31 for 21 Challenge – Day Seven
Charlie is thirteen months and eight days old today. Today will also mark a big transition between us as mother and baby. It seems as though we are both ready to stop nursing.
Why is this significant? For a number of reasons. When Charlie was first born I will forever remember one of the lactation consultants telling me “he may have a good suck now, but after about two weeks ‘they’ (meaning babies with Down syndrome) always loose the ability.” This was upsetting for a number of reasons. The first and most obvious, was that she shared this bit of ‘wisdom’ with me only one day after I had just given birth to my second son and learned that he had Down syndrome. Not to mention that just a few hormones were racing through my body.
She obviously didn’t realize who she was talking to. I’m a bit stubborn and when I make up my mind, I’m going to do things my way. And my mind was made up, I was going to breastfeed my second son for one year – diagnosis or not. Just like I did with Henry. Period. End of discussion.
That stubborn streak also was revealing a new side of me – almost animal instinct – I would do anything, only the best – to protect and care for my new son. He may have Down syndrome, but he will be the best darn kid with Down syndrome ever. And in my mind that meant breastfeeding for one year, exclusively.
There were a few things along the way that I didn’t count on. Charlie did have a weak suck, and would often fall asleep when nursing. This caused my supply to dip. He also spit up almost everything that went in. For the first eight months of his life, Charlie always had a bib on and a burp rag near. All my clothes had stains on the shoulders.
I don’t remember exactly how many visits we took to the pediatricians office for weight checks, but we were on a first-name basis with everyone, and no – our doctor didn’t offer frequent flier miles. We were eventually connected with a home nurse that visited us and would weigh Charlie on a regular basis. But Charlie’s weight would always dip or hover at the same numbers on the scale. He wasn’t really reaching many of the gross motor milestones we were working on during his therapy appointments. He tired easily. And he seemed uncomfortable.
At six months, when Charlie was stuck at 10 pounds even, we checked him (and me) into the hospital for one week. He had been diagnosed with ‘failure to thrive.’ I can assure you that in my mind the only ‘failure’ was his mom.
I would love to be able to recount all of the details of those months, to write about how we were dealing with our son not gaining and even loosing weight. I could go into great detail about GERD, which meds we tried, and why I eventually decided that I wasn’t comfortable with any of the meds that had been prescribed for Charlie. There were countless visits to the lab for blood-work and then there was that one afternoon spent dreading the phone call from the doctor. Charlie’s white blood cell count was off – and leukemia is very common in babies with Down syndrome. He had an upper G-I series and x-rays. A visit to Seattle Children’s – we did everything but uncovered nothing.
I could talk about what I did to keep my milk supply up – think lots of herbs and pumping (3-4 times a day) – in addition to nursing a baby 8-10 times a day and keeping up with a toddler. How I wore a ‘supplemental nursing system’ or SNS around my neck for weeks. I even had friends that understood how important breastmilk was for Charlie, and they pumped and shared their own milk. There is no doubt that most of the details have become foggy. Many of the parts don’t seem relevant now. But I do know that there was a turning point.
I was finally able to let go. I was able to see that the world wouldn’t end if my baby had some formula (and that I was not a failure as a result.) To realize that I wasn’t really the one in control of the situation – it was then and only then – that Charlie and I were able to hit it off. We were then able to have just a ‘normal’ nursing relationship between mother and baby. No weight checks, pumps, bottles, supplements, or other exams. Just knowing that Charlie was doing his thing – growing at his own rate – and that I was doing mine – giving him the best nutrition that I could as his mom.
It may seem like a small or silly thing to others. But to me, that simple and age-old act of bonding, nurturing and feeding your baby is a blessing. It helped me to slow down. To take the time to just be with my new son, just looking at him. To just see a baby with his mom, no diagnosis dominating the moment. When we were nursing it was just us, doing something so simple during a time that seemed so complex.
I will miss that special time of bonding and connecting with Charlie, but I know that we are starting a new phase. One where he will be a bit more independent, but I will always cherish those thirteen months and eight days when he was as dependant on me as I on him.
Monday we went to visit the nutritionist and Charlie now weighs 16 pounds 8 ounces and is 27 inches long! Wohoo! We might even have to start thinking about ditching the infant car seat! Although his is still officially a peanut (and is way down on the percentage scale for both ‘normal’ and DS kids) the nutritionist was very pleased with his steady growth overall.