Tonight, she had a broth-y soup with curly pasta, beans and carrots. I've learned from a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) that this is the most complex texture to learn. Kids (babies and toddlers in most cases) learn to eat purees first, then solid finger foods. After they master that, they can combine the two, like a broth-y soup with chunks in it. It's liquid, but there are surprise non-uniform bits to chew.
I honestly felt some days that we'd never get to this point. Just like it felt like she'd never want to/be able to walk on her own. After working every day for three and a half years, it's easy to get discouraged. Think about it. Three and a half years. Every single day since the first day of her life, we have been struggling with feeding. She had a naso-gastric tube (feeding tube thru her nose to her stomach) for the first three months of her life until she was able to drink enough milk from a bottle to sustain her. Learning to eat, drink and tolerate textures is not something you can take a break from for a few days and come back to when you're not feeling frustrated, despondent, hopeless, worn out, at a loss, unable to see the goal, emotionally exhausted and tired of dealing with these struggles over and over and over and over. For Eva, the textures of foods have been the issue, plus the normal not-wanting-to-try-new-things that most little kids have. She's been able to manipulate a spoon/fork for some time now and has had a good chew, tongue movement and swallow technique for months.
So we keep at it. We remind ourselves regularly to not make mealtimes stressful, which is very VERY hard sometimes. We adhere to a mealtime routine and give her choices to feel more in control--which bib? which placemat? water or milk? what kind of cracker? We have her stand on her chair and help us cook, even if there isn't much she can do, just to keep her involved. We talk about our food: what it tastes like, the texture, the temperature, the sign(s) for it, where it comes from. I tell her everything that is in a meal, down to the spices and herbs. We give her some bit of what we're having but we don't make her try it or say she has to finish her plate. More recently, we started to talk about being hungry and full and what food does for our bodies. All of these things we've learned as we've gone along, after things have backfired and we've found ourselves struggling over every single bite.
This summer, our wonderful SLP gave us the idea to give Eva one new thing at meal time (we started with blueberries because we'd just gone blueberry picking with her) and she had to pick it up, kiss it goodbye and put it in a bowl. The idea being that she'll get a bit of the taste/texture/temperature on her lips, feel safe with it and eventually put it in her mouth. Some days she wouldn't even touch the new food, even though she knew the routine and would say it. After getting used to kissing it, we moved on to licking it and then putting it on her tongue before putting it in the bowl. It seems tedious because it is tedious but breaking things down into tiny steps is what she needed. And it worked. Things are coming together in her body and in her brain and she is making huge leaps. It makes me want to weep with joy and relief.
I am so grateful for the outstanding Speech Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Teachers, and other parents who have educated us on how to help our girl and listened to our frustrations and encouraged us to keep moving forward.
I hope that I can provide encouragement and hope to someone reading this who is struggling to get through one more day.