Of course, by this time I was a nursing pro. I was worried about a lot of things in anticipation of the girls’ arrival, but breastfeeding wasn’t one of them. When Norah and Cecily arrived at 35 weeks and landed themselves in the NICU, I started pumping like a lunatic. I tracked everything in an app on my phone – it was a sorry excuse for cuddling my newborns but I was proud to see my production increase and when the bab
ies were “cleared” to nurse I was more than ready for them. Except they were little babies with these tiny mouths and I had these gigantic boobies with these enormous nipples. It felt like I was trapped in some kind of twisted puzzle – how can we fit THIS in THERE? Hidden behind these ridiculous screens in the NICU, I tried to use nipple shields, I was patient as the hospital’s lactation consultants stuffed my boob in their faces, but mostly I tried to get my babies HOME, which at the time meant pumping and bottle feeding and weight gaining and endless negotiating with doctors.
We followed Katie’s mantra – “Feed the baby, protect the supply” and finally our girls came home. By this point, I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be nursing these girls, even though I was making enough milk to feed a small army of babies. But between the physical incompatibility of the small babies:big boobies and the sheer logistics of nursing two needy newborns while caring for a banshee toddler, I didn’t see how I could make it work. I was ready to quit, but I made an appointment with Katie a few days after we were home so that I could rest assured that I had given it my best shot. She immediately got down to business – yep, they were small (and adorable!) – you definitely need shields, oh, you only have one, no big deal here’s one in my bag – here we go and now put this hand here – Norah’s on this side – Cecily’s on this side – put that hand there – and let’s weigh them, WOW, Norah transferred 2.5 oz and Cecily transferred almost 3 oz and they’re both back to birth weight – good job mama, my work here is done! It took Katie less than an hour to call my bluff and prove that I could nurse these girls. So much for being let off the hook.
So we nursed. Or mostly we pumped and bottlefed around the clock. I was back at breastfeeding support group – this time I was often THAT MOM. Katie held one of my screaming babies while I struggled to nurse the other until she finally said JUST FEED THEM AT THE SAME TIME and as I was listing all the reasons that I couldn’t she plopped the other baby in my lap and latched her on. Well then. Another week I went to group convinced that the girls weren’t getting enough milk. I was in a crazy spiral of nursing and pumping and supplementing. Katie made it simple – we did a transfer weight. Both girls took over 3 oz. Stop the madness – no more pumping and supplementing! It was just all so difficult, but every week at group I would look around at the other Mamas who were also trying to so hard for their babies and I would tell them – Keep doing it! Just wait – these newborns will become babies and nursing will be wonderful! You’ll love it! Trust me, I know! I said those words again and again so that I would remember myself.
For weeks and weeks, nursing HURT. My nipples were a mess, blistered and cracked and bleeding. The shields were ripping me up, I was afraid that I had thrush. I called Katie and her answer was simple. STOP USING THEM. But I couldn’t… until one day I was upstairs and the girls were crying and I was too tired to go down to get the shields so I just kept trying and trying and trying and… Norah did it. It was two more weeks of weaning from the shields – Norah could do to the right but not the left, but Cecily could do either although not consistently. They both carried on terribly and Norah would often look at me in shock and horror as if to say “MOM! That’s your NIPPLE! That’s SO GROSS!” Finally we were off the shields, but they still had shallow latches and even after 10 weeks I ended a lot of nursing sessions in tears. I made a final appointment with Katie. She watched us nurse. She made me change positions, and then change positions again til we found one that hurt less. She instructed me to let my left side rest a few days to heal. I finally asked honestly – “Can I do this? I mean, can I really do this, is this justcrazy?” She repeated what she had been telling me all along. YES you can do this. You ARE doing this. Being a mom IS crazy, nursing or not. I made her give me a timeline of when thing would be “better” and she made me a deal. It took six weeks with Arthur, so the girls deserved 12 weeks – 6 each – to figure things out. A completely arbitrary deadline, but I agreed and of course, in their eleventh week something just clicked – and we’ve been (mostly) happily nursing ever since.
My breastfeeding journey is really the story of how I became a Mama. Nursing Arthur taught me that I was not in control. I could plan and try but there were a lot of things in my life that I just couldn’t make happen. I had to listen to my baby and find a way to work with him. My most important job was to be his Mama and help him figure out this crazy world and his place in it. Through nursing Norah and Cecily, I learned that I can do hard things for my kids. That when it’s really important, I can step up – I can sacrifice, I can endure physical discomfort, I can persevere to make sure that they have the best. And now, a bit removed from the hardest parts, I see all the beautiful blessings that have come from nursing my babies. The countless hours I spent stroking Arthur’s cheek, marveling at Norah’s long eyelashes, cuddling with my youngest daughter Cecily and discovering that all threeof my babies have an extra little fold behind their ears (just like their Daddy). That’s not even mentioning the incredible health benefits – my preemie girls are now roly poly babies! And there’s more – like when Arthur rubs Cecily’s head while she’s eating and says, “Oh Ceci, Mama milky SO GOOD! Milky delicious!” Or when he runs from another room yelling, “Mama! Norah’s crying! She needs milky!” Or when his toy took a tumble and he exclaimed, “Oh no! Bert is hurt! It’s okay – I nurse him!” and proudly lifted his shirt. Don’t you know – nursing makes everything better? Isn’t that the truth.
I am your stretch, your coach, your teacher. I am not your mother, your husband or your friend. Well, I am a little bit your friend because I happen to truly love a lot of you guys, but I am that really kick ass friend who always tells you like it is and doesn’t blow smoke up your ass.
I’m not your support network, not really.
Abby mentions time and time again how I “fixed” breastfeeding for her. I don’t take credit for that. I would never take credit for that. I am certainly not there breastfeeding TWO babies every 2 hours while wrangling a 2 year old crazy cute man. Honestly, I don’t even know if I could do that…
When Abby was pregnant with the twins, she made an absolute decision to breastfeed her babies. There was no question about it. I didn’t make that choice for her. A conviction that strong could only come from a mother growing two people at once.
When Cecily and Norah made an early debut, Abby made the decision to pump as much as she possibly could. Even though she was sick and tired and sore. I didn’t wake up and pump for her. She did it.
So, when I had the pleasure of meeting those precious identical twin girls, my job was not to get Abby to breastfeed them. My job was to stretch Abby. To remind her of her potential, her strength and her determination. I showed her via a digital scale display what she could do. I told her not to be scared that they were “so small” and that her nipples we “so big.” And for the record, if you ever meet Abby, you may look at her funny and wonder if she has Vienna sausages where her nipples should be because she describes her boobs as such a freak show, but nipples come in all shapes and sizes and hers are nothing to write Guinness about.
Sure, when I encouraged Abby to nurse both girls directly on the breast I helped her position, prop, latch and get comfortable, but what I really did was show her what she could have done all along.
I saw the exhaustion in her eyes and her husband Art’s eyes. I saw the fear of keeping 2 little NICU babies alive. A supporter, a mother, a friend may have given Abby the out. Saved her and her husband from this torture. Someone who supports you doesn’t want to see you hurting. They want to protect you from pain, exhaustion and grief.
Someone who stretches you pushes to you attain the goals you set for yourself. Someone who stretches you doesn’t let you quit when shit gets hard, they remind you of why you are doing it in the first place. They try to protect you from wasting your potential.
And I stretch women multiple times a day, and it is absolutely self-satisfying to do. I get my fix everyday when I see that look on a woman’s face when she knows SHE is doing it. SHE didn’t quit. SHE is breastfeeding her baby. It’s like boob crack for me.
After I helped get Abby’s babies nursing, I saw that shift. I saw the surprise, the confidence, the reassurance. It was like a reawakening to the commitment Abby always had deep inside of her. And, Art saw me stretch Abby. He saw that Abby didn’t need to be saved from breastfeeding, she needed to be saved from herself.
Every week when Arthur was a baby, Abby came to group to get an injection of confidence from me and the other moms. A kick in the butt that would last at least 7 days. With the twins, Abby came and injected that confidence in everyone around her. People looked at her with Norah and Cecily stuffed together into the Moby wrap looking like 2 boobs themselves and said, “well, damn! She’s nursing TWO babies! I can certainly nurse ONE!”
Do you have any idea how much pleasure, satisfaction and fulfillment I get watching mothers I coached and stretched and pushed do just that for other mothers?
I will let you in on a little secret though. Sometimes, I let my faith in a breastfeeding mother override my skills. The last visit I had with Abby and the girls is a perfect example.
Abby was off the shields. She was still having nipple pain and she just couldn’t get those girls nursing together comfortably. I moved and shifted and switched and propped and no matter what I did, I couldn’t get it comfortable for her.
Abby looked me in the eyes that day and said, “Can I do this? I mean, can I really do this, is this just crazy?”
Now, I had two ways I could respond to this question. I could have given her the medical, cover my ass response. The response that implies that if I can’t make it comfortable, then nobody can, certainly not little ‘ol Abby who has only nursed a measly 3 babies.
I could have said “Well, this may just be how it always is. I can’t fix your latch, so it may never get fixed because I am God and if God can’t fix it then nobody can.”
And, sure that may have been a fleeting thought in my head. I didn’t know exactly HOW the latch was going to get comfortable after all. So it would be the most honest, safe and politically correct thing to say.
But if I had chosen to say that, the subtext would be, “Abby, stop trying now. It is hopeless. Accept pain or quit.”
But, I didn’t say that. Do you know what I did? I took a huge leap of faith on Abby. I took a deep breath and I….well, I lied kind of.
I said, “YES Abby. You can do this. You ARE doing this. You have come so far and you are so close and before you know it you will be nursing these girls to six months, then a year….then who knows.”
I didn’t have the magic fix for her. I didn’t know how to make her latches perfect. In the case of small mouths, biggish nipples, time was all that was going to fix it. But the one thing I was 100% certain of was that ABBY would make this work. ABBY would continue on until things were great.
And you know what? I was right to put all my faith into Abby that day. She did it. Abby continued and continued and waited and waited and today, as I publish this story, Norah and Cecily are celebrating 6 months of being fed exclusive breastmilk from their mommy almost entirely directly from the breast.
So is the moral of the story provide 100% breastmilk? Hell no. The moral of this story is set your goals, commit yourself to them and fight like hell to reach them. When you stumble, get scared, or retreat, have a support network who loves and supports you, but certainly have a stretch network that pushes you, challenges you and believes in you.
Abby can now bask in the satisfaction of knowing that she achieved what most people, including herself at times, thought was impossible…times 3. She is unstoppable, invincible, phenomenal. She has grown as a mother, a woman and a human in ways some of us never have the opportunity to.
The fact that she has 3 healthy babies that were fed her magic milk is a delicious bonus.
Did you read Part 1 of Abby’s Story? Read it here: Abby’s Story Part 1: The Crazy Banshee