Friday, August 6, 2010

A very special breastfeeding story

This is not my story, but a friend's.  She has become closer than a sister to me and has been through a lot with her son.  We first met at a La Leche League meeting where she was pregnant with her middle child while nursing her oldest.  Although not any kind of professional at the time, I helped her figure out tandem nursing once her middle child was born.  Life separated us for a couple of years and I get a phone call from the then La Leche League Leader.

"Do you remember Mandie?  She just had a baby."
"Yeah.  I know.  I helped her with tandem."
"No.  She had another baby."
"Here's her phone number.  The baby came four months early and is still in the NICU."
"Oh.  Wow."

So, I contacted Mandie and we got to talking a bit off an on.  She called back Christmas Eve of 2008.  At this point, the baby was home from the hospital and had never nursed.  All of his feedings had been through a feeding tube.  He had a trach, a feeding tube, an apnea monitor, a suction machine, and other equipment.  At this point, I am going to back up and do my best to recall everything from her side.  (Disclaimer:  I have her permission to do this and will read everything to her for accuracy before hitting "publish."  She wants her story told to as many people as possible.)

Mandie was pregnant with Jake and had complications early on.  She had started bleeding at 9 weeks and was hospitalized at about 4 months after being told repeatedly that the bleeding was nothing to be concerned about.  It was a different doctor that did an ultrasound that saw a huge blood clot and saw the danger.  Having two small girls at home half a state away while she lay in a hospital bed was emotionally traumatizing.  She also knew that something was going on with this baby that she was carrying, but was helpless to do anything about it other than lay there and give residents and interns nightmares.  (Mandie is not a good patient and is not one who is able to just lay back and relax.  She is a bit of a control freak and as long as everyone does what she says when she says it, everything will be ok in her world.  Just so you know where she is coming from in this situation.  And, yes, I love her dearly and will read this part to her as well.)

Jake was born via emergency c-section at 25 weeks, 1 day gestation.  I am not familiar with everything that had happened right at that point, but I do know that he was not breastfed yet.  Mandie had been given a pump and began what turned out to be a six month long process of expressing milk for her littlest of infants.  She found herself in the biggest fight of her life for her son's life.  She knew that the milk she was expressing for her son was the difference between life and death.  As a mother, she had this instinct.  But not being a medical professional herself, she had no backing.  So, in between pumping for her baby, long trips back and forth half was across the state to also care for her other two children, having to return to work, going back to the hospital, she was also researching breastmilk and preemies, breastfeeding preemies, kangaroo care, and hearing off-handed comments from doctors that "He is never going to learn to breastfeed and it's not that important anyway, so don't bother" and things along those lines.  She was determined that he was never going to get a bottle.  If she had to, she would pump his entire nursing life (2 years) to make sure he got what he needed.

Medical fact note:  The milk a mother makes is not just specific for her child.  The milk for a full term newborn is vastly different than the milk for a preemie.  A preemie has very specific needs that is found only in his mother's milk. 

I don't remember how old he was when he came home, but I remember the call on Christmas Eve.  She wanted to put her baby to the breast, but was terrified.  This woman who had nursed a child, nursed while pregnant, nursed two children at once, pumped while working in a fast food environment (not exactly breastfeeding friendly and endured a lot of harassment) and stood up to fight for her son against a medical establishment that kept wanting to give this infant formula was afraid to put him to the breast due to the trach.  She had been told that it is too dangerous to nurse from the breast with the trach.  She instinctively knew they were wrong, but was too afraid to actually try it without some kind of medical research to back up her instinctive knowledge.  I made a lot of phone calls and sent out e-mails and reached out to all of the professionals I knew.  After a friend called her sister who is a pediatrician who asked a specific question that made me go "duh" and I related it back to Mandie, she put Jake to the breast.

He nursed from the breast! 

The feeding tube was still used on occasion, but from that point on until he weaned himself, he nursed from the breast.

At this point, Mandie still had a fight on her hands only this time it wasn't about putting Jake to the breast, but about weight gain.  Jake was tiny.  Looking at his growth chart (gestational age not withstanding) and his oldest sister's growth chart, they are basically the same.  But, she kept hearing "He's not gaining enough weight.  He needs to be on formula."  She got good at ignoring the charts and looking at her son.  He is gaining at his pace.  He is highly active.  He is interactive.  He is nursing.  When the time came and he was ready, he decided he liked table food.  He still does.

Jake is a 26 month old boy who has never had a bottle, wasn't put to the breast until he was six months old, and nursed until he weaned himself a couple of months ago.  Although he started out as a micro-preemie, he is so healthy and active that he is only considered "slightly" delayed in speech, caught up in everything else, and healthy as a horse.  He is adorable, opinionated, and loves to give his mother grief like any good two year old boy should.

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