At nine days old — an incredibly young age for a child with both a cleft lip and a cleft palate! — they weaned Tali off the feeding tube
Our twin girls — Tali and Efrat — arrived early, at just 35 weeks. Through the blur after their birth, I heard my husband’s happy voice as he talked to our girls.
“Welcome to the world, little ones! Your abba and ima and big brother are so happy that you’re here!”
And we were thrilled. Yes, I worried about Tali’s cleft. Yes, I worried how we would handle two babies at once. Yes, I worried about Akiva learning to share his parents. But my husband and I had spent ten years waiting for children — and now somehow, incredibly, we had three. Our family was growing and with it, so was our joy.
For several days, most of our family lived in the hospital, as I recuperated from a complicated birth. Efrat was in the regular nursery, and Tali needed extra care in the NICU. Whenever I could manage the pain, the kind staff would help me into a wheelchair and push me to the girls’ rooms. How fragile they looked, housed in their glass castles.
Efrat was growing stronger each day, eating well and packing on the ounces. Tali’s cleft was holding her back, though. Because it took several minutes for her to consume even one drop of formula, she was given an NG tube. The large wires wrapped around her made our little girl seem even smaller.
The NICU staff were incredibly determined. They knew that it would be hard for us to care for Tali at home if she was still on a feeding tube, so they made it their mission to wean her. The nurses used a syringe to drop the milk into her mouth, milliliter by milliliter. They also taught her to suck, slowly teasing her lips with a special baby bottle.
At nine days old — an incredibly young age for a child with both a cleft lip and a cleft palate! — they weaned Tali off the feeding tube.
Finally, after 11 days, Efrat and I were released from the hospital. Tali joined us shortly afterward. My mother and mother-in-law had both flown in, because we needed all the help we could get.
At three days old, Tali had been fitted with a special plate that would act as a palate until her second surgery. This plate, called a nasoalveolar molding plate (NAM), is replaced as the child grows. We had to constantly wash it and put it back in her tiny mouth. We also had to learn a taping technique involving special tape and rubber bands. Each week, we took Tali back to the hospital to get the plate checked to make sure it still fit as she grew.
“Oh, the Greens did this before. They’ll be okay,” people assumed. They were correct — sort of. Because we’d had a child with a cleft before, the foreign terms like “alveolar ridge” (the bony part of your mouth that holds your teeth) and “Haberman” (Akiva and Tali’s special bottles) weren’t foreign anymore. We knew our way around the doctors’ offices.
But even though we’d had a child with cleft before, the endless nights were just as long. The feedings were just as exhausting. Even though we’d been through it before, having a child with a medical condition is always a big deal.
And this time, our daughter wasn’t the only one we needed to look after. She had an older brother who needed to know that we hadn’t forgotten about him, and a twin sister who had also been born a preemie.
In some ways, it felt like we were starting from zero. Unlike Akiva, who only had a cleft lip, Tali had a full split palate. Her cleft made her situation much more complicated, requiring more intervention, and having more associated conditions. As we would later learn, her cleft had affected her hearing, which could lead to developmental delays.
On the days when my eyes were tearing from exhaustion, on the days when I felt like I didn’t have enough hands to hold them all, I held on to the feeling that had surrounded me when I lay in the delivery room.
My husband and I had spent years davening for a house filled with children. We hadn’t pictured the supplies, the appointments, the worries, but we could not and would not forget how incredibly blessed we were. Akiva. Tali. Efrat. We’d merited three miracles.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 732)
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