I stood nervously behind my midwife as she stripped the tiny sleeper off of my one-week-old daughter, removing her newborn diaper, and placed her on the scale sitting on my kitchen table. My jaw was tense, my hands balled in a fist, and I held my breath.
“She hasn’t gained weight,” my midwife said, consulting her chart.
The tension moved into my chest, where it remained like a ball of fire, fueling my panic and fear.
“How is that possible? I have been feeding her every two hours, I’m doing everything and more!” I cried out. And I was.
My third child was not feeding enough and would not gain weight, and it was becoming a cause for concern. I had never experienced this before, but suddenly I was thrust into the world of mothering a small baby who struggled with weight gain.
I knew all the tricks to get your baby to feed; strip the baby naked, stroke their cheek, tussle their hair, skin to skin, rest their hand against your chest, make sure their mouth is wide open when they latch, and position their body against yours. I had nursed two thriving babies and was confident in my ability to care for a baby, until I wasn’t.
I battled a sleepy baby, something that most new mothers craved. I was told my baby was sleepy because she had no energy to stay awake. It was a vicious cycle, because I couldn't wake her to feed, and she wouldn’t feed to stay awake. I started pumping and supplementing with my pumped breastmilk, that way we could carefully track her intake, and ensure she was feeding enough.
We went to countless appointments, and my midwives gave us special treatment, stopping by almost daily to check in and weigh my baby. I began to dread the scale, my chest tightening at the sight of it.
Every time the number stayed the same on the scale I felt like a failure. When people asked me if my baby was feeding well, I silently shook my head no and tried to walk away without explanation. We started testing for a heart condition, and life became a blur of fear, panic, and what ifs.
It took us an entire month to find a solution. She was eventually diagnosed with a benign heart defect that would not cause long-term issues, and a tongue tie that was eventually clipped and led to her feeding more effectively and gaining weight.
At one-year-old, her health issues have not completely resolved, and she still has appointments where she doesn’t gain enough, but she’s a happy baby who is mostly healthy.
This year has taught me how heart-wrenching it is to have a child who does not thrive or gain weight. I’ve become so much more sensitive, and my heart aches when I overhear a conversation about another baby being “huge,” and the pat on the back and congratulations the mother receives. I never realized how prized a chunky baby was until I didn’t have one, and how few pats on the back I would receive when my child struggled with her health.
Some days, after a particularly difficult medical meeting, when I’m given yet another list of things to do because whatever we were trying wasn’t working, I start to wonder if I’m doing a good job. It doesn’t seem like it, when I am told over and over again the things I need to do, when the same problems aren’t being resolved.
I think of all the other mothers who are struggling with their child’s health, who drive their children to appointments and feed their kids special diets, tracking their meals carefully and staying up late thinking about how they’re failing their kids.
Mothering a child with special needs and health issues can become all-consuming and certainly life-altering. Many of us are working harder than we ever have, with no visible improvements to show for it.
Sometimes we just need to hear that we’re good moms, too.