D is for the desperate cries of baby Alex, D is also for the desperation both my husband and I felt when Alex was totally inconsolable; and D is my parenting score. Yes, I’m a blundering mom, who, thank God, is making progress day by day. Most of all, D is for a dramatic week after we left the hospital.
Last week started off with us back at home with baby Alex. Subconsciously I had suspected the honeymoon period ended after hospital discharge, as I braced myself for sleepless nights of getting up to feed and changing diapers. On top of that, I didn’t engage a confinement nanny and instead rely on my mom and mother-in-law to prepare meals for us, my husband to help out with taking care of baby and the laundry, and the part-time cleaning service which comes in once a week to clean the apartment. I figured I would be able to cope with everybody pitching in. What I (and my husband) didn’t count on is the problem with insisting on total breast feeding right from the beginning.
Almost everybody is advocating that breast milk is the best and baby should be on breast milk exclusively, and even formula milk manufacturers are forced to indicate that breast milk should be priority on their packagings. The only person who sings the contrarian tune is my dad who questioned if I had enough breast milk (BM), and suggested I should feed Alex with formula milk (FM). After all my 2 nieces were mostly fed on FM and they turned out fine. Suffice to say, both my husband and I poohed poohed the idea.
Anyway I stuck to only BM for Alex, and that was when we had hell! Alex was always hungry, and it was also very stressful for us during diaper change and bath time. He wasn’t just crying, it was like his last day on earth, he cried till his face all scrunched up and mouth wide and couldn’t make a sound. My husband tried his best to calm and soothe him, but it only worked to a limited extend. My mom asked if he was having enough milk. I don’t know why but I had the assumption that baby wouldn’t require a lot of milk since he was not even a week old, and so I would be able to provide whatever was needed. Needless to say, my husband and I hardly had enough sleep over 2 nights when we had so much difficulty trying to calm Alex down to sleep himself. And it seemed to me like I had to feed him every other hour. I think I probably had only a couple of hours of sleep then. I checked with Natasha if she had similar problems with baby Liam; and found out he wasn’t fretful during diaper change, but during bath time initially. My husband even wonder if Alex was colicky; he was seriously like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
We had to take Alex to see the pediatrician on his 5th day, and I decided that I needed help from Thomson Parentcraft on handling Alex’s crying. I set up an appointment with Mdm Chew Kwai Wah, who was also our instructor at the childbirth education class. (In fact Mdm Chew came to see me twice during my hospital stay to guide me in breast feeding Alex.) But first Alex had to have his blood tested for jaundice level. When that was done, we went to Parentcraft and I had an assessment done by Mdm Chew who found that I had blocked milk ducts in both breasts and especially so for the right breast. I was also suffering from engorgement then. It turned out I wasn’t producing enough milk for Alex! So while Mdm Chew showed me the massage techniques and how to use the Medela pump to stimulate milk production, Alex was passed to my husband at the reception.
While I was expressing milk, I could hear Alex crying outside and it was the same unrelenting cry. Eventually the crying stopped. After Mdm Chew had put on cabbage leaves on my breasts to relieve the engorgement, I went out to the reception and saw Mrs Wong Bok Boi (Director of Thomson Parentcraft) talking to my husband, and Alex was sleeping in a cot next to her. Mrs Wong beckoned to me, “mommy, come and sit down here!” I sat down in front of her, and she said, “do you know that your baby was crying for help? When I heard him crying just now, I couldn’t ignore it. It was a cry of desperation; he didn’t have enough to eat. I gave him formula milk and now see how well he is sleeping? When you don’t have enough breast milk, you have to supplement with formula milk. Just like we help to build wells in Africa, as a Christian sister, since we can’t depend on rain to come.” That was when the tear wells in me burst.
Mrs Wong advised us that while I continue to clear the congestion in my breasts, we have to give formula milk to Alex, and to avoid nipple confusion, it should be given in a feeding cup. By then we were already alerted by the Pediatric Center that the jaundice test result for Alex was out. Before we left Parentcraft, Mrs Wong gave me a few packs of supplement milk powder for lactating moms. She and Mdm Chew also suggested that I tried taking Fenugreek to boost milk production, though Mdm Chew advised I cleared the congestion first before taking it.
When we met up with the pediatrician, Dr Mamas and Papas, she told us that Alex’s jaundice level had shot up to dangerously high level of 19.7 due to dehydration, and so he had to be hospitalized for phototherapy treatment. That caused me to tear up because I knew it was my fault for insisting on total breast feeding, and I just assumed that I had enough breast milk for Alex. That explains why he seemed a little scrawny and his skin was also yellowish; in fact when he was weighed at the Pediatric Center when we registered him earlier, his weight had fallen further to below 3kg/6.6lbs (when his discharged weight was 3.11kg/6.8lbs), which got me a little alarmed then.
So poor Alex had to be hospitalized for 2 nights to treat his jaundice. Dr M&P assured me that he would be ok once he rehydrated, while I was trying not to bawl. When we passed the baby’s stuff to the nurse for Alex, he looked calm. My husband later said, “he looked a little too happy to be hospitalized. He’s probably thinking ‘thank God I’m in the hands of the professionals now!” Despite the joke, I was still pretty emotional and couldn’t stop crying. But my husband consoled me that Alex was in good hands, and we could also use these couple days to recharge since we were totally exhausted during the past days.
We visited Alex the next day and he looked much better; the jaundice level had fallen to 13.4. Alex was also calmer. I breast fed him as much as I could and we used the cup to supplement the formula milk. Here’s Alex looking decidedly better on his second day of hospitalization.
I also took the chance to see Gynae Loh as the situation in the past couple of days had me rushing around and as a result my stitching was causing discomfort. I was worried that there was a tear. Loh did a check and thankfully there was no tear, but slight swelling. He was a little worried that I was too active, particularly since I have relatively high tolerance of pain. In fact he said, “most women at 10 days or even 2 weeks (after birth) would still be walking like a duck.” At that, to my surprise, he proceeded to demonstrate what he meant, “but you, you walk like this.” (Basically like I didn’t go through childbirth.) Anyway at least the wound was healing well, Loh suggested I used salt water to clean it. Nurse Sandra had also suggested earlier to me to switch to wearing flats since I had just given birth, which I guess is to relieve the pressure on my lower back.
The following morning (last Thurs, 7 June), I got a call Dr M&P as well as a nurse from the treatment nursery that Alex’s jaundice level had fallen further to below 10, but they still wanted Alex to stay a little longer for further ‘sunning’, and would be discharged at 5pm that day. When we picked him up, Alex looked like he just returned from a Bahamas vacation. We were told that we had to continue to sun Alex twice a day. Now that we are taking him home again, we are prepared to feed him as much as possible to fatten him up, even if majority of his feed is made up of formula milk.
Anyway you would have thought we had enough of drama, but no, while on the way home on the Pan-Island expressway (PIE), we were alerted by other motorists there was something wrong with the left back tire of our car. We wondered if the tire was punctured cuz my husband had earlier hit the road curb while turning into TMC entrance. I suggested to him to drive to the nearest gas station to change the tire since I’m rather leery of doing that along the highway. But my husband felt he had to check the damage and stopped the car at the road shoulder, near to an exit. Unfortunately he found that it was unsafe for him to drive to the nearest gas station which was 1km away. I suggested he drove to the housing flats next to the highway to change the tire; but google map showed that the entrance to the flats was also not relatively close by, so my husband decided to change the tire on the spot. Now I’m sure you know that there’s quite a significant risk doing that by a busy highway. Even though we were 200m before an exit when vehicles should typically slow down but they still whizzed past like on a rush to somewhere. It was only when traffic built up that they did slow down. My husband told me to take Alex out of the car and stand next to the road barrier, as he was afraid some crazy driver might crash into our car.
So there I was holding Alex in my arms while my husband tried to change the tire, which was turning out to be a monumental task; the bloody nuts in the tire wouldn’t bulge. He had to call the service center who then referred him to the vehicle recovery service (EMAS) from Land Transport Authority (LTA). Thankfully the EMAS vehicle arrived after about 15 minutes and proceeded to assist with the tire change. One of the staff suggested to my husband that Alex and I stay in the car because of the exhaust fumes around us, but my husband was still concerned that a car might crash into ours. So the staff offered for Alex and me to stay inside the EMAS vehicle, which at least is bigger and more sturdy (I suppose), and we did. He could tell Alex was a newborn and he explained he has 3 kids. Both my husband and I are impressed with the efficiency and thoughtfulness of the EMAS staff and have commended them to LTA.
As you can see, we’ve quite an eventful week within the first week of Alex’s arrival. I never even experienced something like this for myself before. I can make do with less surprises. But I’ve also learned a lesson from this episode; one shouldn’t be so dogmatic. I found out from Natasha that she and many other women, who wanted to go the total breast feeding route, made the same mistake of causing their babies to get dehydrated because of insufficient BM. Unfortunately this message is not sent out to women out there that there’s actually a high possibility of this happening, and that they should always be prepared to supplement with FM while stimulating milk production, because this takes time
(Update on 15 June)
Actually the drama did continue later that night after we brought Alex home. When we were changing him late at night, a loose thread got into his mouth. I tried to remove it but couldn’t. And next thing we knew, the thread disappeared. Alex looked a little uncomfortable, and we got pretty concerned. We rushed to the 24-hr clinic at Thomson Medical Center. Strangely the clinic doesn’t have a pediatrician on stand-by, instead it’s a General Practitioner (GP). We were not the only parents there, there were others who arrived after us with their sick babies and toddlers. The doctor checked Alex’s throat and couldn’t find the thread and suspected he might have swallowed it which he didn’t think was a concern because it’s an organic material. That was a relief for us.