Somehow, it has already been nearly three weeks since Baby K has arrived. She was born two weeks early on December 15th. So many events led up to this day and they all make her story that much more miraculous, so I’m gonna back up just a tad.
I wish I could recall exactly how many weeks pregnant I was when we first were told that Baby K had Intra-Uterine Growth Restriction (IUGR). It was shocking to find out that she wasn’t growing on track and was in fact three or four weeks behind in weight gain. Stephen and I prayed often as I ate more protein and healthy fats, guzzled Ningxia Red, and waited until the next ultrasound. Honestly it was agonizing. Trusting that Jesus is sovereign over all things and events in my life is easy to talk about, but when I have to flesh it out in real life, it’s so hard to believe sometimes. Not even gonna lie. Every day felt like its own eternity as I waited and waited to see what the next visit would reveal. When you can’t see everything going on even when it’s going on in your own body…there is so much uncertainty. Still I was determined to trust in Christ, because HE is my hope (not the ultrasound, not the food, not the weight gain or even her weight gain).
At one of our visits we were told that her growth seemed to be back on track again and we wouldn’t need another growth ultrasound. That changed again when at 37 weeks my belly measured 4 centimeters too small. I was sent for another growth ultrasound, and we learned that Baby K just wasn’t growing as well in utero as we needed. We’d made progress and had some success along the way, but we found ourselves at 38 weeks in the dark room of UNC Rex having to make a choice. The doctor and midwives told us that a safe and healthy birth was becoming riskier the longer we wait, so much to my husband’s surprise, I requested a pitocin induction for Thursday, December 15th. I’d been induced with my eldest two and vowed to never do it again. Those weren’t by choice, though. The doctors thought my boys were late. That’s another conversation. At this point, however, we were desperate to make sure that she would thrive after birth.
I won’t go into the birth story, though the journey from labor to delivery was absolutely incredible. That, too, is for another conversation. Suffice it to say that it went far smoother than I expected and I survived the pitocin without any pain medication. If you know my husband, ask about how he barely caught her. Haha!
She was SO tiny. So little. Little everything. But she was breathing, and she was eating, and she was content to be with me when she arrived. My new Little Bit was just that–little. At a whopping 5lbs 14.8oz, we knew we had to fatten her up as soon as possible. The first 24 hours was H.A.R.D. In a whole 24 hours, I managed to get three measly hours of sleep for all the nursing, hand expressing, spoon feeding, and then starting over again almost as soon as we finished.
Baby K’s blood sugars were too low, and we had to feed her every two hours. Less than a day after she was born those numbers were satisfactory enough for us to go home; she was now maintaining. But 48 hours after her birth we received difficult words when the nurse visited us at home: Baby K had lost 15% of her body weight since birth. I was crushed. Her advice was simple: feed Baby K every three hours around the clock at the breast, then either pump and feed her another ounce from the bottle, or give her another ounce of either donated breastmilk or formula. Let’s pause here for a moment and just revel in the glory of God’s goodness and provision, shall we? Why??
With my voice I cry out to the LORD;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.
I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.
Psalm 142: 1-2
First of all, I was bound and determined to fatten my girl, and I know that so much of a mommy’s success in breastfeeding is bound up in her attitude and drive (note: not all of it, and sometimes success doesn’t come at all). So I prayed and
cried wept to Jesus to provide her with milk even though I knew we didn’t deserve His goodness, provision, or grace. After I ingested two drops each of my Young Living fennel and celery seed essential oils to promote lactation, I texted and called about eight of my precious mommy friends that I thought might still be nursing to ask if they had any extra milk to share with my girl. One mommy had a neighbor about to move who was devastated to throw out over 60 ounces of frozen milk, and she gleefully shared it with us instead. One friend who is weaning her son, started taking the same oils to increase her own supply in order to help. Another mommy friend brought about 60 ounces of frozen milk and told me that she had more in her freezer if it is ever needed. And a final sweet mommy, who claimed she could never get much milk out when pumped, must have worked so very hard because she brought me about 12 ounces. Rejoice with me, friends. God is gracious. Good. Amazing. He is Yahweh Jireh, our God Who Provides. Once again I wept at God’s kindness toward my girl and me, toward our family.
Feeding an IUGR baby is just plain exhausting. After getting her latched on at each feeding (and her mouth was SUPER tiny), I struggled to help her keep her latch strong, keep both of us awake, then pump, then feed her an ounce with a teeny tiny medical syringe, not to mention burping and diaper changing. It took 30 syringes to feed her an ounce. From start to finish, it took an hour to feed Baby K, and I then I could rest or sleep for two hours. But by the grace of God, ingesting those EOs three or four times helped my milk fully come in by day 3. It was incredible. By the time Baby K was nearly 5 days old (48 hours after that 15% weight loss), she’d gained back 11.5 ounces. I cried. My mom cried. My husband didn’t cry, but I know he was ecstatic. I looked at her tiny frame in awe of how quickly she was gaining back. Two days later, she was at 5lbs 13oz. Are you ready for this? When Baby K went in for her two week check, I begged God to let her have reached the 6lb mark. He blew my mind though. She was 6lbs, 9oz. WHAT?!?! Yeah, I cried again. I laughed while crying. I’m laughing and crying right now. Haha! All the ounces count when your baby is born tiny and has trouble being anything other than tiny. All the ounces.
I called my lactation consultant at the birth center, and she was as amazed as I was. And, she said that at that point I was free to give Baby K the supplemented pumped milk at every other feeding and let her sleep at night until she woke on her own to nurse. Hallelujah! Sleep is so precious. So now we nurse once at night instead of three times. PRAISE. JESUS. The bags under my eyes aren’t quite as heavy anymore.
These last three weeks have been long. And hard. And exhausting. And my poor boys have seen hardly any of me between all of the appointments Baby K and I have had to attend and how frequently she’s had to nurse. Yet we have all survived and are trying to discover a new “normal”. I’m in awe of my fellow mommies and daddies who have babies with IUGR who struggle longer than just two weeks. Some of them have babies who don’t leave the NICU for a long time. We were never there. Once again I’m convinced that because my passion is to one day be an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (and be a darn good one), I’ve run through another gauntlet to help me understand and learn more about breastfeeding and how to better serve my fellow mommies. Remember the last time I had trouble? It’s a journey within a journey, for sure.
I’m still amazed at God’s goodness each day when I notice subtle changes. Baby K now has a nicely sized double chin that is perfect for kissing. Her cheeks are plump and ripe for munching. She still has chicken arms and chicken legs like Brother #2 before her, but the muscles are beginning to hide behind a nice layer of cushy fatness. And her belly, oh her belly. It’s nice and round, and it’s full and happy. My baby girl is happy and healthier and I praise my Jesus for helping us get here. I don’t know how much she weighs right now, but we’ll find out next week. Until then, we’re just gonna keep doing our thing and praising God for what we have.