Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Afterglow

After about five to ten minutes of this dubious nursing, the nice nurse gently suggested that I attend one of the breastfeeding classes being offered at the hospital. I picked up a schedule on the way back to my room.

During one of the endless visits from nurses to give me pills or injections, one of them wheeled a hospital-grade breast pump into my room. I cringed. To me, it seemed mysterious and potentially barbaric and painful.

"I'll just leave this here," she said. "When you're ready, let me know, and I'll set it up for you."

I wheeled it into the corner and tried not to look at it or think about it. Clearly, I was having trouble with this breastfeeding thing. With the odds stacked so significantly against me, I thought, was it any wonder? Formula and bottles and pacifiers and time lags. Oh my! I imagined every lactation consultant and breastfeeding advocate in the universe collectively letting out a huge sigh. Aaarrrgggghhh! You've made your babies lazy and they won't take your breast! Nipple confusion! Your milk will dry up! Your children will suffer! You'll have trouble bonding! It's harder with a C-section because it will hurt! It's harder if you have an epidural--your babies won't be interested! They should have been put to the breast within 60 minutes of delivery!

Some time later, I visited the NICU again to try to nurse. There had been a shift change. I told the nurse on duty that I was there to breastfeed.

"You've got five minutes," she told me. She was determined that the babies' diapers would be changed on the dot of the hour, and NOT ONE SECOND LATER.

I held Sage's brother to me, hereinafter Thyme. He fussed and cried and wouldn't take the breast, and my precious time (get it? Thyme?) rapidly came to a close. I would have cried, but Ty made some joke about the Nursing Gestapo, so I laughed instead. I resolved to try the breastfeeding class the next day.

When I showed up, there were three other women there. I was the only one in grungy pajamas and without my baby (babies). The other babies were in the nursery, not the NICU, so they were allowed to be with their mothers, who were clutching them to their breasts, and looked competent.

"You can bring your baby with you, if you'd like," the nurse in charge told me, as I introduced myself.

"My babies are in the NICU."

"Did you have twins? Congratulations!" She smiled. I felt a little bit better.

Then, instead of the blackboard-oriented lecture I was expecting, she asked if we were comfortable, and, one by one, she went around to each of us as we unbuttoned our blouses and she assessed our situations. I fairly quickly went from worrying that there was some Joe Francis-wannabe operating a hidden camera in the room to watching and learning.

The first woman had high-end pajamas and a baby with a gorgeous head of hair. I was intimidated by her, until she unbuttoned her blouse and the nurse diagnosed engorgement.

"He prefers one breast over the other," she explained, and winced as the nurse manually helped relieve her.

The next woman was young, bosomy, blond, and Scandinavian. Her baby had red hair and was completely adorable. When she unbuttoned her blouse, she revealed a well-fitting nursing bra complete with nursing pads. Again, I was intimidated, figuring she had it all together. As it turns out, she had a problem with positioning the baby at the breast.

The next woman had the oldest baby among all of us, and had been working on nursing the longest. She was getting the hang of it, but still had problems getting the baby to latch on.

Next, it was my turn.

"One of my babies latched on okay, but I don't think I have anything. Not even colostrum," I said softly.

I unbuttoned my blouse, and she told me that my babies would be able to latch on well. "Very good," she told me.

I brightened. It's amazing what ONE bit of positive feedback can do, even after a deluge of negativity.

"Here. Here's your colostrum," she said, showing me, for the first time, a drop of what looked like yellow ointment. "When did you deliver?"

"Almost 48 hours ago."

"You should start pumping."

"Really?"

"Yes, absolutely." She began to assemble a pumping contraption, hooked it up to a hospital-grade pump like the one in my room, and showed me how to hold the funnel-like cones to my breasts. The pump, on the lowest pressure, felt strange, but didn't really hurt.

The nurse instructed me to pump every 2-3 hours for 15-20 minutes at a time, and to try putting the babies to my breast whenever I could.

I followed her advice. I asked the other nurse to help me with the pump in my room. For several pumping sessions, I had nothing. When I tried putting the babies to my breast, I met with mixed success. Sage took to it a little bit easier than Thyme. I just kept trying. Thyme would learn to latch on over his first week of life, and, eventually, it would come just as naturally to him as it had to Sage. Persistence was the key.

By late the next day, I was producing minute quantities of a thick and, well, milky substance.

By the following morning, I was producing small quantities of what I had anticipated milk would look like.

I had done it. Contrary to basically all advice I had ever heard regarding how to establish successful breastfeeding. In spite of a C-section, a 19-hour lapse between delivery and first contact with the breast, and use of bottles, formula, and pacifiers, I had become a nursing mother. Of twins. And I still am. And I still use bottles and pacifiers and--gasp--formula, when I need to. And you know what? My babies are thriving. And they love nursing. And so do I. And I'm happy, and actually enjoying the initial postpartum period, after a very difficult pregnancy that could have made for significant postpartum depression. What on earth is wrong with what I'm doing? The answer is, NOTHING.

The moral of the story is, Don't let anybody, however well-intentioned, discourage you, or make you feel like it's all over just because something happens that prevents you from following every single bit of nursing advice. Do what you have to do for yourself and your babies, and keep at it.

To be continued.

12 Comments:

Anonymous twolinesonastick said...

I appreciate your honesty about everything and enjoyed reading this- my own delivery is (hopefully) less than two weeks away so it's nice to hear from "real" people about the nursing stuff.

12:22 PM  
Blogger Mamalujo said...

Yes.. AWESOME.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Eva said...

Congratulations! It seems like you worked really hard to get to a great place for the 3 of you.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Tink said...

Damn straight! I'm so glad to hear it turned out OK and you and the babies are doing well. I come by here every day hoping for updates. :)

4:35 PM  
Anonymous TB said...

Good for you Arabella. I'm not sure I would have been so tenacious while recovering from major surgery and with all those hormones coursing through my veins. You are amazing in so many ways.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Velma said...

What a great story! I love that you've been open to everything and realized that it's all about what works for you and your family. Congratulations on your babies!

11:02 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Harridan said...

It's great that you were able to make it work on your terms. I think your story will be inspiring to women who feel like they have to choose between breastfeeding and formula. I'm glad to hear that doing both isn't necessarily going to ruin my baby! The general wisdom is so all-or-nothing.

11:04 PM  
Blogger V-Grrrl said...

The bottom line is you do what you have to do to make things work out for your family. I was fortunate that the nurses and lactation consultants at the hospital were so supportive, even with a preemie. The pumping was exhausting but it worked. At one point I had to supplement with formula (about a month after my son came home), which I did for a week to bump his weight up and then I returned to just nursing him, no bottles. It all went fine!

12:59 PM  
Blogger Mignon said...

That's wonderful! I agree with Tammie - you ARE amazing. It's not the size of the dog in the fight, right?

5:40 PM  
Blogger mamatulip said...

Right as rain, Arabella.

8:00 AM  
Blogger ptg said...

As an old man who never had any kids, I find this narrative udderly fascinating.

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

I'm so happy to hear about your sweet boys! You're doing so great!

11:28 PM  

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