Sofia hasn't been eating. She's been refusing both breast and bottle and we've been feeding her with a syringe. I really can't think of anything worse than not being able to feed your little baby. I take a deep breath and grab the diaper bag, my purse, a bottle of water. Brian lifts Sofia in her car seat and we make it out the door just in time. Of course we didn't factor in that we need to stop for gas. Now, we're even more on edge.
Somehow we still get there in plenty of time and we find Radiology without much of a problem. I fill out the usual paperwork and then we don't even sit down in the waiting room. They're ready for us right away.
A nurse tells us the Xray room will be cramped and it's standard for only one parent to be present. I tell them we'd both like to be there and Brian nods his head firmly. She shuffles us into the room. I guess it's a small room, I think to myself, but it's not that small. Medical professionals start introducing themselves. We put on our lead jackets to protect us from the radiation. Except tiny Sofia. She's bare, exposed. We're instructed to place her on top of an elevated seat and somebody in brightly colored scrubs starts mixing a bottle for her to swallow. Brian looks intently at the Xray screen. I stare at my Sofia. Somebody hands me a bottle to feed her. In less than thirty seconds, the speech pathologist says, "She aspirated. Stop the bottle please."
I will never nurse Sofia again. I know this.
My girlfriend's son had this swallow study done and I know what aspiration means. I mourned my friend's loss when she had to stop breastfeeding her son after his swallow study.
Brian asks intelligent questions. The speech pathologist asks him if he has a medical background. I have rapid tears spilling out of my eyes.
I will never nurse Sofia again. I try to maintain. I try to pull myself together. I have to be strong for my girl.
Somebody hands me a different bottle to give Sofia. I know it's been thickened. My girlfriend explained to me that her son's liquids would all have to be thickened until he was at least two years old. Pumped breast milk is not an option, she had explained to me, because it's way too thin. Again, within less than a minute, I'm instructed to put the bottle down because Sofia aspirates again. The speech pathologist shows Brian on the Xray screen exactly where the liquid entered her lungs. Brian makes a comment about how we're lucky to have caught this before her lungs collapsed. I stare at Sofia. I ask, "Does this mean I can't breastfeed? Does this mean I definitely can't nurse her?" Nobody hears me. My question hangs lifeless in the air. Suddenly the room does feel too small. And I feel like I can't breathe.
We are taken to another wing of the hospital. A nutritionist joins the speech pathologist and we're told Sofia will be having a feeding evaluation. They explain that Sofia has a condition called dysphagia, which means she has difficulty swallowing, which, in turn, means she aspirates and the liquid goes below her vocal cords and enters the airway of her lungs. It's over. It's done now. I will never nurse Sofia again.
...As the feeding evaluation continues, I watch Brian feed her a bottle that has been mixed to the viscosity of honey. Sofia is calm. She doesn't turn her head or twist her body. She doesn't cry, not even once. She takes the bottle with ease and I realize something has happened since she was born...
I intended to nurse Sofa because I firmly believed it was the best possible thing for her. But somewhere over the course of her young life, the nursing became more for me. I watched Sofia take that bottle and my heart broke. When she nursed, she had felt like she was drowning. My breast milk was literally going into her lungs. She couldn't breathe! She hadn't felt safe. I felt ashamed. I wanted Sofia to nurse because I wanted her to need me. To need me more than anybody else. I had connected so deeply with the whole breastfeeding culture. Normalizing breastfeeding resonated with me in a really powerful way and nursing on demand had become the bulk of my mothering. Attachment parenting made sense to me and breastfeeding felt so crucial, the binding agent to what I believed mothering was supposed to be.
I nursed Sofia for four months and one week. And I will never nurse Sofia again. And I am grateful.
Something in me has let go. To the expectations. To the attachment. To all of it.
I just want to keep my girl safe.