Wednesday, April 9, 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 - e l i s a b e t h ' s s t o r y //

I'm sharing Elisabeth's story today. She shares her story of having a baby in the NICU and her passion for breastfeeding. Thank you so much for sharing, lovely mama! <3

I never realized how life-changing breastfeeding would be for me, especially considering how my breastfeeding adventure began. It has been one of the most important things I have ever done in my life, and I am so proud of myself for making it work. I find that many people do not really understand breastfeeding, and I have taken much comfort in the many women I have glimpsed online proudly breastfeeding their babies. I think it is so beautiful.

I have two sons, Beckett (3) and Hudson (14 months). They were both born premature. Beckett was born at 33 weeks, and Hudson was born at 31 weeks. Before I got pregnant, I found out that I had a uterine anomaly called uterus didelphys. In everyday terminology, I myself was born with two uteruses. I only found out before getting pregnant because I had a pelvic ultrasound to rule out pain that turned out to be appendicitis. The ultrasound findings recommended that I get an MRI because of something odd. Once I got the MRI, that’s when I found out.

I actually was lucky enough to have no trouble conceiving and I had pretty normal (albeit high risk) pregnancies with lots of monitoring. My doctors weren’t entirely convinced that anything would necessarily go wrong. Things were going so well for my pregnancy with Beckett. I thought I was going to go full term. I felt great. And then I just went into labor too early. And with Hudson, I really hoped that getting a weekly progesterone shot would help me get to full term. But I suppose my uterus could only hold so much weight.

I feel fortunate that I had very quick, though very painful labors with both of my sons. I still feel bad when I hear stories about women being in labor for days because I was only in labor for a few hours with only minutes of pushing. Yes, I was pushing out premature babies, but my boys were rather large for being so early. Beckett weighed 4 lbs 13 oz and Hudson (who was born earlier!) weighed 5 lbs 1 oz. And no matter how big or small, it hurts to push out a human, especially with no drugs!

I never imagined that my sons would have to spend time in the NICU. I never imagined how it would feel to be in a hospital room alone without your baby. I was fortunate that I was able to hold both of my sons for a brief moment before they were whisked off with the NICU nurses, who had been in the room waiting for them to be born. Now, I am so grateful that both of my boys were born healthy. They just needed time to grow and learn to eat. But the myriad of emotions I experienced is something I still can’t really explain to other people. This is why I love connecting with other NICU moms with similar birth experiences because they really understand. I never experienced the joy of having friends and family come to celebrate your baby in your room. My babies were never in my room. They had to live in their own little isolette for weeks. And I had to make that trek back and forth to the hospital. Beckett stayed in the NICU for 23 days, Hudson for 27.

I can vividly recall when the first nurse asked me if I wanted to breastfeed. Of course I did. I had always wanted to. She explained that once Beckett was stable that he could start to take my breastmilk via a little tube and that I should start pumping every 3 hours. I just listened and never turned back. Little drops of colostrum turned into vast amounts of breastmilk that soon began to overtake my own refrigerator and the refrigerator and freezer at the hospital. I set my alarm every night for 3am, so that I could pump and call the NICU to check on my baby. And then I would pump again at 6am, shower, go to the hospital, pump again, etc. The nurses commented on how much milk I had – I just figured that all moms must have that much if they followed the instructions to pump every three hours.

Once Beckett and Hudson were able to start breastfeeding, those NICU nurses were indispensable. So many of them were so helpful, as were the lactation consultants at the hospital. They encouraged me to use a nipple shield because they said the baby’s mouth would be too small. I did both times, but boy was it a pain to wean both boys off of that! But I was religious about breastfeeding them. I lived at that hospital and breastfed around the clock. Both of my boys transferred milk so well (the nurses teach you how to do pre and post weights to see how much they were taking). I really felt lucky.

I did have a few struggles with breastfeeding, but I did my best to persevere. Once I was able to bring my boys home, I started to have a pumping issue. Since I was so obsessive about pumping, I would feed them in the hospital and them pump immediately after. One nurse commented that I would have to wean myself off of pumping because I wouldn’t want to do that after every feeding. I didn’t really understand what she meant until I would feed my baby and still be so incredibly engorged afterwards. I had to use cold compresses just to get the swelling to go down after each feeding. It took a good 2 weeks to get my breasts used to the real demand of the baby. And my supply was so great because of all the pumping that I had to start block nursing and only feeding the baby on one side for each feeding. That went on for a few months until my supply really regulated itself.

I did get thrush and mastitis with Beckett, but I still nursed throughout and never supplemented. I went back to work as a high school drama teacher when he was 4 months old and pumped every day. I had such a great supply that I could never see why I would use formula. He self weaned at 16 months, just after he started walking. It was really hard for me because I loved it so much, but I could just tell that he was ready to be done.

This time around, I have more of a snuggler. My Hudson and I have a really great Hudson breastfeeding relationship right now. Because he was born in January, I was lucky to be able to stay home with him for almost 8 months before I went back to teaching in September. I am still pumping at work right now (Hudson is 14 months) and Hudson gets bottles of my pumped milk while I am away. He also still wakes up at night to nurse, but I secretly treasure these sessions because I know that they won’t always be there. I am exhausted for the most amazing reason.

One amazing side effect of all the pumping I did while my sons were in the NICU is that I left the hospital both times with BAGS full of frozen breastmilk. I seriously probably had around 300-400 ounces just from those 3-4 weeks my babies had to stay in the hospital. I knew that it was great to have a freezer stash, especially as a working mom, but I also knew that I would never need all that extra milk because I just planned on breastfeeding the whole time. That’s when I did some research and decided to become a donor for the International Breastmilk Project. They use donor milk for premature babies in the U.S. and overseas. I felt like that was the perfect thing for me to do with all of my extra milk. I donated my milk from Beckett and I continue to donate milk from Hudson. Since there are many times when I feel like my body failed me with my pregnancy stories, I have to remind myself that my breastfeeding story is really so amazing and that I should be honored that I have been able to exclusively breastfeed both of my sons AND donate extra milk to babies who really need it.

I am a humble person in most areas of my life, but this is one area where I feel like I am allowed to be proud. I really think that breastmilk works wonders – especially with premature babies. But it is about so much more than that. The bond I have experienced with both of my sons is indescribable. I treasure it so much. And I love hearing the stories of other moms really persevering through the difficulties to make breastfeeding work for them. I think it is the most amazing gift.   

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