Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Preemie Eating Battle Continues

Dear Ellie,

You've hit the ground crawling this second year of life, but while you've conquered your lung problems and your heart problems and your hypertonia problems and just about all else, there is still one battle we've never stopped fighting: your feeding problems. This wasn't always the case, though.

During the first 3 months after your due date, you gained a superhuman amount of weight.  So much weight, in fact, that some of your doctors even wanted you to slim down, a strange request indeed to make of a preemie.  Of course, at the time, I didn't think you were overweight at all.  After all, the image of you being 1 pound was still seared into my conscious, and all that I saw when I looked at you was this:

Even though, in reality, what you REALLY looked like was this:

Since then, with your various feeding issues, you've slimmed down to this:

Basically, after 4 months of eating 2/3rds of what a baby your adjusted age SHOULD be getting, you've gained 0 pounds.  This hasn't been a huge problem, however, because its only until now that you've actually fallen to the 50th percentile for your height and adjusted age.  In other words?  After being overweight in those months after your due date, you just now hit your ideal weight.  The only problem is, with your current eating trends, this slimming down will continue.

The main problem is that you generally despise food.  Eating never seems to be a thing that you actually want to do.  To you, it's just a painful chore that gets in the way of other thing you'd prefer to get around to.  At your worst, you'll growl and whine and give me titty twisters whenever I try to feed you until I finally surrender an hour later.  At your best, you'll almost eat the quantity you are supposed to, but only after some major deception or distraction.  And those distractions are ever changing.  Right when we think we've discovered a trump card that'll keep you eating, your taste in distractions change.  Originally, the best distraction was feeding you outside.  Then while we walked you.  Then while watching stupendously cheesy Daler Mehndi music videos from the 90's.  Then while watching me do magic tricks.  Then while watching people do jumping jacks or run in circles.  Then while watching someone do the itsy bitsy spider.  These are all, of course, a minor sampling of the multitude of distractions which used to keep you eating, but have now fallen out of favor.  

The most recent distraction has lasted us longer than most, though it has begun to nibble away at my sanity.  I walked in on you and your mother one day watching Korean Pop music videos while you ate.  "Oh, it's the only way she seems to eat now," your mother said.  I perked my eyebrow skeptically.  In my mind, your mother just wanted to indulge in a guilty pleasure under the guise of saintly motherhood.  I refused to show you the music videos on my watch, but one day, when you were especially finicky, I caved in and gave it a try.  I'm not sure if it's the peppiness or the poppiness or the butt-shakiness, but for one reason or another, The Korean pop stars of Girl's Day seemed to vanquish your apprehension about eating... so day in and day out, we watched the same music video over and over and over again every time you needed to eat.  As you can imagine, this kind of peppy monotony can weather away one's soul.  And the worst part?  I was starting to like it.

Fortunately, Korean Pop began to lose favor as well and you are on to new, greener distractions.  Tut we can't continue with this montage of distractions forever.  For the longest time, we were holding out hope that you'd take to solid foods with glee, but alas, this has not been true.  We awoke from the holiday stupor two weeks ago and realized that you weren't eating solids yet.  Not even a little.  In the past, you'd toy with the notion of eating baby food or puffs here or there but when decide a few days later that it wasn't your thing.  To me, you express that it isn't your thing by shot-gunning whatever was in your mouth into my face.   

So now we're pulling out all of the stops.  Enough is enough.  Given that you are ahead on all of your other physical and mental milestones, we've more or less canceled your physical therapy and have gone ahead full steam with feeding therapy.  With 3-4 appointments with feeding specialists per week, we're breaking out every obscure trick in the book.  You will come to enjoy one of life's greatest pleasures, whether you like it or not.  On the upside, your appointments are near your mother's office, so that's ample opportunity to bring you in for a lunch time surprise.

Here you are hangin' in JLA Geological 
Sciences with Mommy

Before we started these appointments a little over a week ago, I never knew there were so many nuanced ways to encourage a baby eat... ways to hold a spoon and present a spoon and rub a baby's cheeks and rub a baby's chin and massage a baby's lips.  Then there are the multitudes of sippy cups and spoons and special bibs and nose-cups and special seats and dozens of types of specialized baby foods and pH considerations in food and texture considerations in food and the list goes on and on and on.  For at least an hour at each appointment, we experiment with different ways to get you to eat and then hypothesize about what might be the underlying pain and behavioral mechanisms responsible for your reluctance to eat.  So far... it seems like it might be working.  For one reason or another, your mother has gotten very good at feeding you limited quantities of baby food while I've gotten you good at eating puffs.  

Here you are snatching up a puff from your high chair tray and shoving it in your mouth.  You've even learned to take a bite with those two little chompers that appeared on your bottom lip.

Conversely, your mother can't get you to eat puffs but I can't get you to eat baby food.  Why?  Puffs taste better with Daddy and pureed peas taste better with Mommy?  Who knows.  In either case, it's still a pain to get you to take your bottle.  Or at least, it was until we introduced our newest distraction...

The Fish Tank.

Seeing as how your Uncle and I are in the tropical aquarium biz, it was only a matter of time before we'd get you a nice, big aquarium of your own.  In this case, a 75 gallon aquarium equipped with high output LED's, live rock, powerheads, a protein skimmer, photosynthetic corals, and a school of tropical fish.  

I still have about a year of work to put into it before it really comes to life, but so far, it's done wonders for your eating.  Whenever you start to get finicky, we plop you down in front of the aquarium and your eyes go wide as fishies flit on by and live corals waft in the current.  Someday, we'll get you an even bigger aquarium so that you can have your very own Oliver the Eel.

The story of how we came into the aquarium up above is a little sad, but perhaps a bit uplifting, too.  One of our customers (and a friend of your Uncle Zack) got sick with cancer.  She was someone who followed your story closely while you were in the NICU.  Before she died, she decided that you should have her aquarium.  It seemed like an appropriate gesture: a person at the end of their life giving a living ecosystem to someone at the beginning of their life.

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