Sunday, March 3, 2013

Trial and Error

Michelle has little rubber blocks. Every time we play with them I stack them up into a tower and she knocks it down instantly. I stack them up and she knocks them all down. Over and over. It's kind of a metaphor for parenting her -- every time I think things are getting easier, each time I start to build up confidence as a Mom or start to feel in control and think "I've got this!" I get knocked down again, reminded I'm not in control and that I've still got a lot to learn. I can never say "I've got this." Every day I have to start from scratch. I never know what each day will bring.

It's hard for me because I like knowing what to expect, having my ducks in a row. Now I have rubber ducks around my kitchen sink and they're in a row (the kitchen counter is where I bathe her in her whale tub) but most other things in life are not so simple, especially with a baby. I admit I'm a bit of a control freak. I can't bear to fail. It came in handy while I was in school because my relentless pursuit of perfection is what pushed me to work so hard, to get straight As and win academic awards through high school and university. Unfortunately life isn't like school. Sometimes there are no definite answers. You can't study for life's tests. They come upon you unexpectedly.

Nothing could really prepare me for being a Mom. There is no manual (well there are a lot of books on the subject but they can't possibly cover every minute detail that may come up day to day when raising a child.) Ironically you need to takes tests and get a license to drive a car, but they let you leave the hospital with your baby without so much as a pop quiz. They let you walk out with a small human being and absolutely no idea what you're doing. It's scary. It is such an enormous responsibility and yet there is no way to prepare for it. You are just thrown into it and learn as you go through trial and error. It's the error part that I have a problem with. I can't bear to make a mistake, especially with my child who is more precious to me than anything including my own life. The stakes are so high. Unfortunately I do make mistakes. I felt horrible when I accidentally clipped Michelle's finger once while cutting her tiny nails (in my defense it is almost impossible to cut their tiny nails! Every parent I've spoken to has nicked their child accidentally at least once.) I thought that was traumatic enough but it was nothing compared to what I just went through with her recently. It was like a scene from The Exorcist.

Michelle has been on solid foods for a month now. It has been a challenge to say the least. There are foods that she doesn't like and she just won't eat. There are foods that she likes but sometimes she's cranky and won't even eat them. I had to get really creative sometimes to get her to eat -- with a series of distractions, songs, noises, games and other tactics. Then suddenly it was like a miracle, she was eating! Willingly. Effortlessly. Without songs, games or trickery. She was just eating because she WANTED TO! Victory! Hooray! She would gobble up every bit of her cereal without a fuss. She would try new foods and like them and actually eat them. When it came to fruit (apples and pears) she loved them and would even eat an entire jar! I thought, this is great! Considering that not too long ago my doctor was concerned that Michelle was underweight, to have her eating so well was a huge relief. She was sleeping better too, more content. Awesome. I thought, maybe we've turned a corner. I've got this all figured out now, Woo hoo! Yeah, not so much.

When it came to feeding, as in everything else, I let Michelle call the shots. She could eat as little or as much as she wanted. I remember when I was a kid my Mom used to force us to eat everything on our plate, even if we were full. She'd lecture us about there being starving kids in the world. "Then send it to them!" I would argue. We weren't even allowed to leave the table until it was gone. So we'd sit there, hours later crying, trapped in purgatory with a dinner that was even more unbearable now because it was cold. Sometimes she'd leave the room and then I'd throw it in the garbage without her seeing. I will never do that with Michelle. I will never force her to eat if she's not hungry. When she refused to eat, I didn't push. I threw it out. If she wanted to eat, I was relieved. If she kept wanting more, I didn't deny her. I was just so happy that she was eating. I had all sorts of literature on WHAT to feed. I knew that at 6 months old their iron levels drop so they need iron fortified cereal, need sources of protein and of course need vegetables and fruits. What I didn't know, what no one seems to tell you, is HOW MUCH to feed a six to seven month old baby. When I looked it up the answer was anywhere from a teaspoon to a jar because every baby is different. There is no set answer.

Where breastfeeding is concerned, I was told that you can't overfeed a baby. It's self-regulating. The baby instinctively knows how much she needs and your breasts magically know how much to produce and it works out perfectly. Sometimes Michelle only nursed for five minutes. Other times it was almost an hour. I couldn't tell how much milk she was getting at any given time. It's not like giving a bottle where you can measure. I trusted Michelle to know how much she needed. It's a little different when it comes to solid food though. Your baby doesn't know when she's full. Clearly. I learned this the hard way. The worst way of all. My Mom used to have a saying "Your eyes are bigger than your belly!" Michelle's eyes were DEFINITELY bigger than her belly and stupid me I just kept giving her spoon after spoon when she asked for it. She was having meat, vegetables and fruit. What can be wrong with that? Well, you CAN get too much of a good thing.

It started out as a great day. Michelle had slept pretty well, was in good spirits. She ate her cereal at breakfast and even seemed to want more so I gave her an extra teaspoon (on top of the two tablespoons she usually has). At lunch I was giving her baby turkey with sweet potato for the first time. And she liked it! She actually ate it without me having to trick her into taking a spoonful or hiding it with anything else. A meat that she liked?! I was THRILLED. She even seemed to want more. At dinner she had meat, vegetables and fruit. A whole meal. She kept wanting more and more of the fruit. I was just so happy that she was eating that I kept adding another teaspoon and another to the bowl to give her. Before I knew it, she'd had the whole jar. Wow! She was hungry.

That night when I nursed her I was surprised that she was still drinking just as much milk as ever even after her big meal. I didn't think she'd need to breastfeed much with her belly full of food. She was drowsy and I think sometimes uses me as a soother to comfort her to sleep. She was almost asleep when all of a sudden she started to throw up. I picked her up and she threw up again, all over us both. I was in shock. She was scared and upset and I tried to calm her down but I was pretty shaken (and shaking) myself. For a moment I stood and looked at us in the hallway mirror. I didn't know where to start. I managed to get us both changed and tear the sheets off the bed and throw them in a pile in the hallway. I thought it was over but it was only beginning. She vomited again and this time it was worse. Projectile. Like something out of a horror movie. All over my fresh t-shirt. She was screaming, I was almost in tears myself. I changed our clothes yet again as quickly as possible and put the clothes in the sink to soak. I thought it had to be over now. She couldn't possibly have anything left. She had thrown up everything she consumed that day. But then it happened again. I finally thought there's no point dressing her until I'm sure she's done so I just wrapped her in a towel in my arms. She was exhausted now and starting to fall asleep. There was no way I was putting her down. If she threw up while lying down she could choke. I would hold her for 24 hours if I had to. I was terrified.

I called my sister for advice. My sister thought it could be a viral infection. I had taken Michelle to the public playtime that week. Could she have caught something from one of the babies? My sister suggested I take the baby's temperature to rule out a fever. Her temperature was low not high. I dressed her in a warm sleeper. Even if she was going to puke on it again I didn't want her to be cold. Was it a virus? Or could it be an allergy? Was she allergic to turkey? I had been introducing each new food and trying it for three days, as you're supposed to to test for allergy. That's all well and good but I never stopped to think what might happen if she actually WAS allergic? Vomiting could be a symptom. Or was it, most likely, that she had just eaten too much because, idiot that I am, I let her? I told my sister that Michelle had eaten a whole jar of pears. My sister thought a jar would probably be too much for a baby her size. But she had eaten a whole package (like a big tube, bigger than a jar) of sweet potatoes at my Mom's place and was fine. I figured if she was still hungry I wasn't going to deny her but the problem is that she loved the pears so much it was like a dessert. I know that even myself, if there's a food I really love, something really delicious, I can eat it even when I'm full and just stuff myself and feel awful afterward. I should know better but sometimes you just give in to temptation. She's a baby and doesn't know any better so when she tastes something delicious she just wants more and more. I should have limited it to a tablespoon or two at the most. I guess her tummy was so full that when she had milk later there was no room for it and everything came out. I felt horrible. I didn't know any better. I sure do now.

The worst part was that now I was afraid for her safety. She kept throwing up. Even when I thought there was nothing left, clear liquid would come out. She wasn't herself. She looked pale (well, I mean she IS a redhead and has never been in the sun so she is always pale but this was different somehow. She was alabaster. And it looked like there were dark circles around her eyes.) My sister said to make sure she's hydrated. I gave her some water and she threw it up too. My sister had never experienced any of her kids throwing up that much and suggested I call Mom to see if she had any advice or experience in the matter. She did. When I called my Mom she said that yes she'd certainly seen her share of kids throwing up. I was the worst but it was when I got the flu as a baby. I was throwing up for a week and actually had to be hospitalized because I was a skeleton baby, way underweight and dehydrated. Though I would have been too young to remember it perhaps on some level the experience stayed with me because for my entire life I had a phobia of vomiting. I remember having the flu as a kid (12 at the oldest) and dreading that awful feeling -- retching, leaning over the toilet, crying. It hurt my chest, my throat. Every time it felt like I was going to choke or die. I always felt better when it was over but during each bout of nausea it was unbearable. To this day I can't drink ginger ale because it reminds me of being sick (for some reason Mom always gave us ginger ale when we were sick.) As an adult the only time I ever threw up was once in my 20s when I got drunk. I don't drink alcohol and only got drunk once (it was by accident. I'm not a drinker. I actually hate the taste of alcohol. The only drinks I could tolerate were sweet drinks where you don't taste the alcohol. I was at a party and someone kept handing me "brown cows." I was drinking them like they were chocolate milk. Clearly Kahlua is NOT chocolate milk.) After the terrible hangover the next day (the entire world was tilting to the left, I had a headache that felt like my skull would explode and I had a nasty bout of nausea, puking my guts out in the toilet) I swore I would NEVER drink again and I didn't. Through the years there were a few times when I almost felt like I was going to throw up but I managed to ward it off by chewing gum and thinking happy thoughts. Fast forward to last year while I was pregnant. The morning sickness in the first trimester was brutal. Throwing up is awful enough but the worst part was the anxiety that it might happen at work. I hadn't told anyone I was pregnant yet. I was waiting until the second trimester. Anyway, I'm getting off topic here. The point is vomiting has always been very traumatic for me and seeing my baby throw up was far worse. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life.

The most frightening part was that even after the vomiting stopped, Michelle didn't seem like herself. She's usually bursting with energy, kicking her little legs, smiling and making noises. She was lethargic. Almost zombie-like. Staring with a blank look. She didn't even have the energy to cry. I'd never seen her like that. She was almost falling asleep. Her eyes were glazed over. Was she just tired or was something wrong? I didn't know what to do. Should I call 9-1-1? (The weather had been bad and I didn't think I could even drive to the hospital with the snow so deep.) I was panicked. Was I overreacting? Ironically my Mom, who is usually the biggest worrier on the planet, managed to calm me down. I was so freaked out that I was blowing everything out of proportion. Michelle was almost asleep before any of the nausea happened so she would definitely be exhausted after that. My Mom suggested I just let Michelle rest in my arms and when she woke up if she wasn't better I could think about getting her checked out.

"Are you OK Michelle?" I asked after she was awake and I was changing her. She still looked a little out of it. Then suddenly she smiled at me and I felt a huge wave of relief. She's back! She's OK. She started kicking her little legs. She was back to normal. I was afraid to feed her again but I figured she needed her nutrients since she'd lost everything she'd eaten. My Mom said not to give her anymore food that night (usually she has some cereal in the evening) but just to breastfeed her later, at 10 p.m. and see how that goes. She also said to make sure Michelle has water right away though so she doesn't get dehydrated. Michelle couldn't seem to manage from the sippy cup so I filled one of the liners for her playtex nurser and gave her the bottle. She guzzled the entire thing. I was scared when her diaper was empty. It was the first time I'd ever checked her diaper and found nothing. It had all gone out the other end instead. The next day I was relieved to change a soaked diaper and a poopy one. I never thought I'd be so happy to see a soiled diaper!

Michelle nursed at 10 p.m. and went off to sleep happily. I was so grateful and relieved that she was OK. She slept well through the night. I guess the ordeal had taken so much out of her that she was exhausted. The next day she was in good spirits. It was like the incident never happened. I would never forget it though. And I had about 3 loads of laundry to remind me. I decided to be extra careful about feeding her and never give her too much. No matter how much she begs. She ate her cereal and dinner well and was fine. So I ruled out allergy or virus and realized yes she had just overeaten. I remembered the Monty Python skit where the man in the restaurant eats an insane amount of food and then the waiter suggests one more bite "It's only wafer thin" and that's the straw that broke the camel's back and he unleashes a torrent of regurgitated food.

Now I know to limit Michelle to no more than a couple of tablespoons of food at a time. She has since tried bananas and loved them. She was whining and reaching for more but I wouldn't let her. It's bizarre that I went from worrying about her not eating and not weighing enough to worrying that she'll eat too much and make herself sick. It's a delicate balance trying to get it right.

I felt so guilty, so stupid, so angry with myself about it. My Mom said that it was just a lesson, as there will be many lessons in parenting and I know better now. Just a month ago I was at my Mom's place having brunch and she had told me "You're doing all the right things." I think it was the first time in my life that she'd said that so my curiosity was definitely piqued. Apparently she'd read a doctor's advice column in the paper and they were saying how important breastfeeding is and how many benefits there are to it, healthwise and as a bonding experience with your baby. They also said that rather than let a baby "cry it out" that you should comfort your baby when she's crying. A baby who feels loved and secure, whose needs are always met will become an adult who is happier, more confident and empathetic toward others. Before reading the article my Mom was trying to say that it wouldn't hurt to let the baby cry. Mom told me that she was proud of what a good Mom I was, how devoted I was. It was good to hear. I wanted to do all the right things. I was trying so hard. Now I'm beating myself up that I did something wrong. Sometimes giving a baby what she wants isn't the answer. You have to set boundaries and limits. Solid food isn't like breastfeeding. I can't trust her to know when she's full. Lesson learned.

When it comes to introducing solids it's so confusing -- if you ask 10 people about it you get 10 completely different answers. Some say don't wait until 6 months. Some say a baby's digestive system can't handle food until six months (this seems to be the guideline from a medical standpoint and is what I followed.) Some say start with cereal, fruits and veggies. Others say that protein is important because of their iron deficiency (I was trying to follow that because of the latest medical research.) Nowhere in my literature did it say how much to feed them. Nowhere did it warn that if your baby loves a food they will eat it non-stop until they explode, if you let them. I suppose it should have been common sense but I don't know how big her stomach is and how much it can hold. One thing is for sure: I'm far more careful now!

I am so grateful to my Mom and my sister for being there for me to offer support, advice, and help when I'm at the end of my rope. They have been a lifeline for me. Times when I feel so helpless and scared and don't know what to do they talk me through it and help me figure it out. I couldn't go through this without them. As they say "it takes a village to raise a child." Michelle and I are alone but it's good to know that May and my Mom are there to reach out to when we need help. The next day my sister called to see how Michelle and I were doing. I was happy to tell her that we were both doing great.

Just out of curiosity I searched for "baby throwing up at seven months" on the internet and found a whole score of entries. As I read through several of them I started to realize how lucky I have been. Some babies throw up ALL THE TIME! This was Michelle's first (and hopefully last!) bout of vomiting. I met someone who was feeding her baby formula and she threw up a lot. I guess it happens less with breastfeeding. Some mothers said their babies threw up everything and couldn't keep any food down, not even rice cereal, so I am very grateful that Michelle has been able to eat everything and doesn't appear to have any allergies so far. So it could have been a lot worse. At the time it felt like the end of the world. I was petrified. I felt so helpless. I overreacted. I'm glad I didn't call for an ambulance at least in my panic.

A few people had told me before I even had Michelle that NOTHING is worse than when your baby is sick. It is the most stressful thing to go through. You feel helpless. You wish it were you. When Michelle had a cold months ago I thought that was bad enough. Seeing her throw up was far worse. My Mom told me it's just part of being a parent. Not only worrying about kids getting sick, you have to worry about them getting hurt. My Mom said all of us had a trip to the hospital for stitches or broken bones at some point. It happens. I can't even imagine it. I love Michelle so much that it's unbearable to think of anything happening to her.

I wish I was one of those laidback, relaxed people who don't get flustered by anything and just let things roll off their backs. Nothing is as bad as it seems at the time. Somehow you get through it. I'm trying to cut myself some slack. I had the best intentions. I'm not perfect. This is all new to me and I'm learning as I go. I will make mistakes. I'm human. I try to do all the right things but sometimes I just stress myself out and that doesn't help. Sometimes maybe the right thing is just to lighten up a little. Michelle doesn't need me to be perfect she just needs me to be her Mom, to do my best and to love her with all my heart. That I can definitely do.


  1. Don't cut her nails - file them.

    1. Actually I found that clippers are much easier than scissors and I've never had another incident. I tried to file them and she doesn't let me! You have to be really quick. Clippers seem to work best. It's still not easy (nothing with her is!) :)

  2. Hi Ann Marie,
    I'm a long-time lurker, love your blog. It sounds to me like Michelle had food poisoning. The really violent vomiting followed by feeling much better is usually mild food poisoning (though people often mistake it for the "stomach flu," which doesn't really exist). I really wouldn't worry that you overfed her, I don' think that's possible. As you know, babies will tell you when they don't want to eat anymore! Best of luck and keep writing!

    1. Thanks so much! Really? I never thought of food poisoning. I don't know. The food was fresh. I guess anything's possible. I think it is possible to overfeed...I'm just being really careful from now on. Whatever it was I hope it never happens again! :)

  3. Oh how scary! How awful for you both! I had such frustration when introducing solids about not knowing HOW MUCH...I asked our Dr, three different public health one would commit to an amount! It was so hard!! One point that my Dr made is that a baby's stomach is the size of her 2 fists put together so keeping that in mind helps to know how much food she'd tolerate.

    Please don't beat yourself up over this tho! The 1st time Elena had a vomitting experience was from a virus but I kept letting her nurse thinking to keep her hydrated. I called the Dr in the morning to ask what to do...he said STOP breastfeeding her!! I was making it worse!! All she needed was clear liquids & suggested watered down Gatorade (cheaper than Pedialyte & does the same thing)! I felt awful!! My poor baby was sick & I was making it worse!! So cut yourself some slack for sure!!

    1. Thank you so much. I have been beating myself up over everything lately. So stressed out. Trying to do all the right things but sometimes it's hard to know what's right and it can be frustrating. Now I'm feeling guilty for cutting her off when she wants more food (she definitely eats more than two fists full.)