After 27 hours of labor and a high forceps delivery (they don’t do those anymore!), my daughter was born. Four hours later the nurse brought my firstborn to my room, bruised and groggy. In spite of my instructions not to feed my baby, she had been given a large feeding of glucose water, standard practice at the time (they don’t do that anymore either!).
I had read all the books, since I didn’t know a single soul who had breastfed except for my grandmother who lived in another part of the state. There was much we didn’t know then about how important breastfeeding is, but I grew up with first-hand knowledge of how important mother’s own milk was for baby farm animals. I was convinced it was the best thing for us. My mother had tried to breastfeed my younger brother and failed, for reasons that probably had everything to do with lack of support. I was only 7 at the time, but still remember some of the very bad advice she received.
When my baby met me, she was not at all interested in feeding and slept quietly in my arms. I can still remember the overwhelming sense of peace and oneness with the universe I felt as I held her. Her smell, the softness of her skin, her tiny features, her sleepy little sounds are branded into my brain.
The nurse came to take my baby after only an hour together. I begged her to let my baby stay. “30 more minutes, then she has to go.” The nurse never came back. All night I held my daughter (her father slept of course). Finally around 2 am, she awoke. Somehow I managed to get her latched on, and though it felt much like a cross between being caught in a vise and abused by a vacuum cleaner, we were breastfeeding! No sooner than we started, another nurse came flying in and exclaimed, “Oh! There it is!” in reference to my baby. She proceeded to tell me they had come up short in the nursery and now my baby was contaminated from being out so long, so I would just have to keep her-permanently. Hallelujah! I must have been the first mom to practice rooming in at that hospital, and I was overjoyed.
We left the hospital three days later. I arrived home with blistered and bleeding nipples, swollen breasts, and a very sore bottom with lots of stitches. The pain was so intense, I cried every time I breastfed for nearly two weeks. I sat with The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding in one hand, and my baby at the breast supported by the other. Somehow, magically, we figured it out. My nipples began to heal and the pain subsided. The third week we attended a local La Leche league meeting, where we sat and nursed alongside some wise and seasoned mothers, sharing the joys and challenges of our breastfeeding experiences. By four weeks my daughter and I were old pros. We nursed discretely and everywhere–at the park, in restaurants, at the mall, and even in church! We made it to 15 months. Five years later my son came along, and I did it all over again. It was much easier the second time, and just as wonderful.
That was over 30 years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. Nine years after my daughter was born, I became an RN, working with moms and babies. I savored the opportunity to participate in the transformation of maternity care that was occurring and still is in this country. Additionally I pursued certification as an IBCLC to be able to provide breastfeeding mothers with the much-needed support that was not available for me. The personal rewards of helping another mother to breastfeed are immeasurable. Every mother I meet, regardless of her age, has a story to tell. And when they find out what I do for a living, they usually want to tell it. Just like me, they all remember those first hours and days. Some express satisfaction and fulfillment, others express pain and regret. So often I hear, “If only I had known…” or “If only there had been someone there to help me.”
Yes, I’m very glad I didn’t give up on breastfeeding. I know I gave my babies the best possible start in life, and that experience put me on the path that led me to my calling of helping other moms with this very personal and empowering aspect of mothering.
There’s more, though, so much more than I ever guessed. Just after the birth of her second child, my daughter sent me a photo of her three-year-old wearing her mother’s breastfeeding pillow, with her little shirt pulled up and a baby doll positioned comfortably at her breast. Two years later I was staying with my daughter when her twins were born. One morning a sleepy two-year-old came down the steps with the legs and feet of two baby dolls sticking out of the neck of her pajamas. For these children, breastfeeding is a normal and natural part of life.
At some point in our lives we begin to think about the legacy we will leave for our children. I believe this is mine. Our family has normalized breastfeeding. We have overcome the 100+ year detour our society took that led us away from what our bodies are designed to provide, and what our babies are designed to need.
I believe every mother must find her own way, and I know not every mother can or should breastfeed. When the choice is to breastfeed, I pray there will be someone there in your time of need with the compassion and expertise to guide you, so you can look back on your breastfeeding experience with a sense of fulfillment and no regrets in the years to come, knowing you gave your baby your best.
I’ve put together a short and easy-to-follow Breastfeeding Tip Sheet which you can download at BreastfeedingTips4Moms.com.