Where’s My Village?

I went to a mom’s support group a couple weeks ago.  The topic of discussion was “Finding Your Village.”  The older Max gets the stronger I believe in the fact that “it takes a village to raise a child.”  It’s hard, though, when you have a child with special needs, to build that village.  I’m sure it’s hard for every mother, but if your child has special needs there are other aspects to consider.

I’ve had plenty of offers.  I think people understand that caring for Max is difficult and draining, and so they want to help.  They say “hey, if you want to go out and get your hair cut, or have some acupuncture, etc. I can watch Max for you!” And I really appreciate that!  The problem is, it’s not that easy.  Max needs to eat every 4 hours, and with his pump feedings it usually takes around an hour and a half.  So anyone who’s going to be watching him for an extended time (even for a short time if it’s not planned right) will need to be trained on feeding via g-tube.  If he’s really fussy he will swallow air as he is eating and then he’ll need to burp during his feeding.  Since he is unable to burp through his mouth due to his fundoplication, he will gag and wretch and sometimes choke until you insert a tube to release the pressure in his tummy.  This is very traumatic to most people – we’re just used to it

Then there’s the stuff every baby deals with of  just not being used to someone new.  A lot of kids have a hard time being left with a stranger, and Max is no different.  This is a good thing.  It shows that he has developed attachments, and I am very thankful for this.  But when Max gets fussy he gets very stiff and tight.  He arches his back so that he is very difficult to hold on to.  So any potential baby sitter needs to be prepared to deal with this and know that it’s not abnormal for him.

Max also needs someone who can be on seizure watch.  And this is difficult because we can’t tell people: “this is what his seizures look like…”  because we don’t know.  We’ve never caught them on EEG.  He makes various movements that look like seizures, but many of them were proven to be CP related rather than seizure activity.  However, we still need to be on the lookout for seizures so we know if his medications need to change.

Taking care of Max requires a certain amount of training and experience.  And some people think that they can handle it, but I bet the training would scare them off.  My sister offered to watch Max so my husband and I could go out for Valentine’s Day.  So I went over to her house one day and demonstrated how to use the feeding tube.  My in-laws ended up watching Max when we went out for various reasons unrelated to my sister’s willingness, but later she told me that she didn’t think she could handle having a child with Max’s special needs.  I think most volunteers would feel the same.

The grandmothers are wonderful.  They have both spent a lot of time with Max and I – watching me take care of Max and taking care of Max while I’m watching.  And I couldn’t have made it this far in his life without them.  Our night nurse is another valued member of our “village.”  It took Max a couple of nights to get used to him, but they get along quiet well now.

The problem is, when you only have three or four people you can call, there’s a decent chance none of them will be available at some point.  And what do you do when that time comes when you haven’t gotten any sleep all weekend and the time that your child finally nods off is the time when you also reach the point of starvation and by the time you finish eating, your child has woken up again?  Who do you call when your house is such a mess that you can’t stand to be there anymore?  That is my dilemma.  Plenty of friends, but not quite sure if they’re “good enough” friends.  Will they be able to handle us at our worst?

I wish I had a handful of good friends who have older children with special needs.  Or a few CNA or Nurse friends would be nice too.  Someone who I can call without much notice who can take over just long enough to give me time to breathe.  I’m sure much of my problem is self-afflicted.  I need to learn to “let go” just like any other mother and trust someone else to take care of my child.  Really, the chances of something significantly life threatening happening is very slim.  I just need to keep reminding myself of that.

Anyone have any insights for me?  How did you learn to “let go” and trust someone else with your child?  How did you build that village of people to support you and help with the care of your child?

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My Morning as a Model

As I mentioned last week, I was honored to be involved in a photo shoot for my local breastfeeding coalition.  It was so much fun!  As you can see, Max pulled out his adorable tears for the occasion, so we got a lot of fun comforting shots.  My husband went along mostly just to watch the shoot, but I was really glad that they included him in some of the photos.  His support is a big reason that I’m still able to pump for Max, and he deserves some credit for that.

Looking over the photos this week (and seeing some of the other photos of moms from the shoot) got me thinking a lot about why I do what I do.  Why I keep on pumping even though my son will never be able to suckle at the breast.  The biggest reason I do it is because I know that it is the best possible nourishment for him.  Over and over I hear doctors and therapists say, “if he gets sick, it’s going to hit him harder than other kids” or “it’s just going to take him longer to get over colds and things.”  But really, he has done very well.  He is at risk for aspiration, and repeatedly gets a strider in his throat after coughing, but he has never had pneumonia.  He has gotten a few colds this winter (all kids do), but they weren’t bad and he recovered well.  Is it because of the extra antibodies that he gets from his milk?  I don’t know, but I gaurentee it doesn’t hurt.  I don’t want him to be prescribed antibiotics over and over because I want him to build his immune system.  I don’t want to be building antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.

The next biggest reason I keep at it, I think, is because I don’t think of it as the huge inconvenience that so many people seem to think of it as.  I am an introvert who craves her alone time.  In my hectic life of doctors and therapists, tube feedings and medicine times, pumping gives me a perfect opportunity to pause, pull out a book, check my e-mail, or just think.  I don’t sigh and whine about how much I hate pumping or think about all the other things I could be doing.  I just do it.  When I was first pumping in the NICU after Max was born, I thought three months seemed like an eternity to pump for.  But as my husband predicted, I just got used to it.  For the first few months I kept at it because I really believed that he would heal to be able to breastfeed when he was a bit older.  As I slowly realized how unlikely that was, I had already developed a habit.  Sure I complain about it every now and then.  It’s not like I love to do it all the time.  But it’s a part of my life now, and it’s going to be weird to stop.

The final reason I’ve kept up pumping for nine months is because I always believed breastfeeding was worth fighting for.  I don’t mean to sound to judgmental here (although I know I will sound somewhat judgmental), but even before my son was born I knew that I would work as hard as necessary to make breastfeeding work for us.  I keep hearing about moms who say that breastfeeding just didn’t work for them, or they intended to breastfeed but this or that happened.  And I can’t help but wonder, how hard did you try?  If your milk is slow to come in, what’s wrong with formula feeding while you pump to encourage milk development?  Did you call a lactation consultant or a La Leche League leader?  We don’t live in the village culture anymore, so we don’t have mom and grandma there to teach you how to nurse  your children.  It doesn’t come naturally anymore.  We’ve socialized it out of our culture.  And if you want to make it work, you need to have support.

I was really exited to be a part of this photo shoot because I wanted to help the world to see that breastfeeding is worth working for.  I’m sure many mothers would quit pumping if their child had a permanent gastronomy tube placed.  And I think doctors expect them to.  I feel like an alien sometimes when I tell Max’s doctors that he is receiving x mL’s of expressed breastmilk fortified with x amount of formula.  For nine months not one of them has asked me how it’s going or how long I’m planning on continuing, or has really talked to me about it at all.  I figure if anyone really needs that real, natural nutrition its my son.  It’s those kids who probably aren’t able to breastfeed for some reason.  Babies with kidney failure, those undergoing cancer treatments and babies with genetic syndromes requiring tube feedings.  I want mothers to see that it can be done.  I want them to be supported.  I am a part of a great Natural Parenting of the Child with Special Needs group on Facebook.  They put me in touch with an Exclusive Pumping yahoo group geared towards moms who aren’t able to breastfeed for various reasons.  The women in these groups have been an amazing source of support for me.

I understand that breastfeeding is a highly personal issue because it involves the mother’s own body.  Women don’t want to feel pressured to breastfeed or pump because they associate it with their freedom and flexibility.  But that is ignoring all the benefits.   The amazing feeling you get when you give your child a part of your own body.  In special needs cases, the ability to do something for your child.  Your milk is so nourishing for them.  I think that pumping for my son has made me feel much more ownership of his care.  He is my son, and I know what he needs:  mama milk.

Without trying to sound too judgmental, I beg you, for your child’s sake, please work to make breastfeeding work for you.  Seek out your local La Leche League for support.  If you are breastfeeding and aren’t able to relax and enjoy it please get some support.  Don’t just do it out of guilt or drudgery.  It can be an amazing experience for both of you.  My dream is for every mother and baby to have an enjoyable breastfeeding experience.

That’s my soapbox, I’m getting down now.  I just wanted to get the word out that it is possible.  My family has a history of low milk supply, yet my son has  some great chubb.  It took work, but it’s possible.

Sleep strike!

For the past two weeks, Max has been on a sleep strike.  Just in time for me to come down with a serious sinus infection- complete with sinus pain and swollen glands all over one side of my face- and start a nursing assistant course.  My husband, wonderful man that he is, was kind enough to make sure I got full nights of sleep (9 pm to 6 am) the end of last week and through the weekend.  The goal was to fight off the infection as much as possible before my class started last monday.  So while I slept, he was awake trying to keep baby as comfortable as possible, feeding every 4 hours, giving massages, etc.  Then when morning came I would take over and he would sleep until noon.

It was not at all an ideal situation.  The child literally slept for 2 hours at night and 2 hours during the day.  And this became common for nearly two weeks.  Four hours out of 24!  Now luckily my mother was generous enough to come and stay with us for a few days during my first week of class – we couldn’t have handled it without her!  But seriously!  4 hours in 24?  How can a baby survive on that?  I have heard that kids with epilepsy don’t sleep well.  I’ve been told that babies with neurological damage have a hard time getting days and nights straight.  And it makes sense that his cerebral palsy and spacticity would make it hard for him to relax and fall asleep.  But even with our holding, rocking, and massage he wasn’t able to sleep more than 4 hours!

While reading for my CNA class, I came upon a table listing the average sleep requirements according to age.  Infants one month to one year were said to require 12 to 14 hours a day.  Even if he only slept a few hours at a time, my husband I should be able to get some good sleep if he was sleeping 12-14 hours a day.  But my major concern is not myself.  I can hire a nurse, or call one of the grandmothers or another friend if I’m really in a desperate state.  My primary concern is Max.  How is this affecting his development?  his brain growth?

The main reason babies require so much sleep is because they are doing so much development.  Their brains are growing a lot and they are learning a ton of new skills.  Of course they’re exhausted!  Max isn’t learning many new skills, so maybe he doesn’t need quite as much sleep as other babies his age.  But I’m concerned about his brain growth.  Is his lack of sleep inhibiting his brain growth, or is his brain not growing so he doesn’t feel the need to sleep?  And that thought makes me more curious:  is he too exhausted to learn any new skills?  is his lack of sleep actually hindering his development?

As of now I’m putting off talking to the doctor about it.  I usually avoid the doctor at all costs – we have so many appointments to juggle I can hardly find time for unscheduled visits (and most of the time when I go it end’s up being something they can do nothing about).  I guess I will have to talk to the doctor about it at the next visit, but for now I’m just looking forward to the overnight nurse starting next week!