from the blog.

Happy to Starve

This is a piece written for us by Adi, a member of the infertility, loss, and adoption community on Twitter. Adi is a 32-year-old practicing feminist and parent to O, born February 2015.

Five pounds, eleven ounces, long and skinny and ravenous. When I finally held my baby, who’d been taken straight from my uterus due to footling breech position and kept for four hours for observation (and given sugar water without my knowledge or consent), he was exhausted and obviously hungry. Thanks to my c-section and the doctor’s refusal to allow skin-to-skin, my body hadn’t caught up to the fact that I was no longer pregnant and it had an outside baby to feed. I pumped and pumped and nursed and rejoiced at even the tiniest drops of colostrum I syringe-fed my child. Before the evening was through, I was bullied into feeding formula and crying at my failure to meet his needs.

It’s become an ongoing theme in our relationship.

O is now thirteen months, and several pediatricians, a feeding team at the children’s hospital, and countless hours of online research have diagnosed him as just not into eating. “Happy to starve,” one particularly tactless pediatrician told us. At first it was supply, and a tendency to tongue-thrust right out of a latch. As his latch improved, so did my supply, with the help of “power pumping,” hand-expressing, supplements, and strictly scheduled feeds. His weight improved for a few months, then plateaued. He gained slowly, but he gained, hovering below the curve, until he was weighed at his twelve-month checkup and had lost four ounces.

My heart plummeted. We’d been working so hard to offer a variety of foods, calorie-rich and healthful, and clearly it wasn’t enough. He still nursed, but obviously that wasn’t helping enough. We were sent home with instructions to withhold nursing until after meals. If he wouldn’t eat, he couldn’t nurse.

The weeks following have been nothing short of excruciating.

He wakes in the wee hours and nurses back to sleep, but in the morning I have to refuse him his breakfast in bed, instead dragging myself downstairs to make a smoothie with full-fat yogurt, heavy cream, and a variety of fruits and vegetables with flaxseed. Sometimes I serve it in a straw cup, sometimes an open cup, sometimes I spoon-feed him. Regardless of the delivery method, every bite or sip is a negotiation, a battle, an exercise in frustration. Sometimes I give him cereal or raisins to feed himself but they invariably end up on the floor.

An hour later, I trick him into letting me feed him pieces of cereal one-by-one, popping them into his mouth when he smiles and laughs at my frantic attempts at silliness. He can’t see the edge to it all, the desperation I feel, counting bites and begging him to keep eating.

At lunch I stare into the fridge and cupboards, trying to remember what he enjoyed last, knowing that’s no guarantee. I make pastini with butter, rice with butter, grilled cheese saturated in butter and dripping with cheese, lentil soup cut with cream, quesadillas fried in oil, egg salad with extra yolks and mayo, muffins full of flaxseed and sour cream and eggs and butter and honey.

Nothing tempts him. I painstakingly cut grapes in half while leaving them on the vine because he prefers to pluck them himself, I make graham cracker bears dance into his mouth, I cook oatmeal and rice pudding and cream of wheat and homemade waffles and brioche and oatmeal cookies. Every meal I try to remain upbeat, but I cry from frustration and either plop him in baby jail or hand him off to his father. I’m angry all the time now, and have started to resent food in general.

“He’ll eat when he’s hungry. No kid is going to starve himself.”

“Have you tried adding extra calories to his favorite foods with butter?”

“Just feed him a couple spoonfuls of ice cream.”

My fists clench and my heart drops. It’s so simple, isn’t it? He’s skinny. He just needs more calories. Feed him more often. (So he gets bored eating faster and refuses food more quickly and has less patience for his high chair.) Feed him whatever he wants, who cares if it’s healthy. (Except he doesn’t like sweets or junk food or ANYTHING and has taken to even refusing apples, his former surefire food.) Feed him whenever, not just when he’s sitting down. Just pop the food in his mouth. (So he’s taken to laughing and smiling with his mouth closed and turning his head away from my hand because he’s so used to food being snuck in.)

I was going to raise a child whose bodily autonomy I respected. I was going to allow his choices to matter. And here I am, wanting to force open his jaws and shove a spoon in, even taking advantage of a cry to sneak in bites. I don’t like doing this. I don’t like who it makes us. I don’t want to be the mom who forces her crying child to eat. But I don’t know what else to do. My depression and anxiety, so well-controlled for the last few years, feed off my stress and I start to feel worthless and scared. My OCD starts to fill my head with intrusive thoughts I can’t shut out, and I judge myself the way I’m sure others must be judging me, measuring myself against everyone else I know, their fat babies plastered everywhere I look, happily crowing about percentiles and clothing sizes, arm chub and thigh rolls.

There’s no happy note to end this post on, no glorious success on which to close satisfactorily. There’s just a parent, getting through it any way she can, trying to do right by her child.

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  1. I’m so sorry you are going through this. I get it. Trust me I get it. I have spent the past 15 months dealing with feeding/growth issues. I have so much anxiety all the time over this. Somehow we just get by. Hugs! Let me know if you want to chat

  2. Oh my love, I knew you were struggling, but I didn’t know how much. No matter what ANYONE says, you are a good mom. A good mom fights for her children, and that is exactly what you’re doing. I can only imagine how difficult this is for you. Know that I’m always here, to help in any way I can <3

  3. I sit here and I feel like I’m reading my own words. Though I have no breastmilk to tempt mine with. My son is also one that would be “happy to starve” no amount of calorie packed foods, he has no favorites, he’s happy taking just one ounce of food at a time. We revised a tongue tie twice, offered EVERYTHING under the sun, hid anything with fat and extra calories while keeping the volume down so he doesn’t vomit all our efforts onto his lap. We have relented to the nasogastric feeding tube to supplement. Though I despise the thing so much, the tape, the fights to replace it when it gets pulled out or vomited up. It has worked and he has gained a whole pound and a half since Feb. We are slowly starting to dream about the ease of the g-tube (our oldest had one for other reasons) We pray that he will miraculously start eating like his twin sister devouring up anything put in-front of him and asking for more. Unfortunately that is just not happening. I know forcing him to eat what he doesn’t want to can lead to regression and aversions that would make this nightmare even worse. We’ve added periactin with no affect or effects at all. Standing next to you, Momma, in solidarity with our children who think eating is optional!

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