My daughter entered this world the traditional way: with a nice strong epidural and lots of yelling at my husband. I will never forget the moment she was born. She let out a high pitched scream and didn’t stop. My obstetrician paused, looked over at my daughter and said, “Well! There’s nothing wrong with her lungs.” He then pulled off his gloves, tossed them in the garbage, and left to go deliver another baby.
My husband and I looked at one another with raised eyebrows. Even though this was our first baby, we both had a suspicion that if an obstetrician comments on how loud an infant is crying, it can’t possibly be a good sign. We were right. She did not stop screaming. Even the newborn nursery – where I tried to put her so I could sleep – brought her back.
“She can’t stay,” the nurse said cheerfully as she wheeled my crying daughter into my hospital room, “She’s keeping all the other babies awake.”
As I watched the pink-smocked nurse leave, I burst into tears. I didn’t get it. Weren’t babies supposed to sleep? How was I going to sleep with this red faced, screaming little person in my arms? Welcome to parenthood.
The hospital made us take her home. She cried the entire way there. She cried the rest of the day. Then all night. She cried, and cried, and cried. For weeks. And months.
She also vomited excessively. No sooner had I fed her then everything she had taken in would come right back up. Our pediatrician, an angel in the form of a stocky Italian man, was concerned about the weight she was losing. He also wasn’t pleased with her incessant screaming. He diagnosed her with reflux and so our journey began.
My daughter is almost ten now, so most of us are familiar with the term “reflux” being associated with infants. But back in 2003, it was a relatively new concept, and this concept generally did not go over well with the majority of people.
“Reflux? Whoever heard of a baby having reflux? That’s for adults”, “In my day it was called colic”, “How can you medicate a six-week old infant? Aren’t you worried what that will do to her?” “Are you sure you’re not overreacting?”, “Who is your pediatrician?” These were only a few of the comments I heard when I tried to make excuses for why my daughter was so fussy…and didn’t sleep…and why I looked like something out of Night of the Living Dead.
People tried to commiserate with me. “It will get better once she turns three months old.” (It didn’t.) “I know exactly what you’re going through. My son was so colicky when he was born! He didn’t sleep through the night until he was five weeks old!” (Excuse me while I sob.) “Have you tried burping her more?” (Thanks Einstein. Never thought of that.) I found I wanted to kick these people even though they were trying to help.
The word “reflux” became equated with a naughty four letter word in our household. A pacifier was the only thing that would occasionally soothe her, and yet when a well meaning acquaintance told me that her children never used pacifiers (since a good mom should know how to soothe her baby without the use of a pacifier – her words, not mine) I threw it away; Only to drive out to the grocery store late at night to replace it.
I felt inadequate and not up to the task of caring for this puking, crying, squirmy, rashy, insomniac baby. Was I accidentally assigned the wrong daughter? Wasn’t she really supposed to go to a great mom who could handle everything? A mom who makes her own bread and soap and doesn’t own a TV and drives a Prius?
Shortly before her 4th birthday, the doctors discovered that my daughter had a malfunctioning lower esophageal sphincter. In other words, the muscle that was supposed to tighten around her esophagus to keep her esophagus closed and stomach acids in her stomach was not working at all. The doctors suspected that even though she was on reflux medicines, they would never provide adequate relief. At this point, the only option was surgery.
If the idea of my four year old daughter undergoing major surgery hadn’t freaked me out, I may have felt vindicated. Her reflux had been really bad. I hadn’t been overreacting or wrong to use medicine. She wasn’t sleeping because she was in pain, not because I put her to bed too early or too late, or because she didn’t nap. I had done everything I could, and what I had done had not been wrong.
Six years ago on July 12th my little treasure had a Nissen Fundoplication to correct her reflux. The surgery was four hours long and it seems like just yesterday we were sitting in the OR waiting room of the children’s hospital, watching parents leave because their kid’s surgery was over but my daughter’s was not. When they finally wheeled her out of the OR, she looked so tiny on that big gurney. As I approached her the anesthesiologist put his arm around my shoulders and said, “She did great and you’re doing great.” They were the kindest words I could have heard at that moment.
My daughter opened her eyes and looked around with heavy eyelids. “Mommy,” she mumbled groggily, “Get me out of this thing.”
The nurses placed her in my arms and I rocked her back and forth, knowing that the worst was over. Knowing that when we left the hospital the pain she had always known would finally be gone.