three weeks of Elli
And what a wonderful, hectic, exhausting, challenging set of weeks it has been!
Elli, what I want to tell you as you read this and subsequent posts and realize that there are fewer pictures and words about you than there were with your sister is that we are crazy about you. You are our tiny miracle, and the fewer photos and words really indicate that our lives are all much more full than they were two years ago when we brought home your sister. Instead of typing as frequently, I am spending the quiet moments after your sister falls asleep just holding you and loving on you. I have barely put you down in three weeks — sharing you with daddy or other visitors when I need to, but otherwise we are together every moment. So please, don’t take the lack of words/pictures as an indication of how we feel about you, but as a simple sign that our lives are more full than we could have ever imagined and that we’re enjoying living our life in real time as opposed to reminiscing about it on this little blog.
We brought Elli home three days after her birth. She looks impossibly tiny in the car seat… and we had forgotten how terrifying driving with a tiny newborn could be until we all got in the car to go home. Elli has had a few quiet gagging episodes, and I am so very terrified that she’s just going to stop breathing in the few moments that I am not giving her all of my attention. One of these gagging episodes occurred on the way home — we had to make a quick stop, pull her out of her seat, and clear her airway. Terrifying.
We’ve given Elli only a few baths since she’s been home. Her tiny 5-lb frame seems so fragile, slippery, and prone to heat loss that we’re hesitant to overdo it. She isn’t a huge fan of the bath initially, screaming as we put her in the water, but then she seems to calm herself and just sort of stare at everything around her with a slightly bewildered look. She’s also mastered brow furrowing already, so we occasionally get that look as well!
None of the hats in our stash fit her, so I cut a sleeve off of a few shirts and made my own by tying a knot in one end. The newborn clothes also seem laughably big on her, but it’s only a matter of time before she outgrows them. Sigh. This is the downside of being an experienced parent: I know just how quickly these babes grow, how fleeting this sweet cuddle time with my newborn is.
We thought Elli was doing well with feeding, and in the first week she seemed to feed enough times during the day/night, and to fill her belly and then fall asleep. She seemed to have her days and nights switched, waking much more often overnight than during the day. I wasn’t overwhelmingly surprised by this given that she was SO active at night in the womb. Late in the week, I became a bit concerned, though, as she wasn’t dirtying as many diapers as she was earlier in the week. We went in for a one-week weight check and were surprised that she was down to 4 lbs 9 oz – almost a pound of weight lost since birth. The doctor recommended pumping and bottle feeding her so that we could monitor her intake more exactly, so I began the task of pumping, and my mom, who was back to help us that week, began the nearly impossible task of waking Elli from her afternoon nap to feed. (And I know it was nearly impossible because waking her during the days to eat was REALLY tricky that first week!) As I pumped, I discovered that my supply was nearly nonexistent, and so I spent several days pumping like crazy and taking strange lactation supplements.
Elli ate better overnight, but still seemed difficult to wake the next morning, and wasn’t eating even half of the amount that the doctor told us to feed her. We called the pediatrician’s office, and then headed over to the hospital for observation. Luckily, our strong little Elli pulled through and continued to eat more as the day went on, meeting the feeding goals that the hospitalists and our doctors made for her. This mama was so thankful that her tiny baby avoided a feeding tube! We were discharged after a 24 hour observation and asked to follow up in the peds office later in the week.
I’ve had so much mama guilt about this feeding situation — how could I not notice that my baby was losing so much weight?! It felt terrible to not be able to feed my baby, and to have to work so hard to produce only half of what she needed to eat. We’ve since learned that even if premature babies are born with the suck reflex, they still may not have the strength and coordination to nurse properly since sucking skills develop in week 35 and are practiced until birth. We’ve also learned that these early babies like to just fall asleep as a coping mechanism… so when I thought that she filled up and fell asleep the way a full-term baby might have, she may have actually just been overwhelmed with trying to nurse and she likely didn’t get enough to eat. This makes me feel terrible. My poor baby may have been hungry for days and I didn’t even know! I really wish we would have been told all of this during our initial hospital stay, but we weren’t given much information about how preterm babies behave differently than full term babies.
Since our overnight in the hospital, we’ve been following a three step feeding regimen: try to breastfeed for 30 min, pump for 20, bottle feed (usually takes ~30). Repeat every 2-3 hours. So basically mama has somewhere between 40 min and an hour 40 to sleep, eat, shower, play, etc between feedings. It’s not been the easiest schedule to follow (especially in the wee hours of the morning), but I’ve been so lucky to have Jason home or family visiting to help. I don’t think I would have been able to follow this schedule without the help, so thanks to everyone who has been around for helping me to feed my baby the best way I know how. It’s hard now, but I keep reminding myself that this is only a short-term solution, and that things will get easier in just a few short weeks.
And, we’re seeing Elli’s weight slowly return to her birthweight, so that is absolutely worth all of the time and energy spent pumping and bottle feeding in the past weeks. As she gets bigger, she’s also waking more and looking around. She’s into windows, black picture frames hanging on our walls, and the ceiling fan in our bedroom. She seems like a pretty mellow kiddo so far, crying infrequently and flashing happy little faces frequently (let’s pretend that it’s actual happiness – not gas, okay?).
Undoubtedly the best parts of our weeks with Elli have been the times we’ve been together as a family of four. Lilly is SO smitten with her baby sister, and I can’t wait to see Elli return the sentiment. Lilly is so gentle with El, and sweetly talks to her in a high pitched voice. ”You have hat, baby Elli!” ”You have stripes!” ”You are tine (tiny) baby Elli!” “You have tine (tiny) fingers!” “You have blue eyes!” (That last phrase is usually accompanied by a poke to the eyes… sorry, Elli.) Lil is so proud to be a big sister, and when Elli cries, she’ll say, “want your big sister?” I’ve been so impressed with the lack of jealousy and the ease of their relationship right now. I’m sure things will become more complicated as they grow and continue to develop different personalities, likes/dislikes, and strengths/weaknesses, but for now I can only hope that they’ll build a strong foundation to fall back on when their relationship is tested.