Paving the Way
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No 4, July-August 2006, pp. 162-163.
It is a familiar story: maternal bliss, a suckling infant, safety, security, warmth, comfort. A big breath rises and a quiet sigh escapes. A small trickle of milk releases and slumber has overcome all else. A few tears roll down my cheek. They've been here before, following the familiar path they have gone over so many times. This is because my second child, Samuel, has been given to me.
My first son, Noah, taught me how to be a mother. Three years ago I began this journey. My baby was born completely intervention-free after a long and arduous back labor. I thought the moment of his birth was the end of the unpredictable and confusing state that labor had brought. Wrong. Everyone knows about the health benefits of nursing. But the emotional benefits should be just as obvious to all. Wrong again.
Noah had a difficult beginning to life. He was diagnosed with reflux and a milk protein intolerance that wasn't discovered until his intestinal tract was extremely inflamed and he was up crying most of the night. "Give him formula," was the directive to heal his digestive system. I didn't listen. Instead, I gave up eating all milk protein products.
Noah grew at a pace that was off the charts and was one of the happiest babies I knew. But he didn't sleep in his crib. He woke almost every hour to nurse. "Give him rice cereal." I was told that he wasn't getting enough to eat (at five months he weighed 20 pounds). I gave him rice cereal and he vomited all night. "No one is allergic to rice. It must have been something else. Try again." This is what my pediatrician told me. I listened, even though I didn't have a good feeling about it. Again Noah was up all night vomiting until there was nothing left in his stomach. I got smarter and talked to my LLL Leaders.
I found out babies don't need to have rice cereal. They can start on bananas. And a child who was as big as my Noah shouldn't need extra food to gain more weight. Noah didn't start taking solids until he was eight months old and continued to be off the charts in weight and height for a full year.
The nights were still tough. "That baby's night waking is behavioral. Let him cry." This was my directive to cure his "learned" sleep pattern. I didn't listen. In fact, I had to hide that I was still nursing my toddler. By the age of two, it was discovered that Noah had sleep apnea due to enlarged tonsils and adenoids. I discovered he was waking every 20 minutes, not every hour that he was waking me. He was a healthy child growing wonderfully at the top of the charts. How could he have sleep apnea? Noah was able to grow both physically and emotionally through continued nursing. After his surgery to remove the enlarged tonsils and adenoids, he began eating more solids and actually slept through the night! He weaned himself a few months following the surgery. He was happy, safe, secure, and comfortable. I thought my hazy sleep-deprived days were over. Wrong. I discovered I was pregnant again!
My second son, Samuel, was born on Christmas Day accidentally at our home. After the painfully long first labor, I never would have guessed that the unfamiliar would happen -- a three-hour labor without even having to push my baby out! Due to the short labor, our doula was still en-route to our home when Samuel was born. She was able to offer my husband assistance with the delivery over the phone. As my husband now puts it, "You always hear about that story happening, but you never know someone it actually happened to. Now we are those people." He likes to tell people to listen closely to emergency childbirth during pregnancy classes.
Soon the unexpected happened. When Samuel wasn't quite two weeks old, he ended up in the hospital with respiratory syncytial virus. The nurses tried several times to get an IV in his little body, but it didn't work. The hospital staff was okay without having the IV in as long as Samuel was eating and gaining weight. Even though he struggled to breathe through all the congestion, Samuel nursed like a champ and gained a pound and a half over the nine days spent in the hospital. Not once did I have to pump or supplement. Once again, it was my milk that helped my child in need to survive, grow, and be comforted all at a pace that was above what was considered "normal."
Just as Noah paved the way for Samuel to enter the world, he also paved the way toward my mothering abilities. The anxiety and uncertainty I felt as a first-time mother turned into relaxation as I happily nurse my second baby in bed next to me. I hold my baby as much as I can (they are little for such a short time). I gave up milk protein products at the first sign of Samuel's intolerance. And I will not give my baby rice cereal. It's familiar. It's my story. And it's only just begun.
My thanks are offered to my husband, who handled those labors so perfectly even though they weren't familiar; my doula, JoAnn, who gave me the knowledge and confidence to give my babies the best start to life with drug-free births and breastfeeding; all my LLL Leaders, Nyla, Lisa, and Rachel, who supported me and let me know my instincts were not to be ignored; and my mother, who started my story through life and love.
I hope we can make breastfeeding, and all the wonderful benefits that come from it, familiar to a society so dominated by independence and separation. May we offer and enjoy some peace, one baby at a time.