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The Gift of Empowerment

Withanie Lemke
Parksville BC Canada
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 6, November-December 2006, p. 254

On June 26, 2006, my husband and I celebrated the arrival of our beautiful daughter, Madeleine. Madeleine was born by cesarean at 37 weeks gestation. I was deeply saddened to learn that I would not experience labor, however, I trusted that the "best birth is the safest birth."

I attempted to breastfeed Madeleine in the recovery room within 30 minutes of her birth. Neither of us seemed to know what to do! The two days that followed in the hospital were confusing and stressful. A barrage of well-intentioned nurses all provided my husband and me with different tips on positioning and latch-on. It seemed as though every 10 minutes someone was telling us to do it differently. As time passed and Madeleine lost weight, I felt overwhelmed and discouraged.

I had dreamed of a natural birth and believed that immediate skin-to-skin contact could ensure that our nursing relationship was peaceful and easy. My expectation was far from reality.

When we left the hospital four days after Madeleine's birth, she was taking a supplement of formula and I was pumping like mad. I felt sure that once Madeleine, my husband, and I were in the calm and comfort of our home, breastfeeding would "click."

It seemed as though Madeleine had a small mouth and her latch-on brought tears to my eyes. I began to dread her awake times because I knew how much breastfeeding would hurt. As I felt my dream of breastfeeding slipping away, I felt I had to pray. And then, my mother sat down to rub my feet. She had arrived from her home in China to help me while my husband returned to work out of town. Each time I tried to nurse, whether it was morning, afternoon, or night, my mother rubbed my feet. She was loving me, honoring me, relaxing me, and seeing the potential and the magic that seemed to be eluding me. We told stories, laughed, and sometimes cried. I shared my frustrations and fears, and my mother shared her hope and her advice in the most graceful of ways.

She told me I could breastfeed, I would breastfeed. And she told me to call La Leche League. Within hours of placing that first call, I met Leslie, my local LLL Leader. Leslie entered my home with calm and compassion. She told me that my daughter was beautiful, and I instantly relaxed. Leslie acknowledged what I was doing correctly and offered suggestions for further success. I began to feel empowered and so very fortunate to have such support for my new family.

Madeleine and I continued to struggle with breastfeeding but she was gaining weight and I was feeling more confident that I could feed my baby. At seven weeks old, while sitting in a field watching my stepson ride in a bike race, I nursed my baby for the first time with no pain. As I watched Gavin cross the finish line in first place, my eyes held tears for both of our victories. From that day on, our nursing relationship was as simple, as nurturing, and as blissful as I had imagined.

I wish to thank Leslie for her constant support and steadfast confidence in the ability that I could not recognize during the early haze. If there is a spotlight, however, it belongs to my mother, Susan Trimble. On June 26th, 32 years earlier, she gave birth to me. I nursed with a vengeance for three years. My mother saw what I could not, remembered what I could not, and encouraged me to give my daughter the greatest gift, as she had done for me. I pray that one day my beautiful Madeleine will have her own daughter. I promise, Mom, that I will rub her feet.

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