Monday, October 11, 2010

Against all Odds..

Here it is... my whole breastfeeding journey written out in story form. I won't stop blogging about our relationship entirely, but I do feel like I have hit that place where I can now focus on other things. Now that the hard part is over, and I have become accustomed to writing almost daily, I am excited to incorporate the rest of my life back into the blog!

Against all Odds… a Breastfeeding Success Story

Joee Stephan, age 32.

Grand Junction, CO

My story begins at the age 0f 21. I had my breasts augmented (implants) after realizing that God was only going to bless me with an “A” cup. Not acceptable in my opinion. My implants were placed through the bottom half of the nipple. It has since been proven that this placement method can be (and in my case is) as detrimental to milk making as a full reduction. A few months after a seemingly successful surgery, my left breast became swollen and hard. It was determined that my body was rejecting the implant and had become infected. The implant was removed and I had a drain placed for a few weeks. When it came time to replace the implant I chose to have a larger one placed in my right breast as well. Hello, vanity! There was no further issue after the last surgery.

I had my first son when I was 25. Breastfeeding was not something I had strong feelings over one way or another. I latched him on a few times but in a short week he was fully Formula Fed. I remember that I never did feel my milk “come in.” I never felt engorgement, and drying up was a non-issue, as there was nothing there to begin with.

Fast forward 5 years later to the birth of my Second Son. Call it time, maturity, whatever, I was determined to breastfeed this time around. I was sure that IF I wanted it bad enough my milk would be there and we would breastfeed and that would be that. I did little research during pregnancy. We made it a short 5 weeks of partial breastfeeding before I threw in the towel. I DID have milk, but very little. I tried Fenugreek and Mothers Milk Tea only to find that I was not able to make even 25% of what he needed. I also did not have or obtain a good breast pump. Again, I never felt engorgement and drying up was easy. What was horrible though, were the guilt feelings I had once I quit. I felt as if I had done myself and my Son a major disservice. I was emotional to the point I felt like I was mourning a loss. It was at that point I decided I would be successful for the next child.

8 months later I became pregnant again. I was THRILLED and began researching and absorbing all the information I could about breastfeeding. I was in total shock to discover how little I knew about it. It was SO much more than just feeding your little one. It was a bonding mechanism. I understood why I felt so terrible before, and was even more determined to make it work this time. Sadly, at 15 weeks gestation our little girl passed away. After a short and devastating labor she was born silent. At the time there was no way to console that loss or justify it, other than trusting in My Lord. About 2 days after her birthday, I noticed my breasts were swollen and painful. The day after that, I was leaking milk. Something clicked in me that day and my drive to be a successful breastfeeding Mom became damn close to an obsession.

5 months after we lost our baby, I fell pregnant with my newest Son. It was a difficult pregnancy with many, many obstacles. The most difficult being I was to have a repeat C Section. This terrified me… I was SURE that it would cause my milk to delay and things would not get off on the right foot. When I checked into the hospital, I had a PLAN: A breast feeding plan. I made sure everyone who walked into my room knew this plan from top to bottom. The plan was nurse as soon as humanly possible, begin herbs immediately, and pump after every feed from the start. I found that I had SO much support in the hospital for this. Not one nurse even mentioned formula to me. I was loaned a hospital grade pump during my stay, and was able to start pumping right away. Much to my delight I was able to take that pump home with me! I was SO grateful and felt so blessed. My baby’s latch left a lot to be desired. He was not flaring his upper lip and was making that awful sucking sound. My nipples were sore on the first day. He had a very strong, eager suck. He would fall asleep easily. Keeping him awake to eat seemed to be out greatest challenge. I assumed everything was well (as did the nurses) because before we left the hospital my milk was starting to come in. At release my very large (9lbs 9 oz. at birth) Son was down to 8 lbs. 7 oz. I was a little nervous about the weight loss… but my doctor assured me that bigger babies tend to (and safely can) lose a little more weight. I walked out of the hospital confident that we would be just fine.

At home things were going ok. I was breastfeeding constantly. He would suck three times and pass out. Wake up, repeat. Over and over. My nipples were cracked and red and sore. I had read this was normal, and kept refusing to think anything negative. I just kept nursing and pumping and praying. His latch was still terrible, but I kept my mantra going. At 5 days he had a weigh in. He had lost another 3 oz. His stools were green and mucous. My heart fell to the floor. I knew then my supply was not ample, and I had to supplement. I cried… no I BAWLED on the way to the store to buy bottles and formula. It was devastating. When we got home, I fed him his first ever bottle of formula. He sucked down 3 oz. and fell asleep for nearly 3 hours. It was the most heartbreaking day of my life. I was not only losing my battle, I had been starving my own Baby. I must have cried for two hours straight. My Mom and my Husband kept coming in, holding me, and I would just cry harder. I am not sure if they had any idea how painful that was for me. Even now as I recall that moment I am tearing up.

A few days later we did another weigh in. He had gained a few oz. back and was slightly jaundiced. Doctor was confident we were doing just fine and he was healthy. It was hard to believe him at that point. I really felt as if I had failed my baby. I began a grueling routine of Breastfeed, supplement, pump. Over and over. 24 hours a day. It was exhausting to say the least. And on top of it all, he was still a terrible latcher. He still passed out after 2 minutes of sucking. Something was not right here… so I called the Lactation consultants at the hospital and got an appointment. After observation of my sons latch, it was determined he had a tight upper frenulum. Basically, his upper lip is tied and he is unable to maintain suction while latched on. In addition, he exhibited signs of a high pallet, which make it terribly uncomfortable to take a deep latch on the breast. This news was refreshing in that it was NOT just my imagination that things were going badly. It was difficult because this issue was not correctable with anything except time and patience. Time was hard to come by having a two year and a 7 year old at home with me. Patience has never been a virtue of mine. Through the week I rarely latched him on. I pumped and pumped and pumped. But I missed the breastfeeding part of it. It was at this time I decided that I was either going to commit myself 100%, or I was going to quit. In fact, that same evening after yet another failed attempt at a good feed, I said that was it. I won’t pump or latch him on again. I bottle fed him through the night, skipped pumping and just slept. The next morning I was for the VERY first time in my life, engorged. It was painful, and oddly exhilarating. I was giddy with excitement that my breasts were finally doing what they were meant to do… make milk.

The next month brought a host of problems I had never anticipated. I figured that we had been punished enough with the low supply and the latch issues. I could not have been more wrong. We got out first case of thrush, which seemed to go away with Nystatin. My nips were constantly sore and I really attributed that to his poor latch. A week later, I could not latch him on without screaming in pain. I realized that we must have thrush again, and began the Nystatin treatment. That night I became engorged to the point I could not pump anything but a few drops. Latching him on was not even an option, simply too painful to even attempt. I had a large “vein” in my breast that was painful to the touch. Then I saw the white dot on my nipple. A plugged duct. I worked and worked on it with heat compresses and pumping. Finally I latched him on and endured the pain in the hope he would drain the breast. He was able to get enough to give me some relief that night, but the next morning it started again. After 2 days and pressing from my husband, I went to the doc. They prescribed antibiotics for an assumed infection (mastitis) and told me to use the Gentian violet for the thrush. 18 hours after the first application of the purple medication (and lots and lots of giggles) I was able to latch him on without crying out in pain. I will never forget this moment. He looked at me, smiled the biggest smile you ever saw on a baby, and began to nurse. He ate greedily and I was able to observe the most precious of all things… my milk drunk baby. As his eyes rolled back into his head and he fell of my breast in a total coma, I cried harder than I had the day I gave him his first bottle. Only this time it was tears of joy. I had my final Epiphany then… we are going to do this and we are doing it 100%. When we stop, it will be on his terms. Nothing else will get in our way.

Since that moment breastfeeding has been a source of joy in our lives rather than stress. Somewhere around the 12 week mark the whole process just sort of “clicked” for us. I suddenly realized I was no longer watching the clock at feeding time. My nipples had not been sore in weeks. His latch was not only improved, it was perfect. I was able to understand when he was hungry and when he was nursing for comfort. I stopped feeling the quilt over the supplement feedings. We were nursing in public, nursing in front of family members, and in front of the neighbor kids. We were nursing in different positions. The rules seemed to loosen up somehow. We found a flow that worked for us.

I will not sugar coat it and say it has all been roses as it hasn’t. My supply is still low. We have our good days, and then we have our BAD days. I made the decision to take domperidone for my supply. I tried a 2 week trial of it and it made a HUGE difference. After a short (and not welcomed) hiatus I purchased a full 4 month supply. Today, at the three week mark, I am making more milk than I ever dreamed I could! I may never hit 100% supply, and through all of this I realized that exclusive breastfeeding is not what I was seeking all along. It was the bond of the relationship. We have that and it can never be taken away.

Nothing on this earth feels better than putting my sweet baby boy to my breast. Nothing is sweeter than him making his polite “nursing face” and smiling when he gets close to me. I have never been as proud of myself as I am now. Against all odds, I am a breastfeeding Mom.


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