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Child of My Heart

Mary O.
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 16 No. 3, May-June 1999, pp. 71-72

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.

At the end of 1997, my husband, John, and I made the decision to add a child to our family, but not in the traditional way. We already had two girls and two boys, ours by birth. This time our hearts were moved to adopt a baby from Korea. We wanted to be mommy and daddy to a child who had none. So in January we began the adoption process with great excitement. We filled out mountains of paperwork, showed a social worker around our temporarily spotless house, and went to the police station to have our fingerprints taken for a criminal background check. It was an expectant period very unlike and yet oddly similar to my pregnancies. Once we had jumped through all the adoption hoops, all that was left was the waiting. This I had done before: sewing diapers and tiny clothes, making lists of things to get done before the baby came, daydreaming about this child I'd never met—a little stranger whom I already loved. It had been that way with all my children.

Out of all my expectant daydreams, the best of all were those of blissful hours spent rocking and nursing. Yes, the more I thought about this baby, the more I became convinced that I wanted to nurse him, just like my other children. I had nursed my four biological children for a combined total of eight years, so I was an experienced breastfeeding mom. To me, nursing was almost synonymous with motherhood.

I knew it was possible to nurse an adopted baby using a supplemental nursing system, but nursing this baby could be challenging. Most babies adopted from Korea are already between four and seven months old when they come into their adoptive families. That's four to seven months of bottle-feeding, and I was told that many foster mothers in the area where our baby would be born feed their babies well and often. All I could do was hope that the baby who would join our family would be young enough and patient enough to learn something new.

In early May we received wonderful news. We were to adopt a little boy who had been born in March. Getting his visa and completing the paperwork would take at least two months, and it could be as long as five months before we could bring him home. We named our little boy Joshua, talked about him non-stop, and hoped and prayed that his paperwork would be done in record time.

Once I had a picture to look at I began to prepare in earnest. I began using an electric breast pump just a few days after we received the good news. I had heard that adoptive mothers may not be able to stimulate much of a milk supply, but I had always produced plenty of milk. I had weaned my three-year-old just ten months before and was still able to express a drop or two of milk now and then. I expected that with a little pumping I would soon he producing enough milk to freeze and stockpile for Joshua when he arrived. Even if he utterly refused the breast, I planned to use my milk in his bottles.

For two weeks I pumped for ten minutes four times a day. Unfortunately, I didn't see so much as a mist in the bottles. I was discouraged and wondered if this was really going to work. It was now early June. Joshua's paperwork was progressing nicely, so it was possible he would come home to us in a month. I wanted to find a way to increase my milk supply.

I spoke with a friend who is a lactation consultant. She gave me some encouragement and told me that one hundred minutes of pumping per day was the standard for mothers who were separated from their babies. I wondered how I could find that much time with four children under the age of ten. I reminded myself that I would be spending that time nursing in a few weeks, and I found the time.

I began to feel like a pumping zealot. Yet the more time I invested, the more I feared that our baby boy would utterly refuse to nurse. Even worse, after a week of pumping diligently, my milk supply hadn't increased. I searched for information about adoptive nursing on the Internet and found a wealth of information. Most of it was geared toward adoptive mothers of newborns, but some applied to older adopted babies, too.

On the LLLI Web site, I found the story of Darillyn Starr, who had successfully breastfed five adopted babies, although she had never been pregnant herself. One of her babies was almost a year old before she began to nurse! I got in touch with Darillyn, who told me not to worry about not seeing milk yet. /p>

Most women don't have much milk until their babies arrive. She also told me that extensive pumping before the baby's arrival does not increase the chances of a successful breastfeeding experience. She told me to pump if I wanted to, but not to feel that I had to. Well, I had invested too much time pumping just to quit at that point and I soon became convinced that pumping was beginning to pay off. My breasts were feeling a little fuller. By the time we received permission to bring Joshua home by mid-July, I was able to squeeze out a dozen or so drops of milk per day by hand. It was not enough to stockpile, but it was enough to give me hope.

On July 10, John and I hugged our precious kids goodbye and set out to meet their little brother. Joshua was exactly four months old. On the way to Korea I reminded myself repeatedly that breastfeeding was only part of being a mommy, but I still harbored great hope.

Meeting Joshua for the first time was more like giving birth than I expected. Between jetlag and the fierce summer humidity in Korea, I was tired, sweaty, and ever so eager to see and touch my child. It seemed to take forever for his foster mother to put him in my arms, though in reality it was about ten seconds. He was gorgeous, and the bond that had begun when I saw his picture blossomed in his actual presence. I drank in the sight and feel of him. Later his foster mother took him back and fed him a bottle. When she turned his body in toward her and cradled him tummy to tummy in the perfect nursing position, I was thrilled. That part at least would not be new to him.

We didn't get to keep him with us until we were ready to fly home the next day. On the plane, not wanting to rush him, I fed him a bottle, but it was obvious that he was a baby who liked to suck. He would nuzzle and suck at the back of my hand. My hopes soared! I had planned to wait a couple of days after getting home to try to nurse him, but I was so eager that within an hour or so of walking in the door at home, I was in the bedroom with him trying to nurse. He wailed and stiffened in frustration and who could blame him? He didn't even know that I was his mommy. He had only met me two days ago!

All the next day I bottle-fed him in the nursing position. He was content, but I found it so awkward. Breastfeeding leaves you with one hand free, and I'd never really realized that bottle-feeding takes two hands! The next day I began to work on the gradual transition to the breast. My first step was to thread the tiny tube of the nursing supplementer through the same type of bottle nipple he was used to. Then I placed the bottle nipple (without the collar) over my breast for the feeding. This way Joshua got used to being against my skin, while still sucking on his familiar bottle nipple. His formula now flowed from the supplementer rather than the bottle and to all outward appearances, he was breastfeeding.

He accepted this step quite easily. The next day I tried a nipple shield over my breast, with the supplementer tube threaded through the shield. He hated it, so we went back to the bottle nipple, which calmed him right down.

In the wee hours of the next morning, while fighting jetlag and getting acclimated to his strange new world Joshua became really fussy. I walked him, fed him, jiggled him, and gave him the pacifier, but he still cried. Finally, around four o'clock in the morning, I tried what had always pacified my older children. I put him to my bare breast, and he latched on! It was just for a minute or two at the first attempt, longer at the next try. I was so breathless with hope, I didn't dare move, and I was so thrilled that I forgot how tired I was.

Although Joshua preferred a quiet environment while nursing, over the next few days it became easier and easier. Now he has been a nursing baby for half his life and every day I look down at this sweet son of mine, born on the other side of the world and yet nurtured at my breast. I can hardly believe the joy of it.

At first I had very little milk, especially since Joshua resisted changing breasts in the middle of feedings at first. He would cry and the feeding would be cut short abruptly. Once he became used to taking both sides at a feeding, my supply really increased. Most adoptive mothers need to supplement throughout their nursing experience, especially with a baby who is not a newborn. Calculating Joshua's caloric needs by his weight and activity level right now, he needs 40-42 ounces (1200-1260 ml) of milk or formula per day to grow. He is only taking 20 ounces (1200 ml) per day from the supplementer. That means I am producing about half of what he needs. I am thrilled!

Even more important than the nourishment that his body receives from my milk is the nurturing his soul receives at my breast. When we settle into that rocking chair to nurse and he reaches up to touch my face, or gives me a smile without even letting go of my breast, there is no doubt on this earth that I am Joshua's mommy and he is my baby. We both know it in the depths of our souls.

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