Supporting Me Every Step of the Way
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 3, 2008, pp. 13-14
There was no question that I would breastfeed when I had a baby. In my opinion, like other mammals, that is what humans are built to do. During my pregnancy, I spent a lot of time worrying about the birth and probably not enough time worrying beyond it. I read a lot of books and talked with lots of friends. My husband and I attended a prenatal workshop and the instructor did a very entertaining breastfeeding demo, complete with props, on getting the baby latched on to the breast. She also recommended the book, Breastfeeding Made Simple, and I remember naively thinking that it was strange that there were so many books out there on breastfeeding, given that it was supposed to be such a natural process. I also spoke with a friend who encouraged me to attend a La Leche League of Canada meeting while I was pregnant. I did not even know people did that. It started to occur to me that these resources must exist for a reason, so I added breastfeeding to my list of worries. When I was eight months pregnant, I attended my first LLL meeting. I was the only very obviously pregnant woman there and I found the experience a little bit overwhelming being surrounded by so many children of all ages and stages.
Chloë was born at home, all eight pounds 14 ounces of her, after the longest day of my life. The midwives stayed with us for about three hours after the birth. They were a bit reluctant to leave because Chloë was too exhausted to nurse despite several feeble attempts. My husband and I spent the rest of the night staring in awe at the new tiny being in the middle of our bed. The midwives were back in the morning to check on us. Chloë had begun nursing. She demonstrated every time she cried that she was able to open her mouth really wide. However, for nursing, she pursed her little rosebud lips and what resulted was a very shallow latch. After a few days of this, my nipples were sore and raw, like someone had rubbed them with coarse sandpaper. That first week, we had a couple of visits from the midwives and we worked hard to improve the latch. By then, my breasts were quite engorged and Chloë was having an even more difficult time latching on to my relatively flat nipples. I had my doula, who was also a lactation consultant, visit us as well. She worked with me to find other breastfeeding positions to relieve the pressure on the cracks that were quickly developing on both nipples. In the football hold, Chloë seemed to gag and gasp and consequently pull on my nipple to counteract the strong let-down reflex of my left breast. By day 12, things had really gone downhill. I did not know how breastfeeding was supposed to feel and figured some discomfort was normal.
I attended my second LLL meeting and one of the Leaders pulled me and a few other stunned looking new mothers aside. Within a few minutes, we were all in tears trying to feed our babies with the help of the Leaders. I was told that they had not seen such horrible nipple damage in a long time, and they remarked at how stoic I seemed considering how much pain I must have been experiencing.
According to the midwives' scale, Chloë was still thriving, and I think it was this knowledge that kept me going. Over the next few weeks, my right breast healed and Chloë was nursing beautifully on that side, which gave me more strength and hope. As for my left breast, the crack turned into a crevasse and things got much worse before they got better. I spent many hours with the midwives, the lactation consultant, and a public health nurse, and for a few days I pumped rather than nurse on that side. Besides the wound, I battled with inflammatory mastitis and a minor yeast infection and armed myself with a nipple ointment, a homeopathic remedy, and heaps of ultra purified lanolin. In the end, upon my lactation consultant's sound advice, I used the "moist wound healing" approach. After several weeks of this (and a few embarrassing moments including one well meaning woman saying, "Dear, I think you can buy something called a nursing pad if you are worried about leakage") the gaping wound finally healed.
Chloë has continued to thrive and over five months later, we have a wonderful but delicate breastfeeding relationship. We work diligently as a breastfeeding team to get a good latch-on at every feeding. The wound has healed, but the scar tissue remains as a constant reminder of those first few weeks. I cannot imagine what we would have done had I not had such an amazing support network in place before Chloë was born. I now have a deep appreciation for why some mothers simply give up. For me, there was no other choice but to persevere and we are certainly glad that we did.
Since adolescence, I had always been quite self-conscious of my rather small, lopsided breasts and consequently hid behind a padded bra and modest necklines. Now that I know my body is able to do what it was designed for, I have a lot more self-confidence and am proud to breastfeed in public in airports, planes, buses, restaurants, and at dinner parties. I have also become a complete breastfeeding advocate through leading by example and providing answers to questions posed by friends and family members who have not been down this road. That said, I also find it very important to show my respect for other mothers' feeding choices. If there is one thing I have learned about parenting so far, it is that people feel very strongly about their decisions.
As we approach the six-month mark, I am thinking more about what it will be like once Chloë starts to show an interest in solid foods. I worry about the grief l may feel when Chloë eventually stops nursing. However, I am confident that my LLL Group will be there to support me every step of the way of my journey as a breastfeeding mother. And when my husband's grandmother, who raised a generation of children on a mixture of evaporated milk and corn syrup (as was then the norm), remarked, "It's miraculous that Chloë has grown so much and all she's ever had is your milk," all I could do was nod, smile and respond, "Indeed."