Today, we have an inspiring guest post by my friend Jamie, mother of beautiful twins, Annie and June, who have been fighters from the start. Here is the story of their nursing journey so far.
November 2011: I was pregnant and had a beautiful plan involving a birth center, Bradley classes, doulas, midwives, a natural birth in a tub, and going home hours later with my baby. Then I had an ultrasound and saw the two sweetest blobs you've ever seen and threw all those plans out the window.
I did not get to carry my twins to full term; I made it to 34 weeks before complications from Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome almost took the life of one of my girls. I did not get to have my natural birth; my babies were both breech. I did not get immediate skin-to-skin; baby A was born with breathing difficulties, her lungs not ready for this world, and baby B was growth-restricted and weighed just 2 pounds 4 ounces, and both were whisked to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Not only did my babies leave my sight during my hospital stay, but they had their own room for almost a month. But I had given up enough of my wishes during this experience, so when I was discharged, I moved in with them.
I pumped from straight out of recovery to bring my milk in, though I ached for my babies instead. I bottled and stored, washed and sterilized. I watched, every three hours like clockwork, as my colostrum, and soon enough, milk, left a syringe and traveled through feeding tubes to two tiny tummies. Watched my tiniest baby struggle to digest it, while thanking God she had the most digestible substance on Earth to learn from. I held them close as soon as I could, carefully maneuvering many wires and tubes, and pumped while gazing into their beautiful little -- oh, how little -- faces. Upon laying them down, I went from Mama Lamb to Mama Lion as I faced incredulous doctors, insisting on speedy weight gain and calorie counting. I advocated for my children and pushed my body to new limits: sleeping in a plastic recliner while healing from surgery, my circadian rhythms accounting for the difference between a normal beep and an alarm on the monitor; showering in the NICU lobby washroom; watching my girls being poked and prodded and all the while being loved and adored by the nurses. I sat patiently by with my pump and my jug of water, and asked and waited for the chance to breastfeed. It came at 7 days old.
|Syringes filled with pumped milk |
for the girls' feeding tubes
I remember the first time I fed Annie, my big baby A, at the breast. I was ready for a fight - we WILL do this, my love - but when I placed her to my breast I melted. She was a pro, a natural; all the interventions had nothing on this little person's instinct. In that moment, she changed me, and for future moments, she saved my breastfeeding relationship with her tiny sister, June. Oh June -- it wasn't quite so easy for June. She struggled much more when it was her time at the breast. She had the most delicate flutter of a suck -- both pounds of her trying to follow Annie's lead. And then the cry. And my fear of over exerting a two-pound baby. So the tube stayed in. And when Annie and I had to go home, the bottle replaced the tube. Progress towards home, but not so much towards breastfeeding. So as scared as I was to bring this peanut of a baby home, I pushed to have her out of there. One week after Annie, at 24 days old and 3 pounds 5 ounces, June joined us.
|Nursing Annie in the NICU|
While more comfortable in my element, having two babies at home was difficult, and nursing did not progress with June for some time. I missed the constant reinforcement of the nurses that I could do this and it would happen in time. Thankfully, I had endless support from friends, family, and the La Leche League, but when it came down to it in the middle of the night, it was my personal struggle. As I continued to exclusively breastfeed Annie without bottles, I would attempt to nurse June, and follow up with a bottle and a pumping session. But I was not pumping enough daily to keep up with her, and dipping into my almost depleted freezer stash would not be possible much longer. I contemplated having to make a choice to continue to nurse Annie and pump for June while also supplementing with formula. I couldn't bear the thought until a conversation with my sister left me with the mantra, "Make every drop count. Do all you can until you can't." So I relaxed and focused on what I could do right then. I held my girls constantly. I wore them. I nursed Annie and encouraged June to nurse. I poured love onto them, thick and rich.
On July 12, everything changed. June nursed at 10am, and did not follow up with her usual hungry cry 30 minutes later. She made it 3 hours, in fact! So I just nursed her again at 1:00. And then again at 4:00. And coincidentally we were attending a La Leche League meeting that night at 7:00. I had my backup bottle of pumped milk but I did not need it -- June nursed 3 times in that meeting, and as sad as it is that I had to throw away that bottle of milk, it is because June had had her last bottle ever. She was 6 weeks old, and July 12 was my due date. And like that, our breastfeeding relationship was born.
|Attempting to nurse June in the NICU|
I had other breastfeeding challenges along the way, but they all paled in comparison to the joy of our journey, and the knowledge of the gift of breast milk. Choosing to forgo bottles gave me a unique opportunity to commit to my daughters' survival needs 24/7, which has shaped our relationship to this day. And boy is it more convenient these days! They exclusively nursed (Annie for 7 months and June for 9 months when they each took to solids in their own time) and continued to nurse just as often even with the introduction of solids until 12 months. They now nurse whenever their little hearts desire. They are beautiful, healthy, bright, and hilarious 15 month olds. They are independent but cautious. They love animals and instruments and making new friends, and at the end of the day, they are comforted at the breast.
I have a deep respect for every mother's choice (because I certainly know the physical and mental strain of breastfeeding, and lets face it, motherhood in general), but that makes me no less proud -- fiercely proud -- of what I've given my children. It was the most challenging, and most fulfilling role I will ever play. And I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.I return to teaching full-time next week -- for the first time since bed rest began. I will miss the days with my girls, no doubt about it. But I don't worry about them. They are strong, they are adaptable, and best of all they have each other. And at the end of the day, they will still be comforted at mommy's breast, long after they wean.
Jamie is a kindergarten teacher with a degree in cultural anthropology. She practices most aspects of attachment parenting with Annie and June and is a devoted follower of Dr. Sears. She loves animals, the mountains, singing, and playing Irish music. She lives in Riverview with the twins, her partner Neil, and her first-born babies: boxers Gabby and Ava.