This week, I planned on writing about breastfeeding success in the early days. I’ve done it four times now, so I consider myself a professional amateur. There are myths I long to dispel and encouragement I long to give women, as they attempt to nurse their newborns and simultaneously maintain their sanity. That post is currently in my drafts section, hopefully to surface its way up in the future. But this week is World Breastfeeding Week. Talk about a tender and explosive topic for women around the world! I decided to avoid the typical lactivist position of someone who has breastfed babies for the last four World Breastfeeding Weeks. Instead, I’m taking up a challenge from a few brave women on the Internet. You can read more about the “I Support You Movement” here,butI was especially moved by Kim Simon’s piece, which you can read here. In it, she challenged bloggers to interview moms with a different infant feeding story. My friend Jessie immediately popped into my head, and she graciously agreed to answer a few questions about life with her Sparrow Song.
What were your thoughts on infant feeding when you learned you were pregnant with Sparrow? How did your experience with Noah affect your plans?
I would say I was pretty open to whatever works, honestly. I had read all the pro-breast feeding books and nursed my son, Noah for 10 months. He refused to take a bottle for 6+ months, even with my breast milk in it. In the thick of wanting some “me time,” I landed on the opinion that whatever works for mother and child is best. In Noah’s case – he needed me, chose me, and would have only me. I actually got pregnant with Sparrow when Noah suddenly stopped nursing – completely on his own. Doctor said my hormones changed when he stopped and Bang! I got knocked up on birth control, without ever having my period start back up. Control is an illusion, everyone. So when I first found out I was pregnant again, I guess I assumed I’d try and nurse Sparrow like I did with Noah. Totally candid here – it amazed me that I had breasts my whole life and it wasn’t until I was 28 years old that they were ever put to [proper] use. HA! So I was thankful mine worked and that my son grew fat and happy off of them. Why not use them again?
How did you feel when you learned of Sparrow’s heart defect, as it relates to your plans to feed her?
When I discovered my daughter would be born with major congenital heart defects, my only thoughts were on her survival. I was told she could also be born with a trisomy, Down’s, or a variety of other defects – so literally all that was on my mind was to keep her alive. An anonymous person gifted me with the cadillac of breast pumps at my baby shower and I cried buckets. I guess the thought of being able to give Sparrow my breast milk felt like one of the only connections I’d be able to have with her while she was in the NICU. But I had no idea what her life would look like and literally only anticipated meeting her and hoping & praying for the best.
Take us back to the early days of the NICU and her return home. How did you feed Sparrow and how did it affect your daily life?
Oof. Sparrow came out via C-section, I kissed her as we cried together, and then she was whisked away to the NICU. They cut her open when she was barely four days old and performed surgery on her heart which was barely the size of a walnut. During surgery one of her vocal chords was damaged, making it impossible to swallow and cry. She was given a feeding tube that went down one of her nostrils and into her little baby belly. We fed her my breastmilk through a syringe into that tube, which was taped to her face. Before we could take Sparrow home we had to do an overnight stay with her at the hospital to ensure that we were capable of feeding our daughter, giving her her meds and checking her blood oxygen saturation levels every couple of hours. We brought our baby girl home when she was a month old. She was on oxygen and had the feeding tube, but she was mine and she was home.
Everyone knows that feeding an infant is like pouring water into a bucket with a hole in it. The same goes for my little bird. I was pumping my breastmilk 8-10 times a day and stocking it in my freezer. After I defrosted my milk I had to add high calorie formula to it (doctor’s orders) to make sure my fragile little Sparrow got chunky. I then warmed the “rocket fuel” as the nurses and doctor’s nicknamed it, and poured the right amount into a syringe. Next, I had to pump some air into Sparrow’s feeding tube and listen with a stethoscope to her belly for a little “burp.” If I heard the “burp” in her belly, I knew the tube was in place and I could then begin her feed. Sparrow’s syringe feeds worked on gravity, so I would lie her in my lap or on a boppy or bouncy chair and then dangle the milk-filled syringe (which I connected to her feeding tube) above her so that gravity would cause the milk to flow slowly into her belly. A hair tie connected to a mobile worked pretty well in her co-sleeper. After a feeding was over I had to clean the feeding tube with a little squirt of water into the syringe so that the milk wouldn’t clog the tube. I did this every 2 hours and sometimes after a feed she would throw all of it up. Her body was just so frail and where most babies can stop nursing when they’re not hungry anymore, Sparrow couldn’t. I fed her this way for 4 solid months.
What were people’s reactions when you went out in public and needed to feed Sparrow? Did you find support in your local community, regarding your feeding choices?
I don’t think people knew what to say or think at all. My friends and family were in the same head-space as me, which was, “Whatever the doctors and nurses tell me is going to keep this precious lamb alive and healthy… I’ll do it!” We did have in-home nurses come and check Sparrow weekly and there was also a quirky New England horse-loving speech therapist who came and tried to teach Sparrow how to suck – so when her vocal chord was healed, she would be able to nurse or take a bottle. Let me tell you, that lady was a character. Sparrow sucked just fine. She had taken a pacifier since she was a newborn. Her trouble was in swallowing, which came eventually along with her voice, once everything healed up.
How do you feel about infant feeding now that you’ve experienced what you have?
After what I’ve been through with keeping Sparrow alive and then going through two miscarriages with my sister, I see any and all life is a sheer miracle. It’s a gift and we are given the honor of caring for this gift. To be educated and knowledgeable on a variety of infant-feeding methods and then find one that is safe and healthy for your baby and works for you as well, then that’s it – that’s all you need. I will say that I personally have a tough time with what I interchangeably call “baby religion”, “the natural agenda”, or “breast feeding politics.” Truth: I didn’t get to breast feed my second baby. I have also been medically diagnosed with PTSD. It kicks in when I am faced with the multi-faceted grief of not being able to do with my baby all the things that mother’s typically get to do with their newborns: holding, snuggling, bonding, nursing, co-sleeping, etc. Put a baby under the age of 6 months into my arms and I cry uncontrollably. Why? What’s wrong with me? I was deprived of these things and the ache of not being able to hold or nurse or bond bare-chested with my infant is always just below the surface of my skin. I have a very difficult time with the “politics” and “agenda” of natural birth and natural child-rearing methods and the idea that breastfeeding your baby is the only way. Sure, breast is best. I agree. But what about the moms like me who had to mix in formula just to keep our babies alive? I don’t want to be made to feel guilty, and I don’t want anyone else to feel guilty for the choices they make in how they feed their infant. If what you’re “fighting for” isolates moms, makes them feel guilt or shame, or puts unnecessary pressure or negativity on them, then it’s not worth it to me. Being a mother is already tough enough, why add extra stress to your life when no matter how hard you’ve tried your baby just won’t latch? It’s okay. You’re not a bad mother. Life goes on. I have no issues with breastfeeding in public or actually breastfeeding at all. Most of my friends are all breastfeeding moms. I guess my beef is just when it hurts somebody, even if it’s indirectly. Cause I’ve been that somebody. You just never know how many women like me see the posts on facebook you’ve posted over the years, ranting about breastfeeding or natural methods. I am broken; my heart is broken and may always be broken when it comes to these losses in my life. Please be sensitive to the small percentage of moms like me who couldn’t have natural births with healthy babies that latched on and bonded immediately.
If you could pass along one piece of advice to a mom living a similar story, what would it be?
Hang in there. Don’t listen to anyone but your heart. God gave the baby to you because He knew that you would know best how to care for it. And when we miss the mark at times, there is grace. Trust me. Tap your friends and family to help you as much as possible. Take trips! Even though it is super hard, it really helped me to get out of the house as much as possible. Do not let your heart, mind or soul enter the guilt pit. There is nothing you did or didn’t do to deserve what you’re dealing with. Life just has some shitty pages in its binding from chapter to chapter. Don’t quit reading. Don’t give up. Don’t lose heart.
Also, I don’t think we actually need as much sleep as we think we do. Mothers around the world (especially mothers to children with special needs) have survived on very little sleep for centuries! Press on! Drink good coffee! I’m a music fanatic, so I say make yourself an empowering playlist to listen to and pump yourself up when you haven’t showered in days, your house is a disaster and the dishes and trash are vomiting onto your kitchen floor. Find ways to get a fix. Treat yo self – fancy coffee, a run, a swim, go to a movie by yourself with a huge tub of popcorn, get yo hairs did, treat yourself to a mani/pedi, give yourself permission to have regularly scheduled cries. Crying is like sweating after you pop out a baby. Start planning a trip when you know your baby will be able to function without you 24/7. Seriously. Go ahead and buy that plane ticket NOW! I hear Newsies is on Broadway!
Tina Fey says in her book Bossypants regarding parenting: we need to put our own oxygen mask on first before assisting others, which is what they tell us to do on an airplane. How can we really assist others if we can’t breathe? But hey, we’re moms. We don’t actually listen to that! Don’t forget to take care of you! And when you’re seriously questioning your abilities as a mom or a woman, always refer to Beyonce. Who Run The World? And I’m out – peace. Oops. That was waaaay more than one piece of advice.