Saturday, January 9, 2010

Retroactive food guilt

The adoption specialist's written evaluation arrived in the mail yesterday. AwesomeCloud's height and weight are going up (his head circumference was already quite large, and it's remaining stable). But they are still in the low end of normal - the 5th percentile, both. This is good. He was below the 'normal' range entirely for both height and weight when we got him.

(That puzzles me. If the Wuxi orphanage is all that, and the kid eats like a horse, why was he so tiny? But I digress.)

The adoption specialist praised me and said I must be feeding him well, and then speculated that he might have even more growing to do. She encouraged me to keep loading on the fat and calories.

Okay. I'm doing things right. Cloud is doing things right when he eats all those fats and calories. He's growing bigger, stronger, and smarter. We win.

However, his low weight and height make me think back to our first week with him, in Nanjing. Food was a challenge, even for us. To feed ourselves, we had to navigate menus full of strange ingredients, sometimes in restaurants with no English-speaking employees. Our few Chinese words weren't always adequate, and there were hand-gestures, guessing, and once I sketched out my entire order in pictures on the ordering pad.

Then, suddenly, we had to feed AwesomeCloud too. And to some degree, we failed. I gave him far too little food. Seriously - one jar of baby food does not sate an 18-month old when he's barely eaten another thing all day. I'm probably one of the reasons for his low weight when we got home.

What was I thinking? Starving my own kid! No wonder he cried so much!

But wait. That wasn't the entire story. It's easy for me to look at the past through guilt-colored glasses. But I should give myself some credit.

He refused to eat the rice and chicken we bought him that first night - but we'd been told that he enjoyed rice and chicken. He wouldn't drink the $6 (30 yuan) glass of milk I bought from the hotel restaurant. I'd asked for warm milk, and they gave me hot boiled milk, and maybe Cloud wasn't used to foods that warm. Anyway, by the time it hit room temperature, it was already several hours old, so I didn't try a second time.

Then I gave him a bottle of juice, but the hole in the nipple had closed up. When I discovered this, I used a needle to prick another hole in it. By the next day, that hole had closed too. WTH? I got so frustrated, I tore a huge hole in the nipple. AwesomeCloud got his orange juice.

Then we bought formula, which I made in the hotel bathroom by boiling water in the coffee pot for 10 minutes and... you can see where this is going, right? Cloud loved the formula, so I spent all day and half the night making bottle after bottle of formula.

It gave him terrible diarrhea.

(Is there any other kind? Hehe.)

So we were instructed to give him solid foods, soft starches, to inhibit the formula-diarrhea process. We tried. But when Cloud only ate 4 spoonfuls of congee each morning for breakfast, and none for the rest of the day, it was due to his own refusal.

We didn't starve him; he starved himself.

I only bought 4 jars of baby food, which wasn't nearly enough. And, remember, I bought them when Cloud was refusing to eat anything at all, not even congee. So I didn't know whether Cloud would eat them.

When did he decide to eat them? When we got to the airport. I only had time to feed him one, which wasn't nearly enough to sate him. It was just enough to make him realize he was hungry.

I have nothing to feel guilty about. Yes, I underfed my son, but it was due to a combination of circumstances and his willful refusal. And, you know, a week of eating too little doesn't put your height and weight scores below the charts. He was tiny to begin with.

He made up for it later. In Guangzhou, we got a glimpse of the bottomless stomach hiding inside our tiny guy.


  1. I hope you're not really feeling guilty! Those first few days would have been difficult if you were in your own home, your own country where food was what you knew it to be... it sounds as if you tried everything, and he's in a great position now.


  2. We experienced something similar. The Tongginator was SO tiny when we first met her... not even on the Southern Chinese charts. And she dropped weight, too, even after we got home. For us, it was a combination of sensory issues, extreme oral aversions and just plain "this is one of few things in my life I can control, so..." attitude.

    We had weekly weigh-ins for a time and a registered dietitian leaning over our shoulders as we fought off a failure to thrive diagnosis. I was nearly hysterical for a time. But then a friend said something to me that helped so, so much. She said, "it is not your job to make her eat. It is your job to present healthy, age-appropriate foods at appropriate intervals. It is HER job to choose to eat." For some strange reason, those simple words helped.

    And now the Tongginator, nearly six, is in GREAT shape - 50% for height and 30% for weight, but - more importantly, she loves eating and cooking and all things food related.

    You're doing a great job!

  3. Thanks! I'm mostly keeping a rational perspective on the issue, but the guilt lurks in the back of my mind and surfaces now and then. I'm sure it's just due to regular parenting concern for the welfare of my child, plus a little bit of all-too-human self-doubt.

  4. All of us have a bit of Mommy guilt, but the most important thing is that you did the best you knew how to do! That's what counts! Our SuSu was painfully thin. Her weight was in the less than 5th percentile when we brought her home. She's gained about 3 lbs in 9 months, but is still really skinny. One thing that's still hard to get her eat are protein rich foods and meats. She just loves fruits and veggies and would probably be a strict vegetarian if she could. You're doing an amazing job with Awesome Cloud, so hang in there. Unfortuanetly there's no cure for mommy guilt:)