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Natural for Us

Anna Marie Johnson
Louisville KY USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21 No. 5, September-October 2004, p. 174

Before our first baby was born, my husband and I had pictured a perfect birth. I would labor at home assisted by my husband and my doula before heading to the hospital where our daughter would be delivered by my midwife. I would encourage her to breastfeed before the nurses even cleaned her up. As often happens in life, we didn't get what we'd imagined.

I went into labor three weeks early, but I did manage to have labor for six hours at home with my husband and doula by my side. When my water broke all over the kitchen floor, we decided it was time to head for the hospital. So far, so good. When we arrived at the hospital, we were startled to find that I was fully dilated. That was the good news. The bad news was that my daughter was coming rear end first down the birth canal. It was about 90 minutes after the emergency cesarean before I was able to hold my daughter.

When I did try to breastfeed those first few days in the hospital, Madeline would start to suck and then stop, or she would just cry and not latch on at all. The nurses were encouraging, the lactation consultant was supportive and helpful, but the pediatrician was concerned about dehydration and ordered supplementation. We used a syringe and small flexible tubing next to our finger to get her to take some formula. That was the system we were still using when we went home from the hospital.

For the next several days, Madeline and I struggled to make breastfeeding work for us, but it was tough. Every time I attempted to nurse, Madeline would cry for 20 to 30 minutes before she would latch on. Once she was nursing, however, she would breastfeed for 20 to 30 minutes straight.

Family members who had not been around breastfeeding mothers and babies were concerned. Was she getting enough? Wasn't this supposed to be a "natural" process? My mother and sister had both breastfed, but neither had experienced what I was going through. My doula and the lactation consultant both suggested various solutions, but nothing seemed to help. It was extremely frustrating for both Madeline and me. My husband was concerned, but supportive. If I wanted to continue, so did he. Still, I was completely discouraged. If I couldn't accomplish this, how was I going to succeed at being a mother?

Finally, two people helped, but not in the ways I would have imagined. First, my sister said, "You know, you aren't a failure if you don't breastfeed." That comment freed me from the pressure I was putting on myself and Madeline to succeed. Second, our pediatrician suggested that, perhaps this was just her personality. Seeing my daughter as an individual who was expressing herself and her opinions helped me to appreciate her determination. Rather than seeing myself as a failure at what I thought was one of the most basic forms of mothering, I now saw my daughter as spunky.

About a week after her birth, we stopped supplementing with formula. Approximately two weeks later, Madeline's initial pre-latch-on crying had diminished. She was exclusively breastfed until she was about five-and-half months old.

Now, at 15 months old, Madeline is still breastfeeding and we plan to continue this relationship. Looking back, I can see how I turned breastfeeding into an indicator of my mothering skills. In retrospect, I wish that I could have tried letting Madeline breastfeed more often, for I suspect that part of her problem was that she was simply so hungry that she couldn't calm down. Instead, I bought into the idea that babies only need to eat every three to four hours. Still, these musings are 15 months after the fact, after I've fully recovered from the cesarean birth and am feeling in better control of myself and my emotions. I made the best decision I could at the time, which was to stick with the breastfeeding until it became truly "natural."

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