This week is Feeding Tube Awareness Week and the first suggested prompt was “Why does my child have a feeding tube?” and while I think everyone knows to some extent why K has a feeding tube at this point, it wasn’t so obvious back in 2008 when we were on the cusp of this decision. Back in 2008, she was not a kid with mitochondrial disease or a kid with ketotic hypoglycemia or a kid with gastroparesis or a kid dependent on multiple medical technologies every day of her life. She was a somewhat complex, medically-undiagnosed kid with a variety of symptoms and no real direction to head to figure them out (she was most of that other stuff, too, we just didn’t know it yet). She was developmentally delayed and had a feeding disorder. She was not potty trained and she still got 90% of her calories from a bottle. She was limited to the medications that came in suppository or transdermal forms because we could not get medicine (or much of anything) into her mouth. She ate some stage 2 baby food purees and drank a decent amount of Pediasure every day, until she got big enough that a decent amount of Pediasure no longer cut it.
In August of 2008, our pediatrician strongly suggested (not for the first time, but for the first “here is the number of a good surgeon” time) that K might benefit from a feeding tube. The first time was in January of 2008 and if I had know all of the positive changes it would bring, I would have said, “Sign me up!” in an instant, but I didn’t know then. In August of 2008 the facts were that K was losing weight, she hadn’t increased her base level intake in 2 years, and every time she got sick (which was often) we were stuck in a cycle of total refusal of food/drink, dehydration, and hospitalization for fluids. I have many pictures like this one, entitled “Things K Won’t Drink”:
Regardless of these very valid reasons to get a feeding tube, it was a difficult decision. It seemed drastic to poke a hole in my kid who physically COULD eat by mouth (but usually wouldn’t, ahem). In January, it seemed straight up insane and by August of a very difficult year, it seemed much less insane but scary still. A semi-permanent hole in my beautiful child! But things deteriorated a bit further between August and September when we saw the surgeon and by then it seemed like the right decision for her, but it was still scary and to be honest, it felt like defeat. It is a main function of mothers to feed their babies and children, they are literally BUILT for it, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get this kid to eat or drink enough and now they were going to put a little plastic shrine to my failures in her stomach for all to see. Silly, maybe, but in the moment it seemed true and I think it is how a lot of people feel before their child gets a tube placed. Before her surgery in November of 2008, I took lots of pictures of her little unblemished belly, fully expecting to grieve over it…
But the tube came and I didn’t mourn. That little button was a miracle from day one! I’ll never forget the first night I was able to give her medication (liquid medicine! that itself was a miracle! oh, the possibilities!) and fluids while she SLEPT! It was like my whole body exhaled for the first time in years. I’ve often wished I could travel back in time and tell myself what a good decision we were making for her. I wish I could tell myself that as I sat in the appointment when it was first brought up, or when it was brought up a second time, or when I was sitting in the surgical consult, or as I sat in that hospital waiting room, worrying so much, or even in post-op when she woke up and sadly said, “I’m broken.” and it cracked my heart. Because it WAS the best decision we could have made for her. It made her so much healthier and more stable and changed her relationship with food in a positive (yet still totally oddball) way and that it was NOT a scary thing or big adjustment in the end. It was so much easier than every day that had come before and the agony over how many calories she had taken in and how much fluid (oh, the spreadsheets I have filed away! years of calorie counts!) and whether she had or would pee in any given 24 hour period. Not to mention the fact that she grew 4.5 inches and gained 6.5 pounds the first year she had the tube…all the growing she hadn’t been able to do and finally had the resources to do, and her development accelerated, too! Her debilitating neuro episodes also tapered off once she had her tube and her nutritional intake stabilized. It was, and still is, an amazing, miraculous piece of plastic that does SO much for our girl every day. I’m so thankful for it and thankful that Past Josh and Past Kyla were smart enough and strong enough to make this decision for her so that we could all reap the rewards of it, especially K.
I hope that if you are reading this and you are in that place of worry and uncertainty, this will show you that sometimes tubes are wonderful and necessary things that can drastically improve quality of life…and it is NOT defeat. It is just another way of doing what mamas are built to do, feed their kiddos, and that is a victory every time.