Continuing with our story theme for the week, here's another story collected as part of a community event to advocate for our local hospitals to become Baby Friendly. Again, names of people and hospitals have been omitted.
In contrast to yesterday's story, I think it shows how skilled and sensitive support can make a huge difference in our breastfeeding experiences, and our lives.
There was a lot riding on my ability to breastfeed my son, more than even I realized at the time. I’d had a hard time getting pregnant, it had ended up being a lengthy and stressful experience, which involved a lot of medical intervention. Once I was pregnant I had hoped that from that point on I could do things on my terms.
I went to two different childbirth classes, preparing for the natural birth that I so wanted, and then I discovered that my son was breech. After several unsuccessful attempts to rotate him into a better position it became clear that I would have to have a c-section. I cried when I found out and I spent the last few weeks of my pregnancy feeling anxious and sad about the way my son would enter the world. One of the things I worried about most was whether he would learn to breastfeed, I’d heard that it can be harder for babies born by c-section. I was determined to do everything in my power to make sure that I would be able to breastfeed my son.
I remember speaking with a midwife and a nurse at the hospital where I would deliver about my concerns. I requested that I be allowed to give my baby an opportunity to nurse as soon as possible after he was born. It seemed that my concerns were taken seriously, and a birth plan was written up in which breastfeeding was highlighted as an important goal. I felt somewhat in control of what had, up until that point, been a pretty powerless experience for me. On the morning that my son came screaming into this world, he was nursing within the first hour of his life.
I remember holding him for the first time and having our nurse clear the room for me so that my partner and I would have some time to focus on giving him a chance to latch on. She was careful not to raise my expectations too high, warning that babies often do little but mouth the nipple the first time they are offered the breast, but my son latched on right from the start. Watching him learn how to find comfort and sustenance from me was one of the most beautiful and empowering experiences of my life.
Over the next few days there was a great deal of nursing support. I admit that I found the nursing charts we were supposed to fill out a little overwhelming, but the actual assistance from the nursing staff was phenomenal. They seemed to have wonderful instincts about when to stand back and allow me to work through issues on my own and when to step in and help. It took a couple of days for my full milk supply to come in, but they never undermined my hope that it would. Even more importantly they respected my wish that my son not be bottle fed formula or given pacifiers. We were given the space and support we needed to establish a healthy nursing relationship before we even left the hospital.
Two days after I brought my son home we returned to the hospital for a breastfeeding support group, where a wise and skilled nurse answered all of my nursing questions and several other questions related to parenting a brand new baby as well. I found such comfort in her knowledge and in being in the company of so many other new moms that I returned weekly for several months. Two of the woman I met there have become two of my closest friends to this day. Our babies have known one another since birth. I believe that the breastfeeding support group was instrumental in making those first few months feel less overwhelming and more enjoyable.
In my opinion breastfeeding makes both the bonding and the practicality of motherhood much, much easier, which is ironic because the nursing itself isn’t always easy. My son and I have enjoyed a long and healthy breastfeeding relationship. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and I have a lot of gratitude to the people who helped us in those early days. Some of the professionals at the hospital seemed to be able to sense that even outside of all the wonderful health benefits and various other baby-related reasons to breastfeed, as a woman and a mother I needed it as well.
Because of my challenges in getting pregnant and in accepting that my son’s birth would be a cesarean, I had started to feel as though I was failing in all of the places where nature is supposed to allow a mother to succeed. Being able to meet my son’s needs in such an important way was the first indication I had that I would not fail at mothering. In the years since those early days I have fed off of that confidence. Breastfeeding my son has been an ongoing reminder to both of us that I will be able to meet his needs. We both take comfort in that.