Saturday, August 6, 2011

From Trauma to Triumph: My Relationship with Breastfeeding

As World Breastfeeding Week comes to a close, and after reading some wonderful experiences and advice from other breastfeeding mothers, I thought I would share some of my own successes and troubles when it comes to nursing J.

After months of preparation (read: Hypnobirthing) for the birth of J, we were confident in our choice to have a natural birth in a birth center.  It was in our birth plan that J be placed on my chest immediately after birth, and that we would not be separated for a minimum of 2 hours.  I would breastfeed as soon as possible, and under no circumstances would he be supplemented with formula or given a pacifier.

This birth plan was not developed superfluously, but grounded in science.  In fact, it is so natural to have your infant skin-to-skin immediately following birth that newborns have been known to have the ability to breast crawl : wiggle their way up to the breast and latch on.  A newborn?  Crawling?  Yep.  And this is what J was going to do.  I was determined.

Within moments of J's birth, he was placed on my chest and remained there for an entire hour.  Did he crawl?  No, but I was fine with this.  I had just run the most difficult marathon of my life and I was basking in the sun at the finish line.

The hour he was with me, we attempted to nurse as I desperately desired establishing this relationship from the start.  Unbeknownst to us, I had begun to hemorrhage and was quickly losing energy with the blood.  I vaguely remember T, as he was sitting behind me so I could lean on him, attempting to help J latch.  Quickly, however, my hemorrhaging became life-threatening and I was whisked away by EMS to the OR at our local hospital.  J was legally unable to be discharged from the birth center at that time.

J and I were separated for 6 hours.

Once I was out of the OR, J was brought from the birth center to the hospital to be with me once more.  Unfortunately I was on a cocktail of drugs, some of which were not compatible with breastfeeding.  Immediately, my mother and T began to reassure me that we would try as soon as we could.  I was devastated.  To attempt to avoid nipple confusion, T fed J a few ounces of formula using a small tube we placed into the back of his cheek.

The next evening, as I started to come out of my post-traumatic haze, I was excited to attempt to feed my child once more.  After a quick visit from J's pediatrician, we were instructed to take him to the clinic at the to check his bilirubin levels.  After receiving the results, the severity of his situation required immediate admittance through the emergency room at the children's hospital down the road.  Because this facility was in an entirely different location from the hospital were I currently was being monitored...

J and I were separated for 3 days.

At this point, I had not breastfed J a single time.  Devastated does not do my feelings justice.  As my mother cared for me in my post-partum unit, T stayed by J's side in the NICU.  As much as he wanted to fight a bottle, it is protocol to give the children formula if the breastfeeding mother is not present.  Furthermore, in order to bring his bilirubin levels into normal range, he needed to have a multitude of dirty diapers.  The only way to get this was to feed him.

The night I was discharged, I woke up every hour to pump, resulting in 1 ounce of colostrum.  I was thrilled!  At 3 am, T got up and went back to the children's hospital to be with J, hoping to catch the doctor's rounds.  He took with him the ounce I'd pumped and fed it to J.  It was such an important moment for me, knowing that J was receiving this liquid gold especially designed for him.  Knowing how much this meant to me, T videotaped it.

I still cry seeing this video today.  

Later that morning, I arrived at the NICU.   With the help of some wonderful lactation consultants,  J latched on and nursed for the very first time.  I am so thankful that J is not preferential to ni.pples, as it was not a struggle for him to latch on.  And we were finally doing it!

J was discharged later that day and after finally walking through our front door, we stopped bottle/formula feeding cold turkey.  I knew this was risky, but I was bound and determined to make it work.  Finally my milk came in, days after it would have had we nursed earlier, but I remember him pulling away from the breast and milk dribbled down his chin.  I think I yelled for T to come see.

We made it over the hump and were actually starting to establish breastfeeding (after I received so many encouraging comments to try but not be too heartbroken if it just wasn't in the books for us) but not everything was perfect or easy.  He had a funky latch where his upper lip would suck in and be horribly painful for me.  One of the lactation consultants from the birth center came to my home to teach me how to fix this problem.  After he initially latched on, I would pull his upper lip out to provide a more gentle latch.  Slowly the pinch, pinch, pinch began to lessen and I was able to enjoy breastfeeding.

Tomorrow J is 20 weeks old.  Other than his first 4 days of life (and let me tell you - I thank GOD for formula as it inevitably saved his life), he has been exclusively breastfed.  It is such an accomplishment but, more than that, a sweet time the two of us share with one another.  I will forever cherish my memories breastfeeding him.

J and I have not been separated since.


E @ Oh! Apostrophe said...

Congratulations on 4 months of breastfeeding! It is not always easy- you should be so proud :)

Stew and Allison said...

Wow!!!! What a great story! Thank you for sharing!!!

Kortney said...

Stopping by to say thank you for linking up to the Super Stalker Sunday Hop!! I hope to see you again next weekend!

Happy Hopping,
Kortney's Krazy Life

ashley said...

what a great post.congratulations on your 4 month mark!

Stephanie said...

How awesome! Good for you for being determined, knowing you want something for your child and sticking to it! We have been breastfeeding exclusively for over 8 months now, included a trip in which I had to leave for a week to NY and hubby had to give E pumped milk for 5 days... it is such hard work but SO worth it, the bond is wonderful and it is so rewarding knowing you are giving your child the best start possible!!

Andrea said...

That is amazing :) It seriously is the most rewarding thing. I thought I would be thrilled at 12 months and would want to stop, but I am nearing the 14 month mark and still nursing in the mornings and evenings!

erin said...

This post is awesome. I was a breastfeeing failure and still feel guilty at times for not trying longer (I quit at 4 weeks). Char had a very awkward latch, and no matter how I tried, even after visiting a lactation consultant twice, I couldn't fix it, and it was so painful every time. Even now I think back to that time and wonder if I should have just kept going. I really don't know. But I am glad that I got to breastfeed her for at least a short time and will try again if the Lord blesses us with another one. Thanks for sharing your story!

Natalie said...

This gave me chills. Literally. I am so happy that everthing worked out for you to breastfeed him despite all your obstacles. I admire your determination so much! Breastfeeding isn't always the most comfortable of things, we still have rounds where his latch gets off - usually in the middle of the night (lazy baby) - but it is so wonderful to snuggle them next to you and stare in their sweet little eyes. *sigh* makes me want to go home right now.

Elana said...

Wow! What an amazing story! He's a lucky boy. Thanks for checking out my blog. I'm returning the follow now. Looking forward to reading more.

Taylor said...

Glad I got a chance to read this post. What an amazing accomplishment! I'm struggling with my production and have dealt with quite a few obstacles myself, but nothing as traumatic as you! So happy that you've been able to go for so long!