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My Greatest Accomplishment

Kathleen Mataway
Davison, MI, USA
From New Beginnings, Vol. 26 No. 2, 2009, pp. 10-11

The first stop I made after learning I was pregnant was to the bookstore to pick up all the books I could find on pregnancy and childbirth. Through my readings I had decided and was certain that I wanted to breastfeed my baby. I was under the impression, though, that it would be easy. I mean, really, is there anything more natural, more instinctive than nursing a baby? Women have done this since the beginning of time. I should have no problem, or so I thought.

Immediately after the birth of my first child, her tiny, wet body was placed on my chest. I picked her up and cradled her with her head in the bend of my arm and brought her to my breast. But something didn't feel right. I felt I was holding her wrongly, awkwardly. She wasn't latching on and it hurt. Maybe she's not hungry, I thought. I'll try again later.

She went for her newborn screenings, took her first bath, and met Daddy, Grandma, and Grandpa and then returned to me. Again I brought her to my breast but it seemed that we were working against each other instead of together. I asked to see the on-staff lactation consultant. When she finally came, Ava, my daughter was over 24 hours old and very hungry at this point -- showing off her rooting reflex and sucking her hands. I had spent the last 24 hours struggling with her and was now exhausted and feeling like a failure -- I couldn't perform the simplest act of mothering.

The lactation consultant explained that Ava was having such a difficult time because I had flat nipples. She rolled in a machine that was half the size of me with long tubes and two large suction cups in the front. "This is a hospital grade breast pump," she explained. She instructed me how to use it and that I was to use it every two hours to draw out my defective nipples and to keep my milk in good supply. I did as she instructed, although it was painful, and I gave Ava the priceless, nutrient rich colostrum via a bottle. Then she described the different holding positions, took Ava's head in one hand and her bottom in the other, and shoved her roughly into my breast. Ava screamed at the shock. "This is not hurting her" the lactation consultant assured me. After a few more tries to latch on, Ava and I both became stressed and I too began to cry. "Just give me a bottle," I sobbed.

My mother assured me that I could bottle-feed with the same amount of love. That did not console me though; I felt I had failed my daughter and myself. One day when Ava was about six months old, she was joyously bouncing on my lap and then nuzzled her head into my chest. At that moment, my breast began to ache physically and I longed to nurse her and regretted not trying harder after she was born.

When I became pregnant with my second child I knew nothing would stand in my way of nursing her. My mother works for the county health department and she told me that they have an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant on staff, available to consult free of charge. I went to see her with Ava, and she performed a full examination and discovered that Ava has a high palate. This, along with my flat nipples, had created the nursing nightmare that I experienced. She assured me that I was perfectly capable of nursing and these were just small obstacles that I would have to overcome. We talked in her office for over an hour and she provided me with a bag of freebies, literature, diagrams, and more breastfeeding resources. She provided a plush baby doll with a perfectly open mouth to practice positioning and holding techniques. This hands-on training was priceless. She offered even more information on engorgement, sore nipples, what I might expect at milk let-down, and so much more. I left excited and educated.

At the birth of my second daughter I felt confident and prepared. I knew I could call my lactation consultant at any time if I ran into a problem. Despite my preparation I still ran into trouble. My second daughter also had a high palate and I still had the flat nipple issue. The following two weeks were the hardest I have experienced. My nipples cracked, bled, and blistered. I flinched in pain and held my breath each time my tiny baby latched on. Before her birth I made sure that there were no bottles or formula in the house so I wouldn't be tempted to give in.

I will never forget one evening around 11 pm, about three days after giving birth. I was suffering in intense pain and told my husband that I couldn't do this any more and he needed to go to the store to buy some formula and bottles. He looked at me in disappointment and simply said, "no." "Do you see me? Do you see my pain? Imagine the most sensitive part of your body broken and bleeding and then someone putting suction on it," I sobbed. "Honey," he said calmly, "I'm not going to the store. You wanted to do this and I believe you can. It will get better." I got up and left the room and cried hard. I was so angry with him but looking back now it's one of the greatest things he has done for me and for our daughter.

Reflecting in my room, I decided that I would not be defeated again. I was experiencing this pain momentarily and the outcome would be so much greater than the passing moment. I would do this for my child and for me. We were never promised that this would be easy. In fact, we all suffer at some point throughout our lives and in these times of suffering greatness can be made.

Well, I didn't give up and we got past the pain. I breastfed exclusively until Lily was six months old. I continued to nurse every two hours until she was 11 months. At this point she stopped nursing when I was not ready to stop! I wanted to nurse longer but she is a determined child and took her first steps and weaned herself on the same day. Nursing is by far my greatest accomplishment! I was never as calm, relaxed, or happy as I was when I was nursing. I actually looked forward to night feedings, which were very different from the long nights when my husband and I would bicker about whose turn it was to get up with Ava. I lost all the baby weight plus the extra ten pounds I had kept on from my first pregnancy with no dieting or vigorous exercise.

By the time our third baby came along I considered myself an expert on breastfeeding. Nursing her was a breeze from the very moment I first brought her to my breast. It was finally the natural image I had carried in my mind during my first pregnancy. My nipples were completely drawn out from nursing Lily so we had no problems.

When you are pregnant, I know it is hard to see past the birth. Pregnant women focus so much on the birth and not so much on what comes next. My advice to you, mother to mother, is please prepare yourself for breastfeeding. Take a class offered through a hospital or birth center. Contact La Leche League and join a support group; they are available all over the world. Although it may not be easy, you will be giving yourself and your child one of the greatest gifts in life that can never be taken away.

Resources:

THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, NEW 8th Edition, published by La Leche League International, is the most complete resource available for the breastfeeding mother.

LLLI Breastfeeding Tips and Products includes helpful answers to frequently asked breastfeeding questions plus a section that features books and products.
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