And then I had no choice, but to surrender

I’ve previously written about my son’s struggles with feeding & eating since his birth. When he turned two back at the beginning of May, he started refusing to be spoon fed the puree he’d been accepting for the previous 18mths. On a human level, I understood it – none of his friends were being spoon fed anymore, so why should he? On an emotional level & in terms of being his mother & needing to feed him, panic set in. My little boy who was still considered ‘failure to thrive’ (FTT) & had recently lost weight had decided to refuse all meals. His daily intake consisted of snacks & his two milk bottles & I was beside myself with worry.

I stressed about this day & night. The thoughts & knot in my stomach was all consuming & encompassing. My anxiety (Selma) was through the roof. I could see that there were no physical & developmental deficits from his lack of intake as he continued to be full of beans, energetic, able to understand my commands & had started saying a few words (although we had started speech therapy with him a few months prior). Our weekly feeding clinics continued & he showed the same level of interest he had in previous weeks (apart from his rejection of cold & wet foods) & I continued to be at a loss as to how to get him to eat meals at home. He seemed to eat some of his meals at creche which was beyond relieving for both myself & his carers as they were also worried for him.

I have often thought that having a child with feeding & eating issues was one of the cruelest jokes mother nature can play on a mother. Feeding your baby/toddler is primal & having this taken away from you is one of the most awful things for a parent to experience. A friend of mine called it ’emotional torture’ & I couldn’t agree more.

Months went by with no breakfast, lunch or dinner being eaten by him. He ate snacks, drank his milk & I was in a panicked frenzy every meal time & leading up to each meal. I decided to take Flynn & consulted with a Paediatric dietician to come up with some ideas of how to increase his calories & intake per day. He was prescribed Pediasure to be added into his milk & this was a successful addition to his daily bottles after a week of slowly adding the scoops (due to the vanilla flavour). I was relieved when he took his milk bottles & sometimes even finished them! It was suggested we try making other puree options for him, by pureeing meals prepared for both Orli & Seon & I due to the amount of protein in some of the on-the-shelf pouches. I bought squeeze ’ems (reusable ouches where I could put in my own purees for him to suck on), bought & stuck Peppa Pig & Thomas the Tank stickers on them to excite him about the content. I pureed, it was rejected. I froze, ice cubed chicken, beef & veggies & they were all rejected. I wished he had a PEG or g-tube  because it was meal insurance – what he didn’t have orally, he would still get. It was the insurance I had for his first three months of life when he was being fed nasal-gastrically. (Note: Please know I don’t mean to minimise the function or use of feeding tubes & other long-term issues that feeding tubes create – weaning, oral issues etc – I am grateful for my son not having one, but my anxiety at the time just wanted my son to be fed).

I was exhausted, defeated, frustrated & disheartened. And then I surrended.

I HAD to relinquish my control over his food & his intake. I had to let him be the one to decide what & when & how he was going to eat. It has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my whole life & each day was a mental & emotional rollercoaster.

Three months of Flynn only eating at creche, we went to feeding clinic & something clicked inside Flynn’s brain. He started to eat new things & was happy, excited & engaging – he wanted to share the experience with us. At this session, we started using a new technique/strategy on how we spoke & engaged with him during meals & it was a thoroughly positive experience for all. It worked. And it worked because HE had decided he was ready. It worked because the room was free of anxiety & pressure. It worked because I had surrended myself a few weeks prior. And then I didn’t care why it worked – it was working.

He ate a chicken nugget, so that night at dinner it was nuggets. He ate them, I used the techniques learned that morning & I cried tears of joy that whole time. The next night I added chips (fries), which was something I was petrified of re-introducing after many failed attempts previously which included gagging/chocking & vomiting. He ate them. I cried. The next night was fish fingers as they looked similar to nuggets. He ate them. I cried. After months of offering & preparing toast, he started eating it. Meal times were more relaxed. Everyone got excited when he ate something new or tried something new. There were made up songs, dances of joy & lots of high-fives against those little toddler hands.

The next few weeks was researching recipes & preparing food together. We did healthy savoury muffins & vanilla cupcakes. I added quinoa flakes, chia seeds & at times & used veggies I’d never cooked with before. We used our strategies & techniques when he would try them & I’m proud to say that there have been many, many successes.

Even though Floo has started eating, I’ve had to admit I’ve now started worry about the nutritional value & calories content of his meals (will the worry ever be at bay?????). Some parents complain that all their child eats is nuggets & chips & I’m bloody thrilled. I’ve now started using Superfoods for Kidz powders in most of the foods I prepare for Flynn & Orli too. The best thing about the powder is that I can add it to batter, soups, mixtures – anything. I feel better knowing his food is ‘better’ for him & Orli too.

As much as I can report that Flynn’s eating has improved, so has his aim. Food flies across our kitchen, yoghurt is wiped all over the table & his is proud to tell himself off ‘nauttttyyy’ (naughty) when he throws food all over the place. And this brings a whole new level of frustration – but he’s eating & now we’re experiencing what other families experience with babies/toddlers at mealtimes – which is something I’ve been waiting for & hoping for since his feeding issues started at  eight months of age.

Another milestone we’ve experienced, is that we have officially eaten out as a family. We ate at a food court together which is simple & ordinary & something most families take for granted. At two years & three months, we have finally had a meal out together that didn’t include me spoon feeding my son, being stressed about him eating or worrying about him cracking it & refusing his food. I had to pinch myself as this has been something I have wished for for so very long.

I could not have stayed sane during this time had it not been for the love & support shown in the LTBM Australia (Laryngomalacia, Tracheomalacia &/or Bronchomalacia Australia) closed FB group. I’m certainly not alone there when dealing a FTT child, a child with oral aversions or food sensory issues, with the feelings of anger, frustration &/or sadness. I am certainly not alone of feeling robbed. Thank you, to each & every one of you that virtually held my hand & sent hugs during the ‘great food refusal of 2013’.

And to all of you that ‘liked’ or commented on my FB posts, photos & videos of Flynn eating – thank you. You’ve all made this hard (& often lonely) journey easier & it’s our pleasure & honour to share our good news & wins with you all.

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