Worth the Wait
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 1, January-February 2002, p. 15
The birth of my son was the most beautiful and most terrifying event of my life rolled up into one. It took three years and four pregnancies to have Liam, and his birth was a much-anticipated event. I waited so long to have a baby. I had a drug-free, doula-assisted hospital birth. Words cannot describe the feeling I had when he was born and handed up to my waiting arms. Liam was nine pounds, 12 ounces and 21 inches long. A big, healthy-looking baby. I had pulled my gown away from my breast so that he could nurse immediately. My birth had gone exactly as planned, but everything changed once Liam arrived. He was not breathing and within minutes, the nurse was rushing him from the room with my husband in close pursuit. I kept asking the nurse to bring him in to me as soon as they had him breathing well because I wanted to breastfeed him right away. It would be five days before I would be able to put Liam to my breast.
About six hours after his birth, Liam was airlifted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at a nearby hospital that had more resources for his care. I was discharged shortly after Liam was airlifted, and my husband and I rushed home to unpack my hospital bag and repack it with clothes I hoped would fit me for the two weeks we'd been told we'd be staying at the hospital. During my pregnancy, I had purchased a double-electric pump "just in case" and had been thinking that it had been a waste of money since I didn't have any plans to work outside the home. It has more than paid for itself. I spent a long time sitting at my son's bedside holding him, with ventilator tubes and wires going everywhere. I held him close to me, his skin against mine, and prayed that he would feel close to me even though I couldn't nurse him. About 36 hours postpartum, I finally got to meet up with a lactation consultant who took me into a private room to show me how to work my pump. I was scared that I'd waited too long and that I wouldn't produce anything. After a few minutes on the pump, two small beads of colostrum came from each nipple and slowly rolled down into the waiting bottles. I felt so elated and relieved that my breasts were actually producing something. I didn't get very much the first two days but it was enough to feed my son and when my milk came in on the third day, there was an abundance of it.
On the evening of August 9th, Liam was removed from his ventilator. He was five days old; I had waited what seemed like an eternity. An hour after they took Liam off the ventilator, the nurse told me that Liam was able to nurse. They called in the lactation consultant and she helped me get myself positioned. Liam latched on perfectly, much to my relief, and began vigorously sucking. Within minutes, though, he was sound asleep and it took quite a lot of work and at least two people other than myself tickling his feet, wetting his face with cold water, taking off his shirt, putting on his shirt, doing anything we could think of to keep him alert enough to nurse.
The first five days of breastfeeding were frustrating. We had a different nurse each day, and each one had something different to say about how, when, where, and why to breastfeed. One made me top him up with pumped milk in a bottle when he didn't eat the required amount in one sitting. He threw it up. They made me weigh him before and after every feeding. They had a set amount he was expected to eat, based on his weight. Since he was a big baby, he was expected to eat a fair amount. Liam is like me; he eats a lot of little snacks throughout the day. I had to get the doctor to write orders on his chart for me to feed him on demand. My sister-in-law is a La Leche League Leader in the San Diego area and she mailed me information about sleepy babies, how to pump, and anything else she could think of that I might have trouble with while learning to breastfeed in the NICU. If it were not for my daily phone calls to her and the material she provided, I would have gone mad trying to sort out what was true and what wasn't.
On August 15th, we took Liam home. I had waited so long for the moment that we could get in the car with our baby and drive home. It had been a grueling 10 days but Liam was healthy, and he had been fed nothing but my milk.
I grieve for the fact that I missed those first moments of breastfeeding right after delivery and that my son was too tired and I was too stressed to enjoy our first moments of breastfeeding in the hospital. My son is now a healthy, 28-pound, nine-month-old who is exclusively breastfeeding. We've had our challenges.
Liam had heart surgery in January so we had to deal with fasting before and nursing after the operation. But it is worth it to hold my big, healthy boy in my arms and look down at him as he nurses. His eyes roll back in his head and he sighs. His little hand kneads my breast while he sucks. Things may not have begun the way I planned, but things are going according to plan now. My plan was to breastfeed and I am succeeding at that. It was worth the wait.