Breastfeeding – it’s a journey and sometimes that journey is a little difficult . . .
Dealing with gestational hypertension and increased monitoring for pre-eclampsia, my pregnancy was a little difficult towards the end. I was so swollen and uncomfortable. The plan was to induce labor between 37 and 38 weeks, but my water unexpectedly broke (in the middle of the night) just before that. It wasn’t long before we were en route from our home in Saco, Maine to Boston where my obstetrician worked at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. And yes, my husband Rob is still very proud that he made the drive in record time!
Labor and delivery were long and hard. I pushed for 6.5 hours without an epidural (by choice) but oh was it worth it. Our healthy baby boy was born June 17 weighing 8 lbs. 5 oz and measuring 21 inches.
As a certified lactation counselor (CLC) I knew the importance of immediate skin-to-skin contact after birth for breastfeeding. And all the nurses and lactation consultants at Beth Israel were incredibly knowledgeable and supportive. Caleb did very well with breastfeeding while in the hospital but received a small amount of formula due to his low glucose levels. Thankfully, this resolved quickly. I really didn’t want to give my son formula (and had already started pumping) because of all I had learned in my CLC training. Knowing the many benefits of breastfeeding I was committed to doing exactly that.
surprise shock . . .
Sadly, there was another shock in store for us . . .
At five weeks postpartum, I had to undergo a very unexpected surgery. I was having extreme pelvic and back pain that led me to urgent care. After several tests, doctors discovered that I had a large ovarian cyst. I was transferred to the ER at Maine Medical Center in Portland and told that I needed surgery that same night. I wasn’t prepared to be away from my 5-week-old for that long. My mind was swimming. Of course, I hadn’t brought my pump with me. Separated from Caleb for 17 hours, it was eight hours before I could pump again.
The surgery successfully removed the cyst, which by that point was the size of a grapefruit and had twisted 7 times. Having cut off the blood supply to my ovary, both it and my fallopian tube were also removed. Thankfully, the cyst was benign. But my recovery? That was another story – and caring for a newborn at the same time made it that much harder.
The three incisions on my abdomen made movement painful and restricted breastfeeding positions. We had to figure out new ways to sit and lie down to nurse. Worse still, between the time apart and the trauma my body had experienced, my milk supply was affected.
The gift of breastfeeding – and breastfeeding support . . .
At Caleb’s two-month check-up, we learned that he had lost half an ounce in one month. This was extremely upsetting. Our pediatrician recommended supplementing with formula, but I really did not want to give my son formula and expressed this to our doctor. Not long after, we met with Laura Kuhs, a wonderful lactation consultant at Maine Medical Center. Laura was a huge help with our breastfeeding journey.
Truly understanding and respecting my desire to avoid formula, Laura introduced us to donor human milk from Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast. While working hard to increase my own supply, we were able to supplement with donor milk instead of formula for over a month.
We’re still so thankful we had access to donor milk which not only helped to nourish Caleb but provided immense psychological comfort at a time when I was struggling with the weight of feeling like a failure. I experienced some postpartum depression/anxiety during this time but being able to give my son human milk and all the benefits that go along with it was a huge relief.
Mama, you are doing so much better than you know . . .
During this period, we also worked with another lactation consultant in Portland, Linda Murrill, who was incredible! She supported my hypothesis that Caleb had a tongue tie and referred us to a dentist who released it (via laser) when he was 3 months old. After a few weeks of recovery, some gentle exercise, and lots of practice nursing, we were able to return to breastfeeding – exclusively! We’re so thankful for her support which helped enable us to breastfeed until Caleb was 18 months old.
Our journey was extremely difficult with lots of unexpected twists and turns but I’m so grateful for the support of my husband, family, friends, and lactation consultants – not to mention donor milk from Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast. I hope that others who need or wish to use it know that donor human milk is a safe and healthy alternative to formula. Once I gave myself permission to embrace using donor milk, I was able to lighten the load of an insanely demanding exclusive pumping schedule, as well as the mental pain of feeling like a failure.
There are so many ways to feed our babies and so many individual paths to success. Maybe it’s not what you imagined or maybe you are traveling a rockier road than expected, but there’s no space for judgement here. Mama, you are doing so much better than you know.
Huge thanks to Abbey who so generously shared both her story and photos ~ snapped by the incredibly talented Siobhán Bogle ~ with us.