March 22, 2006
Looking Back at Peter's 2nd Week
Our first night home from the hospital, I curled up on the bed and cried into Tom's chest. "He's so fragile. I don't know what I'm doing."
I had imagined that all first-time moms were granted instinctual maternal knowledge at the moment of their child's birth, leaving them confident and sure. What was wrong with me that I didn't have this?
Crying every day, I clung to the family there to help. By the end of that second week, I didn't feel ready to do things on my own, but I felt like it was time I learned. I went to bed the night before my first day alone with Peter trying to imagine what the next 24 hours would bring. I even began to feel optimistic.
I had no clue.
When Peter's cry woke me in the morning, I immediately noticed what appeared to be brown spit up on the side of his face, in his hair, and on his sheet. "Why isn't it white?" I wondered, resisting the urge to call my pediatrician before office hours.
After the first feeding, I knew why it wasn't white. It was vomit, which Peter repeated all over my sheets.
Several vomitting episodes and hours later, I explained to my pediatricians partner that I knew what the problem was: pyloric stenosis. I had it, as did my mother, my oldest brother, my great-grandfather, and two cousins. This is a hardening of the valve leading from the stomach which prevents digestion, enlarges the stomach, and causes projectile vomitting.
The doctor told me that it can be difficult for a "new mother" to tell spit up and vomitting apart (would he like to see my sheets?) and for me to watch it over the next several days.
I returned home, watch my son throw up three times in one hour, and called my husband in tears. "Take him to Children's Hospital and have them do an ultrasound," he ordered.
Off we went. The emergency room doctors seemed deaf to my cries of pyloric stenosis, since it doesn't usually show up until the baby is at least three weeks, whereas Peter was only 10 days. His vomitting was serious enough, though, that they admitted him.
Finally we got an ultrasound, and I was vindicated. Once the doctors diagnosed him, I thought the worst was over. The surgery for pyloric stenosis is fairly simple, and I imagined it might even be an outpatient thing.
Nope. We'd be in the hospital for several days. Fortunately both Tom and I were able to stay in Peter's room.
A New Kind of Pain
I discovered what it's like to truly wish someone else's pain on yourself.
I thought blowing six IVs during my labor was bad, but watching my newborn baby blow five was horrific on a whole new level. With each insertion of the needle, his entire body stiffened, his feet curling up. He'd turn scarlet, his out opening wide for a tormented cry that wouldn't come at first. They say that newborns don't produce tears, but I saw Peter's first: a fat round drop that balled then rolled from his left eye.
The fifth IV was in his scalp, which meant that Tom and I would hold Peter in our arms in shifts for the next 36 hours. We were afraid he'd knock it out if we lay him down, and I couldn't let him go through getting a new one.
Then there was the nose tube. It was supposed to go to the stomach but came out through Peter's wailing mouth the first time the nurse tried to insert it.
The worst part? His favorite comfort, my breast, was denied. The nature of his condition and the impending surgery meant his only sustenance was to be the IV. I held him in my lap, rocked him, tried to hold a pacifier in his mouth, and still he would turn his head sideways and root into my dried-vomit t-shirt.
The best we could do for him was help him to sleep. We kept him snuggled tight in our arms, replacing the blankets when he threw up (several times even after the nose tube drained his belly). The warmth and cuddling seemed to do the trick, and Peter slept pretty constantly until his surgery the next day.
All's Well that Ends Well
The surgery was nothing. Quick and successful, just as I'd imagined. Peter recovered easily, as do most babies with pyloric stenosis.
We did have some long hours after the surgery. We held him in shifts for another 24 hours, at first because of his IV, then later so he'd be upright and less likely to throw up. It was difficult watching him root and fuss, since we had to re-introduce breastmilk in small, measured bottle feedings more slowly than he'd like.
After awhile, I felt that if I could just put him on my breast and let him eat as he pleased, we'd both be okay. I'd be doing all I needed to as a mother, and all his needs would be met.
As we came home from the hospital together for the second time in two weeks, with Peter back on my boob, I felt like I could do it this time. The third week would be better, right? If only I knew!