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Natural Parenting In An Unnatural Environment

by julie on March 13th, 2012

Welcome to the March 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With Special Needs

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how we parent despite and because of challenges thrown our way. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


She was born at home at 7:19pm on a snowy, winter’s evening in Lanark County in December 2003.

She was full term and gorgeous and obviously struggling to stay with  us. Medical interventions were administered by the midwives and within minutes of the birth, our primary midwife instructed someone to call 911.

There was a glitch.  Our daughter aspirated meconium (first bowel movement) which she had passed moments before her birth. Within seconds, the serene birth setting changed drastically. Being two blocks from a hospital, it took only minutes for a paramedic to come into our bedroom and scoop up our new bundle of love. He rushed her out the door to a waiting ambulance with my husband following close behind. I received the call at 1am that our daughter was being air lifted to the children’s hospital and I quickly pointed out to the nurse with whom I spoke that our daughter was going to be breastfed and to please not give her a bottle. In a gentle but firm voice, she replied, “Your daughter is very sick.

We were the newcomers in the neonatal intensive care unit and  when she was 36 hours old, I was set up with a breast pump and proceeded to squeeze out the 5ml of expressed breast milk requested. This precious milk was then fed through the nasal-gastric tube which had been inserted as the primary method of feeding her. When she would receive the milk, we (or a nurse) would put some milk on her lips so that she could taste it and smell it.  In those first few days, we were not permitted to hold her as she was quite fragile and unstable. We were also discouraged from touching her too much for fear of over stimulating her. If we could have climbed into the enclosed bassinet and curled up next to her, we would have. Instead we would slide our hands through the portholes and place them near her cheek so that she could smell us. We would talk and sing to her and never left her side. Finally, at five days of age, we held her for the first time. The MRI that was performed that morning showed what the Neurologist had suspected: our sweet baby girl suffered an abrupt lack of oxygen (hypoxic eschemic encephalopathy) due to the meconium aspiration. In a nutshell, we were facing a tough road ahead which included parenting a child with very severe special needs. The dreams we had of having her home for Christmas quickly faded as we scrambled to make sense of and face the new reality we had been handed.

Our family then (December 2003)

In our idealistic, expectant parent world, my husband and I had intended on climbing into our bed after our birth and bonding with our baby. We imagined being cared for by family members in those early days and just hanging out indoors for the winter getting to know this new person. I was definitely going to breastfeed exclusively and we would have likely been co-sleepers. Like all parents, we spent a good amount of time in our pregnancy imagining our life as a new family.  We planned to avoid all things that we thought could be harmful to her like chemically laden baby products and harsh detergents and we were anxious to use our Fuzzi Bunz cloth diapers that we proudly purchased one fall day in 2003 as we prepared for her birth. Oh, how I wish my greatest concern was protecting her from harmful chemicals found in commercial baby wash. Our decisions as expectant and then new parents were not a matter of following a fad nor  feeble attempts at keeping up with the Jone’s (who are the Jone’s anyway?). We made our decisions with the information we had, the research we did and always from a place of love. Natural parenting just came naturally to us. It made sense to us.

Although it became very clear in only a few days that our parenting journey was going to be taking a major detour, we still managed to practice natural parenting even though we found ourselves in a very unnatural environment.

While in the hospital for those first 10 weeks, we could not use our cloth diapers. A part of the routine in the hospital is the ritual of weighing each diaper after a change. That was okay as we knew that the Fuzzi Bunz, which we had exchanged for a larger size, were waiting at home for her use. I was never able to breastfeed as the sheer force of the let down would have caused her to choke and possibly aspirate and so I continued to pump every 3-4 hours round the clock and feed her through that nasal gastric tube. Unfortunately, after a terrifying attempt at feeding her with a bottle followed by a feeding/swallowing study, it was apparent that she was in serious danger of aspiration. A decision was made to surgically insert a gastronomy tube into her belly at 6 weeks of age. I pumped and fed her breastmilk exclusively through that feeding tube for a year.

When we finally brought her home at 10 weeks of age, she was so sick with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) that we held her upright all of the time and we parked her crib right beside our bed within arm’s reach as she would choke and retch at least 15 times per night. That first year was particularly challenging as not only were we starting and stopping feeds every hour and a half, we were also dealing with almost continuous retching. I was determined to only give her breastmilk as I knew formula would be a disaster to her already compromised digestive tract. Without even consciously planning on it, my husband and I became attachment parents because it was detrimental to the well being of our daughter. We just might hold the record for the longest stretch of attachment parenting. To this day (8+ years later), we are still holding her in our arms and always have her within arm’s reach except for quick trips to the bathroom. Now that is what I call extreme attachment parenting!

In the end, although, our journey has not been at all what we had envisioned, we were still able to adapt our natural parenting preferences to this very unusual and unchartered territory. At times, we have had to deal with ignorance and head shaking from the powers-that-be and even from friends and family members but we would not change a thing.

We all must figure out the best way to parent OUR children without judging others’ decisions that may differ from our own and without feeling a need to defend our choices.  We have parented our daughter in the way we had intended to with perhaps a bit more creative flair.

It is important for expectant and new families to know that with some negotiation and reasonable requests, many of our natural parenting philosophies can still be a central part of nurturing our new baby when in an unnatural environment (like a hospital) or when at home and coping with an unexpected outcome like a baby with medical issues and/or special needs. When everything else seems out of control, you can still hold on to those things that are important to your family.

Our family today (February 2012)....photo by Erin Egan

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 13 with all the carnival links.)

 

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19 Comments
  1. I just devoured this post, and then clicked and read your post about holding your daughter. And I’m sure I’ll be back to read more! What a rough start you had, but it sounds like you have received everything with grace. What a beautiful picture!!

  2. Thank you! Be sure to read the essay that started it all on my Home Page. thanks for your comment and for the opportunity to be a part of this Carnival.

  3. Wow, that essay on your Home Page has me tearing up!

  4. “We were also discouraged from touching her too much for fear of over stimulating her.” Ugh. This sentence hurt me to my core. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like. At seven months old I can’t seem to go very long without touching him (after spending most of the day on Sunday taking pictures at Val and Marty’s shower my arms were literally aching to hold him by the end). Being told not to touch him in those early days would have been torture.

    The way that you combine Mama Bear Parenting with Natural Parenting is really an inspiration to me.

  5. Jennifer PM permalink

    You are heros, both of you, and an inspiration of dedicated parenting.

  6. Beautiful post Julie. Love the new picture from Feb. 2012. Gorgeous!

  7. So beautifully written and so heart wrenching all at the same time. I started tearing up in the second paragraph and by the time I reached the part about the feeding tube I was bawling so hard I could no longer see the screen. I will definitely be back to read more.

  8. It’s really hard for me to read this, as our NICU trip is still very clear in my mind. We also had lots of issues with the breast milk thing, and baby was pushed formula AND a glucose drip the first two days… by then I had wrestled my way into expressing and trying to have him nurse at the breast.
    Hugs to you

  9. Wow, Julie, what an incredible story. I think it really speaks volumes as to how we imagine we will parent vs reality. And yet, so many moms would have given up and NOT tried to be ap parents. Thank you for sharing this. Way to go, mama!

  10. Rachel @ Lautaret Bohemiet permalink

    This post… your words… I have no words in return. I can barely see through my tears to type.

    You are strong, mama.

  11. I read your intro page yesterday in preparation for the Carnival. It is amazing how much your love for your daughter shows in all of your posts – especially when describing the challenges surrounding her birth.

  12. What a beautiful post of the love of a parent that knows no bounds. What a tribute to your daughter and a great testimony of your determination. Thank you for sharing this.
    I stopped by from the carnival, if you get a chance stop by and say hi. I am off to read your other posts as I see the previous comments.

  13. She is beautiful. Your story made me cry, so overwhelming and so sad! You make a beautiful family, and your fight is so evident amongst the soft tone of your words. Thank you.

  14. Thanks again for your words, we love it. It is incredible how many many people and families share the same kinds of stories.

    Cloth nappies in the Neonatal intensive care unit???? Check this post (use the translator gadget on the right), Iara in the second photo.

    http://iarapirata.blogspot.com/2011/11/llegaron-los-nappies.html

    Love from Argentina.

  15. Lovely words! I struggled a bit reading this because it reminded me so much of our own NICU stay. We were fortunate enough to be in a hospital that catered to attachment parenting, but nonetheless it was still painful for us because it was so very unnatural and not at all what we’d hoped for. I’m inspired by your strength…and your fantastic writing!

  16. So beautifully written! It is so inspiring to me to read about how you were able to hold onto the ideals of your family even in these challenging circumstances. What strength!

  17. Thank you for sharing your story in this carnival, Julie. As I face the increasingly likely prospect of surgery for my infant son, your story gives me courage that I can indeed become, day by day, the mother whom he needs. Blessings to you and your family.

  18. Wow. Reading that story was very emotional for me. My son passed meconium in the waters which was apparent from the very start of my labour when my waters broke green. It was the least serious type and at the time I was annoyed that the midwifes wouldn’t let me go ahead with my homebirth. It is stories like this that make you realise how differently things could have gone and how amazing and patient the midwives were under the circumstances. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Your family is beautiful!

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