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Breastfeeding and Working

Rachel Hamlin
From New Beginnings, Vol. 25 No. 5, 2008, pp. 16-17

When I was six days past my due date my midwife told me that I would have to be induced after an ultrasound found the amniotic fluid surrounding my little Izabelle was too low. The news hit me really hard. I asked my midwife if I could still have a water birth. She said "No" because of the need for a pitocin drip and fetal monitor. Although disappointed, I pushed my feelings aside and began to think of the excitement of finally being able to hold my daughter in my arms.

It took about two hours until I really began to dilate and feel strong contractions. I never thought they would hurt so badly. During each contraction I curled up in the sterile-looking hospital bed and held onto the side rail for dear life until the crazy painful ride I was on was over. I tried the labor dance and the birthing chair but I just couldn't cope with the pain. My husband, Dale, was in the room but the chaos of all the hospital staff hovering over me backed him into a corner only to watch me. I was in agony howling like a wild animal. I began to feel helpless; my birthing dreams had not turned out as I had planned so I gave them up and asked for pain relief.

A mild pain medication was given to me through my IV. It didn't seem to work at all except to allow me to rest between contractions. Dale told me later that I passed out and snored after every contraction. After I had been in labor for nine hours and after three rounds of pushing, my baby's heart rate continued to drop and her head wouldn't stay down. The nurses prepped me for a cesarean. I remember being wheeled down the dark hospital hallways having contractions one on top of another.

My hands were shaking from the spinal block as I first reached out to touch my daughter's hand. After they finished sewing me up, I asked to hold my baby Izabelle. One of the nurses helped me to a sitting position. I began to feel dizzy. As soon as Izabelle was lowered into my arms I passed out and Dale had to scoop her up so she wouldn't fall. Then Dale and Izabelle were led up to the obstetric unit and I was wheeled into the recovery room for an hour. I was devastated that I couldn't breastfeed right after the birth.

I stayed up all night trying to nurse Izabelle after we were finally reunited. I felt clumsy as the numbness in my body slowly faded and sensation came back. I had a hard time positioning her to latch on. I felt that the shape of my breasts meant I had to lift them so I could see if she was latching on correctly. If I let go of my breast it would fall out of Izabelle's mouth. Izabelle lost more than 10 percent of her birth weight. Nurses woke me up every two hours to nurse. I felt overwhelmed. Each nurse used a different method to help latch my baby on to me. One nurse actually grabbed my breast to show me how to offer it to my daughter! Every time I would try something that felt more natural and comfortable for me, a nurse or lactation consultant would tell me some reason why I shouldn't do it this way or that. I was so emotional, traumatized, and tired. I just needed to go home so Izabelle and I could work things out on our own. I didn't want any more advice.

After three weeks of breastfeeding at home I developed a large crack in my right nipple. I was ready to give up on nursing all together because of the pain but my midwife urged me to persevere. I did. I nursed through the pain. I never thought nursing would be so hard in the beginning but everything got much easier as Izabelle and I grew stronger. Izabelle is almost 16 months old now and we are still nursing frequently. The experience has made me become a much stronger and more confident woman. Being a nursing mother is indeed a gift.

I had to return to work when Izabelle was five months old. I was devastated once again for the loss of what I felt was right for us. I wanted to be with her 24/7, but I also needed to help keep a roof over my family's head.

Izabelle started off at a home day care five minutes away from where I teach. I negotiated a plan with my district's superintendent to allow me to nurse Izabelle on my lunch breaks. This was after the principal of my school had turned down my request. I spent two weeks driving to nurse Izabelle in the middle of my school days. She refused a bottle from her caregiver and would wait for me. During the hours I spent with my daughter nursing at the day care, I observed many disturbing things. I thought perhaps I was overreacting because I was a new mother but I soon found out that my child was not getting the care she needed. The last day I nursed Izabelle on my lunch break I found not only a new caregiver but also Izabelle in her car seat, facing away from the rest of the children. My day care provider had to leave to deal with a family emergency and left a neighbor in charge, someone whom I had never met. I didn't feel safe. I wanted to leave and take Izabelle with me right then but I had to remain calm and return to finish the school day. I was in a sticky situation.

I teach in a small town and I taught the day care provider's children. I didn't want to create a stir in the community. If I took Izabelle back to work with me that day everyone would have asked why. I didn't want to cause trouble. I felt I had to trust that my child would be okay. Later that day, I picked up Izabelle, nursed her, and collected all her things. I had the weekend to think over what I was going to do. There were no other day cares I felt comfortable with close to the school. My mother-in-law had offered to take care of Izabelle but I knew I wouldn't be able to nurse her during the day if I brought her to her house. Izabelle still wouldn't take a bottle. I would also have to travel an extra 20 minutes each way to bring her to my mother-in-law, which would extend the time we were apart. I wouldn't be able to see or nurse my daughter for eight hours and 20 minutes a day for five days a week! But I wanted my daughter to have someone I knew and trusted to love and care for her while I was working and I knew my mother-in-law would do that. The following Monday I dropped Izabelle off at her Nana's and I began to pump two times a day at work. Nana tried so hard to get Izabelle to take a bottle but eventually found that Izabelle would drink my milk from a spoon.

The first two or three months of teaching were unbelievably hard. I was very sensitive and emotional. There were a handful of days when I cried on the way to work and even on my breaks. I had to readjust to dealing with cranky adolescents and co-workers after such a long, blissful maternity leave spent charting unknown territory. I was always worried about my milk supply and the amount of milk Izabelle would take from her Nana every day. Going to LLL meetings really helped me through the rough spots. My Leader, Kate, was a great source of support and encouragement and still is.

I continued to cosleep with Izabelle and nursed her on demand day and night. It just felt right. Sleeping next to my beautiful daughter at night eases the guilt I feel for not being with her while I'm working. Before my daughter was born I was less confident in my ability to make the right choices for myself. By becoming a mother I have realized that I have to do what feels right in my heart no matter what other people think. I just cannot fathom the idea of putting my daughter in a crib alone behind a closed door after working an eight-hour day. Every night my baby falls asleep in my arms and I can't help but stare in amazement at this miracle and think how blessed I am to have her in my life. In the middle of the night I often find Izabelle sprawled out with one arm on me and one arm on her daddy. I know she feels safe and loved. I believe cosleeping enabled us to nurse as long as we have. Not to mention the many hours I spent pumping at work alone in my art supply closet.

Breastfeeding is an experience worth fighting for, no matter what hurdles you have to cross along the way. I look forward to nursing Izabelle until she weans naturally.

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