Oscar is in the hospital.

he’s fine, really, in a weird way. but he’s been, since Tuesday at suppertime, the wee resident of a big old crib in a big old room all to himself in the local pediatrics ward. they sent me home that first night to unfray myself and sleep, because his admission followed a 48-hour crescendo of incredible, inconsolable distress on his part, and we were both exhausted. but the sight of him lying there alone, such a small bundle, his big eyes peering up at me and his face confused by all the strange smells and noises – it nearly unhinged me. i walked out of the pediatric ward and seriously considered checking myself into the psych unit just across the hall.

i’m only half kidding. having a child in the hospital is a miserable thing, no matter the situation. i felt doubly wretched – the much-touted ‘mother guilt’ i was warned about – because i myself am part of “the situation” that’s landed my baby here. turns out Oscar’s diarrhea and discomfort (lamented at length in my last post and thought to be lactose intolerance or a milk protein allergy) are apparently as much a breastfeeding problem as an allergy: a vicious circle we’ve fallen into because nursing comforts his pain, but also causes it. so every time i’ve nursed my crying child, i’ve inadvertantly ensured more crying. sigh. go figure.

we’ve gotten that cycle broken, at least for the time being. he spent 30 hours off the breast, on a special hypoallergenic formula that costs more than my mortgage payments, cleaning out his little system. the improvement was startlingly sudden, and heartening – he stopped howling, stopped flailing his little legs in pain, stopped leaking diarrhea.

all very simple, then, right? except that this fancy-ass formula is only supposed to be given in hospital. it’s not something parents can buy over the counter, even if we wanted to spend his entire education fund getting him through until he starts solids. and i’m still not entirely ready to give up on breastfeeding until we get straight answers about these allergy issues. but to do that, we need to play more with trial and error, and risk making him miserable again in the process.

as so often happens once the ‘experts’ get involved, there are umpteen opinions floating about as to the correct course of action from here. his nurse gave an “i’m not telling you what to do, but…” sermon this morning on how all her kids were raised on cow’s milk, straight from the barn, from day one. i thanked her for the advice…and refrained from commenting on my unfortunate lack of a barn and cows. another mentioned that soy formula might be a less costly replacement for the hypoallergenic stuff – which is true, though about 50% of kids with milk allergies also react to soy, apparently. the lactation consultant has helpful if inconvenient advice about pumping off the first ounce of milk from each breast before i feed, thus limiting the amount of lactose in the milk. will do. but she also instructed that if he wants the breast every hour and half, i should give it to him and nurse for as long as he can stay awake. which is all very nice, but my dear glutton of a son can nurse for well over an hour at a stretch. by my calculations, that will leave about twelve cumulative minutes per day for me to shower and attend to those other pesky things the world seems to require of me. like eating, and unloading the dishwasher. and writing blog laments.

i’m not sure what we do from here. i stayed here at the hospital last night, and put Oscar back on the breast, after carefully pumping off that troublesome foremilk and eschewing dairy with vigilance. these precautions may help deal with his allergic symptoms…we’re waiting to see. whether they help deal with the insatiability three weeks of diarrhea seem to have created in him, and make it possible to get him back onto a two-or-three hour nursing routine remains to be seen. i hope so. i felt good with his little head in my hand, his little mouth smacking away on me. it’s the scenario i want…but not at the cost of his discomfort or every second of my spare time.

so…the blogger’s cry for help…if you out there in the great ether have words of wisdom that don’t involve me buying a farm or giving up all attempts at sleep and personal cleanliness, they’re very very welcome. dear abby, dear readers…what would you do?