There was a post in my reflux support group last week which hit home so hard that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. One of the Mums asked “Does anyone else feel like Reflux has robbed you of something in your life…?” I imagined a flurry of urgent keyboard tapping in reflux homes around Australia as the responses came flooding in, mine included, with a resounding YES!
Parents shared how they felt robbed of having a peaceful, content, happy or healthy baby. Or how their child’s reflux had impacted their own mental health, self-belief and as one Mum said “her ability to handle supposedly everyday situations”. Many of our members contribute the fear of facing reflux again, to their decision to not extend their family – something those close to me have probably heard me say.
I was visiting my girlfriend Renee one day (affectionately known as ‘Australian-Post-Friend’ after our mutual delivery lady realised we were two Mums with new babies living just around the corner from each other, and orchestrated us swapping numbers. True story).
I looked on in disbelief as she breast-fed her second baby, Harry. He was quietly and contently feeding in her arms, while she seemed to effortlessly continue her conversation with me.
“How’s his feeding going?” I inquired, curious to know if what I was witnessing was usual
“Yeah good” she replied casually “he likes his milk”
It was a stunningly beautiful image of mother and son.
And a million miles from the best breast feed I had ever experienced.
Pulling out of Renee’s driveway half an hour later, I felt tears prickling behind my eyes. Another 200m down the road and I had to pull over as I started sobbing with sadness over the gaping hole in my parenting journey.
I desperately craved consistently holding a happy and healthy baby in my arms, instead of the writhing, back-arching, sad little babe my son often was at meal time. I resented that so many of the feeds I had offered my child had been a physically painful experience for him, and felt ripped off that I had not known the delight of providing regular feeds (breast or bottle) that had filled his little body with nutrients and contributed to regular, healthy weight gain.
Robbed, as it turns out, is exactly how I was feeling.
There were other things that I blamed reflux for taking from our family. My son’s right to medication free days, and time spent in his pram, bassinet or car seat without antagonising his discomfort. Our families’ right to remember events for their significance, instead of the reflection of where we were on our reflux journey at that time. My “mother’s instinct” was non-existent due to constant confusion, overwhelm and the doubt that I experienced in my attempt to deal with reflux.
When son number 2 came into our family, our Pediatric Gastroenteroligst’s prediction that we would be embarking on another reflux journey also came to life. The familiar feelings of injustice started to creep in as we struggled to feed, calm and settle our little man.
This time though, something was different. To begin with, it was the realisation that rather than a near-constant sense of failure, I had the ability to at least spend some of my time determined to improve the situation for my son and our family.
I was on a rollercoaster ride that saw me high with focus and strength one day, and upside down with worry and exhaustion the next. Sometimes I‘d be thrown sideways as guilt came at me from out of nowhere for once again not being able to fix things for my precious baby. Gradually, I would find myself climbing a slow ascent out of the crazy, unpredictable ride reflux can be, as medication started to take affect or we had a small win with a new formula or new bottle. And then the free fall downwards would start again as he outgrew his medication or his little body built tolerance to the current dose of meds.
The funny thing is, over time I became familiar with the ride. I knew how to brace myself for the twists and turns, and recognised what worked in making me comfortable during the scary bits. I knew from experience that at some stage it would slow to a stop.
So to all the parents out there facing reflux and feeling robbed – I hear you. Truly, I do.
But hear me too.
You are doing the very best with the skills and knowledge that you have.
And as you learn even more, you will do even more.
And I promise, there is some good you can take from this situation.
Without even realising it you are practising a resilience that will stand you in good stead for the challenges that will inevitably come into your life. You are developing even more of an appreciation for those treasured moments that can sometimes be taken for granted.
You will have empathy that you may not have had before for how all-encompassing parenting challenges can be, and a deep respect for those around you who are facing their own trials.
And I bet you are amazingly efficient at laying a patchwork of vomit cloths out on the floor, an undeniably valuable life skill.
We were fortunate to wean our sons successfully off reflux medication at 21 months old and 14 months old respectively. I was deliriously happy as we reached those milestones and looked back on what we had conquered as a family.
I believe that it’s not so much the challenges we are given in parenting (or life) that shape us, but how we choose to approach them, and the meaning we give them. Some days the meaning I still give reflux is that its shit-house and unfair, but the meaning I give my journey of reflux is that it showed me how strong, courageous and committed I am. And you are too.