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!

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