A solid start in life

starting solids baby food

For those who don’t know us and Fletcher personally, let me inform you that we have a very solid little man. He is tall and big and strong, and since he wasn’t sleeping very well, we decided to start the journey onto solid foods just after he was 4 months old. The baby-led-weaning sounds great – to just give them a piece of whatever you’re eating to hold and nibble on and they will fit in with your eating habits and choose what they like and don’t like – if you are brave enough for the mess it creates and aren’t terrified of them choking. Baby-led-weaning also doesn’t really allow you to track how much your little one is taking in as a lot will go all over his face and on the floor. We decided to go a with the old school approach of home-made purees, starting with veggies for a few days, then adding fruit and finally introducing proteins in week 3. It really is much easier to monitor how much they are consuming when you are in control of the spoon and our little man has proved to be a veritable vacuum, eating just about anything we give him and almost always finishing what was put in his bowl. It sounds like we could be giving him more, but not according to his weight gain over the last 6 weeks – he is still putting on 220 or so grams a week, which is the highest weight gain allowance in the newborn scale. From 6 months on, he should only be putting on between 80 and 140 grams a week, so we have to go back for a check-up in a month to make sure our giant baby isn’t putting on too much weight too quickly.

We started with good old butternut and had the camera rolling for the obligatory 21st video clip of “ahh this was your first food”.  He didn’t seem too impressed but didn’t spit it out either and now butternut is a staple that we always have on hand. After the first three weeks of weaning (first week veggies, second week fruit and veggies and third week protein, fruit and veggies) we started getting a bit more adventurous with what we gave him. We wanted to get the allergy tests – which he passed with flying colours – out the way early on, so we have given him peanuts, fish and eggs.

Wanting to give him the healthiest option and introduce him, right from the start, to good food choices, we have made all of is meals at home with fresh ingredients. Barbs and I love cooking and eating together, and being in the kitchen preparing a meal is more of a fun family activity than a chore. We want Fletcher to have this love for preparing good food and choosing healthy but tasty options right from the get go. That way we’ll have a child who makes good food choices and turns into an adult who, in turn, makes good food choices.

Here are some of his favourite meals so far:

  • Apples, pear and yoghurt
  • Paw paw, apple, pear and yoghurt
  • Rolled oats, apple, yoghurt and peanut butter
  • Brown lentils, butternut and sweet potato
  • Carrots and cinnamon
  • Roast chicken, butternut and kiri cheese
  • Cauliflower, broccoli and kiri cheese
  • Baby Bolognese, butternut and sweet potato
  • Hake and veggies

If you’d like the recipes for any of Fletcher’s favorites, we’ve included them here.

Sleep, what’s that?

To the person who told us to swaddle our baby: please high-five yourself. In the face. Now I know what you’re thinking, everyone swaddles their babies, it’s totally normal so why are you ticked off at the person who advised you to swaddle your baby? The answer is simple: because now we’re screwed.

Fletcher is at the age when it’s advised that you stop swaddling, but we can’t stop swaddling him, because he doesn’t know how to self-soothe. It also doesn’t help that I gave birth to a miniature Houdini! What this means in the real world is that, if he manages to wriggle one or (gods help us) both arms free, he will wake up at least every 45 minutes to an hour wearing his swaddle blankie like a scarf and need to be helped back to lala land. This comes in a range of forms from giving him back his dummy (which he inevitably spits out ±30 seconds after falling asleep) to giving him a bottle, or taking him out of the cot and rocking him back to sleep. Ok, so we keep swaddling him a bit longer and try to slowly ween him off the swaddle. Cool.

Enter the second part of this compound problem. Lately, he wakes up pretty much every hour, at best every two hours whether he’s swaddled or not. Initially, we thought he was waking because he was hungry. So this weekend we took the decision to introduce solids to his daily meal plan. At his last check-up Sr Liesel gave us the talk about introducing solids, explaining that rice cereal is now taboo – empty calories and all – and that one should start with veggies. Cool, no problem.

On Friday night I steamed about half a metric ton of butternut, mashed it up, divvied it into an empty ice tray, ready to be thawed in perfect little portion-sized batches. On Saturday morning we excitedly heated a teaspoon of butternut, put Fletcher into the appropriate protective clothing and began introducing him to the wonders of tepid, unseasoned butternut. He loved it. I mean he didn’t have a clue how to eat it – pushing most of it out of his mouth with his tongue – but he seemed to enjoy the bits that stayed in his mouth. That evening we repeated the process, hoping this would solve our sleep problems. Boy were we wrong.

Saturday night saw us rising every one to two hours throughout the night with the ritual culminating in a 30 minute screaming match at 5am. Becs eventually managed to settle him again, but his new-found allergy to sleeping meant that by 07:00 he was now ready to face the day. Bleary-eyed, we stumbled from bed to heat round two of the butternut extravaganza. Part of me – ok, all of me – hoped that the second day would reinforce everything and that Sunday night he’d really sleep well. Negative Ghost Rider.

Sunday night was even worse. During the day on Sunday, Fletcher had been a terrorist, getting in about three or four 30-minute cat-naps but otherwise not sleeping. Consequently, he was exhausted by 5pm. While I prepared supper, Becs gave Fletcher a bath and put him down nice and early. He settled pretty well, so we were cautiously optimistic. He niggled a few times over the next two hours and we settled him with bottles, meaning that by 7pm he’d smashed another 180ml and would (theoretically) be down for anywhere between four and six hours. Exhausted from our sleepless weekend and two weeks of having a sick baby (that’s a story for another day), we crashed at 9pm. One hour later, the monitor crackled. Drat.

I got up, gave him a bottle and he settled pretty quickly. One hour later, the monitor crackled. Ugh. I got up, put his dummy back in and he settled again. One hour later, the monitor crackled… and so it went, every hour from 10pm until 3am, when I eventually pulled him into our bed and we managed to sleep from 03:20 to 05:25 – five minutes before my alarm was due to go off.

I don’t know if it’s this “four month sleep regression” thing everyone keeps talking about or if he’s just being otherwise, but I really hope he gets over his sudden aversion to sleep soon, because damn son, we are tired! Just a side note on this four month sleep regression thing: I didn’t even know that such a thing existed until a few of our friends who have kids around Fletcher’s age started commenting that their little whipper-snappers were regressing. I joked, saying that Fletcher had never progressed beyond four-hour stretches so there was no progress to regress on. Incorrect. Just because he hadn’t progressed, didn’t mean he couldn’t go backwards. You know how they say there’s rock bottom? Well we weren’t there yet it seems.

Pray for us. That is all.

The grand arrival…

Before I get into this post, I feel the need to warn sensitive readers of the slightly more graphic nature of this post. Just so we’re all entirely clear, what follows details my labour experience. If that’s not up your alley, turn back now. Read this post about Becs’s experience at Antenatal Class, or this one about things not to say to pregnant women. If you’re ok with the slightly gorier details… as you were.

What was that?

At about 04:00 on Thursday, 22 December 2016 I woke up needing to pee – as most 39-week pregnant women do. When I wiped, it felt a bit… well, slimy. I know, not the most attractive thing, is it? But not much about pregnancy is. About 20 minutes later, Becs’s running alarm went off and she quietly (and in the semi-dark) began changing for her run. Not having been able to get back to sleep, I opted to read my book for a while and turned on the lights.

Shortly after Becs left, I needed to pee again – nothing new really – but once again, when I wiped it was slimy. This time, however, there was enough light for me to see what I’d wiped away. A mostly clear, slightly pinkish streaked snot, with the consistency of egg whites. Uhm… Ja, that’s definitely not part of my normal peeing routine.

I cleaned myself up, dashed back to the bedroom, grabbed my phone and almost – almost – dialed Becs’s number. But, it was just before 05:00 so she’d likely be on the road already, or at least out of the car and away from her phone and seeing a missed call from me when she got back to the car would only send her into a tailspin of worry. I put my phone down, rationalising with myself that it was only an hour and not much was likely to happen in an hour.

I picked my phone up again and – far more calmly – opened Safari and typed in “what does a bloody show look like?” (Yes, I’m one of those people who actually ask Google questions instead of typing in keywords.) Having read the article on Baby Centre that described the bloody show as a “blob of blood-streaked pale, creamy-pink snot”, I was pretty convinced I’d had my show.

Armed with knowledge, and the assumption that it wasn’t likely for anything earth-shattering to happen in the next couple of hours, I continued reading my book and intermittently visiting the loo. When Becs got home some time after 06:00, I asked her (as calmly as I could) how her run had been. She responded, but quickly realized there was something else on my mind and, in a voice dripping with concern, asked what was wrong. I told her – once again, as calmly as I could – that I thought my water had broken and explained the symptoms and my reason for not calling her at 05:00 (which she thanked me for) and we agreed we’d message the midwife at a more decent hour and let her know what was going on.

Carry on regardless…

At about 07:30 I sent our midwife a WhatsApp to explain that I thought I’d had my show and that my waters had broken. She asked a few questions about the colour of both the show and the subsequent fluid and told us to keep her posted on any changes. Knowing the movies absolutely lie about how quickly these things progress, we decided to carry on our day as normally as we could. We headed down to Pick ‘n Pay to get some things we needed for Christmas lunch, went for breakfast with a friend and for coffee with another. All the while I continued to lose amniotic fluid but without a contraction in sight.

At around midday, the midwife sent a message to say we should come in an see how things were progressing, which we duly did. Sadly, things were not progressing – I had only dilated to 2cm and without contractions wasn’t all that likely to dilate further. She gave me some homeopathic pills and a solution of some or other medication to be taken every 30 minutes, to help bring on contractions.

Once one’s water breaks, the baby – and I suppose the mother too – are more susceptible to infection, because the door is essentially being left open. This meant that, if my progress was still slow by 16:00, I’d need to go onto antibiotics. We agreed to be back at 16:00 for another check-up and headed home.

At home, we tried everything: I walked up and down the passage and garden, I bounced on the pilates ball, I did lunges on the stairs, I even did squats! Nothing. Well not nothing, per se; I had contractions – about a 4 out of 10, pain-wise and roughly 10 minutes apart, progressing to about 6 minutes apart by 16:00 – but still not quite enough.

All that build-up, and then… nothing

At 16:00, we went back to the midwife and she said I was still only 2cm dilated. Not a great start. 12 hours into “labour” and no more dilated than I was 4 hours ago. Then, as if to cap it all off, my contractions suddenly, and for no reason at all, stopped. We sat around the midwife’s consulting rooms for another hour or so, waiting to see if the contractions would resume, while I continued to feel like an enormous fraud – like I’d made the whole thing up. And, to be honest, if it wasn’t for the amniotic fluid leaking out of me, I’d have been convinced it was all in my head.

But it wasn’t in my head. My water had broken, of that there was no doubt, which meant that I’d have to go onto antibiotics. Once admitted, I was hooked up to an IV and, along with the antibiotics, I was given a stronger solution of the contraction-inducing medicine.

About half an hour later, the contractions started up again, and they’d grown. Now about a 6 out of 10, pain-wise and coming every ± two minutes, for about 30 seconds. We agreed that the midwife would check my dilation again at around 20:00, until then I should continue to time the contractions and walk. And so, we walked. With my IV bag on its little trolley, Becs and I did laps of the hospital ward, announcing every time we walked past the room how many contractions I’d had on my last lap.

Time for some meds, and not the pain-relieving kind

At 20:00, I was still only 2cm dilated and, much to my dismay, the possibility that I wouldn’t dilate further was becoming more of a reality. I was starting to get a bit despondent but I was trying to keep positive, hoping that next time she checks, I’ll be more dilated and then it’ll go quickly. But, it was not meant to be. At 22:00, we checked again – still only 2cm, but with contractions now coming every ±90 seconds and lasting about a minute each time. They’d also climbed the pain-scale and were tipping 8 by now. Each time my body was wracked with another contraction, I clutched Becs’s hand and – breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth – counted my out breaths until it passed.

Time for a new cocktail

Although the induction meds had worked as far as bringing on contractions, they had failed to dilate my cervix any further. We thought little man’s head would do it, because he was well-and-truly engaged! But unfortunately, that hadn’t done the trick either, so it was time to add something new to the cocktail of meds – a muscle relaxant jab to the bum (the site of which, by the way, is still sore, almost two weeks later). We’d give the muscle relaxant time to do its work and check the dilation again at midnight, if it still wasn’t progressing, we’d have no choice but to call the gynae and go for an emergency Caesar.

With the gaps between contractions now sometimes as a short as a few seconds, I was completely exhausted. Throw a potent muscle relaxant into the mix and I was about as useful as an Orthodox Jew at an all-you-can-eat pork buffet. I continued to have contractions, which, according to the machine I was periodically hooked up to, weren’t increasing in strength (although it felt like they were), but they were coming more frequently, but my cervix still wouldn’t dilate.

Time to call the cavalry

By midnight I was still only 2cm dilated and, after 20 hours of labour, we pulled the plug and called the gynae in for an emergency Caesar. My drip was shut off, meaning my contractions immediately began coming less frequently, but after 20 hours, I was completely shattered and feeling them with increasing veracity.

At around 01:00 on 23 December 2016, I was wheeled into the operating room, closely followed by Becs in all her finery (read: scrubs). I’ve never been more thankful for Becs than I was at that moment because I was as high as a kite and barely able to string words together, much less a coherent sentence. The anesthetist was explaining the procedure, what he would do and how the spinal would work. I was trying really hard to follow but finding it difficult to keep my eyes open, much less follow what he was saying. I was presented with consent forms to sign, which I think I signed (whether it was legible or not, who can say), I was moved over to the operating table, where two needles were inserted into my spine: first a local anesthetic and then the spinal block. The anesthetist explained that I’d feel a cold, tingling sensation in my legs and although I’d feel pressure, I wouldn’t feel what was actually being done.

At about 01:20 the Caesar got underway and the first cut, which wasn’t the deepest, certainly was the smelliest. Caesars are done with an implement that cauterizes as it cuts, which means there is a gut-wrenching stench of burning flesh while the cut is being made. It was like a car accident. I couldn’t take my eyes off the surgical lights, because, if you looked closely, you could see a reflection of what was going on “behind the curtain”. I watched them slice through layers of skin, fat, tissue and muscle before all three doctors joined forces to “eject” our son from his home. With the anesthetist pushing down from behind the curtain, the assisting doctor pulling from one side and the gynae pulling from the other, they were eventually able to pull our son from my womb at 01:36 on the morning of Friday, 23 December 2016.

Welcome to the world little man

His screams cut through everything else – our perfect little bundle was here, screaming his tiny lungs out! To say the sound is overwhelming is beyond an understatement. I’ve never felt emotion like I felt in those moments, fleetingly seeing the tiny human I’d grown for the past 39 weeks before he was whipped away to be weighed and measured. He was briefly placed on my chest before being taken to the NICU. The paed was worried about fluid on his lungs, so he needed to be placed on oxygen. Becs went with him and left me in the capable hands of the surgical team for closing up.

After I’d been closed and taped up, I was taken up to our room to wait for Becs to return. I don’t know how long I waited, but I fitfully slept while I did – unable to keep my eyes open anymore. When Becs came back at around 03:30, she explained where he’d gone and why and where she’d been. She told me he was OK. I cried some more and fell into a drug-induced, but brief sleep. Shortly after 08:00 that morning, we went up to the NICU to see our son.

The first major milestone

The first milestone most women work towards in pregnancy is the 12-week mark – the end of the dreaded first trimester. It’s a key milestone for a number of reasons. Firstly, if you’ve had a kak first trimester and struggled with morning sickness, you generally start to feel better after 12 or 13 weeks. Secondly, it’s the point at which most people start sharing their good news more broadly, because the odds of losing the baby reduce quite significantly at this point. And finally, between 12 and 13 weeks is when the various down syndrome tests are performed.

The first test is a diagnostic ultrasound performed by a specialist – either a diagnostic radiologist or a specialist gynaecologist (the latter of which is substantially more expensive). During the scan, they measure about a million different things from skin folds to nose bones and the size of the little tummy.

The second test is a blood test that looks for certain markers, indicating the risk level of the pregnancy. The older you are, the higher your risk, regardless of any other factors. Throw IVF into the mix and – for whatever reason – you’re a higher risk.

The final test, which most doctors only opt for if you have markers on (either or both) the scan and the blood test, is the amniocentesis. An amnio is an invasive procedure that involves sticking a moerse needle through your tummy and into your uterus to draw up some of the fluid around the baby. Genetic testing is then performed on the fluid to ensure the correct chromosomal count. The procedure is relatively risky and has – in some cases – resulted in miscarriage.

Becs and I had discussed the tests at length and had decided to do the scan and then play it by ear. We’d heard so many horror stories about the blood tests returning a false positive, resulting in unnecessary amnios and unnecessary risk to mom and baby. So, we decided, if the scan came back “clear”, we wouldn’t do any of the other tests. And if the scan presented any concerning results? We would – as they say – cross that bridge if we came to it.

The whole point of all of this is to give parents the option of terminating the pregnancy if they discover the child is down syndrome. The idea of termination after we’d fought so hard to get here seemed completely ludicrous, but the idea of raising a down syndrome child was terrifying on so many levels. It’s these situations that really give meaning to phrases like “between a rock and a hard place” or “between the devil and deep blue sea”. We didn’t have a clue what we would do if the tests came back with markers – would we terminate? Would we push on? How would we afford the additional expenses that undoubtedly come with a down syndrome child? If we did terminate, how would we afford to do this again – we’d exhausted our savings and then some? Would we ever forgive ourselves either way?

Unfortunately, Becs couldn’t get off work, so I went for the scan on my own. It was daunting, but I kept reminding myself of the silly things we’d pinned our hopes on – the dream I’d had of him when I was 10-weeks in, blind faith, the gods…

In the consultation after the scan, the doctor unpacked the reasons he advocates the blood test and how the odds of correct diagnosis increase with each subsequent test. I told him about the false positive stories we’d heard and how we had decided to trust the results of the scan. He insisted I take the form for the blood tests anyway – just in case we changed our minds. I thanked him for his time and the form, and left his office.

I called Becs from the car to give her the good news and tell her that – although I had the form – I didn’t think we’d need the blood test. She agreed wholeheartedly and reiterated her confidence that everything would be fine.

That evening we shared our announcement video on social media. And the blood test form? That’s still stuck on the side of the fridge, all-but discarded.