Earlier this week it became official that I’m going back to work on September 19, just a few days after Lillian’s sixth month birthday. It’s bittersweet of course. On the one hand, it’s wonderful that Lillian is doing well enough that I can return to work, and we can get back to life as planned. On the other hand, it’s a little cruel for me that after months of worry and watching my baby struggle, just as Lillian is finally healthy and able to experience fun, new adventures, I have to leave her and let other caregivers enjoy the good times ahead with her.
A couple months ago, the thought of leaving Lillian with other caregivers was a motivating factor that led to me finding the Austrian experts at No Tube. In preparation for going back to work, I started trying to leave Lillian for short stretched of time with her grandparents, who will be watching her when I go back to work. It was complicated trying to train them to use the feeding pump equipment while at the same time keeping Lillian as comfortable and content as possible. There had to be all these rules–keep one hand on her connection with the feeding pump at all times so it didn’t pop open and release all her stomach contents (it did many times anyway), keep her upright at all times and don’t let her stomach get compressed, hold her just the way she likes to be held (which required herculean stamina), sing her favorite song, try to give her the pacifier but do it just right or it gagged her, and on and on. We couldn’t let her cry because if she cried she would almost inevitably throw up, and if she threw up she wouldn’t gain weight. For a while I could usually get her through feeds by following all the rules, but it was hard for others, at times even Dave. When it got to the point that even I couldn’t get her through without crying, vomiting, or both, something had to give. I stopped even trying to leave her and also stopped sleeping. I started looking for resources for how to make tube feeding better for her, but as I read No Tube’s website and blogs of parents who has successfully weaned their children, I started to dream and I also started to wake up. Tube feeding wasn’t working for us. All the rules in the universe about how to manage Lillian perfectly during a feed wasn’t going to keep her from vomiting. It was just going to make us all go crazy and feel like failures.
Taking care of Lillian is so much easier now. With the bottle, there really isn’t much to worry about. Lillian can get herself into whatever position she likes. Often that involves hanging her head backwards over my arm and dangling partly upside down while she drinks. It looks weird, but hey it works for her (I think it’s because she likes to see out but the bottle blocks her view–better upside down then obstructed by a bottle I guess). After she drinks her milk, there’s no long waiting period for all the things she can’t do. I mean if you play airplane with her immediately after she gulps down four ounces, you might be a little sorry, but nothing like before. So leaving her is no longer hard for the old reasons. But I’m finding it’s still hard for the regular reasons it’s hard for a parent to leave a baby. For one reason, Lillian is starting to experience separation anxiety, especially around going down for naps after I’ve been away from her. For another, she obviously doesn’t get the same consistency of care when others are watching her. And both those concerns make it hard for some of the old reasons as well. We still need Lillian to gain weight. Her weight still lags her height and average for her age by a lot, and it will take months of steady weight gain to overcome that. We also have it hanging over our heads that her GI doctor will only remove her tube after three months of “excellent” weight gain.
So today when I left Lillian for two hours to get my hair cut, I felt good about leaving her because I wasn’t worried about tubes popping open or her vomiting up her feed and crying inconsolably. I finally felt like I could relax a little. And she did well while I was gone, except that she only drank 60 mL over a span of time she would have ordinarily taken two to three times that for me. When I tried to put her down for an overdue nap she cried and held her arms out for me and wouldn’t stop until I got her up and held her. Being overtired also makes Lillian refuse her bottle. By the end of the night, even though I got her to take two more four ounce bottles, she was still several hundred millilitres short of where she normally is by bedtime. Tonight when we weighed her, there was no gain. Outcomes like this are inevitable when a baby’s routine is thrown off, and under normal circumstances, no big deal. Hopefully she just bounces back with a bigger appetite tomorrow. But of course I worry about what the upheaval of my going back to work will mean for Lillian, both for her long term weight gain and her sense of well-being. Leaving her is possible now, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy.