Mindy Mattingly Uhrig
Bloomington IN USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21 No. 3, May-June 2004, pp. 94-7
If you told me last spring that I would be snuggled in bed nursing my fat, healthy daughter, I wouldn't have believed it.
Everything that could have gone wrong with my pregnancy did. I had an emergency appendectomy four weeks in, and just after recovering, ended up in the hospital again with severe hypertension and pre-eclampsia. Before we were even in the 27th week, I was in an ambulance on the way to Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis, so that when I delivered, the baby could go straight to Riley Children's Hospital next door.
Stunned, we spent 10 days just trying to keep the baby in. I have never felt so miserably sick in my life. Everyone was wonderfully supportive, but no one could change the fact that my baby was making me sick, and I wasn't able to give her what she needed. The only cure was to get her out of my body, which would have been disastrous for her. On March 19, her heart rate started dipping dangerously low, and the doctors decided it was time.
After an emergency cesarean, we were the parents of a two pound, one ounce, scary-looking little purple creature who we named Melaina. She was whisked away from us immediately. My husband, Karl, went with her through the tunnel to the Children's Hospital while I lay in bed recovering from surgery, completely dazed. Breastfeeding was the furthest thing from my mind until my amazing nurse, Casi, brought in a double pump, hooked me up, and explained the joy of pumping for a premature baby. My IV was positioned such that I couldn't hold both of the funnels on my breasts, so Casi held one and I held the other. Slowly, as the few ccs of colostrum dripped out of me, I started to feel a tiny bit less helpless. At least I was doing something. I could feed my little purple baby to give her a better chance at growing into a healthy baby. When my husband came back and collapsed on his cot next to my bed, I knew that she was alive and that things could be worse.
Thus began eight weeks of sheer exhaustion, inescapable heartache, and surprising bursts of joy. Although the details have already become cloudy, I do remember how unbearable it was, how tiny our baby was, and how I cried every time I had to leave her. I remember how amazing the nurses and doctors were, how much love and care they showered on Melaina -- and on us. And I remember pumping.
Encouraged by the nurses and doctors, I pumped for 20 minutes, every three hours, in every possible location. Karl bought a hands-free halter top gadget so I could pump both breasts while eating, drinking, changing the channel, or reading a book. I don't know how other mothers lived without that contraption -- it made pumping so much more bearable and less restrictive. Still, I was sore and always leaking. I never forgot about my breasts for one moment because they were so uncomfortable. On the other hand, I had a mission. I never gave up because I knew I had a job to do. Time flies when you have something to do every three hours. Before we knew it, it was time to pump again, and it broke up the day and it kept us focused. I know I drove the nurses in the special care nursery crazy with my insistence that Melaina be given fresh milk instead of frozen, but they tolerated me with an abundance of patience and kindness.
Despite the fact that they kept suspending her feedings because of infections, she grew, and with every ounce gained there was a reward: more food, more holding time, moving from an isolette to a crib, and finally, breastfeeding. Following the doctor's orders, we progressed through non-nutritive sucking (a sort of "dry" run before the real thing), to breastfeeding once a day, to breastfeeding three times a day. I had so looked forward to it, and I was disappointed to find out that it wasn't easy. It's hard to nurse a baby who's attached to a monitor. The nurse or lactation consultant had to position us correctly or it didn't work. It's also not easy to nurse a baby whose heart rate drops dangerously low because she's too little to coordinate the sequence of sucking, swallowing, and breathing that is necessary for breastfeeding. I resigned myself to pumping for as long as she needed it, thinking breastfeeding was out of our reach. I am grateful for the nurses and lactation consultants who kept at me to try every day, even when our attempts failed repeatedly. I certainly would have given up without them, because as our days in the hospital dragged on, all we cared about was getting her home. We thought that if we waited until she learned to breastfeed, we'd never go home. She loved her bottles, so who were we to argue? The most important thing was that she was growing, and we did take her home, sooner than we ever imagined.
There is no way that I would have succeeded at nursing if not for my husband and pretty much every lactation consultant in Bloomington. In my heart, I gave up. I was supposed to try often, but sometimes I just couldn't face it. She wanted her bottle, and she cried when I tried to breastfeed her. I cried, too, and then my husband would take her and calm her down with a bottle, leaving me to pump again. I called Bloomington Area Birth Services and they started sending their lactation consulting volunteer "cheerleaders" to help me. I was skeptical at first, but the encouragement I received from these women kept me going. "She's definitely interested," they said. So we kept trying, and once in a while she'd latch on briefly.
I felt as though I was the only person in the world who couldn't be successful at breastfeeding my child. One consultant suggested that I read some stories on LLLI's Web site, which motivated me.
The story ends with some well-timed advice from a lactation consultant at Riley Children's Hospital. When Melaina was around 17 weeks old, we went back up to Indianapolis for our first checkup at the developmental pediatrics clinic. The doctor and the lactation consultant agreed that we needed to avoid bottles for a weekend and really concentrate and encourage her to breastfeed. They said that it could be hard on all three of us. We agreed to try. Saturday morning we woke up prepared for the worst. We both took a deep breath, ready to deal with a hungry frustrated baby. Except that she calmly latched on as if saying, "Oh boy, breakfast!" She didn't scream and cry, didn't look around for the bottle, didn't refuse the breast as she had done so many times in the past. She was ready. She was amazing.
As Melaina and I adjusted to breastfeeding, I still had my moments of doubt. I didn't give up, however, thanks to a lactation consultant at the Bloomington hospital. Two weeks later, Melaina and I were a textbook breastfeeding couple. I was so proud of the first time we did it in a restaurant, or lying down, or even walking around the store! I had no idea it could be this wonderful. I remember early on telling my husband that I couldn't see what all the fuss was about, why so many women loved breastfeeding so much, but I soon understood. I plan to nurse Melaina as long as she'll have me. She is a frequent and long nurser. She pets me when she nurses, looks at me adoringly, and tugs at my shirt. She's irresistible, the little gulping coo sounds she makes, the baby bird mouth opening. Sometimes she falls asleep with a breast in her mouth and giggles in her sleep. She is a very happy girl. She sleeps in our bed so I can nurse her all night, and I can't imagine doing it any other way. I remember someone telling me not to ever let her sleep in bed with us because we'd never get her out. Why would I want her out? I know that we belong together, with her daddy close by so she can nurse and grow. I have loved watching our baby's metamorphosis from a two-pound purple premie to a roly-poly, 16-pound, sweet, rosy one-year-old.