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Why I Do What I Do

Joy Kahler
Cheyenne WY USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25 No. 4, 2008, pp. 15-16

Imagine two teenagers, 15 and 18, high school sweethearts, who marry six years later. That was my husband and me. After nearly five years of marriage, we thought it was time to start a family; I was then told this terrible news: "You probably won't be able to get pregnant -- let alone carry a baby full term." Yes, this was the beginning of my journey to motherhood. This news from the doctor was devastating to me, and I knew my husband would feel the same. I wanted to carry his children. I didn't know how he would accept me after he learned that I couldn't. My caring and insightful husband said, "We'll see a specialist and get a second opinion."

The second doctor told us that if we wanted to start a family, we had two choices: exploratory surgery or just start trying. Five months later, I was pregnant! Knowing that I had been breastfed, and after reading The Breastfeeding Book by Martha and William Sears, I knew it was the best way to feed my baby.

During the last trimester of my pregnancy, I became overwhelmed with the stress of moving to a new house and preparing everything for my baby's birth. I hadn't realized that I was overdoing it. I was prescribed a medication to treat high blood pressure, and my body began retaining fluids. A few weeks later, I was admitted to the hospital and induced at barely 37 weeks.

My daughter was brought into the world after four hours of pushing and a vacuum suction extraction. After this horrifying birthing experience, I didn't see her for about two hours. I was not allowed to sleep near her and the nurses brought her to me only when they thought she needed to be fed. She was very sleepy and did not want to nurse. I was told to dribble some formula on my nipples so that my baby would think there was milk in my breasts!

Finally, I was told my baby had lost a considerable percentage of her birth weight and we needed to supplement with formula. We were sent home with a case of ready-made formula. I continued to try to breastfeed my daughter and started feeling more and more comfortable with this. Two days later, I went back to see the doctor for a check-up. My daughter was weighed and the doctor was not pleased with her weight gain. He took a little bottle of formula and fed it to my daughter. Watching her down a few ounces of formula reinforced my own feelings of inadequacy and my feeling that my body didn't have the ability to nourish my baby.

My doctor sent me to a lactation consultant, who suggested that I pump because I was engorged and that was probably why my daughter couldn't latch on. So, I pumped two ounces in about four minutes. Ah, relief, finally! The lactation consultant observed my daughter's inability to latch on to the breast. She gave me a nipple shield and told me to wear it for a couple of days. We went home and I breastfed first then supplemented with formula. Giving my baby formula led to a dwindling supply, which I didn't understand at the time. Needless to say, with no support, no one to answer my questions, and my not taking a more active role in seeking out the right information, our breastfeeding relationship ended after nine days.

Skip forward three-and-a-half years to the birth of our son. This time, I said to myself and my husband, "I'm going to breastfeed this baby if it kills me!" I went into labor on my own. We live an hour away from the hospital and when my contractions were about 10 minutes apart, my husband drove me to the hospital during an ice storm!

All went well in the labor at the hospital. The edge was barely taken off by the epidural, and our son was born about 20 minutes after the epidural went in. I was so happy to have felt what was happening in my body during childbirth. My son was taken, weighed, measured, and tested. (All the tests could've been done with him on my stomach had I known to ask.) Still he latched right on to my breast as though he knew exactly what was going on. He taught me more about breastfeeding than I thought a baby was capable of. I just listened to him and tried to understand what he needed. I held him, let him feed whenever he wanted to, and did whatever it took to stop him from crying, which he did quite a bit for such a little guy of six pounds, 14 ounces.

We were discharged and went home. I had my breastfeeding baby, and I truly enjoyed this experience. We found that it is quite a bit of work at first and began adjusting to life with a newborn infant. Yet, as the months went by, I became more and more confident. My son was gaining well and was becoming chubby! When my son was about four months old, I realized that he was not nursing for quite as long as he did in the previous months.

I found out that one of my high school friends, Stacy, is a La Leche League Leader in Wisconsin, USA. I called her and explained my situation. She said calmly that my son was becoming such an efficient nurser that he was getting the job done faster. It had nothing to do with my supply, since his daily output and weight gain didn't reflect any supply issues. Throughout my early breastfeeding months, I consulted Stacy often. Somewhere along the way, I decided I would like to know what Stacy knows. I wanted to help other mothers realize their breastfeeding goals.

I found out that there is a nearby La Leche League Group. I called the number listed and told the Leader I wanted to be a La Leche League Leader, too. I had never attended a meeting and never met any other mothers within an LLL Group. My now co-Leader, Marguerite, explained to me all that becoming a Leader entails. There began my journey to becoming a Leader and the rounding out of my motherhood journey. My son continued to nurse until we reached a mutually convenient weaning age.

I believe strongly in the importance of education surrounding childbirth and breastfeeding during the prenatal period. Also, I now understand just how important it is to find a local La Leche League Group! I find it difficult to adequately thank all of my (now) co-Leaders and other LLL friends who assisted and supported me during my nursing experience with my son. Also, I grieve for not having the sense to reach out to them before the birth of my daughter and for the fact that none of my health-care providers referred me to them either.

I am now an accredited La Leche League Leader. Our local group has a prenatal breastfeeding class offering the opportunity to mothers and mothers-to-be to learn more about breastfeeding before giving birth. I emphasize to mothers in our local class and to those who come to our meetings the importance of gathering information prior to the birth of their baby because sometimes the only advocate you find in your corner is yourself! I attribute my passion for educating mothers about childbirth and breastfeeding to my own ineptness. Neither my birthing nor breastfeeding experiences were textbook success stories, but I do now realize my own power and the importance of my local support network. I now have the mind set in whatever I do to ask the right questions, trust my own feelings, and give things the old smell test! Most importantly, I have two beautiful healthy, energetic, intelligent children and a husband who supports me and understands fully why I do what I do.

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