Once we knew what a double aortic arch was, and that Sammi had one, all sorts of mysteries were solved at once. We now understood the mystery of the unresolved loud breathing, which was the scariest of all, but we also understood something far more insidious: we realized why Sammi didn’t eat.
She was over a year when the diagnosis came. As we had with her sister, we first offered her liquidy purees that I made, from scratch, when she was about six months old. Ronni’s immediate joy at the discovery of food at that age was a stark, stark contrast to Sammi’s total disinterest. Where Ronni’s legs had swung below her seat when she saw her special little bowl and spoon coming nearer, Sammi would look away, eyes distant, and only occasionally grace us with the tiniest “o” of an opening.
Into that tiny “o,” she would allow only miniscule flecks of food — barely the hint of food, really — into the inside of her lips. The first foods we offered — oat cereal mixed with breastmilk — resulted in my very first front-row seat to projectile vomiting. She seemed unfazed by it, though, so we tried again, and again, until her new pediatrician (by 6 months we had ditched the patronizing seen-it-all man for a female pediatrician we would grow to love like family) told us to stay away from grains for Sammi for a good six months.
Thus began a totally puzzling game of “why doesn’t she like this food?” My mashed and cooked apples, pears, peaches, and sweet potato didn’t make her vomit, but she didn’t like them, either. Mashed peas and carrots and green beans weren’t any better. We went on and on through the list of foods, and still, the tiny “o,” the thrusting-tongue refusing to swallow, the disinterest. We were told to keep on trying, keep on offering, maybe-if-she-eats-she’ll-sleep-better.
Then, like a slap in the face, we discovered that Sammi would happily eat many foods so long as they were jarred, stage-1 baby food — not my homemade food. At a last-minute outing without any food for her on hand, I ran into a grocery store and bought an emergency jar. To my surprise, she ate half of it in one sitting.
I quit making baby food. There was no point.
When it was time for her to try feeding herself, we made tiny chunks of everything we’d tried before, and nothing worked. Once again, it was a maddening exercise in preparing food and throwing it away, preparing it and throwing it away, over and over, like Sisyphus pushing the same pot of soft-cooked pears up a hill every day until the end of time. When she finally landed on two foods she would deign to put in her mouth on her own, they were blueberries and freeze-dried corn. The corn, totally dry and designed to simply melt in your mouth, was awful to my adult palette, and even an entire bag of it — which would take her two weeks to finish — measured up to less than 50 calories. The blueberries weren’t much denser, but she seemed interested, at least, and so I clung to that, cutting blueberries into quarters and keeping track of her intake each day.
One day, when she was nearly 11 months old, she was crawling on the living room floor in the late afternoon, when I noticed that she had something black sticking to her lip. I looked closely, and it was a blueberry, poking out of her mouth. She’d last eaten blueberries hours before. I looked into her mouth, and a half a blueberry was pocketed there, in the space between her gums and her cheek.
I checked the next day, and it happened again.
I called the pediatrician. “She’s pocketing food in her cheeks,” I said, “isn’t that weird? Shouldn’t she be chewing and swallowing it by now?”
“Hang in there, mom,” she answered. “Give it a little more time. Check back with me next month. Some babies take longer to get into food.”
I grew to hate feeding her. Every meal she didn’t eat was a night time nursing session I knew I’d have to live through, and though she was growing, meeting developmental milestones, and charming the world around her, sometimes I found myself in the kitchen, facing her high chair, and saying angrily, “No?! Not this either? No good, again?!”
I felt like a monster. Surely, this was a phase; babies go through phases, children go through phases, I would not be having this fight forever. She’ll eat normally.
She pocketed the food while I tried to pocket my frustration. Only one of us was successful.