Because Boobs are the Best!

One aspect of midwifery education/experience in which I am sorely lacking is breastfeeding. Of my four children, I only breastfed one for longer than a month, and that was Sydney. (I will explain the whys later.) Sydney and I had not a single problem during our breastfeeding relationship, and while I’m really happy that our experience was so positive, I realize that I lack the ability to address problems based on my own experiences! She had num-nums for about a year and we both loved it.

I think that my best personal characteristic for being a childbirth educator and doula and midwife-to-be is my vast array of birth experiences. I’ve given birth in a hospital — in an O.R. — in a birth center and at home. I’ve given birth with an epidural, a shot of narcotic, and medication-free. I’ve experienced labor starting with contractions that got longer, stronger and closer together, and labor that started with my water breaking. I’ve experienced a labor that didn’t start for nearly 2 days after my water had broken, which really tested my patience and my faith in my body! I’ve had one baby born with a cord around her neck. I’ve had to change my birth plans based on needed medical care. I’ve had a great birth experience and not-so-great birth experiences. I think those experiences are my greatest personal assets to a client.

But not so much with breastfeeding.

First, a confession: I had a breast reduction when I was 16, not thinking about ever breastfeeding in the future, or how having a reduction would affect it. Then, when I was around 20, I had a boyfriend who had a baby that was 100% formula fed in bottles. She was a sweet happy baby, and that was my first experience with seeing a baby eat. Later I had a friend who had a baby (my first doula client) and she breastfed for a year, but she experienced overwhelming feelings of sadness when she first breastfed — there’s a word for it, but I can’t remember it.

So, when I was a single mom-to-be of twins, my focus was mainly on having a vaginal birth, and not so much on breastfeeding. I went to a La Leche League meeting, but I just didn’t give breastfeeding a lot of thought. I had been told by my doc that my babies would likely be in the NICU, and they’d be tube-fed high-calorie formula if they were preemies. (This was all determined by the fact that they had Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome and would likely be born prematurely.) I could breastfeed if I wanted, and I could pump and store milk, but they would be tube-fed and then bottle-fed before they could go home from the NICU. And I just didn’t really think about the transition and how difficult it would be, and whether or not I even believed I could get them 100% breastfed because of my reduction. So, I pumped and bottle-fed them for about three weeks, at which point my level of exhaustion was so great that I made the informed (or so I thought, but looking back I was woefully uneducated) decision to formula feed. Pumping and feeding IS exhausting; someone on motheringdotcommune once calculated that she spent an extra 40 hours per week on pumping and feeding — 40 hours that she didn’t spend with her baby or family.

With Allegra, I had much better intentions. I dutifully breastfed. It was painful and I didn’t give my breasts much time to heal. I didn’t give myself much time to bond with Allegra either — I was hell-bent on not taking any time away from Rory and Tiger, and it was to my own detriment and to the detriment of my relationship with Allegra. (In retrospect, I wish I’d done a “babymoon” or a “laying-in” period with Allegra, which I did do with Sydney. It’s basically a time just to focus on breastfeeding and bonding with your newborn. It’s lovely.)

At three weeks after Allegra’s birth, I developed this terrible pain in my stomach, and I went to the ER and had emergency gallbladder removal. I came home the next day and we went back to breastfeeding. But after that, I developed a post-op infection and spent the next week in the hospital, without Allegra. The hospital told me I couldn’t have Allegra with me because hospitals are full of sick people (aside: if it’s so full of sick people, why is it okay for babies to be BORN there?!?!?!) and my doctor suggested I dry up and stop breastfeeding her.

I was devastated, and I followed his advice, but I was so incredibly sad. Later I tried to re-lactate, but it was just too difficult. I really tremendously regret following that advice, and saying okay to Allegra not being with me in the hospital. It was such wrong advice on so many levels. I wish so much that I’d had some of the friends I have now — friends who would have provided me with a pump and support in continuing to breastfeed, friends who might have even nursed Allegra themselves so she didn’t forget how to breastfeed!

But Sydney was my baby where I really tried to do everything “right,” and that included breastfeeding. I did a laying in with her for two weeks, during which we cuddled and breastfed and I caught up on “One Tree Hill,” that terrible show on CW. By the time Dustin went back to work, I felt comfortable with my new baby and with breastfeeding her. I felt more than comfortable — I felt bonded and attached. It was a fantastic feeling. I can’t even really describe it. She looked at me, drunk on milk, and I look back at her, drunk on oxytocin. We were a pair.

I would have liked to breastfeed her longer than a year, but I desperately needed to have weight-loss surgery. I was morbidly obese and was starting to experience some common comorbidities with morbid obesity. I didn’t want to put it off for another year.

So that’s my story on my breastfeeding experiences: three kids for about three weeks, and one kid for a year with no problems. I never had any mastitis, let-down problems, engorgement, over-supply, infection, thrush or any other types of problems. I can spot and possibly correct a bad latch, but I don’t have the personal experience with breastfeeding issues that other CBEs and doulas and midwives have. And I’d like that experience.

I know there are some doulas and CBEs and midwives who don’t even have children, who have never been pregnant or breastfed. I also know that anecdotal experience is not the entire picture. There are tons of aspects of midwifery that I’ve never seen, things that are probably even considered common. I haven’t had a c-section and I don’t particularly want that experience! But this is something I can learn about.

Aviva Institute, where I took my CBE class, offers a three-week Breastfeeding Educator course, and I’d really like to take it.

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