A bootstrap program in action
A bootstrap is a tiny program that a computer executes. Its entire purpose is to prepare the computer to run a much larger program. One of the most well known examples is the BIOS program, the first thing your computer runs; its the text screen you see counting down your memory during a computer’s boot-up. It does its thing and handles stuff most people don’t really understand, finally yielding way to whatever happens next in the boot-up process (taking its name from bootstrap), typically loading an operating system.
Another bootstrap program in action. The purple bruise on his head is from facing the wrong way ‘round during labour.
I iz all up in yer heartstrings, playing ’em like bitches.
Because I know you’re wondering: Yes!You can click the pictures for higher resolution. Some are printable quality, some aren’t; one camera is good, one aren’t.
It turns out that breastfeeding has its own bootstrap program called colostrum. It’s a special high-sugar milk produced by the mother’s breast during the first three days of a baby’s life. It’s been fascinating and exhausting to watch my beautiful little boy go through nature’s own little bootstrap program. Each feeding giving just enough energy to propel him to the next. I was scared and amazed to realize eating a single meal was so exhausting that in the process he’d use up most of the energy he’d gotten from the last meal. But as each feeding went by he grew more awake. Our Nathan slowly grew more and more into focus.
Things have gone comparatively well for us. Of all the things that could possibly go wrong, really, life has been pretty uneventful. But our particular troubles have been a very slow running and slightly buggy bootstrap program. It turns out only 50% of babies take to breastfeeding without trouble.
After a long and difficult labour (details below), Nathan Kenneth Keller was born to the world at 6 lb 9 oz on Dec 19, 11.22pm. The doctors like to see a baby’s first pee within 24 hours and his first poop with 48. But during the first day he mainly just slept. And when the second day was almost over, with no diapers that needed changing, we were growing concerned. The biggest problem was Nathan just wouldn’t eat.
A nipple shield. Bad idea?
Once near his mom’s warmth and heartbeat, he’d fall asleep rather than breastfeed. When presented with a bottle, he’d kinda suck, but without taking in much nutrients. On a nurse’s advice, Janine used what’s called a nipple shield, a small plastic appliance that fits on the breast, making it pointier and more bottle-like. It seemed to work, as Nathan would suck on the nipple shield for a while before becoming exhausted by the effort. Then we’d top him up with formula or breast milk. Once he’d finished feeding Janine would use a breast pump to providing milk for his next feeding. That usually took 1½ hours. Within another 1½ we’d have to coax Nathan awake to repeat the process. At times I was rubbing ice cubes on his feet to try and keep him awake enough to feed. It left little time for anyone to sleep. Especially Janine; that woman is a miracle.
At 47 hours, with the threat of a catheter looming large in Nathan’s future, he let go his first pee. He soaked the diaper, the blanket and the other blanket. Shortly afterwards he had his first poop too. Except he was slowly turning more and more yellow, a condition called jaundice. Because he wasn’t peeing frequently enough, the toxins were building up in his system, instead of being deposited in messy diapers. Maybe he’d feed better if he had more sleep, but we couldn’t allow it because of the threat of jaundice. So we kept at it, nurse shift after nurse shift, the conflicting advice kept mounting, frustrating us. We wanted someone to just make it all work, except apparently that was our job. And we didn’t know shit.
Video! Us, Nathan, Hospital and Home [length 6:23]
At three or four days Janine noticed that the nipple shield was consistently empty of breast milk after Nathan’s “feeding” sessions. While he would suck, he just wasn’t strong enough to get any milk. It’s so devastating to watch your child fail at eating. I always understood we’d be teaching our child many things: language, walking or the difference between Klingons and Jem’Hadars. But eating? How to eat? Don’t babies, like, start knowing something?? I’m ashamed to admit staring at my own flesh and blood and thinking “Dear god, my child is too stupid to eat.” Of course that’s false, he’s incredibly brave and smart. Perhaps I secretly thought a magic spell would kick in and turn me instantly into super-compassionate-parent-man. But it was still just little fragile me, only now I had this little guy that totally depended on Janine and I for help. So what else is there to do? We kept trying.
We gave up on breastfeeding, temporarily. There didn’t seem a point once learning he was getting zero calories from the experience. Bottle-fed breast milk was the order of the day. Nathan’s intake slowly went from 5mL to 10mL to 15, 20, 30! With all that liquid going in, it was starting to come out the other end. The jaundice mostly cleared up and it was time to go, five days since we’d entered the hospital. Once home he increased to 50mL, then 80mL of breast milk. We started following his rhythms and – sweet merciful lord – he’d sleep for four hours or more. Luxury! It’s scary to think that 100 years ago, Nathan might have been one of the ones that didn’t make it. But he did. Now his problems are almost routine; banal.
(some people like all the details)
Janine’s labour was a long and difficult one. Irregular contractions started about 27 hours before we arrived in hospital. Fluctuating between 5 and 10 minutes apart, with the occasional 30 minute break. Never that strong, just enough to ensure she wasn’t able to sleep. Upon arriving, they started her on an IV to further induce labour. With every contraction we would watch our baby’s heart beat drop, then spike back up to an above normal BPM. The faces of doctors and nurses grew steadily more worried as the day wore on. Nine hours of induced contractions, followed by two hours of active pushing on Janine’s part, had barely moved the baby closer. A caesarean birth was looking more likely. Near the last minute, a pair of forceps was used to rotate the baby 180°, and then assist it down the birthing canal. (Oh, and Janine opted for an epidural earlier)
We knew there would be no baby’s crying. The stress of birth had led him to poop in the uterus. They needed to first stick tubes into his lungs to suck out all the fluids, warding off infection. Instead of crying there was the sound of some “medical professional” asking “would Dad like to cut the umbilical cord?” Followed sharply by the doctor saying “Just cut the damn cord” This was no time for a made-up ritual I’d never cared about. The doctor was worried because our baby was very limp, but it turns out to have simple exhaustion. They called me over to watch a very long tube being pulled out of a very short baby. After which, my son took his first breath and cried.
Two days after discharge, Cindy-the-public-health-nurse seemed to cast a magic spell with the tips she gave us. We discarded the nipple shield and kept trying with the breast. I’d stick a little syringe in the corner of his mouth and squirt small amounts of milk in his mouth, giving him a hint as to why we were torturing him (because dear God, would he scream). Six days after birth, late Christmas night, Nathan actually latched onto the breast and sucked for five whole minutes. The two of us were so overjoyed, we called it our Christmas miracle. Was it getting rid of the nipple shield? Had it just taken Nathan time to figure it out? Did he just not have the energy until now? Over the next two days he got progressively better to the point where I’m now mostly irrelevant to feeding process. And Janine, God bless her, has kept trying throughout, never giving up and showing more patience and resolve than I ever could have imagined.
Now that he’s breast feeding, instead of bottle, he’s awake every two or three hours during the night for feedings (of course, during the day it’s every four or five hours). Random steps forward, random steps backwards. The colostrum has long since disappeared in favour of rich nourishing mother’s milk. The next cycle in the bootstrapping process has commenced and we’re just being carried along with it, Janine and I.
P.S. Don't miss the video I embedded up there. Lots of fun clips of us and Nathan.