Sita’s* real story: from Rukmini’s* early birth to enjoying eating
(*names have been changed)
“You might be mistaken, check with the medical team again. It’s surely not feeding her just 1ml milk….that’s nothing!” These words from a friend, around the time Rukmini was born, still echo in my head today, years later. I felt like a joy of motherhood was taken away. It was heartbreaking to watch my newborn fed so little, to leave hospital empty-handed and not being able to breastfeed as a ‘normal mother’ for a very long time.
Rukmini was born fifteen weeks premature, weighing less than 600 grams as a result of preeclampsia. She lived in the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for 100 days before coming home. She had see-through skin and was still developing her internal organs, and it was virtually impossible to breastfeed her. She couldn’t maintain her body temperature if she was outside the incubator for more than just a short time.
Her health and weight started to improve slowly, and we progressed from syringes to bottle-feeding. At home, my baby’s cot was empty, so to keep myself occupied and try to avoid depression, I went back to work after just 21 days. I would express, freeze milk and visit hospital at least 4 times a day to spend time with her and enjoy my skin-to-skin moments. On the 100th day we celebrated her discharge and thanked the NICU team with a small feast. Even then Rukmini was still tiny, and we would make jokes about throwing a big party on the day she reached milestones for weight gains.
Like most Nepalese families, I’d imagined grinding nuts (ghotichauthi) down with water or janam ghutti to give to my daughter after two or three months. But she was far too small for this semi-liquid food. So I had to educate my mother to avoid feeding her anything that she couldn’t digest properly. I remember at one point I told her “If something goes wrong we will have police and social workers on our doorstep!”. I was aware how other Nepalese families could feel scrutinised by home visits from healthcare workers, and wanted to make sure both my mother and I could answer all their questions (I was out often at work while she cared for Rukmini), and that they wouldn’t have anything to be concerned about. (Actually we had a really good experience – the midwives who visited us really liked the way we were massaging Rukmini, and even asked my mother to share her skills with a parents’ group at hospital!).
By the time Paasni would normally happen, she was still not ready for semi-solid or solid food. We finally did it at eight months. This was hard for us as it felt like we weren’t keeping up with the Paasni tradition. Even after Paasi we didn’t change straight away to a full solid diet: it was a gradual transition with pastes and pureed food.
Rukimi loves Nepalese food so preparing food for her wasn’t a challenge. Our challenge was feeding – patience and managing time. She would take hours to finish half a bowl of jaaulo.Whilst she lived with my parents she had blended and pureed food. If she cried while being fed, she would throw up everything. This continued for two years, almost every day. My mother had completed her nurse’s aide training during her time in the USA so she wouldn’t try to top-up straight after Rukmini had vomited (the reason is that this can increase the distress for a child and could make them more averse to eating).
Today she still is a slow eater. She has things she enjoys eating and decent table manners. She has come a long way and is learning to understand what tastes good is not necessarily what is good for our health. Because no one is allowed to waste what’s on the plate, Rukmini is slowly adjusting to our food habits, sometimes we eat what we love and at other times we eat what’s good for our body. We have a long way to go, but patience is virtue.