Tuesday, March 11, 2014

// a d v e n t u r e s i n b r e a s t f e e d i n g - a n n a ' s s t o r y //

Anna's story hits close to home for me.  I too, dealt with some unexpected events after Elliot's birth and it really rocks your world.  I'm so thankful to Anna for sharing her experience. Please read her story and you can follow along with her at Knit One Yarn Over.  I just saw that she started a series called "NICU Diaries"  We can't change what we've been through, but when we share our stories it can help us and others feel less alone.  And that's what it's all about.  Thank you Anna for sharing!  <3

Our breastfeeding story is one of finding great comfort in the midst of great difficulty.
Before my son was born I knew that I wanted to breastfeed. I was interested in an attached style of parenting and looked forward to the special bonding that breastfeeding would foster. Now my son is 9 months old. He has had four surgeries over three different hospital stays and through it all our breastfeeding relationship has been one of the greatest sources of comfort for both him and me.
My husband Alex and I welcomed Johnny on May 30th, 2013. He was a beautiful, 9 and a half pound baby who showed no interest in eating and who became increasing lethargic and jaundiced as his first 24 hours of life on this side of the womb went by. The day after he was born he had only nursed 3 times and had not passed his first stool, his belly was distended and he was not waking up to eat. It was then we discovered that he had a birth defect called imperforate anus. That means he was born with no rectal opening. He was rushed to the children’s hospital in our area and we waited for our baby to go into surgery.
This was my darkest hour. I felt like my world was ending. The only thing I could do was hold my baby’s hand through the window of his incubator and cry. Only minutes after we got to the NICU a nurse handed me a bin of pumping equipment and told me to pump. I remember thinking that was the last thing I wanted to do, but did it anyway. I got a few drops of colostrum which the nurse collected in a syringe and put in the freezer. My raw emotions and inexperience as a first time mothers drove any thought of my milk supply from my head, and if it wasn’t for the NICU nurses and my mom constantly texting me to pump, my milk would have never come in. I began a schedule of pumping every 2-3 hours and over the course of a week watched my supply come in as it was collected in storage containers and frozen until Johnny could use it.
Johnny’s surgery to create a colostomy went well. His recovery, though good, was slow. It took him about 24 hours to come off his breathing machine, which is much longer than we expected. And even after he was breathing on his own it took a long time for the effects of the anesthetic to wear off, so he was very sleepy. The number one goal now was to get him eating on his own so that we could go home. I always thought breastfeeding would be easy, it looks like the most natural thing in the world. But it is hard, and frustrating, and takes a long time to prefect. There I was holding Johnny, the lactation nurse was trying to coax his mouth open, one nurse was holding a pillow under Johnny, and another nurse was shoving my breast into his mouth. It was really comical how many people it took to breastfeed him. And after all that effort Johnny would just fall asleep. Alex had a little more success giving him pumped milk in a bottle. He would strip him down to his diaper to try to keep him awake. Johnny took a little, but it was a struggle. I had wanted to breastfeed my baby so badly, but it seemed like it was never going to happen. I was resigned to Johnny being bottled fed if it only meant that we could go home.
Finally, after 2 days (it felt like 2 years) of attempting to breastfeed, then attempting to bottle feed, then giving him whatever was left in the bottle through his NG tube, our nurse decided to leave Johnny’s IV out. I don’t know if it was a coincidence, or if being off IV fluids helped him feel hungry, but something just clicked, and he was nursing. The night that he turned this corner I sat watching Alex snuggle with Johnny and I cried tears of joy. Finally something had gone right and soon we would be on our way home.
By the time we were home from the NICU Johnny was nursing like a champ and gaining about an ounce a day. All he wanted to do was nurse. I was glad, I felt like we were getting to make up for all the separation we went through during that first difficult week.

When Johnny was 5 months old it was time for his second surgery to create a rectal opening and connect his colon to it. Johnny couldn’t nurse for the 6 hours leading up to surgery. I brought my pump to the hospital but only had to use it a few times. By the end of that day Johnny was able to nurse, and within 48 hours had regained his normal appetite.
Our third hospital stay was just a couple of months ago for Johnny’s colostomy take-down. We were told this would be a longer hospital stay than the last (5-7 days) and that it would be a harder recovery for Johnny because his entire GI system would be shut down. So we were prepared for difficult week, but our spirits were totally crushed when we ended up being in the hospital for 16 days! And I couldn’t nurse Johnny for almost all that entire time. After they reversed Johnny’s colostomy we waited to his first poopy diaper to know that his colon was working the way it was supposed to. It took a little over 24 hours for him to poop, and once that happened I was given to go ahead to try nursing him. Even those 24 hours of separation had been difficult for us, so it felt great to be nursing him. But the nursing was followed by projectile vomiting.
For the next 10 days we watched Johnny continue to not be able to keep food down. His belly was distended and tender, they needed to put an NG tube down his nose to keep his stomach drained, and he had a fever. All these things pointed to a bowel obstruction. After a few sets of x-rays the doctors determined that’s what was going on and we prepared for Johnny to go back into surgery.
I was pumping every 3 hours throughout all of this. Pumping in and of itself is a real pain in the neck, but pumping because your baby is too sick to nurse is the worst. On days when he was more alert and wanted to nurse he became so frustrated that I wasn’t feeding him that I couldn’t even hold him. But most of the time he was feeling too sick to even want to eat. Breast milk is often called liquid gold and it’s touted as the best remedy for whatever ails a baby. But in this case it wasn’t helping. As a mother it was so heartbreaking to not be able to comfort Johnny in the way we were both accustomed to. But finally after being in the hospital for 14 days he was able to keep food down and his GI began functioning normally.
We’ve had other more typical struggles in our breastfeeding relationship; sore nipples, Johnny biting me, I’m dealing with a plugged duct as I write this. There are some days that I don’t get anything done because Johnny is needy and wants nothing but nursing. Some nights I am up 6 times with him nursing. He won’t take a bottle and hasn’t shown much interest in solid foods yet, so I am on as his source of nourishment 24/7. But whenever I start to feel that breastfeeding is hard or frustrating, or that I’d like a break, I remember the times that I haven’t been able to breastfeed my baby and it reminds me to never take this gift for granted.

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