Way 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 the magic of formula. In the first few weeks following the commencement of the Forced Formula Regime things were looking pretty positive. Small was drinking about half his required amount of milky toddler delight, gaining motor skills at a great rate, sleeping like a champion and generally being a happy camper. As third world baby disappeared and cheekily fiendish toddler emerged I was having a brief reprieve from feeling like the worst mother ever (and yes, I shall exaggerate as I wish).
Four weeks into the FF Regime we checked back in with Dr Tactless. Despite my previous experience of his uncharming way with words, I was feeling confident. Small was drinking! He felt like he weighed a goddamn ton! He could take off his own jumper! Win! Win! Win! Or not. Dr Tactless was underwhelmed by small’s progress and even more underwhelmed by his measly weight gain of a microgram (or something equally inadequate). The only thing he was satisfied with was the raft of blood test results, showing no malabsorption problems, no vitamin D deficiency (Ha! Suck on that Tactless. Call my baby pale indeed.), no infections and only apparently borderline low iron stores. His assessment was that the iron would come up with the increased intake of magic toddler milk (stay tuned for more on this later). His advice at this point was that we should really be trying harder to increase his intake and that we should resume trying to get him to have solids. But don’t get into a battle. Make it fun! Obviously, being pretty defective parents, we had Never Thought Of This and Just Weren’t Trying Hard Enough. Equally obviously, Tactless had forgotten having the identical conversation just four weeks before. Anyhoo, home we go to continue the FF Regime and add in a little Eat Your Goddamn Weetbix Funly. On the formula front there were no dramas, but to say that progress on the EYGWF front was slow would be an understatement. Like a dead snail trying to navigate coffee grounds. A good day would see the small one actually swallow about six teaspoons of mashed/pureed something. More would go in and then have to be fished out by the beloved or I later so that he could open his mouth again. Similarly slow was the small one’s acquisition of actual words. We had brought this up with Tactless. His response was ‘He can make sounds, he’ll speak when he’s ready. I’m not concerned.’ (Remember this folks).
So, to the utter exhaustion part. I do sense that some of you may be thinking ‘Meh. Frustrating yes, but exhausting? Really? Other people have Much Bigger Problems.’ Which is undoubtedly true, but trying to constantly rank yourself on a scale of Other People’s Problems is an endless and fruitless task. Yes, other parents have to provide full time nursing care to children with severe cerebral palsy, others need to learn how to resuscitate a baby with persistent apnoea (look it up), others just get to faff around and feed their kids chips and get their nails done. Whatever. For me, the small one’s eating is exhausting. Remember the 100mls over 4 hours bit? Extrapolate that to 800mls of formula, three attempted meals and two attempted snacks per day. My world narrowed to Feeding Small. From 5:30/6:00 o’clock in the morning to 7:30 at night, I mostly tried to feed Small. This was not fun for either of us. I could sit with him for an hour over breakfast and see him swallow two teaspoons of weetbix. And that was on a good day, if the weetbix was absolutely the perfect texture. Too thick and he’d just get all gummed up like it was brown glue. Too runny and it would be everywhere but in his belly. I would try and manage his routine so he had time each day when he wasn’t being asked to eat, when he would get to do normal toddler things like play and climb and dig in dirt. And I would bitterly watch other mothers get irritated by toddlers who constantly harass them for food. That is the day I looked forward to, when small acknowledged hunger and sought food from me. So there was no blogging, no reading of lovely trashy novels, no baking of sugary delights. If I wasn’t feeding small or trying to brighten up his day with sand and buckets, or working, or sleeping, I was slumped on the couch watching reruns of 7th Heaven, wallowing in being worst mother ever and fighting off the gnawing anxiety of destroying small’s relationship with food for life. The weight of being told – and believing – that I had caused all of this by breastfeeding too long and too much was too heavy to shrug off.
Another four weeks pass in much the same way, April begins. We return to Dr Tactless, knowing already that we’re on the brink of firing him, that we shouldn’t be seeking help from and paying someone who consistently contrives to make us feel worse about our parenting. We know better now than to go into his office feeling confident about any progress small may have made. Again his weight gain is impossibly small, although he has grown in height amazingly. Still no words. Still we are Not Trying Hard Enough. Three exchanges during this visit confirm that we are done with this man:
1. It is a warm day and we are carrying a sippy cup of water for small.
Tactless – This is what I mean. You should be taking EVERY opportunity to get calories into him. I don’t recommend offering him water at all.
Me – But he gets very constipated with only formula.
Tactless – Water is what we give people who are trying to lose weight, not gain it.
* * * * *
2. On the topic of Small’s lack of talking
Tactless – I’m very concerned that he is not talking. At this age (nineteen months) he should have at least ten words. By two he should have fifty words! And I don’t think he’s going to swallow the dictionary overnight.
Me – Four weeks ago you weren’t concerned at all about his speech, what has changed?
Tactless – Now you do know that you should talk to him?
Me – ………………
* * * * *
3. Later, also on the topic of talking
Me – Should we take him to a speech pathologist?
Tactless – Well there’s no scientific evidence to back up that sort of thing.
Me – Surely his speech and eating are connected?
Tactless – I think it’s really his personality. He’s obviously very stubborn
Hmmmmmm. Done with this man. So. Very. Done.
Despite the supposed witchcraftery of speech pathology, our next step is to find whichever coven a good one hangs out in and take the small one there. Fortuitously, The Nanna and Coach know someone who knows someone and thither we go. And she is lovely, no cat or broomstick in sight, very cheerful, very positive (oh the blessed relief!). Within ten minutes of talking through the small one’s history, watching him interact with us, watching him sign and listening to what sounds he can make, she has a preliminary diagnosis. And it is not that I have breastfed too long or too much. It is….drumroll please…… Verbal and Oral Dyspraxia. The ultra brief, layperson description is that small knows stuff (like that he has to swallow what’s in his mouth) and he can do stuff (like swallow) but the pathway between knowing and doing is disrupted and not under great voluntary control. So he’s not just the world’s most stubborn baby. And it’s not that we’re Just Not Trying Hard Enough. And whilst no parent wants there to be something wrong with their child, I am indescribably relieved. I am floating with relief. I am overjoyed to have an answer that is not simply a way of blaming me or my child for not getting it all right. Want more good news? According to the speech pathologist, even if we did nothing, small will be fine eventually, just frustrated and delayed. And the something we can do? Speech training. And as his control over speech improves, so will his control over eating and swallowing. Just like that.
Interestingly, statistics suggest 10% of children will have a form of dyspraxia. 70% of these will be boys. Even more interestingly, Dr Tactless and the speech pathologist have shared many patients with this problem. Yet he never mentioned this.
Just last week we took small off to a new paediatrician. We shall call him Dr Lovely. I have worked with Dr Lovely on many occasions and have only ever seen him treat mothers and babies with respect. Why it didn’t occur to us to go to him before, I don’t know. Anyhow, Dr Lovely’s take on small?
– Number one issue: low iron. Supplement iron and he’ll sleep, feed, concentrate and generally feel better.
– Reduce formula.
– Increase food, even if it’s the few foods he can handle, like perfectly textured weetbix, rice and all it’s derivatives, nutella and peanut butter.
– Carry on breastfeeding if we fancy.
– Unconcerned re small’s size. Actually noticed my own smallness and – shock! horror! – related that to small’s genetic potential.
Lo and behold, within one week our lives have changed again. Small is eating! Meals! With minimal peanut butter related bribery! And small is speaking! Just a few words… for example: I say “you’re a cheeky boy” and he replies “I cheechee!”. And so I continue to float with relief, unburdened of a layer of mothering guilt, delighting in the further fiendish unfolding of small’s toddlerishness. Time once enslaved to Feeding Small can instead be devoted to Keeping Small Away From The Stove and buying bigger toddler shoes and, well, blogging.
* * * * *
Stay tuned for chapter two of “A goodly four months of procrastination” – The creation of a Whole New Person.