Not a Saint
Grimes IA USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 3, May-June 2006, pp. 109-110.
I sat in the dentist's chair last week and waited as the hygienist thumbed through my medical history. Suddenly she came across something that alarmed her. "Wow! You're still nursing 10-month-old twins?" She quickly realized that she might have offended me and added, "You're a saint." I've heard these and other comments similar to it many times before. People either find it crazy that I have committed myself to exclusively breastfeeding my twin boys or, like the hygienist, an act worthy of sainthood. I'm not crazy, and I'm not a saint. I'm a mother.
I nursed my daughter for 17 months with no difficulties. She latched on from birth and decided that was a great place to be both day and night! Nursing her was a wonderful experience, and there was never a question that I would nurse all of my future children. I never expected that twins would be part of that future. But, a routine ultrasound during my next pregnancy revealed that there were two little lives inside of me.
Many thoughts swam through my head the moment the doctor exclaimed, "There are two babies!" One of the most pressing concerns to me was how I was going to nurse them. I dove into books on nursing twins and looked at the diagrams of possible ways to position the babies. My husband laughed as I took two of my daughter's dolls and tried to visualize with them how this was going to work. I obsessed over it for a while and then told myself that all I could do was give it my best shot. I would only really know what was going to happen when they arrived.
Just one week after my daughter turned two, my baby boys were born. Like my daughter, they latched right onto the breast and seemed to know exactly what they were doing. I nursed them one at a time the first day and then asked the lactation nurse at the hospital to help me make the big leap and start nursing them together. I sat in the hospital bed surrounded by stacks of pillows and props and got both tiny babies in the football hold—one on each breast. They started sucking away. It was a milestone. This was going to work!
The boys were sleepy the first couple of weeks but still seemed to nurse pretty well. When one got hungry, I put both to the breast whether the other was sleeping or not. With a two-year-old running around, I felt I had to do it this way. I was proud that I had made it through two weeks. My milk supply was great and the boys seemed to be doing well. However, when I went in for the two-week doctor visit, my boys were not gaining weight as quickly as the pediatrician thought they should. They were still below their birth weight and the pediatrician immediately assumed it was because they weren't getting enough from me. She told me to begin supplementing. I was crushed thinking that breastfeeding might not be going as well as I had thought. But I did not want to give up; I knew that supplementing would only lead to more formula and a lower milk supply. I said, "I won't supplement. Give me two more weeks and these boys will be just fine." My doctor agreed and I promised to bring them back for a weight check in two weeks. The boys spent the next two weeks attached to my breasts and I proudly walked my plump little guys back in to the doctor where they tipped the scales well over their birth weights. Another milestone.
As the weeks progressed, my problem became an oversupply of milk. I had read that many women have to work hard to boost their milk supplies when they are nursing twins. And, yet, here I was with milk spraying everywhere and two boys trying desperately to swallow as fast as they could. There were many nursing sessions that ended with the boys and me completely drenched in milk. It was frustrating. I would sit on the couch after one of these soakings nearly in tears and tell my husband that I didn't know if I could keep doing this. He answered me in the way he knew I would respond best. He said, "You can quit nursing them whenever you want, Jill." I am a bit competitive by nature, so anything that involved quitting was out of the question. "I'm not going to quit! My boys need me!" He smiled at me and said, "You're doing an awesome job. It will get easier."
Before it got easier it got much more difficult. Because of the huge oversupply problem I was having, I got a bad case of mastitis. The pain, fever, headache, and nausea knocked me out. I tried to fight it without antibiotics, but I called my La Leche League Leader and she told me that I should go to the doctor. I followed her suggestion and the doctor immediately prescribed antibiotics. But this was only the beginning. In the following month and a half, I had repeated cases of mastitis. A couple days after one case cleared up it would start all over again. Each time I called the doctor he seemed to get more and more aggravated with me. In what was probably the fifth case, he leveled with me. "I hate to discourage nursing, but you have had mastitis way too many times. You really should think about weaning." I wanted to cry when I got off the phone. My babies were only three months old, and they didn't take a bottle. Weaning was not an option. I once again called on my La Leche Leaders. One of them dropped me an encouraging note letting me know what a wonderful gift it was that I was nursing the boys. "I know many mothers who have quit nursing for much lesser reasons than this. Good for you for hanging in there." The Leaders also worked to find ways to slow down my milk production. I stopped switching them from one side to the other for a while and gave each his own assigned side. But, oddly one of my boys started being fussier than the other, while my second one was plumping up. It was then that I discovered that my left breast was producing much more than my right. So, I went back to switching sides and kept plowing through the pain and discomfort of mastitis.
Eventually my body figured out what it was supposed to be doing and the mastitis went away. I was able to get back to appreciating the joys of nursing twins. And there are many. There's nothing quite like seeing four little eyes staring up at me as they peacefully suck away, two warm bodies tucked around me, hands often clasped together in the middle. Sometimes one wants to suck longer and the other will pull off and stare at me, or laugh as he pokes at my mouth and pulls my nose. Sometimes they'll both pop off for a while and turn sideways to look at each other and laugh. Then they "dive bomb" my breasts and hop on for a few more sips. Many times my daughter will climb on the couch next to us and snuggle at my side while the boys nurse. She eagerly waits for them to finish so she can be the first to make them laugh as they lie on the nursing pillow in their post-feeding contentment. The hurdles I faced to breastfeed my boys seem of little importance when compared to the joys of watching their bodies grow and develop solely from my milk. It's an awesome responsibility and privilege. I wouldn't have it any other way. After all, I am their mother.