Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Breastfeeding: Nature's Baby Bottles...

Growing up in the Caribbean where breastfeeding is the cultural norm, I never had any inhibitions about breastfeeding. It was just a natural way of life. I relocated to the United States in my early teens and didn't really think much of the absence of breastfeeding women as I went through my daily travels. As an adult however, I began to notice, with confusion, the prevalence of the anti-breastfeeding culture in American society.

Now, let me be the first to say that I respect everyone's personal choice to (or not to) breastfeed but it became evident to me that everyone does not feel this way. I decided to perform my personal research project to explore this phenomenon. I would strike up a conversation with noticably pregnant women, and after discussing all their plans for their bundle of joy, I would asked, "Are you going to breastfeed?". More times than not, I would be presented with a readily apparent look of disgust at the idea of breastfeeding. Usually an explanation of how society has evolved and baby bottles were now readily available would follow. It was all incredibly confusing to me. Didn't the fact that our bodies naturally produced milk during and/or after pregnancy indicate that there was probably some designed purpose?

When I decided to get pregnant, there was one decision I knew I didn't have to make. I would be breastfeeding my baby. I didn't know how long I would or should breastfeed so I had a discussion with my doctor. Fortunately, I had an OB/GYN who originated from South America and was a strong proponent of breastfeeding. He and I decided that I should breastfeed for at least two years due to my history of severe allergies. We also discussed other practical and medical benefits of breastfeeding. I was now equipped with the imputed medical knowledge of the benefits of breastfeeding. From that day, I was just laying in wait for that person who would be offended by my decision to breastfeed.

When my baby was born prematurely via unexpected emergency c-section, my only concern revolved around saving her life. During her first few hours, I was oblivious to much of anything because of the effects of the surgical anesthesia. I knew that my husband, my mom, and one of my bestest friends were with her in the hospital and they would make sure I knew if anything was amiss. When the anaesthesia began to wear off, I begged to see her. I was then informed that she was in an incubator in the NICU on the other side of the hospital. "What the hell are these people talking about, NICU?" My mom explained that she was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I then demanded they bring her incubator in my room, after all I see on TV all the time women laying in their hospital beds with their babies alongside them and dammit, I wanted my baby next to me. She needed me. The attending nurse explained that she cannot be removed from the NICU nor can her incubator. I imagine I was getting a bit more perturbed because they quickly increased my drip and I was off to la-la land soon thereafter.

As I awoke, my husband tried to reassure me that she was alright. I longed to see her, and hold her for the first time. I was overjoyed when the nurse retrieved a wheelchair. As much pain as I was in, I climbed out of the bed and prepared to go visit my newborn baby. We didn't move two inches before my motion sickness decided this visit was not to be. I was placed back in bed with some anti-nausea medicine and sent back to sleep.

The nurses then decided to wheel my bed to the NICU for my first visit. Again, my motion sickness decided it was not to be. And as before, I was given more anti-nausea medicine and sent back to sleep. When I awoke again, the nurse was at my bedside with a strange looking machine. I was like, "and what the hell are they gonna do with that? ". She explained that it was a breastfeeding pump and she was there to gather my liquid gold , colostrum. So we attached these huge suction cups to my breasts and the machine began to play a rhythmic song as I watched my body produce the first droplets of breast milk. It wasn't much but off they went, like some secret agents, to the NICU to deliver my package to my daughter. Although I couldn't be there to see it, I felt incredibly proud and useful as a mother for the first time because I was doing something to help. I then continued my scheduled pumping throughout that first day as the nurses returned for more breast milk to feed my daughter.

It would be an understatement to say that it was a long night. As she laid attached to those strange machines in her incubator in the NICU, I could only imagine what was happening to and with her. I kept asking every person who entered that room to tell me over and over again how she was doing, what she was doing, what she looked like, was she crying, was she eating?

The next day, as I woke from one of my many naps, I was surprised when the nurses wheeled another strange looking machine into my room. This time, it was an incubator transporting my daughter. Knowing that I desperately needed to bond with my daughter, rules had been broken. I cannot describe in words what I felt inside, all over, when I first held her. Since we didn't have a camera with us (something we didn't realize until that very instant), the nurses quickly retrieved a polaroid camera and we were able to capture that priceless moment with a few photos. It was way too short a visit but her incubator could not remain unplugged for any lengthy period of time. She was returned to the NICU and I replayed that moment in my head a million times over.

The nurses came back to give me their hourly report: my daughter was now refusing to bottle-feed and they had been forced to insert a feeding tube. I couldn't move. My mom immediately went to the NICU to assess the situation. When my mom returned, she said that my baby was still alright but that she told the nurses that my daughter was seemingly pulling on the feeding tube. They assured her that a 2-day old child does not have the fine motor coordination to do any such thing. They were wrong. A short time later, the nurse reported that my daughter had removed her feeding tube. Sheer pride is what I felt. This was definitely my child. She did not want any stinking bottles or feeding tube. She wanted some breast milk straight from the cow. :-) I decided that if I had to crawl on my hands and knees, I would make it to the NICU.

It was a long, arduous journey, but I walked to the NICU assisted by my husband. When I arrived, I had to jump through more hoops: I had to wash up like a surgeon before surgery, put on a sterile gown, hat, gloves, footwear (like it was a biohazard area). Again, they explained that due to the preemie babies' susceptibility to infection, it was a necessary measure. They did not need to say more. I gladly obliged as I peered through the glass window trying to see if I can identify my child among the sea of incubators.

With butterflies in my stomach, I was escorted to her incubator. She was so tiny and fragile. I was so afraid to touch her. As I inspected every inch of her body with my eyes, I noticed an unsightly pacifier in her mouth. Upon my request, the nurses immediately removed it and I instructed them to not give it back to her, ever.

I was then seated in a feeding chair next to her incubator. The nurse began to instruct me on how to hold her to breastfeed but before she could finish her instructions, my daughter had latched on and was sucking away. She needed no instructions. What could be more natural?

For the next THREE years, I breastfed my daughter. I breastfed through the nipple soreness and discomfort of the first few months. I breastfed through thrush. My breasts were her comfort during every vaccination (a subject I will discuss at a later date). I breastfed in church. I walked around stores nonchalantly breastfeeding my daughter while I held in her carrier. I breastfed wherever and whenever I needed to, without apology !!! If bottle feeding a baby was acceptable, then society just needed to respect my choice to breastfeed my baby.

So, I will continue to brag about breastfeeding for three years because it works. I have firsthand experience that my daughter reaped the benefits of breastfeeding. She is now 7 years old and has never had an ear infection. She did not catch a cold until she got her first tooth at 16 months. She does not have my severe allergies. In all, her immune system is better equipped because I breastfed her. And let's not forget the fact that breastfed premature babies have a higher IQ by the time they are 7 years old.

And just in case you were wondering, she never bit me.

One Love, Se'Lah

*For breastfeeding support, refer to : http://www.llli.org/nb.html?m=0,0,0 and http://www.breastfeeding.com/allabout.html

*For information on the breastfeeding law in the USA, refer to  http://www.llli.org/Law/LawUS.html?m=0,1,0

4 comments:

vchelle said...

I really enjoyed reading the first time you met your baby. I smiled the entire time I read it. That's a beautiful story. I can understand your strong desire to see your baby while you layed in that hospital bed. I felt guilty that my daughter wasn't beside me at night when I went to sleep. She cried so much all night long that I couldn't get any sleep. And with a c-section, I needed to sleep.

I'm such a strong advocate for breatfeeding even though I did not breastfeed. I read about it and was looking forward to the sagging breast after breastfeeding my baby. It was my mark of pride! However, my baby would not latch on AT ALL! One morning, the doctor came to visit me and could not get to me because I had two nurses and a breastfeeding specialist in my room with paper, tubes, nipple suctions, etc. everywhere trying to get my daughter to latch on to my very flat nipples. It was a stressful time. Fast forward to her first doctor's appointment. After pumping an ounce of milk from one breast in one hour, my doctor said, "Sweetie, your baby is hungry. Give her a bottle." I was horrified to think that I was starving my baby. So, I gave in to the bottle theme and I hated it. If I knew what I know now, I would have called on my holistic doctors to help me produce some milk for my baby.

Congratulations to you for breastfeedng your baby everywhere, anywhere! I salute you!

me. said...

I'm not a mother, but I think breastfeeding is cool and convenient for the mother. And I'm sure with the new responsibility of motherhood, conveniences are especially appreciated. People are closed minded, and want to replace human relation with technology any chance they get. Too bad for them.

Erin said...

Your story is inspirational! I loved how you believed that breastfeeding was normal! I have the same surprise as you do about why women think bf is yucky. I don't get it.

As a LLL leader in Canada I see many women with similar situations as yours - premature baby and c-section. Some fight for their bf and other don't fight. The information and support at so many hospitals are terrible. Why wouldn't a md suggest feeding a baby with significant bf difficulties with a syringe instead of a bottle. The bottle WILL cause latch problems.

You daughter is lucky to have such a great mama! She will be strong and nurse her babies. I know mine don't even know what formula is at 6 and 4 years old. As far as they are concerned all milk for babies (including bottles) came from their mama.

sunnymama said...

A really inspiring post!