Dear Nurse Julie,
You were in my life for about two and a half days 13 years ago, I’d never met you before nor have I seen you since. It may have been brief but you made a huge difference in my life and I owe you a deep debt of gratitude.
I had prepared so much for the birth, read everything I could get my hands on including an OB text book, took a childbirth education class, and practiced Bradley method relaxation for weeks at home with The Piano Man. We knew what we wanted for our birth and after a complicated pregnancy, we were prepared to fight for it. When I went into labor at 41 weeks and 4 days we were ready. The Piano Man was an amazing advocate for me, actively intercepting anyone that entered the room and questioning every procedure (no enema!) while helping me relax and focus on the work of birthing our daughter. Together, he and I made a great labor and birthing team. I’m pleased to say that 5 babies later and one on the way, we still do.
Our bags were packed, there was film in the camera (remember that? Cameras that used film?), we were so ready to have a baby. Except for one thing: we had done nothing to prepare for breastfeeding. The thought hadn’t even occurred to us. We knew that was how we were going to feed out baby once we had her in our arms but we read nothing, took no classes, and never even thought to see if there was anything we needed to know before breastfeeding. Both of our mothers had breastfed, we knew a few friends that had so really, how hard could it be?
All our nurses were nice enough and the birth was mostly amazing with some traumatic experiences. Earth Baby was born at 6.39am and we met you shortly after with the shift change. Instantly I felt connected to you, your smile, your warmth, and your genuine congratulations on our baby as if you hadn’t seen hundreds of births and newborns every week. After I was all stitched up, hydrated, and my blood loss dealt with you asked me an incredibly important question: “are you ready to breastfeed your baby?”
Nobody had mentioned it. I knew it was in my chart because something I had read about birth plans suggested to ask for it to be put in my chart. Still, you were the first to say anything about it. Having just lost a lot of blood with a partially retained placenta and manual D&C, I was feeling weak and more tired than I had ever felt in my life. Holding my baby, let alone breastfeeding her, completely wore me out. Like a dear in headlights I told you yes, but only because I remembered that it was the plan. Your response: “good, because she’s hungry and I think she’s ready to eat well for you” jarred me out of feeling my exhaustion and into the reality that my baby needed me to meet her needs. I really was ready to feed my baby.
I don’t remember how long you stayed in my room but somehow, you made me feel like I was the only mom that needed your attention. Perched on the side of my bed, you helped me get into a position I found comfortable, plumped plenty of pillows to support Earth Baby and I, encouraged me to drop the shoulder of the hospital gown, and talked me through latching Earth Baby for the first time. Your encouragement for how well we were doing, what a healthy strong latch Earth Baby had, and suggestions for positions made me feel like not only could I breastfeed my baby, I already was and doing great! You answered every one of my questions, no matter how basic or obvious the answer may have been, as though it was a pleasure to answer my important concerns with patience and care. Even when Earth Baby was latched and I was comfortable, you stayed and chatted, telling me about your 2 boys, that you had breastfed your second one but not the first, and telling me about how you were drawn to OB nursing and how you loved helping moms.
Once I was moved to the postpartum wing, you continued to visit me. You’re ongoing support regarding everything I was experiencing from peeing for the first time after giving birth to changing my baby’s diaper to breastfeeding helped grow my confidence that I could, in fact, take this baby home and not kill either of us. When I told you my nipples were hurting you showed me how to position my baby’s chin lower on my breast so she took a big mouthful of nipple. When I was still drained from the birth, you explained different positions and helped me practice using them. Constantly considerate, you never touched me without asking and receiving my permission first and even then you rarely handled my breast choosing instead to carefully and patiently explain how I could do it myself. I can’t even begin to tell you how far that went in helping me not be afraid or feel strange about my own body. From the bottom of my heart I thank you for that gift, it has remained with me to today, growing stronger over the years.
When the grumpy nurse, who’s name I can’t recall because for the last 13 years I’ve referred to her as “grumpy nurse,” told me I was starving my baby because my breasts were empty and not meeting my baby’s needs, I cried. A lot. Earth Baby had lost over a pound in just a matter of 2 days and the grumpy nursery nurse that made me cry told me I’d never be sent home with my baby if I didn’t agree to give her formula. Oh the things I know now! All those fluids we had in labor… but back then I had now idea. I caved. Still weak from the blood loss, recovering from a 4th degree tear, and afraid my baby was hurting I agreed to a bottle of formula. My heart ached, I never meant to starve my baby and my fears were confirmed, I was already failing as a mother. She whisked my baby away, a satisfied smile on her face as she told me I was making a good choice for the good of my baby, and ran off with my daughter to feed her the bottle of formula. I sobbed. You came in shortly after and was surprised Earth Baby wasn’t with me. When I told you why I saw the storm clouds gather in your normally incredibly friendly eyes and you told me you’d be back. What I didn’t know is that you must have marched out to that nurses station, called our pediatrician, asked him about the situation, advocated for our breastfeeding relationship, asked him to call the nursery, and headed down there to get my baby back for me. When you walked in about 15 minutes later with grumpy nursery nurse and my daughter, I had already spoken with our pediatrician who called me to assure me our baby was going to be fine breastfeeding and at this point did not need any formula. He told me that he had spoken with you and trusted you that Earth Baby and I were doing great breastfeeding, that my milk was coming in, and that I was already a pro. I cried again. Someone believed in me.
Somewhere I still have the picture of you and I and Earth Baby just before we were discharged. My face is red from crying having just gotten Earth Baby back. You had told me that we were going to be fine, that I was a natural, that Earth Baby was lucky to have me as her mom, and that you enjoyed working with me. That’s what you told me. Some many had dismissed me as a young mom and at 20 I was, but you stuck with me respectfully teaching me as though my age was of no consequence. What you taught me without directly saying so was that I could feed my baby, my body was amazing, I didn’t need to be afraid of my breasts, and I could advocate for myself and my baby. My husband believed in me but I knew he was just as clueless as I was. But you? You were not only an experienced mother, you were a nurse that saw mother after mother with new babies and you believed in me. If you said I could do it, I probably really could.
Today, 13 years later, I owe a lot to you. For starters, my breastfeeding relationship with Earth Baby which lasted a year and then extending on to 4 (now almost 5!) babies. Thanks to you, today I now help support other mothers with their birthing and breastfeeding journeys. Thank you for supporting me even when I wasn’t sure how to support myself. Thank you for giving me the courage to be the kind of mother I naturally was but was insecure about stepping into. Thank you for being kind and encouraging when I was most vulnerable. Thank you for making a difference in my life and the lives of my children. You have touched more than you know. I want to be like you and just love helping moms.
I hope it shows.
The Leaky Boob