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Reflux redux

Last night was a bad night. There was an awful lot of crying: uncontrolled sobbing, ear-splitting wailing, inconsolable heaving, and a long stream of crystalline snot quivering from the tip of a gem of a nose.

And when I woke up today, boy, were my eyes swollen and bloodshot.

Charlie has been having a rough time with reflux. He left the NICU armed with Zantac; we adjusted the dosage upward as he grew. After a while, he reached the maximum dose, at which point the medication lost its efficacy. A pediatric gastroenterologist switched him to Prevacid, which initially helped and made us almost comically optimistic: one day of two-hour naps and we were sure we had this thing licked.

Not so fucking fast.

Last night Charlie was in pain once again as the acid rose from his stomach up into his esophagus, causing a burning feeling bad enough to make him scream as he tried to drink. He'd shriek, arch his entire body away from the bottle, and twist his neck as far to the side as it would go, emphatically rejecting his milk. Yet because he was ravenous, once the worst of the burn had subsided he'd cry out of hunger. As he screamed, he'd stiffen; there was simply no cuddling him into comfort, not that there ever has been.

It'll get to you after a while. Let's leave aside the knowledge that your helpless baby is in pain and there's nothing that makes him feel better, because that's just plain unspeakable. Instead let's consider the relentlessness of it, the screaming at every feed, the feeling that there's no end in sight: "Reflux usually clears up before the baby is a year old," the books cheerfully promise, not all that reassuring when the baby in question is a mere five weeks adjusted.

Or how about the way it disturbs a baby's sleep, with the pain yanking him from a sound slumber into an abrupt howling cry? Mind you, we don't expect much to begin with, especially considering the following passage from Preemies: The Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies:

Sleeping. Healthy premature babies are expected to wake up and fuss about every two hours until they're three to four months corrected age. (A long time, if you ask us!) By about six to eight months corrected age, they will have settled into longer periods of sleep, to everybody's understandable relief.

So let's discount that and focus on the sad possibility that even when Charlie might reasonably be expected to settle down for longer than two hours at a stretch — a possibility that seems fairly distant — he could still be jerked back into agonized consciousness by a simple ill-timed gurgle.

Or we could talk about how beaten I feel when I see his face redden just as he starts to scream. How angry and how cheated, when I remember the hopes I'd had that we might be granted an infancy that was only ordinarily hellish. How endless it seems, this just another twist that stops me from enjoying a pregnancy, a birth, and a babyhood that will only come once.

It'll get to you after a while. After a while, it's all too fucking much.

Last night I cried and cried. I was agitated and upset about everything I've just said, but it was the most absurd thought that finally brought the tears: Charlie doesn't like me.

It's absurd because I understand that for infants his age, liking isn't at issue. Infants his age need and recognize and bond; liking doesn't enter into it. Inasmuch as he can love, I suppose he does, but that blind devotion driven by hunger and a desire for warmth is a far cry from a smile, a face lighting up when I enter the room, a small body relaxing into mine with a sigh of contentment.

As crazy as my thought was, there's a kernel of disturbing truth to it, and that truth is that I'm finding it hard to bond with him at this stage. When he rejects every comfort I try to give him, it's difficult not to be discouraged. When I stay still as he sleeps because I dread waking him rather than because I'm relishing his weight on my chest, it's almost impossible not to feel disgusted with myself. At the moment I'm seeing each day and each feeding and each ten-minute nap as something to be gotten through rather than something to look forward to, and it's deeply distressing to acknowledge that.

Charlie doesn't like me yet. I know he surely will, but every day of screaming makes it harder to believe.