Breastfeeding, the ICU, support, and Facebook- Support that keeps on giving

Have you seen this image?

 

When Serena Tremblay responded to a call to share breastfeeding photos on The Leaky Boob Facebook wall, she didn’t think she was sharing anything extraordinary as she sat at the computer with both her sons, Gooney Bear-17 months  and Gorgeous-3 years, with her and her husband making dinner.  It was the first breastfeeding photo she had of Gooney Bear and she just wanted to share.  Including a bit of explanation, the Alberta, Canada mom celebrated her breastfeeding success with the community on The Leaky Boob:

“A nurse helping my 1 day old son nurse while I was in the ICU following his birth. At this point I was a quadriplegic and could only feel his soft hair and skin when he was placed by my neck to cuddle. Breastfeeding is the reason he was allowed to stay with me in the hospital for 5 months while I lived on the physical rehabilitation unit learning how to walk again (complications from when he was born). It’s amazing how much baby stuff you can fit in a hospital room. We are still breastfeeding strong at 16 months! If this is not a success story I don’t know what is :D”

Within minutes there were hundreds of responses and within hours, thousands of shares.  The photo went viral, moving across the internet as an inspirational image and celebrating not just one woman’s breastfeeding success story against all odds, but celebrating every breastfeeding success story for all women.

Even if that photo captured Gooney Bear’s one and only feeding at the breast, this is a breastfeeding success story.  As it is, however, Gooney Bear is now 17 months old and still breastfeeding and these weren’t the only issues Serena and Gooney Bear had to overcome.  Together the pair battled tongue tie for 9 weeks, needing to use a nipple shield, dairy, soy, and gluten sensitivities, and all that on top of the 5 months Serena was hospitalized.

The magnitude of attention sharing this one photo received was a bit overwhelming for Serena.  To her, while this photo documents a personal success story and extraordinary time in her own life, it is also something that just is.  We don’t always realize how our stories, our struggles and triumphs, can impact someone else.  People were so inspired by Serena’s photo; moms told her they were getting ready to quit breastfeeding due to difficulties and her photo encouraged them to find a way to keep going.

“Someone else is in tears, not sure they can keep going, but they see my picture and they think they can do it, they can get through what they are struggling with.”  Said Serena when she and I talked on the phone last week.

The result of a rare birth injury, Serena was fully quadriplegic after the birth of her second son on October 19, 2010.  Her memory of everything following his birth is full of different events but lots of holes and no sequential order.  She was intubated, lucid, in the ICU, and could only feel sensation from her neck up.  The nurses and her husband would place Gooney Bear in the crook of her neck so he could snuggle and so she could feel him at least a little.

Nobody really knew what to expect for Serena’s recovery.  She regained the use of her arms on day 2 and finally saw Gorgeous again for the first time on the 24th, 5 days after the birth of his little brother.

“One of the hardest moments I’ve ever gone through, you know?  When he walked into the room, it felt like he was shy and didn’t know me anymore.  He was 22 months at that time.  After a little bit he came and sat on the bed with me and had a snuggle.  It was very hard.”  She shared.

There’s no doubt Serena Tremblay is an incredibly strong woman.  Fighting an uphill battle with her body, she never gave up.  But she says that’s not how she got through that difficult time.

So how did she get through it?  In talking with Serena one main theme emerged: support.  Her husband.  The nurses.  Her family.  The other patients on the rehabilitation floor when she moved there.  Family members of other patients.  The hospital volunteers.  The lactation consultant.  How did she get through it?  With support.  Lots and lots of support.

In the face of not knowing what was going to happen to his wife, Serena’s husband, a heavy duty mechanic, stayed with her and then with Gooney Bear.  When she was in the ICU, he slept in her bed on the maternity ward so he could be with their baby.  He advocated for breastfeeding for the pair and he and the nurses took turns helping their precious baby boy latch.  Without asking, he took pictures, a bunch of pictures and that’s how the first feed was captured on film, something for which Serena is very thankful.

Support.

The nurses on the maternity ward went above and beyond, the first nurse coming down to hand express Serena so her little boy could have his mom’s colostrum that first day.  There is much love and gratitude in Serena’s voice as she speaks of her nurses, they were heros that got her through every day.  From that time hand expressing her milk, the nurses just kept bringing the baby over on demand, whenever he was hungry, to the ICU to breastfeed until her husband or grandmother could help her or she could do it herself.

Support.

Never once did she hear anyone say “why don’t you just put him on the bottle.”  People said that, people that weren’t involved, but not the nursing staff.

Support.

It’s clear to Serena not only how she got through, but how she went on to have a positive and ongoing successful breastfeeding experience with Gooney Bear.  ”Support, support, support.  I’d like to narrow it down and say it was one person but it was everyone.  Why am I successful?  Probably only because of support and because I was determined, I just wanted to do it. Gooney Bear was able to stay with me in the hospital because I chose to breastfeed.  If we had given him bottles they would have sent him home with my husband.”

At a time when nurses, doctors, and hospitals often get a bad rap about providing insufficient breastfeeding support and sometimes down right sabotaging breastfeeding relationships, Serena’s story not only offers encouragement for moms encountering breastfeeding struggles or indeed as a testimony to the strength of the human spirit; her story also gives hope for what true breastfeeding support in the hospital can look like.  Serena’s hospital didn’t realize at the time, but they’ve gone on to provide breastfeeding support extending well beyond this one patient.

When her tube was removed and she was finally able to speak, Serena refused to say anything until she was holding Gooney Bear: she had yet to tell him she loved him.

“I wouldn’t speak to the nurses because I wanted my first words to be ‘I love you Gooney Bear.”

Through out her 5 month hospital stay, ICU for 4 days, maternity ward for 1 month, and the rehabilitation unit for 4 months; Serena was able to keep Gooney Bear with her, breastfeeding on demand and pumping for him to have expressed milk while she was at one of her regular therapy appointments.  Managing her way around the ward and even the whole hospital, Serena says how it’s amazing how much you can do in a wheelchair with a nursing pillow and a baby on your lap.  Often a breastfeeding baby.  During that time she dealt with many of the common issues breastfeeding moms face.  Once a nurse pulled a double shift and helped care for Gooney Bear during the night so she could work to get rid of a stubborn clogged duct before it turned into mastitis.  Even for the regular every day challenges of parenting life she had support, the nurses and other patients or family of patients would take turns holding Serena’s little guy so she could eat, after all, who would turn down cuddling a precious baby?

Today many of those relationships continue, their support and all that Serena and Gooney Bear gave back formed bonds of friendship that last.  Friends from the rehabilitation unit remain in their lives.  Serena and her family go back and visit the hospital staff regularly and they are all happy to see them, often crying at the progress Serena has made since she left the hospital over a year ago.  Her recovery has been remarkable and though it’s ongoing she’s accomplished so much and doesn’t take for granted what she can do.  Their family is like any other family, they like to do things every normal family likes to do, “we just have to do them a little differently” Serena shares.  Their friends understand, they were there, they have seen where they’ve come from, they supported them in the journey and in the ongoing part of that journey today.

One of the nurses that helped Serena so much is expecting her first baby soon.  Serena is looking forward to being able to support her now, encourage her in her own breastfeeding and parenting journey.  Understanding how crucial support is, Serena is already there.

“It was a horrible thing and I wish it hadn’t happen – but it did and so many good things came about from it… if my story can help one mom to get support, receive support, or give support then it was worth it.”  And so Serena shares her photo and her story.

Sometimes I am asked why people share breastfeeding photos on Facebook and other social media settings.  This is why.  It’s celebrating our personal triumphs- whatever they may be; sharing a special moment, encouraging the global community of mothers by normalizing breastfeeding, inspiring others, and giving support.  Thousands of people have been inspired and encouraged by one photo with a simple caption.  Our stories make a difference and if a picture is worth a thousand words then sharing breastfeeding photos is like breastfeeding support spreading exponentially around the world.  In the global community we’ve moved on to via the internet, sharing our photos and stories online can often be the start of support for someone.  Just ask Serena, you never know how one image can make a difference.

 

My gratitude to Serena for being so brave in sharing the original photo in the first place and then to be willing to open up and share more of her story for my readers here.  All photos in this post are the property of Serena Tremblay and used with permission.  To protect the privacy of her family, Serena opted to use nicknames for her children and as the details regarding the birth injury were not important to the point of the story, she asked that they not be included in this article.  With an open medical investigation into Serena’s case, we appreciate your respect of her privacy on these details.  ~Jessica 

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Comments

  1. Katy says:

    What an amazing journey! Thank you Serena for sharing your story. I can only wish that one day every mom would have such an amazing support network around her. You and your husband did a great job advocating for you & your son and overcoming adversity. Bravo.

  2. Rebekah Knisely says:

    What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing, Serena, and thank you for writing!!

  3. Jen says:

    That’s it, I’m a big crying mess, sitting here nursing my 12 month old. Printing this story to share with anyone who feels like giving up. What an amazing family.

  4. Cynthia says:

    This is an amazing story! Serena is truly an Inspiration and I am truly amazed that the hospital was so supportive! I don’t know if any hospitals here in NJ would have supported her BFing this way. Thank you for sharing this story. I think it needs to be shared to EVERY hospital in the world.

  5. Mindy says:

    Me too, sitting here bawling my eyes out reading this while my EBF 3.5 m/o sits on my lap babbling away. What an inspiration!

  6. Rachel says:

    Add me to the ‘crying’ crowd. Our boys were born on the same day, your story was already inspiring to me, and reading this and seeing that my little Boo Chicken and your Gooney Bear are birthday buddies, it also makes me so much more grateful for the relationship we were able to have, free of hardships. Keep sharing mama, you are such an inspiration!

  7. jessica Ferrigan says:

    simply amazing.

  8. Sarah says:

    I have no additions to such a perfectly strong & loving story. So thankful to have read it.

  9. Rachel L. says:

    What an inspiring and beautiful story. Thank you!

  10. Anna says:

    a true inspiration! May you and your family continue to be blessed!!!

  11. Becky says:

    Wow, tears at the strength and love of this amazing family. I work at a hospital. I am astounded that this hospital staff was so supportive. That is how it should be. Sometimes I feel bad for myself and what I’ve gone through to nurse my boys (inducing because they were both adopted, never producing more than a tiny bit). But my effort was nothing compared to this. She’s another example of how it truly does take a village! Thank for you sharing her story.

  12. ElisaM says:

    Beautiful and inspiring, thank you so much for being willing to share your story Serena!

  13. Jennifer PM says:

    Congratulations to Serena for being such a dedicated and loving mother, and to the hospital staff, family and friends who have helped her recover and return to a normal life. What a blessing to have encountered so much love at every turn, and how lucky her baby boy is! Thank you BfB for filling in the details of Serena’s amazing story.

  14. Kai says:

    OMG, i am in tears at what an AMAZING woman this lady is, and her support network!!! SO SO SO SO much love outpouring for her and with her!!!!
    Serena, you are truly remarkable, a beautiful beautiful soul! I hope your journey continues to be as positive as it has been, and your beautiful boys will grow to be the most amazing, loving men!!! <3 <3

  15. Zarah H says:

    This is such an amazing story and is such an inspiration. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Rosemary says:

    What a wonderful story! I read every word. Even forty years ago it was difficult to breast feed. It wasn’t popular, and friends/family didn’t know how to react. My doc tried to discourage me when we knew I would have a C-section. I mentioned reading about La Leche League, and he said, “Well, if you’re going to listen to those nuts …. !”

    So, I joined, and La Leche League mothers were just wonderful to me. Breastfeeding became one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. I loved every moment of it.

  17. Gloria Beucler says:

    As a Mother-Baby neonatal Nurse, Breastfeeding advocate, Mother of 3 breastfed babies, who are now adults, Grandmother of a beautiful 6 month old breastfeeding granddaughter, I understand how much work, love and support was involved in your journey.

    What an inspiration to nurses and Mothers alike. Now retired, I am so happy to have helped so many Moms learn to breastfeed, and encourage first time Moms and Moms to be to do what is best for you and your baby!

    May you and your family continue to thrive and inspire others with your heartwarming story!

  18. Don Lief says:

    May a male geezer comment? Fifty years ago, my ALS-afflicted wife had our first son by natural childbirth despite her declining physical condition. Several weeks later, she had an emergency appendectomy. Hospital nurses pumped her breast milk which I’d pick up for the infant who sometimes drank formula as well. When she returned home, it was normal nursing. Complicated? Not really. It’s just a matter of doing what needs to be done. Bottom line on this story: Big deal!

    • Mary says:

      Maybe they just don’t make em like they used to? You probably are from the days when we just expected this kind of brass and good character. But it seems rare these days. I’m a maternity nurse and I think your story with your wife and this story are both proof of human kindness and. endurance. Both worth celebrating!

    • lisa horstkamp says:

      what a big deal it is! and your wife’s story is a big deal too that is VERY awesome that you had a caring staff. it can be so rare!

  19. christine kangas says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this remarkable story. It brings tears to my eyes to read this. You are so lucky to have such a wonderful support team (hospital included!)

  20. Mama Mo says:

    I read this and got chills and some happy tears. What an amazing story. Thank you to Serena for sharing, and thank you to Jessica for the beautiful write-up. I love the repetition of the word “Support”. So vital, so simple.

  21. Holly says:

    Thank you for sharing your remarkable journey! What a triumph and encouraging story for other bf moms!

  22. Yvette says:

    To the old geezer, Don: 50 years ago breastfeeding was commonplace and the nursing staff of the time would not have been likely to consider doing anything other than supporting your infant in receiving his/her mother’s milk. Today Don, it simply isn’t like that. Also, this was not an appendectomy. This was many months in hospital, many of them with the mother physically incapable of holding her child to her breast. Also, had mother not breastfed, her baby would have been home with her father (and have no real relationship with her after all those months). Again Don, not an appendectomy. This story is a huge deal. It says volumes about the lengths individuals will go to, to support one woman and her child. It’s easy to say they were just doing what needed to be done but it didn’t ‘have to’ be done. It only happened because people cared. i wonder how your wife would have felt had her nurses said ‘we don’t have time for that, here are the pills to dry up your milk. Your baby can be formula fed by your husband.’ And again NOT an appendectomy.

    • April says:

      Amen to that Yvette! And to Serena, thank you for sharing your story and photos. You are an inspiration.

    • Nancy says:

      Yvette and April: You may have missed that old geezer said his wife had ALS: Lou Gehrig’ Disease. Also a very big accomplishment on this family’s part to make breastfeeding happen. Let’s celebrate all these familiies!

    • Rachel says:

      50 years ago breastfeeding was common??? You mean when they dried mothers’ milk up without asking? Very few of my parents’ era were breastfed. My grandmother says she didn’t really even know it was an option, you just formula fed because every knew it was better. So the fact that the nurses were supportive I think is a huge deal, especially when it could easily have been suggested that it would be better not to tax her already disabled body. Another wonderful story, Don, thanks for sharing.

  23. Carrie says:

    What a beautiful and inspiring story Serena…I have nursed all four of my children, my youngest is only 5 months old. Sharing photos and stories is what keeps women going , to know that they are not the only ones with Nursing issues, and I hear so many times from people “Wow, you are still Nursing, I tried but I just didn’t have enough milk…” A strong support system is pertinent. Without my Mom and Sister and my midwives, I think I might have given up that first week with my oldest son..Thanks for sharing and inspiring those Nursing Mothers to come…<3

  24. Leyla says:

    you are one hell of an amazing momma!!!!

  25. Melissa says:

    Such an inspiring story about a beautiful, amazing mother! Thank you so much, Serena, for sharing your story with us all. In this world when there is so much sad news, it is so wonderful to hear stories of people tirelessly and selflessly helping others, and about a mother’s courage.

  26. Glowless says:

    What an amazing and inspirational story!

  27. Tiffany says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and picture! I am very glad of all the support you received to make breastfeeding successful.

  28. I swear it isnt hormones but this is soo beautiful I had to cry. Amazing! Serena you are more then a mother you are a gift from God! Most mothers would give up but you knew you couldnt. I will continue to pray for you and your family.

  29. Sadie says:

    this is an amazing story, breastfeeding is not for the weak!

  30. aka jules says:

    tears…. I tell every partner to anyone who is pregnant… “if you bring her a glass of water every time she sits down to nurse, you will be doing a lot”. I’m so glad everyone was able to go above and beyond for this mama baby duo!!! support is what every new mama needs and I’m so grateful for the people in the world who supported serena and gooneybear.

    :)

  31. Ladyfrengel says:

    Amazing story from an amazing woman. Serena, thank you so much for sharing your story. Many blessings to you and your family. Namaste.

  32. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but
    after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyways, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

  33. Sue G says:

    This was soooo sweet. I loved reading this story. I am amazed at the nurses and her support system. I would only hope that if I was in the same situation that my family and the people around me would make the same decisions for me. Good for her, and her baby. You are both wonderful.

    And to the man whose wife had ALS….these are both big deals! Kudos to everyone involved (nurses, family, friends).

  34. syreeta says:

    Amazing journey , I am sitting here crying because of your bravery and wonderful family.

  35. Amy Phoenix says:

    Thank YOU, Serena!!!

  36. Megan says:

    You a truly an inspiration! I could only hope that if something like this were to happen to me, I had even half the determination you did! Truly remarkable what you did, abnd the support the nurses and your family provided to you. I am struggling to breastfeed twins right now, dealing with a low milk supply, failure to latch, and living with a breast pump attached to my side; which suddenly seems like no trouble at all. Never lose your strong will, and determination!!

  37. jodie says:

    WOW what an absolutely amazing story!!! I have my son at 26 weeks gestation he was in hospital for 2 months and for those 2 months I expressed every 3 hours and took it all to the hospital so he could get what he needed.
    When he came home I continued to breastfeed up until 9 months when he decided he no longer wanted it and the bottle was much faster to get his food.
    After reading your story I regret that I did not try harder at continuing to breastfeed him!
    I so happy you are now up and about and able to enjoy every moment with your babies!!

  38. Melissa R. says:

    I won’t lie.. I’m in tears over this story! What strength Serena showed to be able to breastfeed her little boy and to overcrome so many obstacles! My littlest is five months now and it hits close to home bc of that. I also have breastfed all three of my children. My middle was 22 months old when the littlest was born. He was also tongue tied and it took a long while to get him latched properly. I truly, truly admire her as a person and a momma! Bless you and your family!

  39. LB says:

    The cynic in me can’t help but wonder if the nursing staff was specifically instructed to take extra care of this mother as her birth injury was likely iatrogenic in nature. While she is in the icu fighting for her life and ability to breastfeed, there are hospital employed lawyers meeting and discussing how to mitigate the damage from a potentially huge lawsuit. I truly believe that the nursing staff involved cared deeply and personally about this woman’s recovery and breastfeeding success, but I also suspect they were encouraged and enabled to help her so thoroughly by a nervous management system worried to death about the backlash. “Do whatever she wants, help her as much as you can! If she believes that we saved the day then maybe she won’t sue!”
    So I’m glad she got what she needed but I also have to question the underlying motives behind such extraordinary support from the hospital.

    • Aysha says:

      Being family member of a paitent at the same hospital at the same time I believe that all the nurses actions were honest and picture of how well health care can be when when there heart and mind are in their job

  40. Cindy says:

    Wow, I work as a nurse in an obstetrical unit in a hospital and I had to share a link to this post with my unit manager to share with my co-workers. This is how to support breastfeeding!!!

  41. EeeBee says:

    I don’t want to diminish this accomplishment, just don’t forget in your praise of this woman and her support network that breastfeeding like everything else related to a woman’s body is a CHOICE.

    This was a link sent to me by a friend who was a great breastfeeder and huge champion of breastfeeding. I clicked on it hoping it would finally be a post from her that didn’t make formula feeders feel like failures, guilty or selfish.

    Please remember that breastfeeding is not for every woman or every baby. Formula is okay. Many, many babies thrive on formula. Just because this woman and her support network went above and beyond the call of duty YOU don’t have to if b/f is not a good fit.

    Again kudos to this woman and the support the breastfeeding community gives to each other.

    I support her and her efforts. Please support women who choose formula as well. The unintentional (or intentional) consequences of promoting breastfeeding does affect women who make other choices in feeding their children.

  42. EeeBee says:

    Not sure why this posted twice and with the final statement. I thought I deleted that. Oh well. My point is made.

  43. lisa horstkamp says:

    I will always remember you. that photo was what I needed to see you put passion for breastfeeding advocacy in my soul. my 14 month old nursling thanks you for sharing.

  44. Tina says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, I can only imagine how important this was to you. I know it helps me to keep going when I feel as though I am ready to give up breast feeding. Thank you Serena ! God Bless you and your family!

  45. Jeff Fouche says:

    Amazing story! I am an L&D nurse and it was so inspiring to read this story. I also teach a class on critical care obstetrics, and I would love to use a couple of these photos in the presentation. Would that be OK?

  46. Aysha says:

    My grandfather was in the hospital with her I remember how her strength give my grandmother hope that my grandfather too could thru his rehabilitation.

  47. Iris DiMaggio says:

    I would love to thank Serena for sharing her personal story. You are such an inspiration to all. I would like to challenge nurses and other support persons out there, that care for breastfeeding mothers, to think of Serena and Gooney Bear as you face various challenges in your everyday care of breastfeeding mothers and babies day to day. We need to think about our words and actions when we are in the position of support person in hospitals, clinics, physician offices…because the things we say and do can play a role in the future of each of our wonderful new mothers and babies, as well as their families. I know I will. Thanks again, and Breastfeed on, Serena.

  48. Aww reading this blog post has left me more than a bit weepy eyed – an inspirational story – I’m sharing it through my twitter and Facebook pages as we speak!

  49. Hope I haven’t posted 2 replies :/ An inspirational story that has made me cry – I’ve shared it on my twitter and Facebook pages x

  50. Amy says:

    Very inspirational

  51. Nish says:

    Very Inspiring!

  52. Tammia says:

    Thank you for sharing…this is an incredible, uplifting story!

  53. Reeyna Hassim says:

    no words can describe what you had done to your baby… your story had boost my spirit to continue breastfeed my 15 month baby boy… i pray to god to keep you and your family safe and healthy… have a speed recovery n merry christmas.

  54. Mrsh says:

    As I struggle looking for ways to get my 17 week old to take a bottle I’m completely humbled by this story, well done x

  55. Robin Dini says:

    truly incredible.

  56. Josefa says:

    Wonderful encouraging story. JP

  57. I am in tears and so proud to be a happily breastfeeding mommy trying her best to support other mommies like Serena. As a fellow Albertan mom – congratulations and thank you so much for sharing your story!