Disclosures to this post:
1. The percentile charts (I didn’t know this til I had a baby) are based on 100 babies. If you’re in the 20th percentile you’re bigger than 19 other babies. If you’re in the 1st percentile you’re the smallest baby there is (out of 100).
2. The midwives at the Birth Center and the doctors/nurses at TVC are all awesome folks.
3. The Public Health Center in Fairbanks has a program (that is run by the State of Alaska) of Public Health Nurses that are Lactation Consultants. These women are AMAZING: calm, supportive and incredibly devoted to keeping babies breastfed. The Lactation Consultants do home visits (so if you just had a baby and can’t walk ]they just come to you), will meet with you weekly for months (Hey Valerie!) and the best part? This program is absolutely free. I can not say enough good things about the Lactation Consultants or recommend more that new moms go see them. These women are some serious unsung heroes of Fairbanks and this program deserves all the positive press that it can get. Do you know a Lactation Consultant? Go hug them and then thank them for their work.
Baby GHM is a tiny baby (currently rocking the 5th percentile for her age) and that has been a source of intense stress for the last few weeks. I remember when Mina over at Bunchberry Farms wrote about how she realized she only wrote about (mostly) positive stuff on her blog and that she didn’t write when she was confused or scared or feeling trapped. I loved that post because it’s so true, it’s hard to be vulnerable to the void (especially because my pet peeve from the fashion bloggers that I love/hate to follow is their “Guys, even though I talk mostly about fashion and hot yoga/running and I almost exclusively post photos of myself wearing sponsored clothing, my life is still really hard and I sometimes fight with my boyfriend so stop criticizing me for how I choose to portray myself on my blog.” posts). I feel that it’s important to own yourself and your choices. Posts like the aforementioned odd fashion blogee post just sound super whiney to me, and I think for less insecure, more self aware folks who also blog there’s a hesitation to come across as whiney or as needing affirmations for something that you’re comfortable having chosen (having a baby, living on a burgeoning Farmstead etc.)
But Baby GHM’s weight. Baby GHM was born with an average weight of 7 lbs, 11 oz. She fell down below her birth weight (as is normal) and then, at her three week check-up, was still almost 1/2 pound below her birth weight. The midwives at the Birth Center (where I was going for her weight checks) were super concerned and calling the Public Health Nurses to set up an appointment with a lactation consultant and recommending I see a pediatrician because, well, something might be wrong.
The most frustrating and overwhelming part of being a new, first-time parent (for me) is that you don’t know what you don’t know. I had been completely oblivious to the fact that Baby GHM not gaining her birth weight back was not normal and the midwives in, I think, an attempt to hypothetically calm me down (when I didn’t know to be worrying) had downplayed her slow weight gain for the first two weeks. But all of a sudden it was a really big deal and I needed to see people and this could be a sign of something bad but no one is going to say that out loud and so we’re just going to vaguely refer to the idea that something could be really wrong. Immediately the situation went from a .05 on my worry scale (“Lu hasn’t gotten her birth weight back, bummer…”) to an 11.5 (“I HAVE BEEN STARVING MY BABY FOR WEEKS”) and I went out to the car, drove to Maple’s work and cried (get used to this theme, it repeats for weeks).
The second must frustrating and overwhelming part of being a new, first-time parent (for me) is that, when something is not going quite as it should, all care providers, be they nurses, midwives or doctors, all want you to be aware/concerned enough that you treat this as an issue that needs to be watched and take priority, but no one wants to give you a false diagnosis or tell you something incorrect, so all the information you get is super vague, slightly ominous and incredibly stressful to a hormonal, sleep deprived, new mom. I don’t want to come across as down on service providers, they can’t make people do anything so they need to stress all the reasons you want to do what they’re telling you to do, but man does it mess with you. I mean, you have this beautiful little baby and all you want to do is protect him/her from everything and anything and all of a sudden something is wrong, or might be, you don’t know, but you should definitely watch it and let someone know if something different happens, that could be a good sign, or not (but maybe?) and let’s ask some open-ended questions that don’t really have a right/wrong answer so that you can obsess about your answers and the minute reactions to them until your next appointment. This is when you start to get a little obsessively upset and consumed by all bad stress.
Luckily my sister was in town and she was absolutely awesome in joining Maple that night in assuring me that 1. Baby GHM was not going to succumb to starvation overnight and, 2. Everything was going to be okay. Maple did some research (because he’s wonderful) and found that it’s recommended that new parents go see lactation consultants in the first few days after their babies are born. At the hospital they have lactation consultants on hand but we didn’t have our baby at a hospital and no one had told us to go see a lactation consultant. As frustrating as that was to figure out at week three (when things weren’t going well) you don’t know what you don’t know.
The next day I saw a lactation consultant named Valerie. I got into her Office, got out that Baby GHM was not quite at birth weight yet and promptly broke down crying. After assuring me that our baby was not starving, that I was doing everything okay, that everything was going to be okay, that Baby GHM looked fine (just tiny) and that it was not too late to keep breastfeeding, Valerie watched me nurse, complimented me on my milk supply (I could seriously be a wet nurse) and we weighed Baby GHM again. During one nursing session our little baby had gained 1.5 ounces! Valerie pointed out that this meant that everything was working, we just needed to fine-tune things. I started crying again, but this time out of happiness, my baby was okay and not going to slowly wither away in front of me. At this same appointment Valerie also saw that Baby GHM potentially had a posterior tongue latch (where the tongue fuses to the bottom of the mouth) and that this might be the issue. Nursing had been really painful up to this point but I had heard from everyone that nursing was super painful. True, the pain didn’t seem to be abating at all but wasn’t that normal? Turns out, no, it wasn’t. Again, you don’t know what you don’t know. Maple and myself immediately set up an appointment with a pediatrician who specialized in tongue-ties.
Long story short, Baby GHM did have a tongue tie and it was snipped that day (FYI: all things medical involving the tongue has not changed since roughly 1545. How does one get rid of a tongue tie? One immobilizes the tiny baby, pries it’s little tongue up with essentially a mini-mini-pitchfork and cuts the base of the tongue with scissors. All this while your baby is screaming and bleeding. It’s awful.) Luckily we saw a Doctor who was calm, patient and had done thousands of tongue-ties. His calmness (combined with Valerie’s calmness and confidence in me) helped me put everything in (a slightly better) perspective. The real worry about catching a tongue tie so late (after almost a month) he told me, is that I would get discouraged about nursing due to the pain and the slow weight gain and switch over to formula. I had honestly forgotten that formula was even an option, that’s how far down the convinced-that-my-baby-is-wasting-away-in-front-of-me-wormhole I was.
With a newly snipped tongue and a renewed sense of determination Baby GHM and I got through another week only to have another disappointing weigh-in at the Health Center. Babies are supposed to gain, at the very least, a 1/2 oz a day. Baby GHM was consistently gaining just under that and falling down the height/weight chart at a precipitous rate (hanging out in the 1st – 2nd percentile). Instead of crying this time I just fell into a stress depression and was getting super discouraged. How could my baby not be gaining weight?!? I leaked milk constantly, she ate constantly, she peed/pooped as much as she was supposed to, she didn’t spit up constantly…what was wrong?!? Even the lactation consultants seemed a little baffled and instructed me to up my feedings to every two hours. Around the clock.
Another week. Another disappointing weigh-in. Baby GHM was a week shy of two months old and, though she had finally reached her birth weight, she had, in those seven weeks, only gained an ounce and a half past her birth weight.
During these two weeks I wandered around in a sleep-deprived stress fog. And the worst part? All the people in public who couldn’t wait to tell me just how tiny my baby was. The biggest lesson I have learned from all this (besides that everyone should go see a lactation consultant, immediately) is that, while it’s easy and tempting to comment on whatever is unique about a baby (“Oh, she has such a big head!”, “Wow, your baby has so much hair!”) the only thing you ever need to say, ever, about an infant is, “You have such a beautiful baby.” because that affirmation is the only thing that a new, stressed parent needs to hear.
Don’t get me wrong, I was guilty of this in the past but I have learned my lesson the hard way. It’s already hard when you’re constantly stressed/focused on something that isn’t going right with your baby, but when complete strangers ask you if your baby is premature, well, you just lock yourself in the bathroom and cry. I can’t count how many people have told me some variation of, “Two months?? You have such a tiny baby!” Trust me, I know my baby is tiny. In fact I could tell you exactly how much she weighs and how much she’s weighed for the last three weeks as well as what percentile she’s in and the last time she ate. I feed her every two hours constantly and am stressed and even more sleep deprived than usual. I know she’s tiny, trust me.
As Valerie told me, and I have taken this to heart, every parent has something they’re worrying about, no one is immune. Some parents have kids with allergies, some have kids with potential hereditary issues, Baby GHM and I had weight. And weight is actually almost an easier thing (than, say, allergies) because one can supplement with formula and it’s not the end of the world.
Another week, another weigh-in where she had gained (with two hour, round-the-clock nursings), 3/4 of an ounce a day, falling further down the percentiles. At this point, Valerie and I figured out that I had been counting my hours wrong (say it with me, you don’t know what you don’t know) and I had been counting two hours from the end of each nursing session (so I finished at 1:30, don’t feed her again til 3:30). Instead I was supposed to be feeding her at every even or odd hour (Noon, 2 PM, 4 PM etc.) Guess what takes up all day? When your baby nurses from 2:00-2:40 and then at 4:00 you get to go nurse her again.
I was back at work full-time at this point and trying to work amid constant nursings. The only way I got through these two weeks (aside from the constant, calming and unconditional support of Maple) was that my father and my sister-in-law were both visiting for two weeks. One of the two came with me to work ever day and would take Baby GHM the whole day, bringing her back every two hours to nurse. I think them being present, and literally taking some of the stress away, was the only reason I was able to stick with it. Even so, towards the end of their visit, after another disappointing weigh-in, I would just nurse and cry. I felt so hopeless and discouraged. I was doing everything I was supposed to do, why was it not working?? Was it because I had been counting the times wrong for weeks? Was it because I went back to work too fast? Was it because I wasn’t talking/reading/interacting with the baby enough?
Then, two weeks ago, Baby GHM and I had another weigh-in (we were up to twice a week) and, just prior to this appointment I had had a talk with myself in the parking lot. If Baby GHM hadn’t gained above the minimum weight I was going to the store and going to buy some formula. I couldn’t be this stressed all the time. I needed to sleep. While I didn’t want my stubbornness to hurt Baby GHM my stubbornness was starting to hurt me and I couldn’t be a good parent to my baby if I wasn’t taking care of myself. I don’t know if it was that I finally gave up trying to control the situation or what but we went in and Baby GHM had gained 7 ounces in three days. I don’t know what did it because I certainly didn’t do anything different, but something finally clicked for her. I hugged Valerie and my baby and felt like a thousand pound weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
I put off writing this all down for a week because I needed to make sure that Baby GHM gaining weight was not a fluke but a consistent thing. So far it looks like she’s holding onto the fifth percentile making her a small (but not critically small) baby. At her two month check-up she was perfectly proportional which meant she was just a small, healthy baby.
When I was going into the wormhole of stress about Baby GHM’s weight one of the things that helped me most was venting to and reading words from one of my friends, another mom who had struggled with her baby’s slow weight gain. Just reading the words of someone else saying, “It was hell and awful and I don’t have any great advice – we just stuck with it and eventually it got better.” was helpful to me. When you’re struggling it’s nice to talk to others who have struggled as well.
Now that our baby’s weight is increasing on the chart (and we’re on the chart) and I’m sleeping for one 4-5 hour chunk at night everything looks stable again. I’m sure we’ll be thrown another curve ball again in the next while (parenting being shorthand for “signing up for an indefinite amount of years of worrying about things you can’t necessarily control but you will do your best because you love your child”) but, for now, things are going well and I’m relishing that.
To sum up:
1. Hug lactation consultants.
2. Hug your support network.
3. Hug yourself. We all carry burdens of different sizes and weights at different times. You are doing the best you can in this circumstance and your best is enough.
Cheers and Love,
Maple and Me