Thursday, March 11, 2010

Stand and Speak

When Rhys and Quin were born, they were admitted to the NICU for several weeks. They had feeding tubes and were kept in hard plastic isolettes for warmth. It wasn't what I'd envisioned for my babies' first days in the world.

We were allowed to visit as much as we wanted, but were warned about touching them too much for fear of over-stimulation. I remember the trepidation and heartbreak I'd feel every time I'd reach my hand through the little porthole into the warmth of the isolette and feel their soft downy skin and delicate tufts of hair. I longed to pick them up and hold them close. Sometimes the nurses would come in and see me standing there with my hand on one of my babies and give me a chiding look. "They need to rest." I had to ask permission to change their diapers. They were almost 24 hours old by the time I got "permission" to try breastfeeding.

It wasn't what I'd envisioned for my first days as a mother. I kept waiting for their real mother to sweep in - a more competent and therefore deserving woman who I imagined would wear peach lipstick and smell faintly of mint gum. The days came and went, but she never appeared. I trudged on. Back and forth to the hospital every day, a hunched and spent shell of my former self. At night I'd set the alarm to go off every two hours so that I could wake up and pump. I'd sit in the dark of our bedroom and cry alongside the whoosh and whir of the Medela, covered in postpartum sweat and sticky from milk. Each morning I'd deposit my night's work with the nurses in the NICU, and I'd ask them to count my supply. I'd anxiously await the results, frantically calculating in my head whether I'd supplied enough milk to get both babies through the day without the nurses supplementing with formula. Formula. Nobody ever asked my permission.

When I finally accepted that the lady with the peach lipstick wouldn't be waltzing in to save us, I realized I would have to muster up my strength and figure out how to be the mother my babies needed. The NICU staff was starting to talk about removing the feeding tubes and starting the babies on bottles. Breastfeeding wasn't going spectacularly, but we were making progress. I knew I didn't want my tiny new babies to have bottles. I did my research. Talked to the lactation consultant. Talked to family and friends. Armed with a page of researched rationale, I walked in to the babies' hospital room one morning and requested to speak with the provider on duty. When the young PA arrived, I took a breath and started my rehearsed speech.

"I want to talk about how we can avoid putting the babies on bottles. I want to exclusively - "

She turned briskly to face me and cut me off. "Not gonna happen." She then opened the porthole on the isolette and reached her hand in to stroke Quin's back. She didn't have to ask anyone's permission. I watched her touch his tiny arms and legs the way I longed to. She smoothed the fuzz on his head. I tried to swallow and couldn't. Four year's worth of wanting and waiting lodged in my throat and refused to leave.

Later that day, the lactation consultant tried to console me. "Just do what they say and get these babies home. Then you can do whatever you want. Sometimes you have to lose a battle to win the war."

An hour later, I was sitting in a rocking chair, feeding one of my babies a bottle while every last frail thread of motherly confidence quietly withered and fell away.


It seems that Facebook has removed some of the hyper-sexual pictures of breasts that I included in Monday's post. But there are more. And there will be more. So while removing all of the sexualized images of women might make the playing field more even, that's really not what I'm aiming for. What I'm aiming for is for Facebook and for society as a whole to start viewing breastfeeding with respect instead of disdain, and with support rather than stigma.

In the past three days, over 25,000 people have visited these posts. Many have shared their support. I am overwhelmed and energized. Let's not stop here.

Facebook has offered no direct response. We need to show them that we're not going away. This matters. We matter. Our babies matter.

The woman with peach lipstick never came to save me. She doesn't exist. For Rhys and Quin, I'm what they've got. I lost a battle but I will not lose the war. These are my babies. I'm going to make the world right for them. I believe I can.


What next? Where do we go from here?

We need to keep standing up. We need to keep SPEAKING up. If you agree, share these posts. Post them on message boards, post them on Facebook, send them to your local news. Or write your own and share them here. Or on Facebook. Or wherever you feel most comfortable. Share your own mothering story. How did you fight the battle to become the mother your baby(ies) needed?

Write to Ellen. Write to Oprah. Write to NPR or Good Morning America or whoever you think has influence.

Stand. Speak. Don't stop.


The Janowski Family said...

April, you are my hero! I struggled with nursing my daughter. It hurt horribly for the first six weeks, my husband was weirded out by it so I did not have a ton of support and I also struggled constantly with supply (my mom said she quit nursing me very early due to supply issues, too). By five months I had to completely switch to bottle feeding and I cried. How you have managed to support two babies amazes me.

I will continue to support your effots and the efforts of moms everywhere because my daughter will not be an only child and I will nurse again!

Natalie said...

Oh, wow. Why are you trying to make me cry first thing in the morning? ;>)

I linked to your post on fb & went on a bit of a diatribe about the whole thing on my blog yesterday. Unfortunately, I think it's more of a stupid people thing than a fb thing.

(Nurses/doctors who bully people really piss me off.)

suep said...

April, Your story brings tears to my eyes, for you and because I know your story is being repeated in hospitals all over.
I am a lactation consultant. Just yesterday afternoon I attended our local lactation journal club...we gather to review current research and how we can take it into our respective workplaces to help and advocate for moms and babies.
One of our articles yesterday was research done in Tel Aviv on energy expenditure for premies feeding at the breast vs. with a bottle. Although we have had Paula Meier's research on the physiological stability of premies at the breast (heart rate etc.), there has been none on energy expenditure.
This one is a very small beginning for something difficult to measure, but showed no statistically significant difference between bottle and breast except for the amount of time the feed took, the feeding at the breast lasting longer.
Changing accepted medical practice is long and difficult and frustration is what you heard from your lactation consultant with her "Get these babies home...."
Like the lack of acceptance of breastfeeding in our general culture, the dismissal of the profound physiological and psychological benefits of breastmilk and breastfeeding in the medical community is pervasive.
There are folks within the medical system that are challenging and educating their peers, but the progress is really slow. I know I am not alone as I ache with you as I read your story.

Lindsay Bounds said...

My baby girl Emerson was born on May 27, 2009, on time, healthy, and totally ready to enter the world. I had planned from the very beginning to nurse her, but I never realized how hard it would be. The nurses didn't want me nurse her right after she was born, and, like an idiot, I listened. We didn't try for the first time until several hours later when we were alone in our hospital room, and I had no idea what I was doing. I felt like I should, but I didn't. No lactation consultant ever came to see us, even though I asked for one. We were discharged 24 hours later, still no better off with the nursing. Over the next two days, I did my best to feed her, but it was a struggle. I had a supportive family around me, but no one who had ever breastfed. By the time Emerson's pediatrician appointment came along two days later she was sleeping a lot, and not eating much. The pediatrician told me she had lost too much weight and was too lethargic to nurse, so I would have to supplement with formula. Like a defeated idiot, I listened. So began the worst 24 hours of Emerson's short life. Every drop of formula we fed her she vomited up. She was a screaming, writhing ball of tears between feedings. By early Sunday morning I swore that, one way or another, I was going to nurse her. I was not as confident as I sounded.
On my last day of work the week before, at the graduation of my 5th graders, a parent had come up to me and slipped me her business card. She was a nurse practitioner and HUGE proponent of breastfeeding. She said, out of nowehere, "If you have any trouble with breastfeeding, call me." "Yeah, right," I thought, "I am never going to call you. Thanks though." I considered myself much too private to call anyone for help with that, much less a parent of one of my students. Well, at 7am that Sunday morning, when my beautiful girl was only 4 days old, there I was writing a feverish e-mail to this woman, crying my eyes out and feeling like the worst mother in the world. A half an hour later she called me. She said, "Don't get dressed, don't clean your house, I am coming over." And I let her. Despite my postpartum body, my messy house, and my exhaustion, I ler her come over, and I didn't shower, or clean or anything. I was desperate. The first thing she said was, "Come sit down, let me see you feed her." Ok? I whispered, "I don't know how. My milk isn't in, and I don't know what to do for her." She answered, "Yes, it is, and yes you do. Show me." So, I did. She tweaked my approach, my hold, Emerson's latch, and soon we were off. In 15 minutes, my sleepy, full baby let go, and there was milk dripping down her chin. I cried and cried. In front of this woman who was a parent at my school, and a virtual stranger, I lost it. I was so grateful to her for her help and for helping me see that I could feed my daughter, no matter what anyone told me. She was my angel, and she saved my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter. I will always be thankful for that. Over the next weeks my husband was my biggest supporter and advocate. He thought that breastfeeding was the most wonderful thing I could do for our daughter, and he kept me on track when I was sore and tired and wanted a break. I am thankful to him too. I was able to successfully and exclusively breastfeed little Emerson for 7.5 months. When teething started she went on a nursing strike and my supply plummeted. I couldn't seem to get it back up again and we ended up needing to stop. I cried then too. I hope that I can nurse my next baby for longer, but I am thankful for every day of bonding and breastfeeding that I had with my daughter. It is a beautiful thing.

freckletree. said...

sup sookie?

talk about energized. after our late night rendezvous with a 5:30am post?

this is so hard. i can't imagine not being able to touch my babies. i think i must wear peach lipstick and carrying a hunting knife on my hip.

also, hunting for that pic of my giant tits to sell my milk filled soul to becoming Gayle. two million photos down, five hundred million to go.

Cindy Byrd said...

Julie directed me here. I had to pump for my preemie for 20 weeks before she was fully breastfed. We had to fortify my milk because she was a bpd baby and burned way too many calories struggling to breath. Bracey was 12 weeks early. However, my nurses and neonatologists were amazing here. When she would get a feed through the tube, they would give her a soother to connect the full feeling with sucking..they would stick a swab in my milk and rub it in her mouth often for the taste before they would give her a soother. After I pumped, I was encouraged to give her the empty breasts to keep her wanting the breast.

When she was still 28 weeks, she latched on and have 3 very powerful sucks. She could keep that soother in her mouth too. The first time she breastfed was at 32 weeks gestation and she did amazing...however she was put npo for a week and treated for NEC.

ANYWAYS..after that trip down memory lane..the point is, I had a picture of my (at the time she was down to) just 2 lbs, latched on...but my harddrive crashed and I lost everything. I would gladly post that picture over and over if I still had it, breaks my heart, it`s gone as i said.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that the only thing I can think of to say is YOU GO GIRL!

Mummy Dearest said...

The first part of this post contains so much of the unexpected that each Mom I know seems to go through... and the pain of these traumatic, medical experiences linger. My heart to you!

As for what I did to de-stigmatize breastfeeding: I sat on benches in malls without a blanket to cover myself, and I fed my children.

I sat at picnics and did the same.

I sat in public, around people, and by myself.

It is a messy part of life. Life is messy!!

And most people are uncomfortable with mess and even aditting to its right in our lives.

Rock on!

Erin said...

I just wanted to say that after reading your blogs and your letter to facebook about breastfeeding, that I went to MY facebook page and uploaded the pictures that I had longed to upload. A picture of my brand new miracle baby nursing for the first time on my nipple that was almost the size of her face, and picture of her looking innocently at the camera at nine months while she was having some "mama milk".

Steph said...

My daughter was born via scheduled c-section (footling breech) and that started a cascade of issues including having to feed her formula before they would discharge her and attachment problems. there were 3 weeks of constant screaming, crying (on both our parts) and visits with LCs and doctors. In the end, she rejected me and choose a bottle. I was broken as a mother.

When my son was born not quite two years later, things were much different. He was a VBAC and was put on my chest and to my breast right after birth. We had some minor issues at first, but had a wonderful bfing relationship until he stopped gaining weight at 3 months. I was told I have Insufficient Glandular Tissue and couldn't sustain him on breastmilk alone. I continued to nurse and supplement until he was 6 months old and he stopped latching on.

Neither situation was ideal...but while the difficulties with my daughter made me feel broken, the difficulties with my son empowered me. I had the knowledge, I stood my ground, I wasn't made to feel small and insignificant by those around me.

I share those stories because for those few months that I did breastfeed I did it everywhere and anywhere proudly. I nursed in the mall, in the pew at chuch and in front of my father and father in law. I am the only woman since my great grandmother to nurse her children in my family.

No one should ever make a mother, or any woman, feel small or objectified, especially when it comes to caring for her children. I hope that some day the culture will change and realize that....and it's things like this that will help move it in that direction. I wish I was still nursing now, or had more nursing pics, so I could plaster them all over facebook.

oh, and pssst, there's a formula add at the bottom of your page....

April said...

Steph - thanks for the heads up...formula ad removed!!!!

Jenny said...

So sorry you were treated that way in the hospital. I can't even imagine how awful that would feel. That picture of you nursing the twins is beautiful and empowering.

R.J. said...

I breastfed in 1975 when it wasn't very vogue either. Take heart, you're right and they are wrong. My grandchildren have been breastfed and I'm sure they are healthier for doing so even though any medical contacts discouraged it. Imagine that. Good for you. If anyone sees pornography in a breastfeeding baby, they have a warped mind.