Monday, November 11, 2013

//Adventures in Breastfeeding- Gemma's Story//

Gemma's story is incredibly inspiring and encouraging!  I am so happy for her "silver lining" through out it all!  I can truly see her being such a help to other mamas who have gone through something similar.  Thank you for sharing, lady!  You are an inspiration, for sure!  Her ig is @sweet_mama_gee <3

To tell our breastfeeding story I need to go back a few years first. I guess there’s a background story to lots of things in life. I was 25, living back in my home town on the sunshine coast Australia after a few years in Sydney. Studying to become a nutritionist/dietitian and living with my partner and our dogs, the usual kind of mid-twenties life. This is when I found out I had severe endometriosis and had 2 surgeries that year to remove large masses of the disease from my pelvic region and bowel. I was referred to a specialist because of the severity of my illness, and he told me flat out (as these kinds of surgeons often do) that if I had already had children he would have recommended a hysterectomy for me, at 25. So he told me to start trying to get pregnant, and fast if I wanted any chance. Just one opinion I know, but enough to shatter someone! I sunk into a depression in the year following the diagnosis, my partner wasn’t ready to start trying for a family, I lost motivation with my studies and became very confused about what life was all about. Luckily for me, the following year we finally did start trying to conceive, and we tried for 15 months before heading back to my specialist’s office for our first round of IVF. I wouldn’t call myself a complete ‘earth mama’ type but I certainly had my reservations about conceiving this way, but when something is threatened to be taken away from you, you want it at all costs. I knew that I could make up for the unnatural conception by having a beautiful natural birth and making peace that way. That’s if I fell pregnant of course, which we were lucky enough to, on our first go (with borrowed funds) and only 1 embryo surviving the process! I couldn’t believe my luck, here I was pregnant only 2 years after all the troubles with my health. 
My pregnancy was quite uneventful, I continued working part-time but stopped studying so I could take it easy and not carry any extra stress. At 33 weeks my blood pressure spiked and despite staying in hospital a few nights and a big cocktail of blood pressure drugs, at 34+4 weeks our little boy ‘Arlo’ came into the world, delivered by emergency caesarean under general anaesthetic, decided by my OB who pulled the pin on my pregnancy due to the onset of preeclampsia (and the fact I only have 1 kidney). My natural water birth plan went out the window, that’s fine. What wasn’t fine was having 5 spinal block attempts and finally being thrown into theatre, knocked out, waking up and not seeing my baby for 4 hours, and only being allowed to hold him the next day. He was breathing fine, and 34 weekers are pretty tough, however the general anaesthetic had made him really sleepy and given him low vitals initially so he was placed in the humidicrib, whilst I was confined to my bed a few doors down. The separation was a killer. I felt like I’d been ripped apart from the inside out, and I mean emotionally aswell as physically. I sunk very low in the first few days after the birth. They sent a psychologist to talk to me, and I explained to her then very clearly that I was completely traumatised by the birth and the separation from my baby. It was a theme that carried on for a long while afterwards... but I think on the second or third day of struggling, something clicked in my head and I was able to put away the trauma, I stored it in a careful place in the back of my mind, to deal with and process at a later time. I was drowning, I was physically harrowed and had a newborn in special care trying to learn how to feed, something had to give. It was a great choice. I knuckled down and was able to be there 110% for my boy. I had always planned to breastfeed, my studies in nutrition had educated me quite thoroughly on the benefits of it, to mother/child and society as a whole, infact I’d written a few essays on the topic and the pressures surrounding its promotion.  So here began my adventure in breastfeeding. We had missed out on that initial skin-to-skin contact, I had watched the amazing  WHO ‘breast crawl’ video countless times on youtube, and dreamed of having the same experience with my sticky freshly born baby, crawling his way up my tummy to latch on for the first time, as nature intended. I grieved for the loss of that experience. What I had instead were scheduled 3 hour tube feedings and every so often I was allowed to offer him the breast to see if he had the strength to suck. I knew how important skin-to-skin was, so at every opportunity I held him to my bare chest. I held him for every feed, even the ones where he wasn’t allowed to suck and just slept through the tube feed. I expressed every 2hours, it was gruelling, those double pump hospital machines became my worst enemy and my baby’s best friend. In the beginning I was trying to wake myself for his scheduled feeds through the night, but setting alarms and trying to survive on 4 hours sleep in my condition wasn’t a good thing. Eventually I gave in and allowed the nurses to tube feed him alone for the 11pm and 2am feeds. When I was discharged from hospital a week after the birth, I had to leave him behind in special care. It was the worst moment of my life walking out of those doors. I’ve never lost a child and that’s the only thing I could think of that would feel worse. Arlo stayed in special care for another week after that, I spent 16 hours a day up at hospital and would go home, express, sleep, shower, eat and start the day again. But we made it. Even though he lost 10% of his birth weight in those 2 weeks, he learnt to suck and latch well, and by the time he went home we were exclusively breastfeeding. He was skinny, but thriving. I did top up feeds with expressed milk for a few more weeks I think. To maintain my supply I have always eaten well, and sporadically supplemented with fenugreek which I found worked really well. 
We hit a bit of a hurdle when he was about 3 months old, he had been having a dummy (pacifier) for naps during the day, and he had reverse cycled himself with feeds so was waking and feeding hourly through the night and going 5 hour stretches in the day without wanting to feed. I was frustrated and felt helpless, so went to see a lactation consultant who basically told me what I already knew was going on... and so we got rid of the dummy. It seems he had developed a bit of nipple confusion. I also had an extremely fast let-down and he struggled with that for a few months, going out places would stress me out because he would get frustrated and not feed and just cry and cry. I was also battling post natal anxiety at this point, those safely hidden away feelings about the birth had unsurfaced and manifested themselves into anxiety. I would stress over how much Arlo would feed, if he was getting enough, about his sleeping, about him crying in the car, I didn’t want any visitors to the house, I felt like everything was out of control and I was desperately trying to gain it back. I had joined a mother’s group but I don’t know if it just made it worse, because those things can be quite competitive (especially where feeding and sleeping are concerned). I saw my GP and he gave me a referral to a mental health nurse who specialized in post natal disorders, and I also attended a birth trauma healing session, both which helped me immensely in overcoming my anxiety. 
The next few months we carried on breastfeeding, found out Arlo had a mild tongue tie but left it be, if anything I think it was only a problem when he was struggling with my let-down, as he seemed to feed well at other times. I initially had Arlo in a bassinet next to the bed but by about 6 months we had converted to a sidecar cot – cosleeping arrangement, which helped me cope with the night feedings alot better. By about 9 months he & I had moved out of the main bedroom and into his nursery, on a mattress on the floor. I loved this new arrangement, it allowed me to breastfeed him to sleep at bedtime and leave him in his room, without the fear of him rolling off the bed. Then when my bedtime came an hour or two later I could go to sleep separately in bed with my partner (who loves to cosleep I might add, but he snores and is a heavy sleeper and we have the dogs in bed too), when Arlo awoke for his first night feed I would simply move over to his room and sleep half the night in there, so I didn’t need to fully awake for him to feed. We still carry on this arrangement now, slightly different as he is now in a king single sized bed, low to the ground so he can climb on & off himself. We were also becoming quite experienced babywearers by this stage, with a variety of wraps and carriers, and could breastfeed on the go wherever we might be. My favourite would probably be being able to do a whole grocery trip with Arlo in the ring sling breastfeeding for his afternoon nap! So much easier than trying to shop with a determined toddler nowadays (!) 
I love being the mama that I am to Arlo, I couldn’t imagine it any other way, because this is what I was always destined to be, I have found my purpose now. And I love his beautiful soul and the gentle boy he is growing into. He’s 21 months and still breastfed, probably more than I’d like during the night but hey! you just gotta roll with it. It won’t last forever. Surrendering myself to motherhood was one of the best things I’ve done, night wakings and all. It’s not so bad if you’re not wishing for something else. I think I will just let him self-wean now, he’s very attached to the breast and still needs it to go to sleep at night. Which some might see as a burden, I can’t/don’t go out at night anymore but instead I get to lay down with my little cute freshly bathed boy and watch him fall asleep to the sound of my voice, soothed at the breast. Breastfeeding a toddler I also love that feeling of being able to calm him so easily after a tantrum or a fall at the playground, a special cuddle at the breast and I can see the calm wash over him. When Arlo fractured his leg at 13 months, the breast sure came in handy then!  I would love to have another baby now (or 6 months ago even) and I think it might be the combination of my infertility and the breastfeeding hormones that’s stopping that from happening, but I’m not stressed. I know I’m doing what’s best for Arlo and I have faith that everything happens for a reason, the universe brought me good fortune before I’m sure it will again! Next year I will probably return to work and/or study a few days a week, and we will continue to breastfeed, I am hoping he will adapt well to day naps without the breast so we shall see! 
I’m so proud that we were able to breastfeed, I think it’s important to recognize that that is ‘my’ victory, it might not turn out that way for some mamas, and I’m hoping this post doesn’t make them feel worse... but me, I needed that little win because we had faced so much adversity and being able to breastfeed Arlo was the silver lining on my dark cloud, it was the ONE thing that my body did naturally, I couldn’t conceive or birth my child in the natural way, but I sure can nourish and feed him just like mother nature intended.  
In my breastfeeding journey I have also discovered a new passion, and I would like to turn it into a career eventually... upon finishing my nutrition degree I hope to train as a lactation consultant or breastfeeding counsellor, I think combining knowledge of proper and up-to-date nutrition for mother & child with breastfeeding advice is a great idea, and something that’s lacking in mainstream health systems. 

Thanks for reading!

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