Once one attains a certain age, puzzles lose their luster unless extraordinary measures ensure their difficulty. Little kids love puzzles made up of about fifteen big pieces with bright colors and bold patterns indicating where one piece leads into the next. Adult enthusiasts reach for jigsaws with a large number of tiny pieces bearing indistinct images. Some real nuts mix up the pieces to two or three of these uber-puzzles to really test their mettle.
Vivienne’s first three months certainly tested ours. As faithful readers know, we put together a number of pieces – including her screaming, kicking, back-arching, and waking from sleep – to form a fairly standard 1,000 piece puzzle featuring a picture of terrible gas and cramping rather than a more pleasant image like the ones on literal puzzles (e.g., a fuzzy kitten playing in unnaturally green grass). Other pieces like lack of appetite and weight gain fit as well, since the cramping made her reticent to eat too much and us reluctant to force feed her. Once we managed to eliminate the bubbles rumbling through her belly, however, we were still left sitting with a grab bag of symptoms: new ones like coughing, sneezing, congestion, wheezing, spluttering/choking during feedings, hoarseness, and frequent hiccups, and reappearing ones such as screaming, kicking, back-arching, waking from sleep, and refusal to eat. After a few weeks of desperation, we realized that a second puzzle had been thrown into the mix, this one portraying a head cold (not a Beatles album cover). My last blog post sang with optimism. I thought after solving two jigsaws with very similar pieces we finally had it down. But all of the gas symptoms, except for the bubbles themselves, came back with a vengeance, and Viv couldn’t shake the remnants of her cold, wheezing, coughing, spluttering, and hoarsely wailing her way through the days and nights. As if these unpleasantries failed to keep the three of us entertained, Viv also suffered from a host of fairly standard baby maladies: regurgitation, projectile vomiting, and good, old-fashioned spit-up. Picture the poor little dear, so ravenous with hunger that she would kick and scream her way to the breast only to abruptly stop nursing after a few minutes and begin wailing and smacking me with her tiny fist. Feeding after feeding ended with both of us in tears and little milk in her belly. I finally went to see a lactation specialist who watched the frustrating routine and told me that the outbursts stemmed from a lack of milk. I can’t find the words to describe my emotional state at the time, but demoralized, dejected, and panicked live in their neighborhood. The situation wasn’t helped by the presence of another mom at the “Breastfeeding 911 Drop-in Hours” who complained of overproduction of milk and waking from long periods of sleep with engorged breasts. Did she have a legitimate problem? Yes. Did I want to hear about it? About as much as a kid who’s a regular at fat camp wants to listen to another teenager gripe that she just can’t keep weight on because her metabolism’s too fast.
On one very long day, I finally solved the third puzzle in large part thanks to the help of our friends. Viv’s godmother, Kaitlin, who just so happens to be a pediatrician, had come to visit and suggested I ask V’s doctor about acid reflux. After she left, I drifted off for a nap thinking a big “whatever”; surely Viv’s spit-up was the least of my worries. When I woke up, I opened an email from Kerry saying that Viv’s symptoms sure sounded a lot like her granddaughter’s and suggesting I look into medication for infant reflux. Now these two “hints” were about as subtle as a slap to the back of the head, but it took one more little nudge from the powers that be for the light bulb to flicker on in my sleep-deprived head. I had eaten a tomato-based dish right before lying down and found myself plagued by heartburn. I felt hungry and knew I should eat, but acid reflux always kills my appetite. Ding ding ding! We have a winner. I hurriedly looked up the symptoms of infant reflux on the internet. Sure enough, the syndrome explained all the unaccounted for maladies and shared several of the symptoms of the gas and cold too.
I sprinted downstairs to show Ian the image on my completed eleven billion piece puzzle, only to have to wait for 8:00 a.m. Monday morning to call the pediatrician. Four weeks, three calls, two drugs, and a dosage increase later, our wee one seems to be starting to enjoy a little peace. We think we’re no longer puzzled, but we learned along the way that in child-rearing unlike table games, difficult does not equate with fun. I think like most post-adolescents I’ll give up puzzles and settle for overusing their derivative metaphor instead.