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Delayed Gratification

By Amber Pang Parra
Kaneohe HI USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 3, May-June 2000, pp. 80-81

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time

Like all first-time mothers, I eagerly looked forward to the day that I would finally hold my baby, but during my pregnancy, I spent hours of every day vomiting and required IV fluids to fight dehydration. I was also visited by many of the discomforts that plague pregnant women - sciatica, round-ligament pain, extremely loose joints, and a worsening of fibromyalgia symptoms. At times I was unable to walk, even to the bathroom where I spent so much of my time, being sick. Thoughts of holding and nursing my baby were joys that kept me going when I was ill and confined to bed much of the time.

As I reached the midpoint of my pregnancy, I began to have a lot of uncomfortable but irregular contractions. My doctor assured me that these were harmless Braxton-Hicks contractions and felt that modified bed rest would lessen the contractions. My doctor noted that my son's head was already engaged in my pelvis at 20 weeks, but was convinced that the baby could disengage at any time. By the time I neared 26 weeks, the contractions were at times powerful enough to prevent me from talking or walking. Contractions started one Friday and continued to become more regular and frequent all weekend. By Monday evening, I had been having regular contractions for hours. When my contractions started coming two and a half minutes apart, my husband took me to the hospital. In the hospital, the labor and delivery staff found that I had dilated to two centimeters, and the contractions showed no signs of abating. I was given magnesium sulfate to try to stop the contractions, and a medication to encourage our baby's lung development. I was transferred by ambulance to a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit. Once we arrived, doctors explained to my husband and me the dangers associated with premature birth. My husband and I prayed that the contractions would stop.

When I began to feel a warm wet sensation with each contraction, I asked a nurse to check if I was "leaking." She insisted there was no way such a thing could happen. I complained several times before she finally checked and discovered that my bag of waters had ruptured. My husband and I were crushed, knowing our son was fighting an uphill battle for survival.

In most cases, after rupture of the membranes, labor is induced within 24 hours because of the risk of infection. My doctors decided to treat me with antibiotics and hold off on inducing labor for as long as possible. They told us that every day I remained pregnant could reduce by three days the time our baby might spend in the NICU. I remained in the hospital on complete bed rest, unable to stand, shower or use the bathroom. I would go in and out of hard labor, with contractions seconds apart. There was little to do but wait out each episode of contractions. My amniotic sac had resealed and my cervix did not dilate further. The amniotic fluid had gradually increased, adequately cushioning my son. The veins in my arms, hands, and wrists could no longer be used for IVs, and the doctors decided to allow me to return home to the comfort of my own bed until the birth of my child.

When Joey was finally born, at about 34 weeks, he had more than doubled in size since I had first gone to the hospital. My son was placed in an intermediate care nursery and was treated for possible infection. No further problems developed and I hoped to bring him home within a few days. Although I had intellectually prepared myself for my son's prematurity and for our separation, the reality was devastating. Although I was determined to breastfeed, the pediatrician would not allow me to breastfeed my son. I requested that he not be bottle-fed because of possible nipple confusion but my requests were ignored. I was issued a manual breast pump, told to pump every three hours for twenty minutes, and released, a day after I had given birth. I felt unsure of myself, having no experience with expressing milk or using a breast pump. Nevertheless, I was determined to do what was best for our little son, who had fought so hard to be born.

My son was placed in a warmed isolette, eventually graduating to an open bassinet when he could control his body temperature sufficiently. His weight began to drop. A weight loss in the first week after birth is considered normal; however, the doctor said that my son would not be released until he stopped losing and began to gain weight. He was weighed twice a day and each time he lost a little, I would cry knowing he would spend another day in the hospital, away from us. My husband would sit in silence battling anger and frustration with an impossible situation.

I tried to discuss the benefits for premature babies of breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact with my son's pediatrician, but to no avail. The nurse caring for my son insisted that he be bottle-fed and would allow me to try to breastfeed only once a day for five minutes. My son could not latch on to the breast. The nurse also said that he would not be released from the hospital until he could drink a specified amount of formula within 30 minutes. When we tried to feed my son in the way she showed us, by wiggling the nipple to try to get him to drink faster, he promptly threw up everything he ate. I wept as I cleaned my son up and changed his clothes, feeling like a terrible failure as a mother. Defeated, my husband and I returned home to await the next feeding, and another chance to pass the required test. We ached to bring our son home.

Once we got home, we got a surprise call from the pediatrician who supervised our son's doctor. He remarked that our son was healthy, had gained and kept on some weight, and said there was no reason for him to remain in the hospital. He told us we could take Joey home that afternoon. We were overjoyed.

We hoped that this trying time was behind us. However, Joey was still unable to latch on. I could not locate a lactation consultant and did not know if there was a La Leche League Leader in my area. I had tried every technique I had read about. Once again, I felt like a failure as a mother. I continued to pump every couple of hours around the clock and fed my son breast milk from a bottle. After each feeding, I would allow him to suckle, hoping to get him used to the breast, and also hoping that any stimulation would help my milk supply. My husband worried that our son was not gaining enough weight and would measure every drop of breast milk to ensure that our baby was eating enough. My determination to breastfeed only increased. I carried Joey in a sling constantly, allowed him to sleep on my chest, took him off the artificially imposed feeding schedule, and continued to offer him the breast often.

It took over a month for Joey to finally learn to latch on and breastfeed. Once we had finally established our breastfeeding relationship, he refused to take breast milk from a bottle, almost as though he remembered our struggle. When I returned to work part-time, my son happily drank milk from a cup. My once tiny premie is now a sturdy 26-pound ten-month-old who is developmentally on target. He toddles, talks, sings, dances, and is a happy and secure child. I am convinced that my determination to breastfeed, coupled with a commitment to attachment parenting, provided my son with what he needed to grow and be healthy and strong.

After our terrible experience with the hospital, my husband and I made sure we communicated our concerns with the customer service department. This hospital was the only one in our area with a NICU, and as the county hospital, also provided maternity and neonatal services to many young mothers. I wondered how many of them had been dissuaded from breastfeeding because of the lack of support shown by the postpartum and neonatal staff. My husband and I went through formal channels to complain about the lack of support for breastfeeding, with the hopes of preventing any other mothers from losing the chance to establish the precious breastfeeding relationship. In the end, I was a lucky mother. I brought home a healthy baby who eventually learned to breastfeed. I treasure our nursing time together and am committed and delighted to continue to breastfeed until my son indicates that he is ready to wean.

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