Monday, October 7, 2013

//Adventures in Breastfeeding: Tiffany's Story//

I am so excited to post the first Adventures in Breastfeeding.  Jill of Goodnight Mush began this beautiful project and I am beyond thrilled to keep her vision going.  And after reading this weeks story by Tiffany Gray I am even more convinced of it's importance.  I can relate to her story and I feel encouraged by it.  I'm sure many other of you mamas will feel the same.  She is a mother that I feel lucky to know, even if it's through instagram.  Follow her blog The Gray Gang and her instagram @thegraygang.  You will be inspired and encouraged.  

I am not going to tell you that it will be easy. I am telling you that it is going to be worth it. “ ~Author unknown

~This piece is dedicated to my beloved lactation consultant, Doris Onnis. Without you, I would not have a story to tell. Thank you for giving me wings. Thank you for never giving me permission to quit. Thank you for being exactly what I needed you to be which is YOU. And - yes - I will be mailing you a cheesy Christmas card for as long as I live. I can promise you that.

I am just a run-of-the-mill mama with four birds under five. I am not anti-pacifier, anti-bottle, or anti-formula. I am Pro-Mama! Whether you nursed your baby for 3 months or for 3 years, you are a part of this community – a part of this thread that connects us all. In regards to my Adventures in Breastfeeding, I have done it all. When I say “ALL”, I am talking about everything from extended nursing to exclusive power pumping to strictly formula feeding. I have gone to battle with nipple shields, persistent thrush, chronic mastitis, & milk blisters. And I have the scars both emotionally & physically to prove it. But I am beyond proud of my pilgrimage. This is my journey:

I shockingly fell pregnant with my first daughter, Memphis Ella, in February of 2007. My husband & I were merely dating at the time and I was the non-committal girl with lofty goals & wild ideals. I was all-set to move to Manhattan in the fall. I had verbally accepted a teaching position at a private prestigious school on NYC’s Upper West Side. I was fancy & free without a worry in the world and then here comes a…BABY. My small sheltered universe was turned upside down but I decided to embrace the throws of Motherhood with arms wide open. I read numerous of books & blogs on pregnancy and birth and all that in-between. I was determined to eat as “clean” as I could while expecting and have a natural empowering hospital birth. And, well, everything was textbook. Almost. My water broke at 37 weeks while vacationing on Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands. Small problem: I live in Portland, Oregon & they refused to let me on the ferry. This is a story for another day but the short-of-the-long is that I ended up having to charter a small plane by myself while my husband actually took the ferry since he had the car & all our belongings. I ended up meeting him at the Anacortes airport: we successfully made it to our City of Roses and our daughter did not debut until the next day. So – besides that unexpected interruption – everything was textbook until three days after Memphis’ birth when my milk decided to show up in full force.

I can still recall it like it was yesterday. October 17th 2007 around 4 o’clock in the morning. I was bleary-eyed & crying insolvably in our spare bedroom at our small condo in Northeast Portland. I was soaked solid in milk, holding my screaming hungry baby at the computer while “goggling” words like: latch issues, massive oversupply, bleeding nipples, nursing pain. I made a common mistake that most mothers made; I had just assumed that breastfeeding would come easy and effortless. All I really knew is that my mom had nursed me and her mother had nursed her and so on and so forth; that it was “natural” and just the thing you were supposed to do. I was suddenly in so much pain; Memphis’ shallow latch had caught up with me; my nipples were cracked and bleeding. This was not something that a bottle of lanolin was going to mend. I remember my husband wiping my tears aside, begging me to come back to bed, and promising me that we would find someone that could help come morning. I ended up booking a same-day appointment at the Postpartum Center at the local hospital where I had delivered. I arrived a mess; so desperate for someone to “fix me”. I felt like a failure; I felt broken. This where divine intervention stepped-in, gave me a good shake, and introduced me to an angel. My angel was a lactation consultant by the name of Doris Onnis. She was everything I needed. She was everything I wished her to be. The very first thing she said to me was: “Let me see this tiny beauty queen! Look what you made, mama!” I immediately started sobbing. She wrapped her arms around me and said: “This learning-curve that comes with motherhood is sure a steep one. We really should serve alcohol and pedicures here, would you not agree? Do not worry; you came to the right place.” The appointment lasted over an hour as she helped me “troubleshoot” by improving Memphis’ latch, showing me different nursing holds, introducing me to a nipple shield and gifting me a bottle of Jack Newman’s all-purpose ointment. By the end of our visit, I felt confident that I could go home and successfully feed my baby and what a gift that was.

Over the next few weeks, our breastfeeding adventure ebbed & flowed. Some days were smooth sailing and some days were a struggle from start to finish. Some days, I had to bust out the nipple shield because her lazy latch & nipple pain would return. Some days, it was all I could do to simply to pump & bottle-fed. I can clearly remember feeling anxious most days; I would long for her to nap the day away because it meant that I would not have to nurse. During this time, Doris made two house calls and consulted me for numerous hours via phone especially in the evening hours when both my patience and supply seemed to take a dive. She was ALWAYS there. Always supporting me in the best way she knew how. Always there to remind me that I was doing my best and my best WAS enough. My nursing journey with Memphis lasted 6 months and never during that time would I define it as easy. It was one of the hardest things that I have done as a mother. During the time, I tried to digest constant feelings of failure and guilt. I felt like my body had betrayed me in many ways. But today, upon reflection, it is something I am deeply proud of. I look back now and it reminds me of how I feel about my birth experiences; it was my IRONMAN. It showed me how capable I was and left me feeling empowered.

Fast forward: I ended up having a second daughter the day before Memphis turned one – my little fierce Irish Twins. We proudly named her: Odessa Daisy. Our breastfeeding journey carried its own weight; she ended up being severely tongue-tied. Also, Odessa nursed every.single.hour until she was nine months old and we battled a stubborn case of thrush all winter long. It was draining; I struggled with chronic fatigue but – now in hindsight – I think I had postpartum depression. But, with the support of Doris and my steadfast husband, our nursing relationship lasted until Odessa self-weaned at 16 months. It was not effortless but it did not compare to pain (both emotionally & physically) that I had with Memphis. Overall, I felt grateful that I remained determined and devoted to breastfeeding. But secretly I still longed to experience the kind of nursing that met me only in my dreams. I wanted that kind of uncomplicated connection that would make it all seem so inherent & elemental.

Jump ahead two & a half years. Cinco de Mayo of 2011. I gave birth at 35 weeks to a beautiful boy: Raleigh Asa – our tiny early bird. And, despite being a month early, he had a latch like no other. Our physically chemistry was seamless; it finally felt “easy”. I would nurse him and sob because I was so touched by the emotional bond that I quickly resonated as a result. I had missed that with my daughters as it always felt like such a “job”; a motherhood duty that I was supposed to do because “breast is best”. Nursing Raleigh gifted me in the most beautiful of ways. It finally allowed me to soak up the intrinsic kinship that can only be uncovered through the passage of breastfeeding. Yet with every “ying” there is a “yang” and ours was the warfare of chronic mastitis. I had a massive oversupply; I got mastitis seven times in 9 months. I was actually almost hospitalized due to a severe breast abyss that would require surgery. Again, I called on Doris and she would rush to my side with words of encouragement – helping me plow through these consistent bouts of sickness & reminding me to “keep my eye on the prize”. To me, these struggles were small compared to what I had conquered with my daughters so I tried to take most of it in stride. We ended our nursing adventure after 14 months and I was so sad to see it end. It filled such a void; it confirmed in me that I was not broken and with that came such a renewed faith in how I view myself as a mother.

Speed up once again. 20 months later. St. Patrick’s Day of 2013. I gave birth at home - after experiencing my longest pregnancy - to a lucky little lad named Justice Utah. He is currently six months old and has bought such a sense of peace & completion to our family. Nursing him as been such a breeze. Yes, you read that right, a BREEZE. It has been so simple, in comparsion, that it almost seems surreal. Doris – of course – came over after he was born, like she has with all of our babies, and assisted me a bit with the position of his latch and that was it. We have been off & running ever since. No pain. No milk blisters. No thrush. No real supply issues. I have experienced some early stages of clogged ducts but nothing that turned into full-blown mastitis (that required antibiotics) like in the past. I feel blessed. It feels almost fairytale. I am so grateful to stand in this space.

I wish I could take credit & say I figured it out on my own or that I discovered the secret formula to making it work. But I really just feel lucky; lucky to have a ‘happy story’ to tell. I finally understand what those mothers meant when they would describe breastfeeding as “the most amazing thing in the world”. I am on that page now and what a lovely chapter it is. I feel proud to say that I have earned this joy. I have no idea how long it will last or if it is here to stay but I will savor & be thankful for every last drop. I now know that I am enough. My wish is that every mother gets to experience this elemental enjoyment and cherished connection that can arrive when achieving a rewarding nursing relationship. Whether it flourishes for weeks, months or years, it is truly life-altering & should be considered great accomplishment regardless of the struggle. I hope every mama gets to taste this ecstasy like I have. My breastfeeding adventures have left me feeling like I am truly capable of achieving anything. And that is a good thing; a very good thing that was worth fighting for every step of the way.

~If you are a nursing mama reading this today and feeling like you do not know how much longer you can breastfeed for because this path feels so up hill. I would hug you tight. I would praise you for wanting to gift your baby with “the best”. I would applaud you for getting this far. I would encourage you just keep walking; with every step you are moving forward. I would urge you to seek out the support you need. I would inspire you to just take it one day at a time because every day is a success.

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