I come from a long line of breastfed babies. My Mother breastfed her three children (Myself included). My Mother’s Mother ( My Nana) breastfed her four children and her Mother breastfed her 10 children for no less than two years each. In my family breastfeeding has become a family tradition. It was different for everyone my great grandmother openly breastfed her babies. My mother never did it in front of people feeling more comfortable alone in a room or some other place away from everyone. My breastfeeding style is based on covering my breast not my baby. Then there was my poor beautiful sister the first one of us girls to have a baby and when it came time to breastfeed discovered her nipples are inverted and after painstakingly trying everything from nipple shields to nipple stimulation it was down to the pump. Which worked out perfectly for her and baby Haley.
When I was pregnant with my first daughter I had been addicted until my third trimester. But, that didn’t stop me from reading what to expect when you’re expecting cover to cover and practicing breastfeeding positions with a stuffed monkey. I wrote out a very detailed birthing plan and at the bottom in big bold letters wrote:
Because, I understand the importance of breastfeeding my child and would like for it to be as easy for my baby as possible. I would like for my daughter to be placed from womb to chest to aid in the attachment and latching experience. The APGAR can wait! She will not grow until then I promise!!
Unfortunately Sophia’s birth didn’t go according to plan. I was induced with pitocin and given magnesium for some reason. So when my daughter was born the nurses lifted her hand and it dropped down. When they handed her to me for the first time I was amazed at how beautiful she was that’s when I had my epiphany. When I started to sit up to try to breastfeed the nurse said I couldn’t because she was too drowsy and they would have to take her to the NICU for observation. So there they went with my baby. “But, what are you going to feed her!” I asked “They have infant formula in the NICU“ the nurse said. “Yeah, but, I wanted to breastfeed her and this is a very crucial first hour” she just smiled at me. I felt like screaming “Look lady I may be young, recently addicted and raised in a family below the poverty line! But, I am NOT ignorant! I know what MY baby needs”
The doctor told me I could see the baby as soon as my vitals returned to normal. I asked for a breast pump and the doctor replied “We’ll see what we can do”. When the nurse arrived to check my vitals she asked if I was ready to see Sophia and I said YES!! They asked me if I could get up on my own and knowing I couldn’t I was eager to see my baby so I said yes again. They walked me to the bathroom and the dizziness swept over me. I was having a hard time standing on my own but, I tried so hard not to show them so I stood there obviously about to pass out and all of a sudden blood dripped from between my legs and then.. Nothing!!
When I came to the doctors had me on the bed asking me if I was alright! I shook my head yes and the doctor proceeded to tell me that I had blood clots in my uterus that they needed to manually extract from me. I asked “When can I see Sophia” they told me they didn’t know I asked How she was doing and they said they didn’t know. My boyfriend who was out visiting Sophia came in and was asked to leave “It’s going to get messy sir” I heard one of the nurses say “It would be better if you waited outside” “She was fine a minute ago what’s wrong with my girlfriend?” “Sir please step outside” and they closed the door. After failing to remove the Blood clots from my uterus they told me I would have to have a DNC to vacuum out any of the left over blood clots. Which meant I would have to be knocked out so they could do it. “But, I have to see Sophia I miss her I can’t even remember what she looks like, can I at least pump before so she has something to eat” I cried “There isn’t any time we have to do this now! She will have plenty to eat don’t worry” “I am worried she NEEDS the colostrum from me don’t you get it?” he just smiled and walked away. That seemed to be the theme here smile at the crazy drug addict and walk away.
They wheeled me into the operating room and my boyfriend Johnny held my hand the whole way. “ Sophia is so beautiful” He told me trying to smile but, obviously looking at me with tears in his eyes.
“ She looks like you!” he said a little choked up. “She needs me Johnny “ I said starting to cry. The doctor said “Alright I’m going to count to 10 and hopefully we’ll have you ready to see your baby in no time” My thoughts wondered to my new baby girl. One…I wish I had her here…Two…I wonder if she knows I’m not with her…Three…I…
When I came to I was in another room. My Mother, Sister and Johnny were all gathered around me eyes all red and puffy . They had obviously been scared. Right then the doctor came in “ So how are…” I cut her off . “When can I see my BABY!!!” I said “We have to make sure…”I cut her off again “I want to see my baby NOW!!!” They got another nurse to wheel me into the NICU bed and all.
When we got to her little bassinet she wasn’t in there a woman was sitting in a rocking chair beside the bed holding MY baby and feeding her from a bottle. I started to cry “What’s the matter” Johnny said “It’s over” I said the window is gone she thinks the bottle is my chi chi she’ll never latch” I cried “Just give it a try C.C. she knows what she needs” Johnny picked up the baby and handed her to me. I held her close to my body and she looked right up at me it had been eighteen hours since the first time I saw her. I asked Johnny to untie my gown so I can try getting her to latch. The nurse started to wheel over some screens to put around us for my “privacy” ‘I don’t need any screens” I said “Well there ARE other people in here” she said as she looked around. I wanted to slap her. Unfortunately then I was ignorant to my rights. So I let her put up the confinements. I felt like I was in a prison cell.
From that moment on breastfeeding was a challenge. I couldn’t get her to latch I tried every position and finally the football hold seemed to be effective. But, she wouldn’t stay latched for more than a minute and to make things worse every time Sophia cried or made a noise a NICU nurse rushed in to ask if everything was okay. Till finally when Sophia was crying very loudly and hungrily the nurse came in with a bottle and said to me “I don’t think its going to happen!” and with those words she crushed my very fragile and delicate spirit. As I took the bottle from her hands I felt like a traitor to myself. I felt like a failure.
Sophia took the bottle and drained 2 oz in minutes the feeling of rejection was overwhelming and I started to sob. “Oh honey!” the nurse said “It just doesn’t happen for some people” “Get…the fuck…away from me!” I snarled .
I asked repeatedly to speak with a lactation consultant and after two days finally spoke with one. She told me about how important it was for me to be stress free and comfortable. At this point I had already been informed that Sophia wouldn’t be going home with me. “how can I be comfortable” I told her “This place is sad, the screens make me hot and the nurses wont leave me alone! I can’t take my very first child home with me and I’m feeling terrible about myself” she said she understood and as she was about to leave she told me to call La Leche League and of course Miss. (Apparently ) Anti-Breastfeeding looks at me with a disgusted face and shakes her head “No”.
We took Sophia home to my mothers and I tried feeding her but she wanted a bottle so I pumped for a month. It was difficult for me being on the bus all day and having to express, and nowhere to store it.
I learned a lot from my experience in the hospital. I learned that no matter what kind of support or lack of support I was receiving I needed to be strong and educated. I needed to know what to do in case I was put down or let people make me question my decisions.
One year later when the little cross appeared on the pregnancy test. I sat down and before I called or told anyone I started to plan out how this pregnancy/delivery would be different! I WILL breastfeed this time no matter what! I knew I couldn’t pressure myself! But, I needed to have the strength and confidence to make it through.
I bought a used breastfeeding book called “Breastfeeding Naturally: A New Approach For Today’s Mother" for two dollars from my local Goodwill. The copyright date read 1999. I figured it had to be the same school of thought through out the ages on how to breastfeed. When I started to read the book I said to myself “Oh! why hadn’t I picked up a breastfeeding book before“. I was flooded with information. I read the book twice back to back and soon I wanted to know everything about breastfeeding. I asked my mother and her mother. I read articles on line and through it all. I kept talking to my belly about the wonderful thing we were going to do together.
Today I have been breastfeeding Libby for 5 months. I look at my older daughter and I’m sad that we didn’t get to share this experience with each other. The feeling I get from nourishing my baby with my body even outside of the womb gives me a feeling of accomplishment. Sometimes late at night I take Libby to nurse in Sophia’s room and I stare at my beautiful children. I think about the nay saying NICU nurse and I wonder how many other women she has deterred from breastfeeding and it makes me cringe.
“I did it” I think to myself “and anyone can”.
So to all you women out there please stick to your guns don’t ever let anyone’s ignorance determine your worth and the outcome of your decisions. I’m grateful to that nurse for teaching me this lesson a lesson I can now spread to other moms. Thank you! Crazy NICU nurse!