I thought being a mom the second time around would make me immune to the freak-outs of my first time out. In some respects, it has. I'm shrugging at questions that used to plague me: Should I hold her or put her down? Will a pacifier doom my child to a lifetime of addiction? Should she sleep in bed with us? I figure these are not as make-or-break as I once assumed. She's healthy. We love her. Everything else will work itself out. But what happens when that first item--a healthy child--is in question? It turns out that I'm not as tough as I thought.
Welcome to the Snot House
When Sylvia was an infant, we lived a relatively cloistered existence. She was held by her share of friends and family. But she didn't have a walking germ-transfer organism living in her house, leaning into her face in her bouncy seat and in the breathiest voice possible, saying, "Hello, Baby! Does Baby need a kiss? Mama, Lena's looking at you! Baby, do you want to go bouncy, bouncy, bouncy? Mama, Baby's not happy."
Being free from germ contamination meant that Sylvia didn't get her first cold, of any kind, until she was a year old. That's about a year longer than we were able to get with Lena. Lena is finally over a week-long cold, complete with a rumbly smoker's cough; she got it just days after Sylvia came home from daycare with one, and then Aron and I began round 1,000 with upper respiratory symptoms since we became parents. (At one point, Aron announced that he breathed through his right nostril for the first time in weeks. Ten minutes later, he no longer could--but he was still grateful for the four or five deep breaths he was able to fit in.) We adjusted to Lena's cold without the panic we would've felt with Sylvia. The doctor said that unless she has a fever, that all we could do was wait it out. So we had humidifiers running at full-tilt, and I got very handy with the bulb syringe from the hospital--I can even do it one-handed, while nursing. It was worse at night, of course, because that's when everything is worse. After I'd nurse Lena, Aron would burp her, then put her back in her bassinet, and we'd lay there, waiting for the cough to start. The nights Sylvia was also coughing, the hacking sound echoed from her end of the hall up to Lena's bassinet, then back. It's hopefully as close as we'll get to tenement living. I wasn't happy with the state of things, and I fretted over how to keep Lena safe from Sylvia's preschooler germs. But I wasn't worried, exactly.
When I took Lena to the doctor, she was given a test for RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), a nasty procedure; the nurse had to stick a probe all the way up Lena's nostril. But I'm a tough, seasoned parent, right? So I got through it, breast at the ready for the second I had her back, and she was calm within seconds. (And the next day, we found out that she'd tested negative.) What I wasn't prepared for was the number on the scale when we weighed her: 7 lbs 15 oz. Which meant that she had gained no weight in a week, and only 4 ounces since birth. She had been gaining slowly--our pediatrician had already called us back for a weight check at two weeks--but she had been gaining, for crying out loud. Suddenly, my little mush seemed even littler than before, a fragile, tiny thing, someone who clearly needed a much less blase mother. What was I feeding her, anyway? Was my milk not fatty enough? Was I not feeding her as often as I should? Was something wrong with the way she was absorbing, or not absorbing, the milk?
That was on the inside. Externally, I nodded along and asked less hysterical questions, and tried to answer the doctor's without being defensive. I told her about how often I fed Lena, and for how long; about how much milk I produced when I pumped, and my overall sense of things--the only problem I could think of was that Lena tends to fall asleep after nursing. "It sounds like everything is going well," she said. "But I can't ignore how little she's gained." This made me gulp--she's not someone who gets hysterical about things. She suggested that during the day, I give Lena an ounce of pumped milk after each nursing session. "Maybe the switch to a bottle will wake her up," she said. She wanted us back in a week to see if things had improved.
Anyone who has nursed a baby--or struggled to nurse a baby--knows how much of a mind-game the process can be. "Milk supply"--two words fraught with anxiety for many of us, I know. The next few days were a blur of feeding and pumping. Lena would fall asleep at my breast, and I'd try to wake her up, her pink, woozy and satisfied face more like a taunt than reassurance. I'd examine the contents of a pumped bottle. Was it two ounces? Or not quite two ounces? I felt like my anxiety over the new routine, and how much she was eating, was in turn decreasing my milk supply. The few times she'd take milk from a bottle, she was then waiting longer--three hours, four--before she'd eat again. But at least when she took the bottle, the treasured "hind milk," the fattier stuff that comes later in a nursing session, was mixed in with the less-filling milk from the beginning. Sometimes she'd fall asleep only a few minutes into a meal, and I worried that she wasn't getting enough hind milk. But for all of our efforts to get her to sleep when she was crying, waking her up once she was asleep was impossible. And who would do such a thing, wake a sleeping and satisfied baby?
Relying on my instincts
So, halfway through the week, I stopped. It was making me crazy, and I didn't think it was improving the situation. All of the pumping had probably helped boost the amount of milk I was producing, I figured; and from then on, I'd just try to nurse her more frequently, and for longer. I also started simply hoping for the best. It seemed like she was eating a lot, and as her cold went away, she ate even more. I couldn't believe that when we weighed her that she wouldn't have gained.
And yes, she had. 8 pounds 4 ounces, the scale said. Not a lot, but not nothing. "I don't want you to worry," the doctor said, and I wondered if my worrying had been more apparent than I thought. We'll bring her back for her 2 month checkup, and until then, all I have to do is feed her, you know, a lot. But no more pumping unless I feel like it, and no complicated routine. As I drove home with the girls in the back, I felt a version of what Aron had described. I breathed in, deeply, for the first time in weeks.
Join writer Emily Bloch each week as she chronicles her pregnancy--and now, life with a new baby.