Breastfeeding is a learning process for both mother and newborn. Time, knowledge, patience, and love are needed to overcome the discomfort of the early days, until both mother and baby finally get the hang of it. I went through the learning journey while diagnosed with two birth injuries and having four major surgeries. It was hard, some days exhausting, but I successfully breastfed even while dealing with physical and psychological traumas.
My first surgery was right after delivery, when my midwife diagnosed a third-degree perineal tear. By then, I’d pushed for nearly two hours while my bladder contained over a liter of urine. Both the tear and the prolonged pushing phase contributed to an impairing condition: a urinary retention. I was temporarily unable to pass urine by myself, and I had to be catheterized for fifteen days. It all happened at the same time my milk finally “came in” and my milk supply was being established. I was scared, sleep-deprived, and in pain. It was a lot for me to deal with, and I needed help.
Luckily, I counted on several people who knew the challenges I was facing and assisted me in different ways to breastfeed successfully. They became my “circle of support.” The lactation consultant, who assisted me in the hospital, and my doula played key roles in my circle. I could call or text them any time I had questions. They visited me multiple times to check on me and my baby, and to reassure me that breastfeeding was going well.
Because of the catheter, I had a hard time doing simple things, like waking up during the night and picking up my baby to nurse or change her. I soon realized that my husband was the foundation of my support circle. He would often bring our baby to me in bed so I could nurse in a side-lying position, which was much more comfortable than other positions while I was catheterized. My partner’s full support for breastfeeding and his dedication to my recovery were crucial in those early days after delivery.
When I thought that the most difficult moments were left behind, I was diagnosed with a rectovaginal fistula, an additional complication of my traumatic delivery. My baby was a little over two months old, and I was desperate after the diagnosis. Once again, having support from family and friends helped me to move on and find the right treatment. My baby was exclusively breastfeeding by then, and I knew for sure that I did not want to interrupt breastfeeding, unless it was the last resort.
I had the first surgery to treat the fistula when my baby was only four months old. Fortunately, we were not separated for long periods during my hospital stays. Doctors encouraged me to nurse my baby normally before and after my surgeries. Despite multiple procedures, my milk supply was never affected, because I continued breastfeeding and pumping during the whole period.
I was prescribed several medications for my various medical challenges, including long-term antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and painkillers. I made it clear to my doctors that I wanted to continue breastfeeding, and all the medication prescribed must be compatible with doing so. If I had any doubt about a cream or a pill, I checked the website http://www.e-lactancia.org, which provides valuable information on medicines and herbs that are compatible with breastfeeding.
In three months’ time, I had three surgeries to treat the fistula. I was able to maintain exclusive breastfeeding for my little one during the whole treatment. In fact, she is now fifteen months old, and I am proudly breastfeeding her. I know that I was lucky to be supported by people who were breastfeeding enthusiasts and who knew all the benefits for both the parent and baby. I was lucky that medical staff was supportive, too, as I am very much aware that many hospitals around the world would never allow a nursing baby into the mother’s room. I am no Wonder Woman, and I can frankly say that breastfeeding while treating two serious birth injuries was very, very hard. On the other hand, noticing my baby’s chubby cheeks, her excellent development, and hearing her laughter reassured me that breastfeeding was the right path for us.
Larissa Ushizima is a Brazilian breastfeeding mom, currently living in Warsaw, Poland.