How Nursing Taught Me Hope and Perseverance in the Midst of Struggle, Part One
I always planned to nurse my children, and when I was pregnant with Madeleine, I anticipated the bond nursing would bring with great joy. I knew that it would not be without its challenges, but I was certain that those challenges would be temporary.
When Madeleine was born, I had an hour of skin-to-skin, or kangaroo care, with her before she was taken away for newborn checks. The hope of kangaroo care is that it will help the newborn regulate her body temperature, encourage bonding between mom and baby, and establish the nursing relationship if mom wishes to nurse.<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Madeleine didn't latch on during that hour, but did after her newborn checks. In that moment, I felt gratitude and elation. I felt profound wonder at what my body was able to do. After having grown a child within me, my body now had the ability to nourish that child. I was overwhelmed with joy.Madeleine didn’t latch on during that hour, but did after her newborn checks. In that moment, I felt gratitude and elation. I felt profound wonder at what my body was able to do. After having grown a child within me, my body now had the ability to nourish that child. I was overwhelmed with joy.
Nicholas captured that moment in a photo. Throughout the next three months, that photo became a reminder. That photo became my why.
Because that joy didn’t last.
Eager to move me out of the labor and delivery room and into the postpartum unit, my nurse told me to unlatch Madeleine so she could transfer me to a wheelchair. It had been fifteen minutes, she told me. That was enough. Never mind the fact that Madeleine was still actively nursing in that moment. And feeling caught off guard and vulnerable, I went against my gut, and I listened.
I have regretted it ever since.
In the postpartum unit, Madeleine wouldn’t latch. When she did latch, she wouldn’t suck. I was handed the pump and pumping parts and told I needed to pump every four hours minimum. Bottle feeding was not an option due to nipple confusion, so I had to syringe feed Madeleine anything I pumped. It was tedious. Because I didn’t anticipate having to pump while in the hospital, I didn’t have a hands free pumping bra, and so I had to attempt to nurse Madeleine, and then place her in her bassinet and hold the pump for the next fifteen minutes. I felt humiliated and vulnerable.
Getting Madeleine to successfully latch took pillows placed all around me, the IBLC (lactation consultant), and my husband, both of whom were doing different things to either support me or readjust Madeleine to encourage a proper latch. When she did latch and suck, it was incorrect and caused significant pain.
We stayed the maximum amount of time just so I could get as much help from the IBLCs as possible. One of them finally ended up getting Madeleine a pacifier because it seemed Madeleine didn’t know how to suck. She hoped that the pacifier might encourage the sucking reflex.
I will always wonder if unlatching her before she was finished in the delivery room caused some sort of negative association for her. If it somehow disrupted our relationship. We never found any sort of explanation for all the issues we had, and so I will always wonder if it all went back to that moment. That photo was the last positive picture of me nursing Madeleine until Madeleine turned four months old.
When we got home, it became worse. Trying to get Madeleine to eat resulted in crying. She would latch, suck for a minute, pull off screaming, and repeat. Getting her fed took upwards of an hour or more.
I spent a lot of time crying. I had anxiety attacks before going to bed. I worried about ever getting sleep. I worried about getting her fed. There were times when she wouldn’t eat and we would have to feed her from a syringe. I would frantically pump while Nick tried to keep her calm. The only thing that gave me any hope, that brought me any peace, was seeing Madeleine repeatedly grab hold of my scapular during or after nursing.
Madeleine was born on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel after I prayed a novena to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. When I saw Madeleine holding my scapular, I knew that Mary was telling me that all would be well. I didn’t know how, but somehow, all would be well.
We saw the lactation consultant at the pediatrician many times. She could not figure out what was going on with Madeleine. Overactive let down was a suggested possibility, but it didn’t quite fit. They said reflux didn’t fit either. I was finally handed a nipple shield and just told to use that, but even that had mixed results. The only thing that ever worked was getting Madeleine to suck on her pacifier and then rapidly doing a “bait and switch” so that she ended up nursing without noticing that she had latched.
When she was between two-three weeks old, she was nearing four or five hours of refusing to eat. I called her pediatrician, and was told to pump and give her a bottle. I didn’t want to do so, because I was so worried about making it even harder to convince Madeleine to nurse. But I was more worried about her being fed, and so I immediately listened. I was home alone, and so I pumped while Madeleine cried. I remember feeling like I had failed her, and wondered why I hadn’t just given her the bottle sooner.
When we were out of the house, it was worse. My arms and hands ached from holding her. To even consider feeding, Madeleine required that I stand and rock her while also quickly switching out the pacifier, keeping covered, keeping her properly supported, and ensuring a good latch. I remember feeling so weak and hating how much it all hurt my hands. I didn’t know it, but I had Rheumatoid Arthritis. Nursing Madeleine made that pain even worse.
She nursed best in the rocking chair at home, which made my whole body stiff and achy. At the time, I thought this was normal. I thought it was because of sitting so much.
I don’t know why I didn’t quit. It would have been easier. But during the hardest moments, during the moments when Madeleine would scream and scream, during the moments when I would cry, during the moments when I felt so deeply broken and that I had failed, I found myself praying.
Somehow, there was this quiet stillness. Somehow, I had hope and trust that it would get better. And I was determined to help it get better. I set goals for myself. Make it to three months. Make it to six months. Make it to a year.
I wanted that quiet time with my daughter. I wanted that bond. I wanted those memories. And so through prayer and sheer grit, I made it happen.
And somehow, magically, at three months, Madeleine decided that nursing wasn’t so bad. Something just clicked for her, and things became easier. There were so many moments before then when giving up seemed the better option. In those moments, however, my heart would whisper, “No, not yet. Try another day. This is not the end.”
And it was not.
I pumped every two to four hours at work for six and a half months. I dealt with low supply and researched methods and supplements needed to ensure I was able to keep feeding Madeleine. I had to advocate for myself and ask for a space to pump. At one point, I was given a space filled with windows and no curtains and had to ask for curtains. I dealt with students ignoring signage and walking in unannounced while I was pumping. I dealt with adults not understanding what the sign was for and coming in anyway.
It was all worth it.
I ended up nursing Madeleine until she was 19 months old. It was a beautiful gift to us both. I learned so much about giving of myself to others and persevering through difficult moments.
I had hoped that nursing with Mariana would come more easily. And while at first it did, my experience with Mariana taught me about a different sort of perseverance that I will explore in the post next week.
A quick note: to the mothers that wanted to nurse but could not, to the moms that exclusively pump, to the moms that use formula for any reason: you are enough. You have not failed. You are loving your child by keeping them fed. You still know the sleepless nights. You still know those quiet moments. None of you are less than any other mother. You are beautiful, you are a daughter of God, and you are still giving your child the gift of yourself and life, no matter how your child is fed.