I blinked at the pediatrician, my mouth hanging open, tears welling up in my eyes.
How is that possible?
I thought that failure to thrive meant failure to mother. I thought babies that were labeled failure to thrive were unloved, unfed and probably just malnourished. I thought that any baby that I grew in my womb and birthed in my own powerful choices and breastfed around the clock would be thriving and healthy, at least for the most part.
I was pretty sure that the pediatrician had just told me I was failing as a mother.
I cried over this a lot, and I brooded over it for a few days. I was doing everything in my power to get him to gain weight. Finally, I got up the courage to write a post about it on my personal blog and Facebook page. Within minutes I had comments, texts and messages from so many of my friends telling me that they had been there, too.
I had no idea. I had no idea that the label “failure to thrive” is not also a label of “failure to mother”. I had no idea that “failure to thrive” simply means that the child is not on the growth chart and doesn’t appear to be heading towards the average anytime soon. I had no idea that so many Moms around me had also received this difficult label.
Maybe you have also just had this label slapped on your baby, and you are wondering how you got here. You are wondering how you failed so badly that your child is charted as “failure to thrive”. I just want to tell you a few things, Mama:
1. You are NOT a failure as a mother. In fact, if you are anything like me, you are doing MORE for that child than you have for any of your other children.
2. Don’t give up. It’s so hard. It’s hard to know if you should stop breastfeeding, if you should start exclusively pumping, if you should switch to formula, or even if you should rush to other doctors and specialists just to make sure something isn’t seriously wrong. I know it’s hard…but don’t give up. Keep feeding your baby and advocating for their health. Even on those incredibly hard days.
3. Remember that growth charts are just an average. My child (and your child, too), are most likely perfectly fine. The fact that my son is labeled “failure to thrive” simply because he is not on the charts should not be right. It’s a difficult label because it makes us feel like we are failing. But remember that it just means your child is smaller than the average child. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
4. You are not alone. I was so deeply embarrassed about the “failure to thrive” label that I didn’t want to tell anyone. I felt that if I shared that, people would think I was failing to be a good mother. But when I finally got up the courage to share, I hear stories from dozens of women, telling me that their child had been labeled failure to thrive as well. Trust me…you are not alone.
5. Prepare your heart for the comments. If my son could gain an ounce for every time someone commented, “he’s so tiny”, he would be topping the growth charts. I will just tell you that the comments will happen. And most people mean nothing harmful by them. I would encourage you to come up with several phrases to tell yourself (and even to speak out loud) when you receive a comment that comes across as hurtful in regards to this difficult label. If I know the comments are coming, I am able to deflect them and not let them affect me.
Have you ever had a child labeled “failure to thrive”?