Friday, November 27, 2009

Thoughts on CoSleeping from a Fierce Mama of 3

The first days and weeks of parenting my first child, Nicholas, were a blur of fatigue and endless hours of breastfeeding. Day and night, I nursed that sleepy little baby and prayed that I'd get enough sleep to feel rested at some point.

After a few weeks, I discovered the beauty of side lying nursing which quickly turned me into a co-sleeper. Gone were the long dark hours in the middle of the night where I would perch on the side of my bed, trying not to doze off and fall over! Gone was the feeling of dread I'd feel when my sleeping baby woke up minutes after being placed in his crib! Instead, I basked in the beauty of snuggling in bed with this delicious little baby and feeling rested in the mornings.

During one of Nicholas' well-baby visits with his pediatrician, I mentioned that we'd begun co-sleeping. The pediatrician cautioned me with tales of “trying to break the habit later on” and told me I needed to get my baby sleeping in his crib again. Being a young single mom, I didn't feel confident enough to speak up with my protests so I did the next best thing: I ignored the advice and found a new pediatrician.

In the nine years since that moment I discarded the warning against co-sleeping, I have not regretted my choice. Co-sleeping with Nicholas, and eventually with his sisters Lily and Olivia, has been an immensely satisfying experience. From the ease of nighttime nursings with young babies to the important snugglings with older children who don't get enough physical touch during their days, co-sleeping has been an important part of my parenting.

We've various configurations of beds in different rooms as the years go by and people's needs change, but the one constant has been the message we've sent to our children: their needs are important no matter the time of day or night.

Tonight as he was dozing off, Nicholas curled around his sleeping baby sister and whispered to me “I love waking up next to her in the mornings when she's lying in bed cooing”. My heart went completely to mush as I thought “Me too, Nick. Me too.”.

By Kim Johnstone

*Editor's note: For research & information on safe co-sleeping practices, see Dr James McKenna's work at the Notre Dame University Mother-Baby Behavioural Sleep Laboratory

Sunday, November 22, 2009

An interview with Heather Cushman-Dowdee

Fierce Mamas is so excited to have our first celebrity guest interview with one of our inspirations, Heather Cushman-Dowdee. Heather is known and loved by many as the creator of Hathor The Cow Goddess. Her latest project is a book entitled Simply Give Birth

Tell us about your book- Who needs to read it? What are you hoping
it will do for the birth community?

I specifically wanted the book to be for any newly pregnant mother, not just those that have made the paradigm shift to homebirth. The birth stories are mostly unassisted, but I chose them for their tone. These are stories that are told from the mothers point of view and aren't interrupted by outer voices (except for the occasional husband). They are accessible for anyone who wants to know what it's like to give birth.

How have your births informed your current life? How did you
transform between births?

Fo me each birth built on the last and I became more and more self-sufficient. The first was a hospital birth, the second was a midwife attended homebirth, the third was an unassisted birth (my husband was a constant assist though) and my fourth was unassisted (except for a bit of back massage from my guy ;o)
My transformation took stages, I'd hear about a 'new' way to birth, I'd wonder if I could do it, research like crazy, convince everyone around me that I was indeed crazy, and then I'd simply give birth.

How do you think the events at birth can impact a couples' sex relationship?

This is a difficult one for me to answer, because I have no idea what goes on in men's heads. But, I do have a working theory that fear during birth can impact sex, far more than anything visual. The fear and powerlessness that men feel during birth can have a real negative impact but a homebirth takes a lot of that out of the equation. It's difficult though to parse out the changes that occur in the sexual relationship that are due to breastfeeding, exhaustion, depression and all the other new mama things.

The important thing to remember is that sex does happen again and with a baby in the house and all the hiding and secretive stuff it actually gets fun again too.

Describe how you feel about the current birth environment in North
America. What would you change?

Just like all other environments in North America, I think the birth environment suffers from being 'for profit'. Insurance companies, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, all are on the take. If there wasn't so much money to be made then perhaps everyone could take a deep breath, clear their brain and see what is truly best for mothers and babies.

What is the one thing you want women to know about birth?

That it's a physiological process and can happen whether you actively do anything or not. Also, that if you want to push a baby out of your wazoo the way your great grandmother did and her great grandmother and hers, then you shouldn't go to the hospital, because they don't sell that there anymore.

How can professionals working with new parents improve the situation?

Ah, now that's a question! I think we need to start getting to people before they're pregnant. 9 months isn't a lot of time for a paradigm shift.

What could we be doing differently?

talking straight and using humor to sell the ideas of homebirth and breastfeeding.

What do you think is needed for empowered birth?

For me it was Eddie Veder's Into the Wild soundtrack.

What is the largest
detractor from it?

Outside voices, people telling the mother what to do, thinking that she's an invalid and needs to be talked down to or belittled. happens all the time.

How would you describe a fierce mama?

Someone who tells the truth and doesn't worry about causing others guilt. Everyone knows that guilt is an internal emotion and can't be caused by others. Also, someone who is mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore. (see my hathor comics 2002- 2009 ;o)

Heather Cushman-Dowdee, long-time creator of the comic, Hathor the Cowgoddess, is now creating all new comics over at Come by and see what's happening, last I heard Mama is...breastfeeding her new baby!
AND, you can still see all of the Hathor comics at, too.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bowden's Birth Story

Bowden’s birth story started while I was on the phone with my best friend. I commented that Rhett, my then 15 month old, was nursing “all the freakin’ time!” I could hear Nancy grin over the phone: “You’re pregnant!” I protested for a few minutes, since another pregnancy was certainly not in my plans for the year. Nancy pointed out that the last person she’d talked to who told her their toddler seemed to be nursing constantly had been pregnant- her toddler had been busy trying to keep up a milk supply changed by pregnancy hormones. She was sure this was what Rhett was doing. I brushed the idea off, certain that it couldn’t be true.
The next time I saw Nancy, she sent me home with 2 pregnancy tests. I was so concerned about being pregnant that I let them sit in my diaper bag for 2 weeks! I finally decided to try them after being reminded that they were expiring soon. Test one didn’t seem to work quite right- the sample line didn’t show up. Test two was…positive. Hmm, I thought- that can’t be right! I called my husband to tell him that the wonky test was telling me I was pregnant. He didn’t really believe it either. As we were talking, I noticed the first test, which I’d thrown in the garbage can- it was positive now too!
Uh oh. My next call was to the midwife I had hired with my second pregnancy. She quickly sent a request to the lab in the town closest to me.
I ignored the looks from the lab tech as I hauled my almost 4 year old & my 15 month old in to take my third pregnancy test of the morning. He was unable to do the test that day, but obviously felt sorry enough for me to send me home with a test kit to use on my own.
Test three…positive. Called my husband, called Nancy (who knew all along), called the midwife.
I found myself with a lot of thinking to do. My first 2 were 33 months apart which was closer than I would have liked. My comment to people who asked me about their spacing was that “I wouldn’t do that again on purpose!” These 2 would be 22 months apart-good grief! This being said, we planned a big family so it probably didn’t matter when our third was born. My husband, Jesse and I were excited about a new baby to look forward to, but I was still feeling very overwhelmed at the thought of having three kids under 5. I had made lots of new commitments over the past while, some in-depth volunteer positions and plans to start a new business.
The more I tried to assimilate a new pregnancy, the more I found the idea of all the work a pregnancy can entail to be completely overwhelming. After much soul searching, I decided that what I needed most was to just carry on with life and pay minimal attention to “being pregnant”. This wasn’t denial, it was simply the reality of my very busy life. I needed to get on with things, and the baby would arrive when it was ready. I realized that this meant that I needed to make some changes in how I planned to give birth. Luke, my oldest, was born in March 2002, a midwife assisted homebirth. Rhett, born in January 2005, was also born at home, but came before our midwife arrived- a freebirth. After he was born, reading Dr Michel Odent’s forward to the book Adventures in Birthing, helped me understand that Rhett’s birth had gone so quickly and smoothly because it was physiologically correct. I’d slept through most of the labour and had not been directed by anyone at any point; these had allowed the fetal ejection reflex to take over. Rhett slid peacefully into the world, caught by our doula friend Annemarie shortly after she arrived. I wanted to do everything I could to duplicate his short and relatively comfortable birth. For all of this to happen, it became clear to me that I needed to have an unassisted pregnancy and a freebirth. I had no space in my calendar for the usual schedule of prenatal appointments. In my heart, I knew that the only way I could make this pregnancy work for me was to manage the whole thing myself. Jesse was fully supportive of the idea, as was my family doctor, who offered his encouragement to us. It was bittersweet to tell the midwife- I was confident in my decision, but knew I would miss many of the aspects of being in the care of a midwife.
For me, an unassisted pregnancy meant that I planned my own prenatal care. During my pregnancy, I sought out the opinion of others when I felt I needed some help in interpreting what my body was telling me. I saw my family doctor a couple of times and a friend helped me to figure out the baby’s position. I saw a massage therapist regularly during the last few months, which did wonders for my ability to relax!
A new group was being created at the time, Friends of Freebirth. The support and wise woman encouragement I received from its members was invaluable. I was lucky enough to be pregnant at a time when some close friends were also planning freebirths.
I learned everything I could about using herbs during pregnancy & birth. I gathered the tinctures I felt would help me, along with some other supplies I thought I might use during the birth.
Then I waited for the baby. There was quite a bit of question as to when the baby might be due. The earliest estimate we had was October 18, but I felt that the beginning of November was most likely. Because of this uncertainty, we spent a lot of time with our life on hold, waiting for the baby. October came and went, no baby. Beginning of November came and went, no baby. I went to events I assumed I would miss because I would have a brand new baby. I made a to do list of the things I needed to accomplish in order to make sure I wasn’t putting off the birth. I finished everything on the list. My husband decided we needed a new truck before the baby could come. We bought a new truck, still no baby. I was secretly convinced that the baby would be born on a Tuesday, since that was the day I had gone into labour with Rhett. I worried that I was trying too hard to duplicate his birth.
Finally, on Monday evening, November 13th, I had a few twinges. I knew that was it- the baby would be coming soon! I went to bed, with the intention of letting labour establish itself. Rhett peacefully fell asleep curled up next to me and I enjoyed my last night with him as my youngest baby. I remembered the quiet work we had done together during his labour. During this time, my contractions were steadily increasing their intensity.
Jesse was outside plowing the driveway so the friends we had asked to help us out during the birth wouldn’t get their cars stuck in the snow. I was finding it very hard to let my primitive brain take over with a tractor running under my window! I got up, yelled at my poor husband to stop and went back upstairs to try to settle into my contractions again. A few minutes later, my cat started playing with something on my bed, disrupting my peace. I shooed her away, but she was back again a minute later. I sat up to see what she was playing with and discovered a dead mouse on my bed. Lovely. I shrieked at Jesse to come upstairs, then stormed down. As I passed him on the stairs, I roared “I can’t do this!” Jess was talking to Nancy on the phone at the time- she assumed I was in transition when she heard me yelling! Not so much. Jesse changed the bedding for me, helped me settle Rhett back down, and we all went to bed for the night. I felt very disturbed, frustrated that the baby wasn’t coming that night after all.
Jess stayed home from work Tuesday, since it seemed obvious we’d be having our baby at any moment. The day passed slowly, with nothing happening. I was sure that I’d labour and birth at night, but again wondered if I was basing my assumptions on what had happened at Rhett’s birth. I found myself second guessing everything. Mid afternoon, I hit a bit of a wall. There was way too much activity and tension in our house, which was totally counterproductive. It’s my belief that to have a safe birth, I needed to be closely in touch with my body, which was impossible in the atmosphere I was in. Wisely, Jess decided to take the boys out for a drive to allow everyone to change their frame of mind. We invited Nancy over so I wouldn’t be alone.
I rested in bed for awhile, then got up and talked with Nancy when she arrived. I’d been taking diluted black and blue cohosh to try to get contractions going, and, at Nancy’s chiding, skipped the diluting part and downed the vile tasting tinctures straight. I lunged up and down my staircase for good measure. The herbs and the stairs seemed to work at causing mild contractions every now and then. We sat down with some red raspberry leaf tea and talked quietly about birth and babies, pausing every few minutes when I would have another mild contraction. I kept commenting on how odd I felt, not really knowing if I was in labour or not. My first two labours had begun by my water breaking, and I’d only ever experienced strong contractions. Nancy pointed out that contractions feel very different before your water has broken.
Jess came home with Luke and Rhett, and they roared around the house for awhile. Everyone was in a much better mood. When Nancy left around 7:00pm, she made the most helpful comment, “I don’t care when you have this baby. It can be tonight if you want, or next week if that’s better for you.” She obviously knew how much stress I was feeling; hearing her say that was such a relief. Just then, I had the first contraction that I actually had to stop for. I decided to have a shower. While I was showering, I thought I might have felt a trickle of amniotic fluid. Jess and I went over what we would do if the baby came quickly and was born with just us in attendance. I resisted asking our birth helpers to come, feeling very confident that I was completely ok with being alone while giving birth. “If the birth is that fast, I won’t need the help anyway!”
I called Annemarie to let her know what was happening. She was planning to come to help me during labour if I needed it. I sat on my birth ball in my darkened bathroom while we chatted. I had 4 contractions during our conversation; when I shut off the phone, the call timer said 19 minutes. Hmmm- those contractions are 5 minutes apart.
I went to bed, dozing in and out while having contractions. I had been having horrible pain in my left hip all day, and my contractions seemed to be centering there as well. I lay on my left side, hoping whatever was causing the pain would correct itself.
Every now and then, I would have a really difficult contraction and think “if the next one is that hard, I’ll get up and call Annemarie”. Then the next couple of contractions would be manageable again. Finally, during a contraction, I felt a huge shifting- suddenly I felt the pain across my abdomen, instead of in my hip! It was 10:00pm. I got up, roared down the stairs and yelled at Jess, asleep with Rhett in a chair, to wake up. This of course woke Rhett too- he started crying. Between contractions, I told Jess what was happening and asked him to call Annemarie to come so I had some physical support. I locked myself in the candlelit bathroom, using massage tools to help myself through the back pain I was now experiencing. Jess tried to take the boys up to bed, running back and forth between them and me. Rhett was howling in protest whenever his dad went back downstairs, and I remember thinking “Poor Rhett” in between contractions.
I felt a pop, and knew that my water had broken. Soon after, I needed to push. I yelled at Jesse to come help- one huge push brought the baby down- I wondered out loud if Jess could see the head. He said no, and ran back upstairs to help Rhett. One more push brought the baby to crowing. I supported the baby’s head with my hand and sat back on my heels to better catch him. I felt stinging and the head was out! The hardest part was over! I told Jess that the head was out, but he didn’t seem to have heard me. One last small push, and the baby was out. I laid him down on the towel below me, and discovered…another boy! I was so happy he was a boy, and instantly knew his name would be Bowden Morgan, as we’d planned.
Jesse came in a moment later and asked what was happening. I told him the baby was here and that it was a boy- in the dark, he hadn’t noticed the new person in the room! The cord was loosely wrapped around his neck a couple of times, so we carefully unwound it. He checked the time- 10:48pm – and brought Luke and Rhett in to meet their new brother. We all welcomed him, and said Happy Birth Day! I wrapped Bowden up in towels and sat back to nurse for the first time.
Annemarie and her kids arrived, just in time for the placenta. She commented on how long the cord was (36 inches!) and helped me with Bowden while Jesse took Rhett up to bed. We cut his cord, and weighed and measured him (8lbs, 13oz, 20 ¾ inches long), then Jess dressed him in the same first sleeper that Luke and Rhett had each worn. I had an herbal bath with the baby and Annemarie made placenta prints for us. It was amazing to show Luke the placenta- he was very interested in where his new baby brother had lived. It was getting late, so we said goodbye to our friends and headed off to bed.
Bowden is 5 months old as I write this. Looking back, I’m amazed by how intuitive my experience was. I’d never had any concerns with the birth itself, only with coping with labour and dealing with the details afterwards. It’s no coincidence that my friends were there for just those moments! He was born on Tuesday, November 14, 2006 (my maternal grandmother’s birthday; the first one after her death the previous winter) in the evening, as I’d imagined. I truly had a freebirth, just Bowden and I working together to assist his entry into our world. His first sights and sounds were of his parents and his brothers. We made our transition from a family of four to a family of five with the help of two of our dearest family friends. Perfect! Welcome Bowden- we love you!

Posted in honour of Bowden's 3rd birthday, while he sleeps in a woven wrap on my back.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009


We have a strange way of framing responsibility in our culture. Experts, because they are invested with financial, institutional, intellectual and cultural power, are expected to know what is best for us, and to tell us what to do. And, we are expected to seek them out and comply with their opinion. Many spend years of their lives becoming experts, and they certainly know things. But most of the time they don’t know us, they don’t know our children, and they don’t have to live with the consequences of our decisions, that they tend to want to make for us.

The experts can take many forms, they are everywhere. And this isn’t about judging individuals or professions but more about the cultural power we’ve imbued them with. Most obviously in the world of parenting, doctors, nurses, teachers (and I am one), but also the mother sitting next to you at playgroup, a well-meaning relative, the books we read etc. can all end up being “experts.” Certainly they are often important and helpful, but we’ve come to a place where we’ve completely skewed our sense of responsibility. Experts should be resources we seek out for information so that we can make informed decisions. The decision making should not be wrested from our hands.

As parents we have to live with the consequences of our decisions regarding our children. We are fundamentally responsible for them, until they can take responsibility for themselves. And in fact one of our most important jobs is to raise children who can take responsibility for themselves once they are adults. Modeling that process is essential. But it is easier said than done.

Culturally, we have some significant issues with taking responsibility for ones’ sexuality, and yet that is where our kids literally begin. Once pregnant, a mother is frequently pressured and coerced in so many ways, shapes and forms. Everything from medical testing, to who is providing care, to what type of maternity clothes, to what she puts in her body. The perfect stranger in the grocery aisle acts like they know better than the mother whether or not she’s having a boy or a girl, where to have her baby, what to feed herself and her baby etc. Suddenly her body is considered the responsibility of everyone else. There is an underlying assumption that she may not actually be doing everything “right” and that if we don’t keep close tabs on her she might deliberately harm her baby! There is a strong underlying message that the mother is bad for her baby, and that the baby is bad for her. So it’s everyone business to make sure they don’t cause each other too much harm (or others too much legal liability)!

Everyone around her takes responsibility for something that is not theirs to take, but the mother is encouraged to abdicate power and give her body and baby over to the experts. This situation is only exacerbated during birth, post-partum care and continues through early childhood and schooling. (It is also still there as we age and in most aspects of paid employment, home making, politics, economics etc.) That stranger also knows when our baby needs a hat. The doctor tells us our sick child is “fine.” The teacher tells us our child needs Ritalin. Our media and our institutions are constantly pummeling us with a myriad of ways that we should abdicate our responsibility for our children and hand over power to anyone and everyone but ourselves. Ironically, at the end of the day, if a parent falls short (or even is perceived to have fallen short), the blame falls squarely on their shoulders – because we are responsible, whether we accept it or like it or not.

Unfortunately, under so much pressure, parents frequently accept this state of affairs and turn to the experts instead of looking at their child and listening to their instincts. When things don’t work out blaming the children is often not far behind, or we become litigious and sue the experts. Sometimes we get mired in guilt and self-flagellation. None of this actually makes for raising healthy, happy, responsible adults.

A central part of this process is a hefty dose of fear. The media is currently selling fear like candy around H1N1, but every aspect of parenting is loaded with potential fear (and frankly so are most other parts of our lives!). It is impossible to make good decisions in a place of fear, and yet we are regularly terrified into decisions, instead of supported and informed and allowed to hear our hearts.

“you’re too (old, young, fat, thin) to have a baby – you are high risk”

“you have a low lying placenta”

“your baby is too big (or too small)”

“you must sign up for daycare before your baby is born to get a good spot”

“you must stay at home/you must work for pay”

“you must be induced”

“you must be on bed rest”

“you must be monitored at all times”

“you must get the epidural”

“you’re too late for the epidural”

“you must have monthly appointments”

“do you want your baby to die?”

“you don’t make enough milk”

“you’re eating the wrong food”

“you must send your child to preschool – or better yet to this “elite” preschool”

“your child must not watch TV”

“your child must be stimulated with black and white”

“your child must be socialized”

“your child must stay home with you”

“your child must play soccer, or ballet, or art, or swimming, or basketball, or all of the above and finish their homework, and know how to read by 5”

“your child must never bite, whine, cry, get up at night, pee in their pants, reject the creepy/or not so creepy relative or stranger”

“your child must be potty trained at (insert age here)/you can’t potty train yet”

“your child must sleep through the night and go to bed at 7pm”

And it goes on… and on… and on. It doesn’t matter whether it’s H1N1 (virus or vaccine), or potty training or which university your child “needs” to go to. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the media, experts, institutions, relatives, or me telling you what to do. Fundamentally, parents need to take responsibility for raising their own kids. That means making tough decisions, with no obvious right answers, from our hearts and our guts, after doing our own research and then accepting and living with the consequences of our actions. In the end, we actually know what is best for our families and it’s not necessarily what is best or right for someone else. The rest of us, need to back off and give real support without all the judgment and fear. This isn’t too popular these days, but we’re the ones living with our decisions whether we like it or not… so we might as well own the decisions we’ve made. And the truly liberating part, let others own theirs too!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Nursing Leah

I grew up with a mother who nursed all of her six children, the last three of whom were born at home. At the age of ten I was able to watch my youngest brother’s birth. My aunts and older cousins all nursed their children as well. That’s how it was in my family and that’s how I would raise my children. When I was fifteen I was diagnosed with a soft tissue sarcoma (breast cancer) which resulted in a mastectomy, my right breast and nipple were removed. I decided that I would still be able to nurse, after all if a woman could nurse twins with two boobs, I could easily nurse one baby with my one boob.

Ten years later, I’m pregnant and reading all the breastfeeding books I could find, dragging my husband, Andrew, to breastfeeding lectures, consulting with a breastfeeding specialist and attending La Leche League meetings. To add to my concern about having one boob, my only nipple was inverted. But as Andrew reminded me more than once; ‘it’s breastfeeding, not nipplefeeding.’ I was also practicing positive thinking and so was confident (most of the time) that nursing would come easily to me and my baby and I would have plenty of milk. Despite the breastfeeding specialist and various members of the medical community mentioning a drug given to women to increase the amount of milk produced. Not to mention friends and family voicing concern over whether or not my baby would be getting enough milk. I’m stubborn by nature so those nay-sayers were effectively tuned out.

Leah was born in late December, 8 pounds 13 ounces. After all the reading and advice I was given I was eager for Leah to self latch, and was allowing her to do so when the nurse bustled over and said “No, this is how you do it.” and pushed Leah’s face into my boob, which made Leah scream and refuse to try again. Eventually she did latch on and my midwife said she was latching well. She nursed for about an hour, I was surprised at how well and how strong she sucked. I remember how happy I was, nursing my baby. Nursing Leah tingled a bit and was a little painful, when I mentioned this to the mid-wife she told me that was normal but if it continued past three or four days to get help.
The first few days went well, even with her having jaundice and the nurses coming for three days to poke her. The first doctor advices’ us to give her formula to ‘flush her system’ because my milk hadn’t come in yet. A different doctor, the next day, after being told my milk had come in said to keep nursing, it was probably only breastfeeding jaundice and nursing will clear it up. The totally opposing opinions given by the doctors made me really mad.
By then, Leah had discovered how much she loved nursing, but I was starting to be apprehensive about letting her. I would hold her just centimeters away, hold my breath, count to three and then let her nurse; my legs straight out from the rocking chair, toes curled. She patiently kept her mouth wide open waiting for her mom to be ready. Sometimes I would count to three a few times; that wide open mouth scared me so much. I started calling her my little monster muncher.
I didn’t realize how much pain I was in until our one week appointment. That morning I discovered a scab on the side and one long crack the whole way across the top of my nipple. When we got to the office and went in to see the mid-wife (unfortunately, a different woman from when Leah was born) I burst into tears as soon as she asked me how things were going. She examined my nipple and was astonished that I had lasted this long nursing since the damage was pretty bad. Andrew was upset that I didn’t tell him I was hurting, but until that morning I thought it was normal. The mid-wife watched Leah nurse and said “Her latch is good, but, maybe you should give yourself a break and feed her formula for a day to let your nipple heal. Maybe buy a nipple shield too.” I’m still haunted by those words.

We went home that day with bottles, formula, nipple shields in varying sizes and me in tears. I was really apprehensive about giving her formula. I wanted to maintain my milk supply, and after all my research I knew it was best for Leah and myself. But, even through my tears, the thought of not having her latched on and sucking was appealing.
We gave her formula soon after we got home, and later when she got hungry again. I think it was three feedings in a row, at least six hours without nursing. After that we would nurse with the nipple shield for about ten minutes and then give her formula. When Leah was two weeks old we went to see the breastfeeding specialist. She gave us the proper size nipple shield and told me how to treat/medicate my nipple; lanolin, lanolin and more lanolin, going topless and airing out helps too. Once again, I was in tears the entire time. I felt like I was failing Leah by not being able to nurse her. I had done so much research and had such high expectations; I was expecting it to be easy and totally painless. The reality was so different; it was like battling cancer all over again, I had no idea it would be like that.

We continued to give Leah formula after a few minutes of nursing. The amount of milk I was making was quite a bit lower than it had been and I was very adamant about keeping some milk. I had appointments with the breastfeeding specialist (BFS) weekly, she was very kind and helped me see I was doing the best I could.
It took a while but eventually my nipple was healed. I’m pretty sure I cried the first time I nursed Leah without the shield, even if it was for only ten minutes. Our routine was ten minutes nursing without the shield, ten minutes nursing with (sometimes longer because I loved nursing her) and then formula.

My goal was to wean Leah from formula as we built up my milk supply. When I told the BFS my goal, she was initially skeptical but told me to bring Leah in for a check up in four weeks. I went to my sister’s bridal shower shortly thereafter and forgot Leah’s formula, I nursed her the whole time (luckily I did remember our nipple shield, I think I might have done some serious damage without it) and spent the next two days entirely on the couch nursing Leah whenever she wanted. I had been thinking I needed to do that to build up my milk supply and I guess subconsciously I was ready. My milk as back!

We were still giving Leah about two ounces of formula in the evening. That’s when she was fussy, and we figured it was because she was hungry and for some reason my milk was gone by the end of the day. A few days later Leah and I went to a LLL meeting and Arie reassured me that my milk couldn’t ‘dry’ up like I was thinking it could. She mentioned that two ounces is only a fraction of what Leah needs and she was probably just tired or it might be any number of reasons babies cry in the evening. Another thing she told me which made me smile: in France, during the time of wet nurses, a law was passed that limited the number of babies a woman could nurse to seven. I stopped giving Leah formula that night.

At our next visit to see the BFS, she was below her growth curve, neither myself nor the BFS were concerned because she was still very happy and content. I think she was re-learning how to suckle, drinking from the bottle is much easier than nursing and she had to build up those muscles again. I remember worrying about how on earth can I help her re-learn that skill, and in a moment of clarity realized that continuing to nurse would be the best way. If she’s hungry she’ll suck, and the harder she sucks the more milk she’ll get. Leah was nine weeks old by now and after another four weeks of exclusive nursing she had gained a terrific amount of weight, a happy chubby breastfed baby.

Leah was only about 7 weeks old by the time we were nipple shield and formula free. Looking back it doesn’t seem like long, but at the time it felt like an eternity. I thought we would never be a complete nursing mother and baby. It was a daily battle: maintaining my belief that eventually it would all be over, reminding myself that I wasn’t failing Leah as a parent, being strong and not giving in to pressure that I might not make enough milk and/or my nipple couldn‘t handle nursing. Sometimes I wonder how things would have turned out if I asked for help earlier or if we hadn’t given Leah formula and just used a nipple shield. But, I don’t like to dwell on ‘what ifs’ and things have turned out wonderfully. I remember saying to my aunties that being able to nurse Leah was harder than giving birth to her. Now, when Leah is about to nurse she gets really excited and has the most wonderfully beautiful laugh. I love to hear it and every time I do I am grateful. Nursing Leah is the best thing I have ever fought for.

By Nicole Chatelaine

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Breastfeeding Through Surgeries

One would think that having had one child would better prepare you for the challenges of having another. Only mothers of multiples truly understand how unique each child is even from the womb. My second child, my son, took half a year to conceive compared to my first who took only one try. After months of frustration of disappointments, I let go of my desires to hold a child, and it was then when I became pregnant. The first 6 months were typical of my pregnancies, 3 months of horrible nausea followed by 3 months of high energy and drive. However, when I hit my last trimester, I started having terrible contractions, and I was hospitalized then on bedrest for the last few months.

That should have signaled to me that my second pregnancy would not be the same as my first. Despite the different experiences, I still held on to my belief that I wanted to give my son the best of what I could provide as it was my belief with my first. I wanted to breastfeed my son the moment that he came into the world. It seems like such a simple desire, but I knew that it wasn’t going to be without challenges.

My son came into the world the day after the doctor stopped my meds. After my nurse cleaned him up, he came straight to my breast and latched on like it was his rightful place. Even she said to me, “He’s so good at that!” I looked proudly down at him suckling away, and I hoped that this time it would be perfect.

All was well for a few months until my right breast started giving me trouble. I had always had problems with that breast even with my daughter when I had several infections. It was the same with my son. I felt very frustrated by the pain and perhaps the thought that I would not be able to produce enough milk for him to go strictly with breastmilk. The pain persisted, especially under my armpit even though I went through several rounds of antibiotics. So my doctor prescribed an ultrasound exam at the breast clinic to just make sure that there wasn’t anything going on.

I expected a routine exam, nothing too serious, but after doing the ultrasound, the tech seemed worried, and she asked me to stay longer so that the lead doctor could take a look at the results. They came back to tell me that they needed to do a full digital mammogram. I thought that I wouldn’t have to do one until I was much older, so it was quite a shock. Numb from the possibilities, I went through the painful exam, and then sat as the doctor explained that I had micro-calcifications of unusual patterns in the right breast, and it looked like pre-cancer. They wanted to schedule a stereotactic core needle biopsy of the breast just to make sure. I just couldn’t accept that this was happening to me.

I ended up doing a biopsy on the right breast the following week, and it was extremely painful. What was more painful than the procedure was when right after the biopsy, the male doctor said with a straight face, “I want you to be prepared. It is most likely cancer, and you should prepare for a mastectomy as you don’t have much breast tissue and a lumpectomy would be useless. Good news is that it’s 100% curable.” I could not believe what he said to me. I sat there shaking, then the tears flowed. “I HAVE CANCER” was all I thought. The wonderful tech ladies tried to console me, and they seemed shocked as well as most people my age don’t often get cancer.

So many people prayed for me during that time. It was awesome to see so much support from people of all aspects of my life. There was a lot of bleeding as the needle from the biopsy punctured a duct, and I could not feed my son from that side. Fortunately, my left breast produced more milk in the first place, so though difficult, I was able to continue breastfeeding him. Through it all, many people kept telling me to just quit, that formula is as good, and I’ve gone through so much. There was no information whatsoever in print material nor online about how to breastfeed while recovering from a biopsy. I had to figure it all out on the fly, but my son just adapted to the changes.

Thankfully, the results came back negative; however, the radiologist felt it wasn’t conclusive enough, so I was scheduled for another biopsy to gather more cells in a different area. With my breast having been traumatized so much, there was no way I could continue to breastfeed from that side. With the knowledge I gained from my first experience, I recovered from my second biopsy much faster. I was elated when the results came back negative for the second test as well despite the radiologist’s surprise. He didn’t factor in the power of prayer and my faith.

My right breast dried up over the next few months, but I have been exclusively breastfeeding from my left side. Yes, I’m a little lopsided, but when I see the joy glowing in my son’s face after feeding, I don’t notice that at all. He will be 2 years old in January. All I wanted was to be able to feed him for the first year; I never expected so many challenges, but I am so thankful and glad that I held on to my desire. With the help of my friends and my community, I was able to accomplish my plan and so much more. I have truly been blessed.

Michelle Eunjison Schlensker: wife to Marriage & Family therapist hubby, mama to two beautiful half Korean and half German children, daughter to two dedicated and hardworking parents, owner of , & Wow is she busy!