By Jessica Daviso.
Breastfeeding and breast milk donation to Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast were actions that transformed the narratives of my pregnancy and childbirth from stories of disappointment and powerlessness into ones of empowerment and triumph. Before my husband and I even conceived our first child, I had drafted my birth plan, read dozens of natural childbirth books, and researched all the hospitals and birth centers in the greater Boston area. I knew what I wanted out of pregnancy, labor, and childbirth and was determined to will my way towards storybook versions of these events. I read crunchy mama blogs, watched videos showing all types of childbirth experiences, and took Bradley Method natural childbirth classes, hoping that a combination of good education and wishful thinking would turn my visions into reality. I was determined to be one of those glowing earth mothers who have easy pregnancies, empowering labors, and beautiful birth experiences.
It was early in my pregnancy that a wrench was thrown into the works of my perfect pregnancy vision. My husband and I received the devastating news that a non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT) predicted a high likelihood our unborn baby girl had a chromosome deletion disorder known as Turner Syndrome. For babies who survive to full term, Turner Syndrome is characterized by infertility, short stature, abnormal heart and kidney function, and learning disabilities. The diagnosis meant that my otherwise healthy pregnancy was deemed high-risk and we were referred to a specialist for additional testing and to monitor the growth and development of our baby. The visions I had of myself as an exuberant, glowing pregnant woman were thrown out of the window and my list of desires and demands were slowly whittled down to one single hope – that I deliver a healthy baby.
On top of the uncertainty, fear, and sadness that arose from those test results, pregnancy took a toll on my body and mind. For the full duration of my pregnancy, I battled constant nausea, exhaustion, and stress. While I never had the chance to truly enjoy pregnancy, I also never let go of the idea that, despite it all, I might still have positive labor, birth, and postpartum experiences.
Like everything else, it seemed, labor and childbirth were nothing like what I had envisioned; there was nothing beautiful about the experience at all. After 28 hours of unmedicated labor with 5 hours of pushing, I finally consented to an emergency cesarean section. I didn’t get to have the midwife-assisted, unmedicated birth center experience of my dreams, but I did have a happy, healthy, and simply perfect baby girl.
Immediately after birth, our beautiful baby was whisked away for karyotype testing and other diagnostic examinations. Even though she looked healthy, the doctors needed to make sure she was actually healthy. This time apart made breastfeeding next to impossible. My milk was slow to come in and finding the right latch for the baby seemed hopeless. To make matters worse, I developed a large hematoma that resulted in my being readmitted to the hospital several days after the baby and I were first released. This post-surgical complication slowed my ability to heal from the cesarean section and inhibited my ability to breastfeed.
In the first few days of life, our beautiful little girl lost more than 15% of her original birth weight and the doctors suggested that we supplement with formula. I simply wasn’t ready to add breastfeeding to my list of recent defeats. Thankfully, I didn’t have to. With the help of several lactation consultants and our friends at Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast, my husband and I were able to purchase enough donor breast milk to sustain our baby for the first few weeks of her life. I learned to use a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS), which helped me establish my milk supply and allowed the baby to feed at the breast while ensuring that she received enough milk to thrive. Looking back, I feel eternally grateful to the mothers who donated breast milk so that my baby could have a better beginning.
When Carla Lucia was one month old, I had established enough supply that I no longer needed to purchase donor milk, and instead began supplementing at each feeding with my own expressed breast milk. In time, baby Carla Lucia learned to latch properly and no longer needed the SNS. She was gaining weight like a champ and breastfeeding started to feel natural. Despite all of our early struggles and challenges, when I snuggled up with my baby at my breast, I finally felt as though our story was one of success and triumph. While breastfeeding nourished my baby, it simultaneously mended my soul.
By the time Carla Lucia turned six months old, I had a freezer full of breast milk and I didn’t have to think twice about where to send it. Shipping off that first batch of milk to Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast truly felt as though I had come full circle. Although expressing milk sometimes feels like a chore, it’s truly a labor of love. Each time I add a little pouch of liquid gold to my freezer, I’m reminded of the ways in which donor milk altered the narrative of my baby’s birth for the better. I feel so fortunate to be able to donate my own milk to Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast so other mothers and babies can experience the nourishment that can only come from human milk.