing was, for me, extremely painful. Toe-curling pain. It was because of my flat nipples. I worked through it, but it wasn’t fun and it made bonding with my first babe very difficult. The second latched like a pro the minute she was born, and I thought, “Heck YES! I’m a pro!” Only, it wasn’t me. It was her. She just knew what to do, and she did it well. So when number three was born, I thought I would be a pro again. Grady seemed to have a deep latch, but as the seconds ticked on, he would slowly unlatch. It was painful, I was frustrated, and I was afraid. With so many “booby traps” and doctors pushing formula onto moms due to weight loss or slow gain, I was terrified. I called in a LC and we tried to get things worked out. Grady never REALLY got the hang of nursing. He was my third. I should have been a PRO! But each child is different, and this one just didn’t have the motions down. It worked, though. It did work. I nursed him for 20 months, but it was uncomfortable the entire time. He would stand on his head, kick me in the face, pull on my lips, pinch the opposite nipple, and just not suck the way that he should have been sucking. Thank God for adequate supply and breasts that were determined to nourish this stubborn child. I don’t know how I went so long nursing him, but I did, and despite the struggles, I’m very proud. In addition to the feeding difficulties with #3, I had a yeast infection, mastitis a couple of times, and a couple plugged ducts since he wasn’t getting those ducts on the outside of each of my breasts. He turned three on March 7, and he struggles with speech and feeding still. He doesn’t chew well – the mechanics just aren’t there. He has a massive vocabulary and the comprehension of a 42 month old, but his communication level is at 22 months. That is an enormous disconnect and causes lots of frustration. Come to find out, those early nursing problems are all connected to the feeding and speech issues that we are having now. I could have had feeding therapy and used mouth exercises for his weak, undetermined latch, but I didn’t know that things like that existed. I am excited for Alora to have such strong-willed and educated parents. I am sure that you guys will work through this and use your new-found knowledge to help other people struggling with similar things. Breastfeeding can be a beautiful thing. But it is a learning experience for every mother and every child. And while it’s always “best”, it’s not always fun. I loved it with #1 after a few months. I loved it with #2 from the start. I hated every, single day, every single minute of nursing #3. You guys are great parents. Alora is beautiful. And I’m standing here in North Carolina doing everything I can to cheer you on. Congratulations, Cody & Heather!

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