A Nursing Story from Lynn Wilson

May 12, 2010

image from Lisa Congdon’s A Collection a Day

For me, pregnancy was like a trip to the dark side of the moon. I had no idea where I was going. None of my friends were having babies, so I was the test pilot. Not many adventurers grow to the size of a small planet, but I was undaunted. For the first time in my life, being a woman made sense. My body was doing what it was made to do. Giddy with excitement, I figured that giving birth might be tough but lactation would be easy. I was half right.

I labored for a long time before the doctor determined that my daughter was descending arm first. I felt a surge of pride.  My infant was polite, reaching out to shake the doctor’s hand even while she was waiting in the birth canal. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a good time to reach out and touch someone.

The doctor suggested a c-section and I readily agreed. I couldn’t very well walk around the rest of my life with my kid’s hand waving between my legs. How would I ever find a pair of jeans that had two legs and a sleeve? Heck, it’s tough to find normal jeans that fit.

The c-section went smoothly, and my daughter tipped the scales at a surprising 10 pounds, one ounce. No wonder she got stuck. In all the excitement, she had a bit of water in her lungs, so she was taken to NICU to receive some antibiotics to ward off the possibility of contracting pneumonia.

To be sure, childbirth was an adventure, but well worth the trip. I had a beautiful baby girl. I was exultant; I’d gotten through the hard part. Surely I didn’t need to “do” anything in order to nurse my baby. I had a massive mammaries, so I was armed and dangerous. I thought nursing would come naturally, kinda like getting my period. It seemed silly to talk to the hospital’s lactation specialist about something that seemed so intuitive. My presumption proved to be my downfall.

It didn’t take long to realize that I was clueless about nursing. I kept hearing about “letdown,” but I had no idea if it was happening to me. I waddled down to the NICU and breastfed my daughter, but she was still hungry after she nursed. To complicate matters, I was discharged from the hospital before my daughter came home. I discovered that it’s difficult to nurse when your baby is ten miles away.

In hindsight, I really could have used some expert advice. I was exhausted, inexperienced, and hardly producing any milk, but I couldn’t focus of solving those issues until I got my baby out of the hospital.

I was overjoyed when she finally came home. I continued to nurse her, but it was like trying to squeeze water out of a rock, albeit a big floppy rock. Why hadn’t I talked to the hospital’s lactation nurse when I had the chance? Here I was, alone in the house with a hungry baby, clueless about how to get my own body to do what it was supposed to do.

In desperation, I called an acquaintance who was a new mother. With great embarrassment, I asked if I could talk to her about breastfeeding. She cheerfully answered all my questions. In fact, she was the first one who really explained what letdown felt like (similar to when your leg or arm falls asleep – except you feel it in your chest). She encouraged me to nurse, pump like crazy, drink lots of water, rest, and eat.

At this point, 2 weeks had passed since the c-section. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get my milk in, but it was worth a try. I rented an electric breast pump and started pumping. I was a woman on a mission.

I barely managed to pump an ounce of milk at a time, but I kept at it. I ate healthy food and drank water. I napped when my daughter napped. Finally, one quiet afternoon, I put my baby to my breast. Pretty soon, it felt like my chest had fallen asleep and then suddenly my baby was gulping down loads of milk! I could even see some milk leak out of the corner of her mouth. Houston, we have letdown!

How gratifying to finally succeed, after weeks of uncertainty and failure. It was a watershed moment. I realized that I had entered the sisterhood of mothers, where even the most embarrassing bodily functions are talked about openly and with humor; where women help women BE women.

Welcome to the sisterhood, my friends.

From Lynn Wilson of For Love of Funny.

PS — Feeling overwhelmed with your new baby? You’re not alone. Stephanie Diaz wrote up some New Motherhood Advice here. And I love this calming birth story from Christine Castro Hughes.

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Note from Design Mom: throughout my pregnancy, I’ve been posting advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family on Wednesdays. I just had my baby and am taking a blogging break for a week or so. I’ve received so many wonderful stories and thought it would be great to post as many as I can during this little “maternity leave.” You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 erica richards May 12, 2010 at 10:30 am

WOW!!! What a great testimony!! You are an encouragement to all women who have been convinced that ‘they just are not meant to nurse’. POO!! I bet I’m not alone when I say that I, as a fellow woman, I am PROUD of you. And your baby will grow to thank you for never giving up.

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2 Adventures In Babywearing May 12, 2010 at 10:45 am

Incredibly beautiful. I love your words!

Steph

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3 Kate May 12, 2010 at 10:58 am

I love nursing and have been lucky that it worked out for me, but I do think that one of the greatest failures of the medical establishment, or maybe women generally?, is that so many women go into nursing not realizing how hard it can be at the beginning. And then they think it’s their fault, or that they are doing something “wrong”, when in fact for most people it just takes a while to get the hang of and actually hurts (from soreness) at first. Nursing was not easy for me at first, but it turned out to be great. So I hope your story is read by many other women, so that they know they’re not alone and that often times (though not always), they really can have a great nursing experience if they work through the kinks of the first several weeks. (And that is not to say that it works out for *everyone*, I understand that it does not.)

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4 bdaiss May 12, 2010 at 11:19 am

What a great post! So true that it’s not the natural cake walk we wish it was. And oh the instrument of torment, those pumps. (She says having just finished session one of 2 for the day.) I do wish more gals had the spit, and grit, and spit…er determination you did. But I also wish we women weren’t so judgmental on the issue.

Thanks so much for sharing!

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5 Lindsey May 12, 2010 at 11:19 am

I love this story! I had a similar experience with my first baby. Unfortunately she never would latch on after being in the NICU. It was so heartbreaking. I ended up pumping for many, many months. And all the advice I got never seemed helpful. I had two great nursers after that and I’m still nursing my 21 month old. It’s nice to hear about women who have struggled with nursing because I feel like that is more the norm than the exception.

Thanks for sharing your story!

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6 Camie May 12, 2010 at 1:00 pm

So glad you stuck with it! I had a similarly frustrating experience with my first and am so grateful I stuck with it. I’m thankful it went smoother with the 2nd. Foolishly, I thought it would just come naturally with the first, so the second time around I was much smater.

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7 kati May 12, 2010 at 1:22 pm

amen, erica! when my second baby was born, he had such bad jaundice that he spent four days under the bulky phototherapy blanket (instead of snuggling tight to me) and when my milk finally came in a week after he was born, i could barely get 1/4 oz every three hours, after 40 mins of pumping. that lasted a month, while i agonized and pumped constantly (i cried more tears than i made milk), fed him formula mixed with my tiny amounts, ate curries, took fenugreek and drank the teas, drank tons and tons of water and on and on (while “friends” insinuated nasty things about the horrors of formula). my OB and the lactation consultants from the hospital were encouraging at first and eventually started to tell me “some women just can’t do it”. BS! i knew that there were women in far worse situations than mine that were able to make it happen. and i’d nursed my first baby for a year. so when my son got his first thumbs up regarding his weight at 1 month, i spent the next week hunkered down with him skintoskin, switched to mainly breastfeeding instead of pumping (i still pumped) and my milk supply finally increased and we are still going strong at five months. i am also testament that it is possible!

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8 Beth May 12, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Great story on birth. Giving birth to a new life is a precious god-given gift to women. He didn’t say it would be easy and painless. But we are strong and we embrace the gift.

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9 Shannon May 12, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Your experience sounds similar to mine with my first baby in a lot of ways. I find it absolutely terrible that no one told me that a c-section can make your milk take significantly longer to come in! I only learned that months later. I make sure to let friends know about the resources in my city if they choose to breastfeed. Because they really are great. But you kind of have to go looking for them.

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10 Angela Noelle May 12, 2010 at 5:23 pm

This is wonderfully written. Breastfeeding was hard yakka for me for the first few months. Thank you for sharing a story that helps women feel okay about finding it challenging, and inspires them to persevere!

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11 Brenna May 13, 2010 at 12:09 am

Thank you for sharing your story! Breastfeeding is so not natural for almost all women. It is a challenge, it can be difficult, we can still do it!

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12 Donna May 13, 2010 at 4:42 am

breastfeeding was a nightmare from start to finish for me. a big part of the problem was that i had a very active 2 year old, who, when i would sit down to nurse her sister, decide to go into another room and start setting the house on fire. okay, not that bad, but i could not ever just sit down and relax. i started pumping milk out very early and sort of mixed it with formula like my dr. told me to do. he also said that the first 6 weeks were sort of the most important, but that ANY small length of time was beneficial. i lasted 3 months and i felt like i should have been given a medal, quite frankly! another mother told me something i really believe to be true in the end. if the mother is happy, the child will be happy. and by the way, my first daughter is adopted and was only given formula. i cannot say i have noticed she is any less healthy than the other. mine are 9 and 11 now and time is passing too quickly. once they hit 3, time starts flying. congratulations on the best thing that ever happened to you!

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13 Naomi May 13, 2010 at 8:45 am

Arrggghhh, this is EXACTLY what I’m going through now! We just brought my 1-mth old for his check- up with the paed and found out that he’s weight had dropped so much, it’s currently BELOW his birth weight. Imagine my horror at the thought that my body is unable to sustain my little one! Was told to supplement with formula and I feel so sad about it. So I’m now eating like mad, drinking like mad, and pumping like mad…feel like a cow at the milking station. I’m praying very hard that soon I’ll be able to revert to total breastfeeding and not have to continue supplementing with formula.

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