Liam was examined by a pediatrician each morning and evening, but in between, there was a constant stream of nurses, developmental specialists, lactation consultants, neurologists, screening technicians, and other professionals whose titles I have forgotten. Each person would offer some tidbit of advice or information. Ben and I listened intently and did our best to absorb the information. Being first time parents, we were appreciative of any advice we were given. But at that point, we still were not sure if Liam had incurred any brain damage from the lack of oxygen upon his arrival. While he appeared unharmed, we were advised it would be months before an assessment of his long term health could even begin. I listened to the expert advice with rabid intensity. I thought if I followed it exactly, Liam would be alright.
Our extended families lived in other states. While they helped out on visits, Ben and I were largely on our own. Being a stay at home mom, the main responsibility for Liam’s care fell squarely on my shoulders. Raising any newborn is a level of extreme pressure, but Liam’s special circumstances added that extra level of stress. If I didn’t do everything perfectly, it would be my fault when he didn’t recover fully.
We were assigned a developmental specialist who visited our house every couple of weeks to assess Liam and teach us different techniques to encourage his development. She was a godsend! She had a wealth of information and loved to share it. But she was not privy to my internal level of worry. She advised not to take Liam to a lot of places or pass him to a lot of people, as he was still adjusting to the world. I didn’t go anywhere beyond the grocery store for the first seven weeks. She warned us not to sit him in jumpers or walkers because they held his legs in an unnatural position. The next day, the jumper had to go. I thought we were in the clear once he could hold his head up, but oh no, that was just the beginning. Dear god! Don’t you know? If you don’t work with him, he’s never going to crawl! There are exercises! Exercises!
I did the exercises religiously. My husband did them. See! We’re good parents! Please, when do we just get to enjoy having a baby?
In the midst of all this exercising and tummy timing, I was also reading every book I could get my hands on. Liam had not taken to breastfeeding, and so I was pumping breast milk 8-12 times a day, and giving it to him in a bottle. I am a huge advocate of breastfeeding, but there is just something about milking myself that seemed undignified. However, I milked myself like a farmhand because all the books advised that breast milk was the ideal food for a newborn, and I would not be responsible for my child receiving anything less than ideal. Around eight weeks, Liam turned and acted as if he wanted to latch. I figured “what the hell.” I unhooked my bra and placed my nipple near his mouth. He latched as if it was his job. I was overcome with excitement, followed a few minutes later by the thought “Oh shit! He went to sleep.”
Sleep is what babies are supposed to do. It is what you want them to do. However, the books advised to NEVER let babies fall asleep while eating. They would grow to associate eating with sleeping, and would not be able to fall asleep without eating. When they got older and had teeth, the milk would pool in their mouths as they slept and slowly begin to rot their teeth. Liam was going to have a festering, black, toothless grin because I had let him fall asleep!
I began trying everything I could do to keep him awake while eating. If I was successful, he was inevitably pissed off because he was tired and didn’t need some bookworm of a mom disturbing his beauty rest. Instead of him blissfully falling asleep while nursing, I had to walk around the house, bouncing him as he howled in my arms and finally passed out from sheer exhaustion.
I was desperate. One of the aforementioned experts had advised me that there was a breastfeeding support group that met at the hospital where I had delivered. I went and tearfully explained my predicament. One of the veteran moms looked my way and replied “If your baby will go to sleep while nursing, consider yourself lucky to have an easy way to put him to sleep. He’ll figure out how to sleep on his own. He’s not going to go to college and still be breastfeeding.”
So much for the expert advice. Sometimes you need the voice of reason.