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My daughter’s first multi-syllable phrase was “cuppa coffee.” I shouldn’t have been so surprised, but I was. She was 17 months old when she said it, and she pointed at my steaming red mug that I carried into her nursery; “cuppa coffee” she said again, and smiled a rare smile, quite pleased with herself when I praised her for her cleverness.

If there has been any single running theme from the time I found out I was pregnant, to, well, now, (any running theme besides the obvious, of what an extraordinary person she is) it’s coffee.

About six weeks into my first trimester, I went from five cuppas coffee a day to a cup of black tea in the morning and a cup of green tea in the afternoon. That cut my daily caffeine intake by about 85% (that’s a loose number, but I used Mayo Clinic’s caffeine content page to come up with it). Whatever caffeine withdrawal symptoms I may have experienced were masked by the sheer exhaustion of hormonal changes during my first trimester.

And so it went for several weeks until my daughter was born. The smell of coffee on the maternity floor was overwhelming. Mothers were sipping it from steaming mugs as they perambulated up and down the corridors, pushing their infants in rolling bassinets. One of these mothers asked me where my baby was–I was pushing a wheelchair instead. “She’s in the NICU,” I said, careful not to make it a thing, but the other mother flushed with embarrassment and promptly told me she was praying for my family. I changed the subject, “Your coffee smells amazing.”

“Girl, I’m so glad I can drink it now. I’ve been waiting for this cup for months.”

When I got back to my room, my own cup of coffee was on the bedside tray with my breakfast. It sat there, untouched, until the nurses’ assistant cleared it away. My palate had definitely changed–the bitterness was overpowering–but it was more than that, because three days out and I think I was punishing myself for not carrying my daughter fully to term, as if coffee was a simple pleasure earned by mommies who had gone the nine full months.

Gradually, I started drinking it again, mostly because I missed the warmth of a mug in my hand (and because my tea was still stashed away in my desk drawer at work), but it was still mostly milk, because I worried about how it might affect my daughter if she consumed the caffeine via breast milk.

A few weeks later, and one of neonatologists informed me they were going to slightly increase the amount of caffeine they were giving my daughter through her PICC line. “Wait, you mean she’s been getting caffeine this whole time?” Well, not the whole time, our doctor explained, but because small amounts of caffeine have been shown to reduce the number and duration of brady episodes, caffeine was a very common treatment in NICUs. “You mean, what you’re telling me is, I’ve been obsessing about how much coffee I should and shouldn’t drink, and she’s getting small bumps of pure espresso into her i.v.?”

When our nurse rejoined us a few minutes later, she winked at me, smiled at my daughter, and bubbled for both of us, “Time for your Starbucks!”

Time for your Starbucks indeed!

I began carrying a tumbler of the black stuff into the nursery with me every morning, and drank it like a proper lady of leisure as Daphne and I kangaroo’d together and lost track of time. Eventually, she was weened off the caffeine, and eventually, I began drinking two to three cups of day. And it was a good thing too–coffee was how I survived the first two months of homecoming.

Now, when we play tea parties, our little cups are filled with pretend coffee. Sometimes, she even asks for a pretend sip of my actual coffee. And pretty much daily, I wonder if my rancid coffee breath is what she knows me by–unfortunately, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee didn’t exactly have a recommendation for that in its recent, provocative report.

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