Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Tale of Two Births

There has been much chatter and debate in the blogosphere over the past week when this article came out about a study that was published in regards to breastfeeding. It's research indicates that breastfeeding saves thousands of lives and billions of dollars, yet shows that only 14% of women are still exclusively breastfeeding their babies at 6 months old . Many mothers who stopped breastfeeding and switched to formula (for a variety of different reasons) came out in full force claiming this was just another thing designed to make mothers feel guilty. I have read so many different opinions on the issue, and finally decided I should throw mine out there as well. After all, I am very passionate about breastfeeding and the impact it has on babies and their mothers.

First of all, I don't feel as though The World Health Organization, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all got together and said, "Let's put our heads together and see how we can make new moms who formula feed their babies feel guilty. I know, we'll publish reports that show that breastfeeding is the optimal form of nutrition for infants. That should guilt them into nursing." I believe that the research is what it is, scientific evidence, and the article was written as a matter of fact, and was not coming from a place of opinions or bias toward either side. I know how trying breastfeeding can be. I know the trials and tribulations that a new mother can go through. I know how hard it is to hear your baby scream into your boob because he's hungry and you can't figure out proper latching. I know what it feels like to pump your cracked nipples for half an hour in a tiny bathroom at work only to produce two ounces. Believe me, I KNOW. So, when I read this follow up piece this morning, I wanted to stand from my seat and cheer. Because we shouldn't feel guilty if we "failed" at breastfeeding, we should feel slighted. To me, the bottom line is that we need more support, encouragement and resources available to us when it comes to breastfeeding.

Here are my two very different birth experiences which impacted my nursing relationships. They so closely resembled what Melissa is talking about in her piece that I couldn't deny it. Read her follow up article first, then read my stories and tell me, are all of the similarities just coincidence? I think not.

My 1st birth and breastfeeding experience with my son, Will
I visited a traditional OB throughout my pregnancy, and was told in my 37th week that I was going to have a big baby. I began having some very mild contractions when I was 38 weeks and 1 day pregnant, and rushed to the hospital, because I was a first time mother who was completely naive and thought that's what you do when you feel the first contraction. That's what they do on TV, right? I arrived at the hospital, was told that I was only dilated to 2 centimeters and my contractions were 8 minutes apart. The nurses on staff called my OB and he told them to keep me since it looked as though I was going to have a big baby anyway, and they would "help to get things moving along." They immediately started me on Pitocin, broke my water, and about 3 hours later, I requested an epidural because I had heard that was the thing to do when the pain was too intense. The Pitocin sent my baby's heart into distress, the epidural bottomed my BP out. I was a mess. After several hours and only dilating to 5, the OB came in to give me the bad news, I would need a c-section to get the baby out. He was worried about the decels in his heart rate and we needed to do this for the safety of the baby. I cried as they wheeled me down to the OR. I vomited when they administered more meds in my IV to help me relax. When my son was delivered, I heard him cry and they rushed him to the warmer, rubbed him off and bundled him up in a tight swaddle. Despite being told the previous week that I was going to have a big baby, Will weighed 7 pounds and 4 ounces at birth.

This was the first time I saw him

They let me have one free hand to touch him (the other was still strapped to the table) and then they rushed him off to the NICU because he had some fluid left in his lungs since he didn't pass through the birth canal. I told my husband to go with our son to make sure he was okay, and I was taken to my postpartum room alone. I sat there, reflecting back on everything that had just happened. I was sad. I was disappointed. I wanted to see my baby. Even though I was numb from the epidural, my body ached for my child. That, I could feel. Minutes turned into an hour, and I still hadn't held my baby. I started to get anxious and emotional. I kept asking the nurses to see him, but they said the NICU was getting him cleaned up and clearing out his lungs and that he would be in my room as soon as they finished with him. I asked if I could go down to see him, but since I had a c-section and epidural, they wouldn't let me stand up for a while. Time kept passing and by the time that one hour had turned into two and I still didn't have my baby, I was bawling my eyes out begging for him. The nurses reminded me again that they were still working on him and offered to give me a sedative since I was so upset. I refused.

Finally, after about 3 hours since his birth, my son was brought to me. He had been bathed, was sleeping and swaddled in a blanket. I tried to nurse him, but he wouldn't wake up. He was exhausted from all that he had been through and slept for a while. When he did wake up, he was really hungry, but we had latching issues. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get him to latch on. He was crying, I was crying, and my husband was watching on not knowing what to do for either of us. The nurses said they would call lactation to come and help me, but by the time they got there, he was so frustrated, we didn't make any headway. They said we would try later, but in the meantime they gave him some formula from a special needs bottle, because that, he would take.

By the time we left the hospital 3 days later, he still hadn't nursed and was drinking formula. He was also quite attached to a pacifier. He was a little bit jaundice as well, and we were sent home with instructions to keep trying to get him to latch on and nurse and put him in sunlight to help with his color. After a few days at home with him drinking formula, and my continuous attempts to nurse him, he finally got the hang of it and latched on to my breast. I was so relieved! I nursed him exclusively from that moment forward until I went back to work at 10 weeks, and then I pumped upon returning to work and he got my milk from a bottle. We never even considered co-sleeping and weren't aware of the benefits of it, so Will slept in his crib from the night we brought him home from the hospital. Especially after returning to work, I found myself exhausted from getting up to go nurse in the middle of the night. Also, soon after I started back to work, I saw my milk production go down. I called lactation consultants for advice and was given some great tips to boost my supply. When Will started sleeping through the night and not waking to nurse, I was still getting up every 2 hours to pump so that I could increase my supply. By the time he was 8 months old, he weaned and that was the end of our breastfeeding relationship. I was sad for it to end.

My 2nd birth and breastfeeding experience with my daughter, Avery
After educating myself as much as I could, I was dead set on attempting an unmedicated, VBAC. I fired my OB and went with a midwife practice and a doula for my next pregnancy and delivery. The pregnancy was uncomplicated, just as my previous one had been. I took a home study course on Hypnobirthing and practiced daily with affirmations and scripts to prepare myself. Two days before my expected due date, I was lying in bed when my water broke. We took our time and went to the hospital and I finally got the VBAC that I had been dreaming of. Since I just recently posted her birth story, I won't repeat it all again now, but you can find it here.

My experience was so much different than my first. The moment I pushed Avery out, they placed her on my chest skin to skin. She cried loudly, then snuggled in and nuzzled me, moving her tiny body up with a push of her little legs and feet. We waited for the cord to stop pulsating and Rob cut it free. Within moments, she was latched onto my breast and was nursing calmly. She stayed there for a good 45 minutes suckling as the midwife and nurses quietly cleaned up and allowed my husband and I time with our baby. They told us to let them know when we were ready and they would weigh her and do her Apgar tests. They never attempted to take her from me, nor did they wipe my smell from her body. She and I just lay there together, chest to chest. She stared at me. I stared at her. Rob watched us together and hugged and kissed us.

Finally I had to get up to go to the restroom, so we allowed them to take her to weigh her and do her Apgar screening. They did it all in the room right there with Rob, my mom and I watching on, and when they were finished, they handed her back to me and she fell asleep in my arms. I held her as they wheeled me down to my postpartum room and she stayed with me there for the majority of the hospital visit. She was never bathed at the hospital as we didn't feel it was necessary, and the nurses never pushed or even suggested it. She continued to nurse just as well as she had during the first moments of her life, though she was really sleepy those first few days and I would have a little trouble waking her up sometimes.

We have been co-sleeping since we brought her home from the hospital and she and I both sleep very well at night. I never got the quality of rest I do now when I was getting out of my bed each night to go nurse Will. I actually get a full night's sleep and wake up feeling rested, which is something that a lot of new moms only hope for. Avery is still nursing like a champ, and since I started back to work 3 weeks ago, I have an oversupply of milk when I pump. Each day, I pump enough milk at work to supply her for the next day and store several bags in the freezer. After only being back for 3 weeks, I have almost a 3 weeks supply stored should she go through a growth spurt or I have a dip in production. I look forward to continuing our breastfeeding relationship. It is one of the most precious things that I shared with Will when he was a baby, and I am again loving the connection I find while nursing Avery.

Both of my experiences, though total opposites of each other, have been beautiful in their own ways. Will was my first child. I had no idea what I was in store for. I was uneducated and naive, but I fought hard to nurse him and overcome the obstacles that were handed to us. I'm so glad I did, and am proud of how he and I worked together to form that relationship. With Avery, things have been easy when it comes to nursing, and she is really attached to me as a result, just as she has been from the moment she left my body. I hope that more women out there will take my stories, educate themselves, stand up and demand more support as nursing mothers. After caring and nurturing our babies for 9 to 10 months inside our wombs, we need the support and encouragement that will make it easier for us to care for and nurture them outside the womb. We deserve that. Our babies deserve it.

Will moments after his birth, getting wiped down under the heat lamps

Avery moments after her birth, meeting us face to face and warming herself on mommy's body

I could say so much more...

1 comment:

  1. Oh Leslie. I'm sobbing on the couch. I'm so glad you're adding your two cents on the issue--it's important and inspiring and overwhelming. I already feel more informed just having read your words and I don't even have kids yet! Thank you for sharing your experience.