We did a mini photo shoot back in April and I can't believe how much Alafair has already changed since then. I would have posted them sooner, but we got the final edits back on the same day we found out we had to stop breastfeeding and they kind of just got buried in the mess of life. But...I love them!! Thank you Opal + Olive Photography!
Yesterday you turned 28 weeks, and even though the calendar says you're not 7 months for another couple weeks, I'm saying you've been with us now for 7 whole months. I've been waiting to write this first letter most of that time because I wanted it to be a letter full of nothing but joy. But I'm realizing I can't write that letter until I get this letter out of the way. I have to tell you how hard it's been first--for us, for Alice, but mostly I imagine, for you.
Things with you went South pretty much immediately (if we're being honest, they've been hard since you were about 8 weeks in utero). You failed your hearing screening in the hospital (but passed a month later). You have severe reflux and gastrointestinal problems, including possible micro aspirations and bleeding intestines. You have struggled desperately with latch from the beginning. We have had your tongue tie clipped, taken you to THREE different physical therapists, done mouth exercises at home, seen a chiropractor, a naturepath, two different pediatricians, an allergist, and a gastroenterologist. You've had over 35 physical therapy appointments, 15 visits to the doctor's office, 12 visits to the lactation nurses, and one visit to the ER. This means that in just 196 days of being alive, you've attended over 63 appointments, and that doesn't even include the countless phone and email consultations we've had on top of that. You've tolerated an allergy panel, having blood drawn, multiple rectal exams (to gain stool samples), countless weigh-ins on cold, hard scales, abdominal palpitations, a bout with thrush, a nasty head cold right in the middle of sleep training, and a constant barrage of medicines. In an effort to make the breast milk easier to digest, I've done a total elimination diet that consists of turkey, rice, potatoes, millet, and pears. Over time I've added back in avocado, bananas, oatmeal, and chicken. To say I'm starving is not just a turn of phrase, but a literal truth, as my clothes grow larger by the day. For three months you could only latch on one side so I pumped the other side for you. Your stomach was so angry all the time that we never put you down. You woke up to eat every 30-45 minutes for five and a half straight months. The only way you could get any sleep was if you were held almost straight up and down. Your dada spent the winter walking the dark and snowy/rainy streets with you at 3 in the morning while you wailed miserably. And while this has been unimaginably hard for us, I can't help but think it's been a million times worse for you.
Not one, but THREE medical professionals have told us you are “the most difficult baby” they've ever met in their careers. The first was a physical therapist who told me she used every trick she's ever learned in 50 years of practice on you, to no avail. She also said you are the loudest baby she's ever heard. Then your pediatrician told us you were the most challenging baby to treat in her entire career. And then the lactation nurse said you were the most difficult to feed baby she’s ever met. YES!!!! WE WIN!!! Hearing something like that as a parent is both validating and horrifying at the same time. I have to admit though, I feel a perverse sense of pride in this somehow, especially the scream volume. I mean, here you are, only 7 months old winning awards and breaking records all over the place! Way to be committed, baby girl.
We've aggressively pursued every possible course of treatment we could for you, both traditional and voodoo. I've had many people, including medical professionals, tell me to just give up breastfeeding, which I've refused to do. ….Until this afternoon, when I was advised that it's medically necessary (practically mandatory) for your survival. There is literally nothing left to try, and in the past month you have only gained an average of 1.6 grams per day when you should be gaining between 10-15 grams per day. Additionally, if we continue down this path, we run the risk of creating lifelong food allergies, rather than just the sensitivities that you should be able to outgrow. This was devastating news, not only because I've fought so hard for breastfeeding, but also because you are still suffering so much.
At the moment, I am literally sick with grief. I am nauseous, my head hurts, and I can't breathe from the sobbing. It is 4 in the morning and I am lying here wondering how you will know that I love you. I was already forced to take you out of my bed and now I am being forced to cold turkey wean you at the age of 7 months, a solid year before I even planned to think about such things. So how will you know??
A while back, a very dear friend jokingly called me a witch when referencing my power to influence her cycles whenever I'm around her. It made me laugh, and I've started to think of you as my tiny witch, with your fiery disposition and Earth-shattering howls. As your physical therapist so aptly put it, you experience ALL emotions with a greater intensity than the rest of us (this is one reason I love her).
I summarize all this not to complain, but to illustrate how hard it's been for you. We came home from that appointment today with a plan to finally get you on the right track. To the detriment of your health, I nursed you one last time and these were the things I thought about as we sat there together. You were so tired and fell asleep on the breast so I just held you and watched your sweet face, your tiny fingers resting on my chest. My heart breaks that we are losing this moment far too soon. It breaks more that you are suffering. Your doctor has suggested we try this for two weeks and then try breast milk again to see how you react so we could potentially return to breastfeeding. But we both know in our hearts that this is the answer for you and that this was the last time.
You are reacting to the proteins in the milk, which are impossible to completely remove from human milk. The milk I'm producing also isn't fatty enough--not hard to believe given my diet restrictions. And because you can't seem to just catch a break, this transition is proving to be hard too. Formula tastes bad apparently, and you do NOT like it. If I thought sitting through our final breastfeeding session was hard, I had no idea how hard it would be to watch you struggle against the bottle after. And then at bedtime, you anxiously nibbled on my shoulder as you usually do and I had to turn you over for another fight with the bottle and let you go to bed hungry. I can't bear it that I can't explain to you why this is better. And I can't bear it that all of these “better” things we've had to do feel like the worst things.
And that's maybe why I can't write the letter of joy first. Because even though there has been joy, it's also been the single most challenging period of my life on all possible levels. I grieve for you and your health problems. I grieve for us as a family and the stress this has put on us as a unit. I grieve for Alice and what I thought was going to be a difficult adjustment to a new sibling, has been so much more as both her parents try desperately to balance an impossible situation. I grieve for myself, and having to give up control over the way I'd prefer to do things with you. The single most fundamental human relationship--a mother nursing her child--is causing you harm and I feel powerless to help you.
And yet... despite this PROFOUND grief...if I look deep within myself it's abundantly clear that I'm not remotely powerless. We've done this together, you and I. To call this a struggle is to call a tiger a kitten. And even though my brain keeps skipping back to, “but what if we tried X instead,” my heart knows the way forward, even as it grieves. Because one thing is clear, when you don't feel like total crap, you are joy incarnate. You are starlight and pure golden sunlight wrapped all in one. Who wouldn't want more of that? So, we will keep doing the worst things in pursuit of starlight. We will cry together, for different reasons. And hopefully you will start to get better, and we will both have fewer tears. And you will still know, my sweet, most treasured, Tiny Witch, in every cell of your body, even without breastfeeding, that my love for you runs from a place so deep, so profound, and so fierce even I can't fathom. You will know. And we will have light.
After a SINGLE day on formula, you are an entirely different human. There were mercifully no more battles over the bottle today and you were consistently in a good mood nearly the entire day. It is clear that you already felt better. We are ALL holding our breath that this is just the beginning of better times to come.
She came to us in the ice storm of the century down in New Orleans. In a flurry of broken pipes, frozen floods, fertility drug-induced insanity, and a last ditch try before giving up in the name of self (and existing family) preservation.
But there she was, after a year and a half of letdowns and heartbreak, a little blue plus sign on a cold and sunny January morning. Doing Mardi Gras before she was even born. All 3 of us ran around dancing with joy.
Then a fire on a Friday night. Four days before her arrival. It will be impossible to ever separate the two events in my mind. I'd been having contractions all day that came to a screeching halt the moment I stepped into the upstairs hallway and saw two story flames shooting out of the garage. As we sat across the street under the incongruously festive lights of someone's graduation party waiting to see if our house would be saved, I felt her retreat. Back up into my lungs, as far as she could go. I didn't blame her, I wouldn't want to come out in that mess either.
There was nothing for the next couple days. Not even the frequent Braxton Hicks I'd previously been having for months. On Tuesday morning I got up to pee and didn't quite make it to the bathroom in time. Just one more unmentionable indignity of pregnancy. It took me until after 5 pm to realize MAYBE I hadn't been peeing myself the entire day and I should possibly call our Doula. She advised me to call our doctor, who then told me to go immediately in to L&D triage where they could test to see if my water had broken, and then imprison us in the hospital once confirmed. We decided to sit down and have dinner first.
Leaving that evening was a bittersweet moment. Pregnancy had been brutal. I was more than ready. But it was the first night I'd ever spend away from Alice since her birth. And the last time we'd be a family of 3. Later, in the wee small hours of the morning, when a nurse walked in to find me sobbing, she hurriedly checked my vitals, then finding nothing going on, sat down and told me stories of her grown babies.
In triage they confirmed my water had in fact broken. They sent us out to walk the halls of the hospital for one hour to see if things would get going. It was 11 pm. We spent the time trying to answer calls and emails about the fire, getting stuff set up for our absence over the next few days. We walked the Hall of Ridiculous Maternity Photos, and The Hall of Premies. And even though we still barely know anyone in this town, we ran into our old neighbor, who stood there telling us all about his new place, his terrible roommates, his parking situation, never once asking us what we were doing in a hospital hallway at midnight or even seeming to notice when I'd double over to breathe through a contraction. Upon our return to triage, with still not much going on, the nurse informed us they would move us over to L&D and, “sleep” us for the night. Um…. excuse me?! “Oh, that means we'll just let you sleep.”
Around 7 that morning, our doctor, with whom we'd carefully cultivated a relationship with for months, the person who was supposed to get us through this delivery without repeating the damage from our first, apologetically told us she had to leave at noon and would likely not be able to deliver us. This was a devastating blow. And while we had a pretty loose birth plan with lots of room built in for flexibility, things were NOT going even a tiny bit according to plan:
Instead of laboring at home like we did last time, we spent the night in an austere hospital room, not really sleeping, and not really laboring either. Instead of having the reassuring presence of a well known doctor, we were going to get someone we'd never even met before. Instead of being relaxed and focused on our upcoming birth, I was busy making sure every nurse who walked in the room all night didn't turn off the lights because I was afraid of the dark since the fire. Instead of being at home just snuggling my girl I was at the hospital about to have another girl! What the hell had I been thinking a year ago!?
Our Doula, Heather, urged me to shove it all aside and focus on the task at hand, to which I MAY have replied, “F**k no, I'm so mad!” I could tell this was not the response she'd expected. And even though she was right, I didn't care. I informed her that for the next 20 minutes I was going to have a Bad Attitude and she could get out of my face--another statement she likely hadn't been expecting. To her credit, she just rolled with it. Our nurse, Jennifer, found a continuous string of reasons to be in the room, most likely interested to see how this was going to play out.
I took the time to be sad and grieve unmet expectations. Then 20 minutes later, with Heather practically counting down the seconds, I pushed all the crap (mostly) outside that hospital room door, brought my mind back to the present, and at 10 a.m. we began.
While it had been progressing steadily already, labor seemed to really pick up at that point. An hour and a half later, while sitting in a tub of warm water, I called for the epidural.
Here's the thing about the epidural though. You have to give them 45 minutes. They have to get an entire bag of IV fluids in you for safety reasons. So while your brain has already given up and made the switch, you have to make it though 45 more minutes of pain. And then you have to sit STOCK. STILL. while someone puts a needle in your spine.
It was during this time that I almost broke Andy's finger. And while I think he was exaggerating, he did have tears in his eyes, and it wasn't out of sympathy for me. I remember retreating at this point, beyond all awareness of anything but pain. I remember sitting with my eyes closed, dimly aware of hands all over my body trying to help me through a contraction. So many hands. How many people were actually in this room? I didn't care.
And then it took the anesthesiologist THREE tries to get the epidural placed correctly. If there wasn't a risk of lifelong paralysis, I would have turned around and stabbed her in the eye with the epidural needle.
Once the epidural was finally in place and starting to take effect, the Kiwi's heart rate dropped, along with my blood pressure. Within moments I had an oxygen mask strapped on and they were rolling me to a different side. This was the moment during Alice's birth where it all went wrong. Andy and I looked at each other in disbelief. There was no possible way the SAME thing was happening again.
The Kiwi didn't respond and Jennifer ordered everyone to get me flipped up on to my hands and knees, no small feat when you can't feel anything below the waist. When my blood pressure still didn't recover, she jammed a shot of ephedrine into my leg. Andy and I worked on not panicking. Within minutes everyone stabilized and we were able to settle in for the wait.
Heather urged me to nap since I hadn't slept in days, but I didn't feel sleepy. A few hours later, when it was nearing time to push, I finally started falling asleep between the great pressure of contractions. Maybe I could just nap this baby out.
The epidural wasn't so strong that I couldn't feel pressure so I was able to direct the energy after some coaching. I had to ask for instructions after the first contraction, realizing that we really didn't do this part the first time around with Alice. Even though I was working hard, it was a really relaxed and calm atmosphere. We chatted and laughed between contractions. There was no sense of urgency or fear. And when, after about an hour of pushing, Dr. King laid her on my chest, all the stuff that came before ceased to matter. Here she was at last.
Alafair Bea Svilar Finley Newlin. September 26, 2018. 6:03 p.m. 8 lbs 15 oz 19.5” Our hard-won baby girl, born of fire and ice.
Who are we kidding? There's no way this is actually going to get updated daily.