Breastfeeding with the shield, like a flexible silicone hollow nipple that fits over the mother’s own nipple with small holes for milk to come through.
The breastfeeding attempts continued, often with a new person with completely different opinions and information. One of the next attempted feedings my nurse brought me the top of a bottle because my daughter could not latch on. I felt dubious, but what did I know? Of course it didn’t work, and I was left feeling incredibly discouraged. My midwife suggested I immediately begin taking Fenugreek capsules and blessed thistle (increase milk production) and pumping every 2 hours to draw out my nipples and get whatever colostrum I could for Sapphire one way or another. By the end of the day a nurse who was also a lactation consultant had produced a nipple shield as I could not get Sapphire latched on in any other way. She nursed and the LC said she was sure she saw colostrum in the shield. I breathed a slight sigh of relief; at least my body was doing something right.
A few hours later, she had been hooked up to an iv for antibiotics and her hand was encased in a horrible plastic thing that she kept whacking herself in the head with. My instincts still said my baby was fine, but I was too tired and confused to argue. Because she was now considered “high risk” she was weighed even more than usual in the hospital and, of course, she was nearing that magic 10% mark for weight loss since birth. Nevermind that in a homebirth if she looked well she wouldn’t have been weighed for a few days anyway, nevermidn that she had no actual signs of infection, nevermind that IV fluids in the mother during labour are strongly linked to a higher initial weight loss…. No, my baby was “starving” and needed formula.
Haley cup feeding our little angel
I was utterly confused and distraught. It was evening, my first full day with my baby, and I had already been told 15 different things about her health and wellbeing. We stalled the nurse who was very hostile, and we suppose concerned. I did not want my baby to have formula. We called our midwife, I could tell without anything being said that she was now in a sticky situation…what she believed against hospital policies. She told me to relax as fully as possible, hold Sapphire and pump and hope I could get some colostrum to feed her. Nothing came out. I still feel she had nursed alright earlier, but as much as I tried to relax my body was extremely tense. In the end we were defeated, I was not really given a choice, if I chose to wait I’d be starving my child and *they* would not allow it. Because she had neared some magical percentage point it seemed they could feed her themselves. We opted to cup and finger feed her the formula. It took forever, much was thrown up, and I felt deep in my heart that I had failed. Every two hours or so my husband was up doing it again, I could still barely move from my bed. Everything I had wanted for my daughter, the gentle entry, skin to skin, delayed cord clamping, breastfeeding…it was all gone and I had nothing to give as a mother with stitches in her middle who could barely get up to pee let alone lift her own baby.
My doula and friends rallied together. Milk was pumped and brought in, and a friend who had a 2 month old came and nursed Sapphire several times the next day. The nurses were all very suspicious of this. After the first gift of real mama milk, she slept more soundly than she had since birth. She threw none of it up. I began to get more colostrum as I pumped, and we mixed it with the other milk and sometimes formula. Every feeding was recorded, every “cc” of formula or milk, whether she nursed at the breast or cup fed. Because of her weight loss this was kept up for at least a week and was utterly exhausting.
My placenta was broken out from pathology even though no one had told me whether it harbored infection or not, and prepared with love into placenta pills.
Food also began to filter in. Friends dropped off meals, roasted nuts, lasagna, salads, homemade cookies, waffles. I barely had to eat any hospital food and Haley was also well nourished. I was also suddenly starving and by sometime on the third day I felt wet and looked down to find my breasts leaking the long-sought liquid gold. It was still very difficult for Sapphire to nurse – more so now because she was flooded when she tried. I was emotional and crying at everything which I guess often happens when the milk first flows. Once again we made the decision to have me pump for the evening and feed her manually because I was so exhausted and stressed trying to get her to latch on.
The spinal tap had found that the first blood test on Sapphire was contaminated and she was not sick at all. The antibiotics were still continued for a while. And I was badgered continually to bathe Sapphire. No. she smelled in a way that made me feel peaceful, and she was clean and lovely. We coated her skin (dry in places supposedly from being overdue) in olive oil and ignored the nurses. Even after the spinal tap disproved the infection one nurse burst out “Your baby has been found to have an infection! You MUST bathe her! How irresponsible! It could have come from her skin!” I looked her in the eye and said “My baby is NOT infected and we will bather her when we’re ready.” She huffed away.
With that first flow of milk came the first bonding and love surges I really felt for my baby. This is why, despite our continued difficulties, I would not give up breastfeeding (though almost!). It was the only thing that gave me a small sense of those hormones I should have received at her birth that indelibly bonded me to her.
Eventually we were released from the hospital… the pediatrician seemed wary despite the newest test saying she was fine. He asked if we lived close by before he would agree to discharge us. We left with that shred of doom and uncertainty hanging over us. I was not to climb stairs or lift anything heavier than the baby for 6 weeks.
Our home had been cleaned by friends, the birth pool dismantled and drained, the fridge emptied of gross food, towels thrown in the laundry. You know who you are, and despite this being such an incredibly dark time, the cleaning the meals, the milk…were the most generous and truly supportive of my life.
We settled in, that first night I could not sleep a wink having Sapphire so close to me for the first time, every little grunt and gurgle startled me. Haley could not even be woken up after having done most of the care and feeding since her birth. Not even hitting, shaking or yelling roused him. In the early morning, I felt like a crazy caged beast and put my baby down in a car seat and called my midwife. I didn’t sleep, I felt insane, and Haley would not wake up. We made a plan, such a wonderful thing, first, I was to take a shower while baby slept and just let the tension wash away, then if Haley was still out cold, I would snuggle the baby in the rocker and just relax and doze, not even try to sleep, and if I had any problems I was to call back and make a new plan.
The story is very long, folks. I had to take more breaks from nursing because of the combination of pain from my nipples being drawn out, and the bad latch and friction from the shield. My daughter screamed like a terror each time we tried the bottle with pumped milk, and I thought many times of running away, getting away from the horrible sound and that they would be better off without me. Funny enough, my commitment to making milk for this child and not having her on formula kept me with her. We had baths together, we began the bouncing on the yoga ball to soothe her to sleep (a year later this still continued). She was a colicky baby who cried a lot, would not be put down alone, ever more. Perhaps her experience in early life caused this, I feel in my heart it was a contributing factor. I was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for the flashbacks and nightmares I was having of her birth; I don’t doubt that she was similarly affected yet without the adult capacity to make sense of why she was ripped from my body, poked and prodded, given disgusting things to eat, and why mommy seemed so distant and panicked. By the end of the first week I was given a very limited prescription for Ativan because I was not sleeping. When the Ativan was done I moved on to melatonin, it took a very long time for me to no longer feel like and animal being hunted, or to be sure that my baby was about to die.
By the 5th week between visits from my mother in law and a visit from my own mother, I had developed the first of the 7 bouts of mastitis to come. My bleeding had almost petered out at 4.5 weeks but came back full force and very red at the same time. My fever spiked and my breast was red, engorged, hot and painful. I took antibiotics again. I have such strong suspicion that the reflux sapphire suffered was strongly linked to the two exposures to antibiotics in her early life. If you are prone to breast infections, please, please look into homeopathics (Phytolacca is excellent) –if taken at the first sign, they often prevent a full blown problem.
After the antibiotics we developed thrush. Nursing was suddenly agonizing. Gentian violet stained all my bras purple. Nothing helped until my homeopath hit on the right remedy.
Despite everything, we had moments of joy, amazement, first smiles. Sapphire gained a great deal of weight by the end of her first week and was a regular little pudgemunch by the time our 6 week appointment came along.
We got through, with many, many hiccups along the way. Homeopathy helped greatly in dealing with the trauma, along with craniosacral therapy for Sapphire, and some EMDR therapy for me for the flashbacks. It was difficult to tell my story to most people…most just wanted to brush it aside and say “oh well, you have a healthy baby.” A woman with post-traumatic stress and who is indeed still living in hell with a reflux baby who barely sleeps and seems to hate being a baby, is not ungrateful for her child’s life. But she has been through battle, she wants to be seen and heard, not brushed aside. THAT is what helps her heal and become an even more present mother. Let us learn to hold the pain of mamas in love.