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Balancing the Chaos

Ronee Saroff
Roslindale MA USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 2, March-April 2006, pp. 67-68

I knew I would nurse my child into toddlerhood. What I didn't know is how much I would enjoy it. Like all parents, I remember the firsts. But I didn't know how wonderful it would feel the first time his small, strong arms reached all the way around my waist. I didn't know how much I would cherish memories of nursing my son through his first tumble, his first nightmare, our first separation and reunion. Over the past two years, nursing has become our homing device. It's how we find our way back to each other.

But it wasn't always like this.

I was born with severe inverted nipples -- a genetic trait passed down from my mother. Because I had not been breastfed as a child and my midwife had no prior experience with this anomaly, no one knew the extent to which breastfeeding might be a challenge. I had intended to leave the birthing room with a slippery newborn on my chest. Instead, I clutched a soft cooler full of formula samples labeled, ironically, "Breastfeeding Success Pack."

The hospital staff tried to console me. They said I had been dealt a difficult hand. That it wasn't my fault. That it was out of my control. They meant well. But I had spent the last nine months fantasizing about nursing my newborn -- the warmth of his tiny body against mine, the bond it would create. I wasn't about to give up before I'd even brought him home.

The morning we checked out, a new nurse made the rounds. After quietly observing for a few minutes, she told me that she had breastfed two children successfully with inverted nipples. That was all I needed to know. With a calm, reassuring smile, she urged me to be patient and to seek support from a lactation consultant. She helped me locate one in my area, and I scheduled an appointment for the following day.

The lactation consultant arrived with an enthusiastic attitude and an armory of supplies. Together, we devised a plan to establish my milk supply and gradually wean my son off formula. I used an automatic electric double pump and a host of plastic and silicone contraptions designed to extract my nipples and teach my baby how to nurse.

Armed with our plan and a commitment to breastfeeding, my husband, newborn son, and I set out on a 12-week adventure full of unexpected challenges and rewards. I kept a 24-hour log detailing our efforts and results. It reads like a junior high science fair project. For example: 3 am, pumped a half ounce, administered milk by finger, massaged nipple adhesions, applied calendula oil, slept skin-to-skin 45 minutes.

I pumped for days with little or no yield. Every evening, the lactation consultant would call to check our progress and offer words of encouragement. Some days I was elated by small steps -- a dot of white on my shirt, a brief latch onto the nipple shield. Other days, the challenges seemed to overwhelm the triumphs. I sensed even in her confident demeanor, a growing doubt. I considered giving up. Finally, my milk came in.

What kept me going was my son's unwavering persistence. He knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it. At every opportunity, he rooted around my breast -- opening wide with flared lips and sucking hard wherever he landed. His technique was perfect. But without a nipple to latch onto, his frustration peaked quickly, and our sessions ended in tears.

I felt rejected, confused, and inadequate. I recalled images I'd seen in books of mother and child, bathed in soft light, gazing adoringly into one another's eyes. Wasn't breastfeeding supposed to come naturally?

At the suggestion of a good friend and LLL member, I attended a breastfeeding support group and started talking to other nursing mothers online. They sympathized with my plight and applauded my commitment. In return, I shared pumping tips and offered advice on everything from increasing milk supply to preventing breast infections.

After a few weeks of pumping, my supply exceeded demand. We no longer supplemented with formula and the mounting pile of milk in my freezer made me giddy with pride. Love and trust were evident in my son's attachment to me. But I longed to know firsthand the freedom of traveling without supplies, and the power of soothing a fussy baby in mere seconds.

Ten to 12 times a day, I put my son to the breast. Ten to 12 times a day he refused. But we followed our routine, believing that consistency and repetition were key. Then one morning, while casually nuzzling in bed, my son latched on, sucked, and swallowed. My milk let down fast and furiously. I heard him gasp, struggling to keep pace. After a few minutes of vigorous sucking, he fell asleep. Afraid to move or make any sound, I watched in amazement as his tiny fist relaxed against my breast. Together, unfettered, at last.

Soon all of my son's feedings were at the breast. After a few days, however, my nipples became increasingly sore. Without hesitation I contacted a lactation consultant, who was also an LLL Leader. She adjusted my hold, suggested additional positions, and recommended some natural remedies to help the newly exposed skin heal. Most important, she listened to my story. I left her office with a new plan, one I still follow to this day: honor my body, celebrate my success, and enjoy my baby.

Throughout this journey, many well-meaning friends said I was making things harder on myself by not giving him formula. But, to me, nursing is about much more than feeding my son. It's about building trust, expressing love, and easing his transition into our loud, complicated world.

Nursing also has benefited me in ways I never imagined. It has helped me to balance the chaos and unpredictability of parenthood with regular periods of calm. It has taught me to trust my core. It has given me something that most of us have in very short supply: time.

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