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In Tribute to My Sister

Jolea Anne Hollyfield-Cooper
Portland OR USA
From New Beginnings, Vol. 25 No. 5, 2008, pp. 24-25

I am a blessed mom of two wonderful children. My six-year-old daughter and three-year-old son were both nursed until they self-weaned.

When I was a new mom, I had a yeast infection in my left breast and dealt with excruciating pain every time my daughter latched on. This lasted about two months until the infection cleared up. I almost gave up and was tempted on several occasions to open the free packet of formula given to me at the hospital. I even tandem nursed for one year after the arrival of my almost nine-pound son. I've lost plenty of sleep while breastfeeding through the night and feel like I've run the gamut of problems with which a breastfeeding mom can be confronted.

I've become quite the breastfeeding advocate over the years. I always believed and knew I was making enough milk and that this milk was meant for my babies. When they were fussy, I nursed more. Demand increases supply. I'm also a type 1 diabetic and never fell prey to others' well meaning yet misinformed advice that my body was ill equipped to handle pregnancy, natural childbirth, and nursing. Confidence was not something I lacked and I got frustrated with other women who tried to nurse but "just couldn't make enough" or for whom "it just didn't work." I believed in myself and knew I could do it if I just kept trying.

I'm the oldest of three children. I've been the bossy, ambitious, know-it-all older sister all my life and felt like a natural leader by birthright. When my sister, Karla, became pregnant a year ago, I felt ready to jump in to offer advice and supply her with all that she needed to breastfeed her baby right from the start. I gave her slings, showed her nursing bras, and provided her with endless breastfeeding literature. A few months into her pregnancy, we learned she was having twins and then that they would arrive early. Suddenly, I felt ill equipped to offer advice. I had never dealt with twins or premature babies! I judged my sister's choices relentlessly (oftentimes behind her back) though I tried to be supportive as much as I could.

My sister has proven herself to be quite the warrior and self-confident mother battling her way through unchartered territory. She dealt with a lot of adversity that I never had to. Her babies arrived four weeks ahead of schedule and were put in the neonatal intensive care unit. Her youngest had a feeding tube put in and both babies had surgery for pyloric stenosis at three weeks of age. My sister pumped milk for her babies through all these stresses as they were too weak to latch on and suckle. She always put on a happy, strong face for all the worried bystanders, including me. I was overwhelmed with seeing her babies in the hospital, at how little, frail, and fragile they were. My own babies were chunky, healthy, avid nursers right from the get-go. Here was my younger sister with two little premature bundles of joy, struggling to pump milk for them while they lay in their little beds, unable to nurse on their own.

At three months of age and after many struggles, both my nephews are now thriving, nursing full time, and becoming chunky monkeys! My sister has been my greatest teacher through-out this. I applaud you, Karla, for possessing the faith, strength, and fortitude to trudge on through adversity and embody the true spirit of a strong, nursing mama! All your hard work has paid off and your babies are healthy and perfect because of you! Thank you for teaching me more than you'll ever know you have done.

Each mama will have a different breastfeeding experience. Something so natural isn't always so easy. Some women deal with tremendous difficulties, stresses, and sadness that I can't even imagine. My hat goes off to all of you for attempting to breastfeed and I have great respect for those who battle on to breastfeed. Many of us are paving the trail on our own, without an adequate support system to back up our choices and desire to breastfeed. Kudos to you all for simply trying! Much love to my sister and to all the breastfeeding moms of the world.

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