The One Thing
Natalie Dorman Gasser
Wauwatosa WI USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25 No. 4, 2008, pp. 14-15
After birth, I should have been preparing to take home my beautiful newborn daughter, Rachel Grace. Instead, I wondered how I would recover and care for my baby after suffering a severe pelvic injury during her birth, which left me unable to walk.
Rachel's birth had gone relatively well. The nurses handed her to me immediately afterwards and I breastfed her for the first time. I didn't feel my injury until 24 hours later, during my second time out of bed. I soon learned that the pubic symphysis is the joint that binds the front of the pelvis together. I had ripped the ligament from the bone. The pain was paralyzing. The doctors told me I faced a month-long recovery. Even pumped with pain medication (all safe for my breastfeeding daughter), I was terrified of moving. Any movement and the pain came searing back between my legs.
I was amazed to see my husband bond with our daughter so quickly as I lay incapacitated in bed. But I was heartbroken to see the nurses teaching him how to change, bathe, and soothe her. I couldn't even pick her up. Other families had come and gone. Mothers who had had cesarean births were walking the halls. I couldn't get out of bed without a cadre of nurses and physical therapists. When I arrived home on the sixth day, I could barely creep to a portable toilet next to my bed, gripping a walker and scrunching one foot's toes forward, then the other foot.
"You are so blessed to have such a beautiful baby!" everyone told me. Still, all I could see was my tiny daughter's life going on without me.
In the fog of pain medication, sleep deprivation, and physical therapy, I didn't realize how many hours I spent holding her, feeding her, bonding with her. So many hours passed in that hospital room with her at my breast and so many more at home. Anyone could change her diaper, swaddle her, and bathe her. But when I finally cleared my head and thought about it, I realized I was nourishing and comforting her -- and in a way no one else could.
I had always planned to nurse and I was determined not to let anything get in the way of that. Despite all the complications after the birth, breastfeeding came easily to both of us.
While in the hospital, the nurses and pediatrician told me I could put my daughter down after 15 minutes of nursing. That didn't sound right to me. Sometimes I let her suck on each breast for more than an hour at a time. I let her lead the way and I never stopped her. She quickly regained her birth weight, and then far surpassed it.
Once home, others did everything else and I concentrated only on breastfeeding. Rachel slept in a cosleeper next to my rented hospital bed; and by the end of the first week at home I was able to lift her out to feed her at night, allowing my husband to get some sleep after caring for both of us 24 hours a day. I learned how to soothe her and get her to sleep without getting out of bed.
After three weeks, the day arrived: I could walk and carry Rachel. I was overjoyed to send all the helpers home and just be alone with her. It felt like a major accomplishment to care for her. I still felt pain from the injury and it forced me, again, to focus only on feeding and caring for her and myself. I did not feel any guilt for not cleaning the house, laundering the clothes, or cooking full meals. I simply couldn't do those things. For many months all I did was sit in a chair or on the couch and nurse my daughter -- water bottles, snacks, television remote, and diapers all within arm's reach.
I cannot imagine what it would have been like to have to get up and prepare bottles. I would not have been able to do it for several weeks after my daughter's birth and it would have been easy for others to go ahead and feed her, leaving me out of yet another aspect of caring for my daughter. And it would have exhausted my husband, who faced a grueling work schedule.
When I was finally able and confident enough to leave the house alone with Rachel, one of the first places we went was to a La Leche League meeting. I had attended one before she was born and was so glad to return. The group has been a constant source of support, friendship, and great information. The monthly LLL meeting is the one thing we make sure never to miss.
Rachel self-weaned at 18 months; she is now two years old. I look back on our nursing relationship and I value our special bond even more. Nursing nourished and comforted my daughter. It comforted me. It allowed me time to heal and take life slowly. And when I couldn't do anything else for her it belonged to me and me alone.
Breastfeeding was the special gift only I could give her.