Coughing Up Coffee Grounds - July 26, 2012

Last Tuesday’s sprint-and-save incident reminded me of another time I sunk into the surreal, with fear for my daughter.  It was devastating and is hard to retell.


I was one of those mothers who couldn’t produce enough breast milk.  I always envied the women who would complain about hearing babies cry and soiling their blouse.  At least they could provide sufficient and natural nutrition to their child.  I was lucky if I got two ounces.


I was the half-formula and half-breast-milk mommy.  I’d make what I could and substitute the rest with pricey formula.  My saving grace was the stories I would hear from the seventies about mothers who were told not to breastfeed and fed their babies rice milk.


I drank milk out of a carton and I turned out okay, I thought.  Depends on whom you ask, I guess.  I’m sure some would argue that I’m an example of why you should never go unnatural with your baby’s nutrition.  My parents would probably be leading the protest.


The first night we brought Babyface home from the hospital, she was crying like crazy, colicky even, from the formula, Similac.  My sister recommended trying Nutramigen because it worked well for her sons, due to a milk protein allergy.  We tried it out and it worked like magic.  She was on it for a couple of months.  It did a doozy on our bank account, but it didn’t matter.  She was healthy and, most importantly, not blowing our eardrums.


On our third visit to the worst pediatrician within a 100-mile radius, we were told she didn’t need the expensive stuff; we should switch her to a “normal”, less smelly and cheaper formula by Nestle.  We, being first time parents and not following my intuition, decided to try it.  I’m not sure why we listened.  If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.


After about a week, she started to wretch.  I thought, maybe she’s just getting sick (how did I not take this warning sign more seriously?).  I continued to feed the formula to her for a couple of more days.  That Saturday, we woke up to brown-stained sheets in the bassinet.


This time, we didn’t make the mistake of waiting.  We took her to the hospital.  It was a Saturday and there was no urgent care.


We were sent back quickly; a doctor and two nurses immediately surrounded her.  We were asked to step away, while they cut open her onesy.  Imagine a three-month-old being poked and prodded.  Occasionally, we would catch a glimpse of her face.  Her eyes were begging us to rescue her.  Heartbreaking, but the worst was yet to come.  We felt helpless.


This is where all of those horrible, mental questions start popping up.  The questions you should NEVER ask yourself, but always manage to enter your mind…when you’re scared s#$*less.  Does my daughter have something terminal?  Why didn’t I appreciate the moments I had with her?  Is there any way I can switch places with her?  Will she ever be back in my arms, safe and sound?


The doctor finished his check-up and pulled us aside.  “Does she have bronchitis?” I asked and hoped.


“No, the brown, coffee-ground stain is old blood from her stomach.  Just keep an eye on her and follow-up with her doctor on Monday,” He replied.


“Huh?  Blood?  Stomach?  Go home?!?” I thought.


We listened, once again, and went home.  The entire day, I felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff, waiting to jump off, but never getting my turn.  The anticipation was terrifying.  I thought, please don’t let her throw up blood again.  Please let this morning be a one-time incident.


We survived through the day without a relapse.  Nightfall struck and she coughed up blood while I was feeding her.  It sprayed everywhere: on the walls, the chair, in my hair and on my clothes.  My tears were keeping it from staying in my eyes.  This was serious.  They had to listen at the hospital and we wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.


We rushed her back to the hospital.  This time, they rushed us back and four nurses and two doctors surrounded Babyface.  She coughed up the blood, just the same.  They held her down.  They put in an IV drip.  They placed oxygen tubes into her nose.  We were forced to stand in the doorway.  We were helpless and terrified.


Her veins were so tiny; the IV took several tries to take.  We nearly screamed at the nurse.  My baby let out a scream each time she missed.  My baby felt pain each time she poked her.


The doctor informed us that they would transport her to the new children’s wing at another location via ambulance.  They transferred her to a gurney and wheeled her to the garage.  I hopped in the front seat with the driver and my husband followed us in our car.


When we got to the children’s wing, they wheeled her to the NICU and put in a feeding tube.  I could feel the tube enter my own body, as she is part of my soul.  We are connected.  Her pain radiates to me.  I could feel her fear in my gut.  I gagged with her.


She was this tiny, helpless person with a tube in her mouth, the size of her arm.  There was tape covering half of her face to hold it in place.  There had been so much activity that she fell asleep a few minutes after the tube was inserted.  That was the only moment I exhaled.  I knew she was safe and I hoped she was relaxed.


The NICU doctor informed us that she would need to stay in the NICU overnight and they would do their best to accommodate us in the room, if we wanted to stay.  There was a comfy chair and a cot.  My husband, who can sleep anywhere, kindly took the chair, while I tossed and turned on the cot.  There was no sleeping.  I was having nightmares, while awake and staring at a hospital room ceiling.  Luckily, Babyface slept through the night.


The next morning, they transported her to a regular room and we met with a Pediatric Gastroenterologist.  He was one of the best in the state, the nurse informed us.  He had a Chilean accent and appeared confident.  He explained that they would give our daughter fentanyl and put her under.  They explained that they needed to do an endoscopy to figure out the source of the bleeding.  We agreed.  We had no choice.  This wasn’t something we could gamble with.  She was vomiting blood!


My baby would be put under at only three-months-old.  My baby would have a tube with a camera put down her throat, all of the way to her stomach.  They would do a biopsy, which is only done to rule out a parent’s worst nightmare.  It was necessary, but I was nauseous and will never forget the fear I carried for that one hour.  I was more scared, than if my own life had been put in the balance.  What if she didn’t wake up?  What if the biopsy came out positive?  Is there any way I could trade places with her?


My husband and I paced the same 20-feet, over and over again.  We couldn’t stop and sit or even go to the bathroom, just in case someone came out to talk to us.  When the procedure was completed, the doctor came out the two, large, double doors with a smile on his face.  “Your daughter had a Mallory Wise Tear from the formula.  She has a milk protein allergy, “ he said.  This was better than a Christmas present any amount of money could buy.  My baby would be okay.


I let the happy thoughts settle for a few minutes and then I silently cursed the doctor that made us switch formulas.  I cursed myself for not realizing early enough that the wretch wasn’t normal.  How could I have been such a stupid mother?  How could she get a Mallory Wise Tear?  That’s something alcoholics usually get.  She was swallowing blood from a tear in her throat, digesting it and then throwing it up.  How did I have no clue?


We stayed in the hospital an extra night.  I was terrified of going home.  I was terrified that my husband would have to go to work and I would be responsible again.  After all, I had made a major mistake.  What if I did something stupid again?  Next time, maybe we wouldn’t be so lucky.  Next time, maybe the doctor wouldn’t be smiling when he exited the double doors.


My husband left for work the next morning as planned.  Each day that passed, I was less frightened than the day before.  I realized that I was her mother and that I would never miss the warning signs again.  I didn’t care if the doctors thought I was crazy.  As long as I had any control, she would never suffer like that again.


I hope this story helps mothers notice the warning signs of a baby’s bad reaction to formula.


  1. through all our interactions with all our daughter’s drs we have quickly come to realize we need to be our child’s advocate no matter how much we trust and like our drs. mother’s intuition is real! so sorry you had to go through all that.

    Comment by wendy — July 26, 2012 @ 4:05 pm
  2. I completely agree. I’m very glad that our lesson was learned early. That’s the only silver lining I can really see. I will never question my intuition with respect to my daughter again!

    Comment by Mommy Unmuted — July 26, 2012 @ 5:12 pm

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