Waiting for Agnes

Just another WordPress.com site

Fun parent has left the building February 9, 2011

Grab your cup of tea and a large snack. This will not be brief.

Here I was almost six months ago, mother of a one year old who had zero interest in expanding his diet, and wrestling with the questions of follow versus lead, surrender versus control. My enthusiasm to embrace small’s transition to toddlerhood and our family’s transition out of the hazy circus of babyhood meant that the pendulum tipped to lead and control. And for a time all was well. Somewhat smugly, I felt I had achieved quite a coup: the small one ate a small amount of food and continued to breastfeed a large amount of the time. Huzzah  for extended breastfeeding thought I. Time whooshed by. My work hours stretched into two days a week, the beloved’s compressed to three or four. At some point, small let go of his hatred of bottles and cups. Freedom! The beloved could give him expressed milk and no longer had to plan their day strategically around small being brought in to work for a breastfeed. We could even (gasp!) go out without him, just the two of us.  Just look at us go! Embracing change left and right! Ah, the maturity.

Summer arrived, rainy, humid. Ate a lot of ice cream, lurched onto the mad pre-Christmas treadmill of catching up with friends, worked a bit, got chiropracted a lot (yes, well, if other people can make up words, I don’t see why I can’t join in), got sucked into the shopping frenzy, and expended a lot of energy secretively hiding and wrapping presents. And some time in there the small one just kind of stopped eating again. One day I realised I was still carrying around food for him every day, still offering him three meals plus snacks, but that it was all going uneaten. He was toying with his cereal, having the odd rice bubble or bran flake, crumbling his previously beloved fruit bars and mooshing them into the furniture, turning his nose up at toast, hiding his dinner under an upturned bowl, not really ever eating. He was breastfeeding as much as ever, maybe more, with night feeds escalating wildly to the point where once he grabbed on he wouldn’t let go until dawn. Bloody hell it was exhausting. What to do? I stopped expressing at work, reasoning that a drop in supply might increase his appetite for the alternative. I tried to reinject a little stability in his day, making sure we were at home for mealtimes and sleeps, not varying the food too much.  In the new year I made just one resolution: to night wean.


Oy, the trepidation. I had toyed with the idea of night weaning for a while, longing for sleep like a strung out addict. I talked at all and sundry about it. Predictions were dire and unanimous…night weaning and bed-sharing would not be compatible, small would not be off the boob until he was out of our bed and he wouldn’t get out of our bed until he was out of our room and presumably wouldn’t be out of our room until he bought his own house some time in 2039. What the hell, I thought. Can only give it a go. I struck a deal with the small one – you can have all the cuddles you want, all night, but it’s last drinks at 10pm then the bar will reopen when it is light outside. Miraculously, with just one night of outraged shrieking, we succeeded. Yes, he may sleep on my head, or at least on 70% of my pillow, and do a bit of break dancing and occasional squawking through the night, but it’s surprisingly easy to sleep with a toddler on your head and not on your breast. He even stopped the hopeful groping after a few nights. Smug parenting moment. Sleep. Bliss. But mysteriously no increase in appetite. Still no eating. And still attached to the breast at any opportunity through the day. It dawned on me one day that whenever I was stationary, he’d come for me like a homing missile. My latest theory is that the breastfeeding weight loss starts when you start running away from your toddler.

And then it was January. Lazy, sandy, lolling January. Still no eating. No talking. And not really growing much either. And then he got a virus, not a bad virus, just persistent enough for us to go to the GP. Unsurprisingly the GP said ‘small is too small, take him to a paediatrician…really, it won’t be that bad, he won’t bite you’. Coming not long after the new and disliked maternal child health nurse snippily said ‘well, I have to tell you to see a paediatrician, even if you won’t go’ and right on the back of a close friend having the courage to tell us that she didn’t think all was well with small and his food strike, it was the straw that broke this mama’s resolve. I’d grown hardened to the insensitive, offhand and sometimes plain ridiculous comments coming from any old schmo in the street. It’s hard to hear but even harder to ignore it when it comes from someone who loves you and your baby dearly.

So to the paediatrician we went. Grimly prepared, list of questions in hand, contents of Blue Book virtually memorised, I felt like I was going to sit a test for which I couldn’t possibly study well enough. Yes, this could be taking a healthy wariness a little too far, but the clawing anxiety was hard to suppress. What was my worst fear? Being told ‘you must wean and give your baby formula’. And what happened? I was told ‘you must wean and give your baby formula’. It played out like so:

Me – So, I have x, y and z concerns. I’m not really concerned about his size. Genetically, he’s going to be small.

Dr Notsochatty –  (after about twenty minutes of silently examining, weighing, measuring, charting and noting developmental milestones) None of x, y or z are concerning to me at all. These things will be fine. He is too small. It’s a very simple issue – not enough calories.

Me – Why doesn’t he seem hungry? Why doesn’t he take the abundant food or drink offered to him? I assumed he would instinctively take what he needs.

Dr Tactless – He is like a baby in the 3rd world. He’s just used to not getting enough so he doesn’t ask for more.

Me – Wow. That makes me feel great. So, I have been effectively starving him for months. But he seemed so happy.

Dr Slightlyobtuse – Lethargy can look a lot like contentment. The solution is to wean and put him on toddler formula. He needs to be having (tappity tappity of calculator) one litre a day.

Me – I’m quite devastated. (trying not to embarassingly cry) I don’t want to wean him completely. I still feel there is value in breastmilk for him.

Dr Sceptical – What’s your problem with formula?

Me – Urhh. That’s not really what I have the problem with. I have a problem with weaning completely.

Dr I’mdonenow – Well don’t then. Just make sure you give the formula first. We’ll see you in 3-4 weeks. If he’s not improving we’ll look at admission to a hospital or a mother-baby unit.

Me – ……………

That was that.

I thought ‘I could fight this, I could ignore this advice and carry on waiting for small. But why did I come here? Wasn’t I ready for something to change? Yes. We have tried it small’s way and that hasn’t worked. So we’ll try this other way’. And before I could get distracted by the competing voices in my head, I stamped over to the supermarket and bought a tin of toddler formula. On the up side, it is organic.

Then we went home and I was introduced to a new side of the small person – the you-thought-I-was-stubborn-before-ha-you-aint-seen-nothing-yet side. Again I say – goddamn genetics. Since before I was pregnant I was repelled by the advice given to always dominate your child, to show them who’s in control, to wield all the power, to not give the inch for fear of losing the mile. I so dearly wanted to respect my child’s individuality, to recognise the limited ways he has to voice his own wants, to honour his right to exercise his own willpower. I didn’t want to get into power struggles with him. I wanted to negotiate peacefully…….. It’s fine. You can get up off the floor now. Wipe away the tears of laughter. Oh ho ho ho. And yes, I have met toddlers before, but obviously mine was going to be special and different. Be careful what you wish for indeed. Small obviously feels that his right to exercise his own willpower is indeed honoured.



So, the formula. The first day I managed to cram 100mls into him. It took four hours. Mainly he did angry backbends over my lap, his face contorting in his efforts to escape what was effectively waterboarding with powdered milk. God it was dreadful. Not only was I the worst mother ever, with my third world toddler, but now I was torturing him. But as the week has unfolded, things have improved. Cooperation up, bodily restraint down. And despite my scepticism, and being completely aware of my ability to rationalise any decision I’ve made, the regime is working. This week has been like watching the small one come out of hibernation. He’s more vibrant, social, curious, vocal. His concentration span has soared. His sleeping has improved out of sight. He’s incredibly affectionate. It’s amazing to watch.

Yet painful. While I’m grateful that there’s nothing wrong with him that food cannot fix, it kills me that he’s been doing without for months. It challenges my faith in extended breastfeeding. It really challenges my faith in baby-led weaning/solids. It scares me that this could have gone on for longer. It makes me feel foolish for being so, so sure of my convictions.


12 Responses to “Fun parent has left the building”

  1. Maryse Meale Says:

    Wow…. reading this brought tears to my eyes Flic. It seems to me that learning to live without guilt is the life of a parent. If it is not about their eating habbits it is about their behaviour, the clothes they wear, their haircuts (or lack thereof), their mental wellbeing, how “well” they do at school, how good they are at sport, what they plan to do when they leave school, etc, etc, etc. There is always something that we try not to feel guilty about. I think you two have done and are doing the best job with your small one. Everyone needs to do what is right for them and their child at whatever stage of life they are up to. We learn and grow from our experiences. It is what makes us human. The tragedy would be if this did not happen. Do not feel foolish, your small one is thriving and is loved ….. there are many who are not. xoxoxoxoxoxo

  2. Cecile Says:

    Hi Flick. Thanks for sharing your mother story, your challenges and your beliefs. I think you were very courageous to try another type of feeding despite your beliefs.

    I have had some doubts about prolonged breastfeeding after my breastfeeding story too. My BF dyad left me very exhausted, 7kg below my pre pregnancy weight. It followed I became depressed, sick and very obsessive. Now looking back I think I was so obsessive with my BF I completely disregarded the rest. I had to get few slaps on my face to agree I was not doing it right and decide to change the way I was doing things. It’s hard but I learnt from it as I’m sure you’ve learnt from this experience.

    I agree with your concept to respect my child’s individuality, to recognise the limited ways to voice own wants, to honour right to exercise own willpower. I try to keep it as my education philosophy. My personal learning about it led me to think my kids will be entitled to do so in accordance with the development of their wisdom. Nobody should be entitled to power without wisdom, shouldn’t it?

    At 21m old, I cannot see any wisdom at all in Emma. She could be reasonable sometimes, after weeks of praising when she behaves kindly. Most of the time she’s a wild little mammal, screaming for what she wants, without hesitation to use force and feeling no remorse. (But cute little mammal!!) I believe she doesn’t know a lot about what she wants as she doesn’t know a lot yet. So the willing has to be driven most of the time for now… At 14 y1/2 old, Marine still needs to be driven, a lot less , sure , and certainly peaceful negotiation could occur (if I’m not tired). But it seems all the neurones aren’t still all connected. I don’t know when that happens. So I think there’s still a lot of hard work, doubts, challenges, changes ahead… I suppose as parents we can only do the best we can and our kids will have to accept our mistakes as a part of their family heritage…

    • Cecile, thank you so much for sharing your story too. I really appreciate the window into your experience. It’s such an intense time, isn’t it? As it’s happening it feels like your whole world has narrowed to this one purpose. And that’s such a good point about wisdom and power coming hand in hand! Hopefully we can catch up soon with both our wild little mammals! F xoxo

  3. BLF Says:

    In 13 years time, small will eat 10 weet-bix with a litre of milk for breakfast, numerous lunchbox snacks but will not eat salad sandwich carefully prepared by you or beloved (you will find it 4 weeks later stuffed at the bottom of his school bag with 5 others). He will then come home from school, dump his bag, blazer, hockey sticks and shoes randomly throughout the house as he makes a beeline for the kitchen where he will eat 1/2 a loaf of white bread with nutella and/or peanut butter before dinner. And this food strike of his will go into family lore, and will be a story which is told repeatedly as you all amaze at exactly how much your teenage son can consume (if you still remember this time at all).

    Big picture. No more guilt.


  4. Mr A Says:

    That would’ve been tough to write. You’re a good mum. And the small one will turn out great because you both love him so much.

  5. Joanna Booth Says:

    Being a parent for the first time is a huge learning experience – you want to do the best for your child, but at the same time you have to come to terms with the fact that actually, they do need firm boundaries. and in order to become the wonderful person you envisage, they need to learn that the world does not actually revolve around them alone! Although they become the centre of your universe, basically children.teenagers/young people are immensely self-centered with no consideration of others – and this is what we all have to learn.
    In order for our small people to grow and be sociable, as my sons will testify, I believe in firm boundaries, rules and structure – the smalls who do not have these are, in a huge generalisation, those who throw tantrums at checkouts (and whose parents always give in … “because it’s easier” – oh no it isn’t, say no and mean it and the child will respect you) and because the nature of childhood is to always test how far they can push you, again, they feel safe knowing that they can go so far and no further – they can always fall back on that old excuse of “my parents won’t let me” when they need to not do something they are uncomfortable with.
    Of course I am from the next generation up and my sons are married now, but you have to strike a balance between what is good for you and what is good for the child.
    Felicity – you and Alex will be fine with your “small”, he will grow and you are fine parents. Thank you for sharing it all with the community.

    • Thanks Joanna. I’m absolutely with you on the boundaries and structure front. Different generations or not, I think our needs to learn how to live with others well, harmoniously, productively, remain the same. I guess what I’m finding challenging is judging when to firm up the boundaries, when to stop following a baby who is all ‘need need need’ and start leading a small child who is all ‘want want want’. For some reason I thought the line would be clearer!

  6. M-H Says:

    Gosh, you’ve been through a lot. It’s funny how food and feeding of children can become such an emotional issue. Well done on coming to terms with the changes; you’ll get plenty of practice at this in the years to come. My kids, in their 30s, are still surprising me.

  7. […] back a hundred years ago, in February, I wrote this lengthy post about the trials and tribulations of trying to make the small person bigger via th…. In the first few weeks following the commencement of the Forced Formula Regime things were looking […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s