“I think that Hazel is truly in distress. I think she is suffering but I think I can help.”
I collected my things and my wailing child. I held the tears in until I got home and called the pediatrician. It took all of 5 seconds before I broke down and she literally could not understand a word I was saying. I had gone to see a very popular and well-respected chiropractor who specializes in cranio-sacral therapy because my 10 month old daughter was eating very very little (none?) table food.
The woman had taken an extensive oral history, then physically assessed Hazel. We were there for almost 3 hours. She told me that Hazel had restrictions, tightness, pain, etc. in her head, throat, diaphragm, and colon. She wanted to do a lot of work. She was gentle and moved slowly, but even her initial exam – no treatment yet – was scary for Hazel and we had a lot of tears. I asked her what would happen if she wasn’t treated and she told me about 4 year old’s who only drink specially formulated, high calorie formula – and nothing else. I relayed the chiropractors assessment and asked our beloved doctor if she agreed. Assuming, hoping she would reassure me and say no.
She hesitated before answering me, “I would like a second opinion”, she said. And so we got one.
You see, my daughter’s mouth has never been her strongest body part. If she were a super hero, inhaling food would not be her superpower. (Having the best dimples, or the most adorable arm wrinkles or growing the longest hair would all be in the running, though.) Learning to nurse was difficult for her and so was learning to eat. We tried and tried again to get her eating table food. At 6 months, then 8, then 9. We tried purees, baby led weaning, packaged pouches. We tried to feed her and we tried to let her feed herself. High chair, no high chair. We tried it all.
But the same thing always happened: she’d be excited, put whatever it was in her mouth, move it around and spit it back out. Happily. With no anger or power struggle. She just didn’t swallow. And I wanted to know why. So I went to see a cranio-sacral therapist because Hazel responded so well to that modality as a newborn. And the lady scared the living shit out of me.
Then, I called the occupational therapists at Children’s because they, too, were immensely helpful when we were teaching Hazel to nurse in the early days. They told me to come in and said I should have come sooner. They agreed that a 10 month old should be eating. I was terrified that they would come to the same conclusion – that Hazel was unable to swallow. That she hurt when she tried to eat. But they said she was fine, probably just not developmentally ready and that I should wait and keep trying. They gave me handouts and special utensils but the best thing they gave me was a little more patience and it turns out that”s all I needed.
Hazel was a late teether and a great lover of breastmilk who nursed on demand. In a philosophical way, I always thought Hazel should have a tooth before we offered her first food. Now, in a much more concrete and personal way, I think that teeth are an overlooked sign of food readiness in babies. We focus on pincer grasps (check), sitting up unassisted skills (check) and interest in what your eating (check but, newsflash, babies are interested in every single thing you do) but leave teeth as an after thought and it just makes sense to wait for them. We need them to chew.
Hazel started to eat small amounts of food just after she turned 10 months and guess what? That milestone came right after her first 6 teeth. She had also never been hungry because I nursed her all the time and so she had had very little motivation to satiate herself with new, solid, table food (hard) instead of familiar, liquid breastmilk (easy).
When she turned a year and started walking, I believe her calories burned started to outweigh her breastmilk intake and she, quite easily but also quite slowly, began to eat more food. I’m not worried anymore. Yes, it was a tad late for her to finally catch up to her peers at the dinner table at a year old instead of 6 months. Yes, it was right of me to pay attention and to get some input as to what may have been going on. But when she’s 6, will we care that she wasn’t chowing down at 11 months? I’m pretty sure we won’t.
So many things in parenting are like this. Everything behavior, developmental milestone, and growth chart will look different depending on the person looking. We can look at our children and see any small way that they are different. Your 7 month old is eating 1/4 cup of puree twice a day? Your 10 month old has a piece of toast in the morning? My daughter must be wrong. Everyone else is eating. Everyone else is ready. But she just wasn’t ready. Yet.
And then she was. I can go to a doctor (or whatever, a moms group, a in-law, a unknown parent at the park) and receive negative messages and alarmist information about what should or shouldn’t be. Or, I can choose to trust myself. Take an objective look at my sweet baby: is she growing? Is she happy? Am I? And know that everything is fine, that everything will come in its own time. Hazel and I will know many experts in her life, and everyone will have a different opinion. But I will always be her one and only mother. And I’m no fool.