My sister in law recently turned me on to a new blog: The Leaky B@@b. As you can imagine, just the name got me interested! It is a blog for breastfeeding, one where moms can laugh, rant, cry, and share all sorts of information that is all things breastfeeding. So, naturally, I began exploring this blog to see what I could see. I didn't get very far. Saturday July 24's post is to recognize World Breastfeeding Week, and she wants stories from all perspectives of breastfeeding. She wants stories from experience, essays based on research, stories written from a baby's point of view, etc. I figure I have a pretty unique story being that my baby came home being tube fed, and I have been VERY successful in teaching her to nurse (sometimes I think too successful...is that possible?). So, I will post my story here, but I will also be submitting my story for this wonderful compilation of breastfeeding stories to support and encourage breastfeeding the world over. Maybe I'll even win a prize...a booby prize!
When I found out I was pregnant, I immediately started researching natural birthing options in my area. Unfortunately, the last birthing centers were shut down a few years before due to not enough use, so it seemed that my only options were hospital birth or home birth...we decided to brave it and go for a home birth. Once the idea set in, it grew on me, and I started to get really excited about having a home birth. I would tell people with pride that I was planning on having my baby at home, and I was almost smug about the fact that I was going to do it WITHOUT drugs. But it was important to be prepared, and to be prepared, we needed to get educated, so we started taking Bradley Birthing Method classes from a local instructor who had birthed 10 children in her home!!! We were expecting to learn how to relax, learn how to breath, learn how to support one another, know what to expect so there were no surprises, but what we weren't expecting was to learn so much about breastfeeding.
I knew breastfeeding was important, and it had always been what I expected to do, I had no idea, though that it was such an art. We watched videos about latch techniques, hand expression, and the importance of avoiding nipple confusion. And as it got closer and closer to time for me to have this baby, I became really excited to breastfeed her. I couldn't wait to hold her close, skin to skin, and look in her eyes and know that I am all she needs in the world.
My pregnancy was perfect. My labor didn't have any complications. But my baby came out in distress. She didn't get enough oxygen in those first few minutes, which led to some permanent brain damage. The details of all this aren't as important as the fact that as I looked at my little one laying in the NICU barely alive, I was grieving over many things, one of which was that I would probably never breastfeed my baby. In fact, in the beginning, it was looking like there were a lot of things I'd never get to do with my baby, and breastfeeding was not highest on the list. But, even while spending endless hours at the hospital, I faithfully pumped, getting hardly anything at first. I remember handing my little bottle proudly to the nurse every 3 hours basking in her praise and amazement at how much I could get out...even though I thought I should be getting more than an ounce and a half!! I was told over and over that they were keeping every drop of this milk because it was like liquid gold for my baby once she could start eating.
The day my milk came in was the day I said goodbye to my baby. We were told she would never be able to breathe on her own, and we made the horrible decision to unplug her ventilator and say goodbye. But she's a fighter, and she is strong, and she wasn't ready to go. We couldn't believe that after a couple of days, we started having conversations about taking her home!! We thanked our lucky stars. We learned how to insert her NG tube (through her nose all the way into her stomach) because she had no suck, swallow, or gag reflex, and we took home two full boxes of expressed milk. We were told she probably wouldn't make it through the week so if we didn't want to feed her, that'd be okay. And I hated that tube so much, I was okay with this (that sounds horrible, but her kidneys weren't working and she had little to no brain activity, and we were told she was going to die anyway), but my husband told me to just hang on, and soon we were seeing improvements.
I was still mourning my loss over nursing. I was starting to hate the pump. I didn't see how I'd ever be able to leave the house since I had to pump every 2-3 hours. I was dreading having to feed Sadie in public because of the tube. I just kept thinking how much easier everything would be if I could just breastfeed!! We were told I could give her a pacifier and see if we could strengthen her suck, but that babies with this kind of injury were known to aspirate and end up with pneumonia, so it wasn't safe to try to nurse her...yet. I was militant about the pacifier. I even gave it to her when I was tube feeding her because I wanted her to feel her tummy getting full while sucking. But, the nurse kept telling me we needed to test her suck/swallow before we could try to give her any milk orally.
Fortunately, I didn't listen to the nurse, because Sadie STILL hasn't had the suck/swallow test!! Exactly a week after we brought her home, her 2 week birthday, I decided it was time to try to breastfeed Sadie. So, we got in the tub, and we cuddled up with a warm, wet towel, and I put her to my nipple, but she couldn't quite get the hang of it. Then my husband suggested trying the other side. It took a few tries, but she did it! And I was surprised at how different it felt from the pump! It wasn't only the feel of the suck that was different and surprising, it was the hormones I felt releasing, I felt instantly closer to my baby even after just 3 or 4 sucks. But I didn't want to do it too much because I was still afraid of her aspirating.
The next couple of days I spent pumping, feeding her through the tube, then letting her suck a little. I attended a La Leche League meeting because she was having trouble with the shape of my left nipple. We bought a nipple shield and that helped a lot. Soon, we were trying to breastfeed BEFORE I pumped, and using the tube as a last resort. And after 5 days, she was exclusively nursing! I didn't tell the nurse at first, because I was afraid I'd be reprimanded, but when her lungs were checked and were clear for two consecutive visits, I figured it was safe. Actually the nurse was impressed and proud of us for learning how to breastfeed! But we weren't done learning.
In another couple of weeks, we were able to take away the nipple shield, a few weeks after that we could nurse lying down in bed together (oh what a relief that was!), and soon enough, I was comfortable nursing in public. Sadie is now 6 months old and she is a champion breastfeeder! She has nursed in restaurants, in the car, on an airplane, in bed, on the couch, at a baseball game, and anywhere else you can imagine her and I have gone!
Teaching my baby (and myself) how to breastfeed has been one of the most rewarding things I've done in my life. I love to sit and nurse her (especially since she's not a particularly cuddly baby) and sometimes fall asleep together. I love knowing that she knows what to do when I hold her a certain way, and that she has a specific cry to let me know she's hungry. I feel like I'm giving my baby the very best. I really feel I've fulfilled my purpose in life, in being a mother, and I don't plan on giving this up anytime soon. Maybe once it's time to enroll her for kindergarten I'll get the hint!
UPDATE: I wrote this and submitted it before posting here. I almost immediately got a response (like within a couple of hours). She LOVED my story and told me she definitely wants to use it for her website! yay!! My hope is that when others read it, they are not discouraged by feeding tubes and continue to try to breastfeed until they become successful...it's so much more than just feeding your child!