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When Another Mom at Target Changed How I Felt About Tube Feeding My Son in Public

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The first time I had to tube feed my son Davy in public, I was so nervous, I was shaking. Three-month-old Davy had had an appointment with his GI specialist that day at the clinic 45 minutes from our home. After we were done, I stopped at Target to pick up a few things and realized it was time for Davy’s next feeding.

I rolled my shopping cart into the Target cafe and parked it at a table in the corner farthest from the entrance. The cafe was empty except for a nursing mother who sat several tables away from me and had probably also chosen that area for its privacy.

Shaking, I laid out a burp cloth and set up everything I needed for Davy’s feeding.  A 60 mL syringe, powdered Alimentum formula, bottled water, a Dr. Brown bottle, a 20 mL syringe of water for flushing the tube before and after the feeding, and an extension tube.

Like always, I mixed up the bottle and tried to get a screaming Davy to drink from it for about 10 minutes, with no success. After setting him back in his infant carrier, I primed the 12-inch extension tube with water and unsnapped several snaps on his outfit so I could hook the extension up to his G-tube. Then I picked him up and opened the main port on his extension tube to push the 60 mL syringe into the opening.

I was so nervous that I didn’t notice the med port was still open from when I primed the extension, and so, when I slowly pushed down on the syringe’s plunger, formula dribbled out of the med port and down my hoodie and jeans. I quickly pushed it shut and grabbed another burp cloth to wipe off the formula.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the nursing mom watching me. In my anxious state, I was sure she was either judging me for not breastfeeding my baby or wondering what in the world was wrong with my son.

I got into my familiar rhythm of bouncing and swaying while simultaneously tapping the pacifier in Davy’s mouth with one hand and slowly pushing the formula through the tube with the other. Davy continued to wail for a while until he started to fall asleep.

It was then that the other mom spoke. “Excuse me. I hope you don’t mind me asking, but does he have a G-tube?”

I was taken aback at her question, as it was not what I had expected, and stammered out an affirmative answer.

She smiled at me. “My sister had a G-tube because of her special needs, too.”

With that, the ice was broken. I was so relieved to meet someone who understood about tube feeding during our first feeding in public that I could’ve cried. The baby she was nursing was a little boy almost exactly the same age as Davy, although he was twice the size as my tiny, undernourished infant. Like me, she had several older children as well. After three months of feeling like my whole world had been turned upside down, being able to talk to another mom about tube feeding was
like a breath of fresh air. When she was done nursing, she gave me a few last words of encouragement before heading out the door with her baby.

Having such a positive experience the first time I had to tube feed in public helped ease my fears about doing so. I was still nervous about it, but eventually, I learned to ignore the stares and answer questions with the hope of educating and raising awareness for tube feeding.

We never exchanged names, but talking to the other mom that day at the Target cafe made more of an impact on me me more than she will ever know.

The author's son getting a tube feeding

Follow this journey on Sunshine and Spoons.

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Originally published: May 1, 2016
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