by Angela Parish
I am a proud “lactivist” and breastfeeding Mama of almost 17 month old twins. There was a time when I thought I would never get here. Not because motherhood and nourishing my babies isn’t something I desperately wanted, but because I struggled (and still struggle) with infertility. Infertility isn’t really part of my breastfeeding (and bottle feeding) journey but it is part of a more complete picture of me as a mother and as a person. My husband and I struggled the dark years of infertility from November 2009 until the conception of our first successful (In Vitro) pregnancy in August of 2011. It was a long and painful year and ten months.
Our first son, Elijah was born in April 2012. It had been my dream to nurse Elijah, exclusively. I did so for about five and a half months before introducing solids. He was developmentally advanced…sitting up unassisted at 4 1⁄2 months. We practiced babyled weaning with him and because he showed all signs of readiness, we allowed Elijah to experiment and ingest a slowly increasing variety of whole foods.
I produced A LOT of milk and so I had bloodwork done so Elijah and I could donate milk through Mothers Milk Bank. We also made several donations to private individuals struggling with supply. It was a very fulfilling time in my life as I not only fed my baby but also helped feed others in need. As we neared Elijah’s first birthday, I began to stash my milk again. We knew we wanted to pursue more children and had decided that after Elijah’s first birthday we would have another fresh in vitro cycle. This would require weaning my baby. And so by Elijah’s first birthday, he was no longer breastfeeding but did continue to get Mama’s previously pumped milk every day until he was almost 16 months old. Although I think Elijah would have been an excellent candidate for full term (extended) nursing, the choice to wean was the right one for our family and it resulted in our beautiful fraternal twin boys born in February 2014.
We had planned an HBAC (Home Birth After Cesarean) for our twin boys, Patrick and Rory. But God had other plans for our family. After about a week of prodromal labor, and what felt like an eternity of some very difficult and painful labor at home with no progress, we transferred to the hospital. I continued to make no progress for several hours until the Pitocin and epidural had been in place. When we arrived we had been turned away at Texas Children’s Hospital by the OB on call because we were a home birth transfer. However a Fellow on duty not only agreed to take me as a patient but allowed me a trial of a vaginal birth….and actually seemed excited about it. Still, I was heartbroken. I found out that I had to push in the operating room and my midwife, doula and birth photographer would not be allowed in. This was not the birth I had planned.
I was put on an operating table, forced to lay on my back on a table that was broken and push. I got my first VBAC. Rory Mark was born and immediately taken away so that I could start working on Baby B. This was not the plan. At home, I was supposed to nurse Rory to keep contractions going, and get on hands and knees if necessary because Baby B often needs encouragement. I don’t think they even showed me Rory, let alone allowed me to nurse him. One thing that I was not expecting was not being able to feel my tummy tighten from contractions once one baby was out. My stomach was so tight and stretched from pregnancy that once I gave birth to the first baby, I could no longer feel when I was supposed to push. And the nurse that was supposed to be helping me with that was not telling me when to push.
In the end, little Patrick was in distress and I ended up having an emergency cesarean. (So much that they started cutting me before the anesthesiologist was in the room and I felt EVERYTHING for the first few minutes.) Patrick was not breathing nor did he have a heartbeat when he was first born. His vitals started shortly after birth, but he was whisked away to the NICU before I could see him. He was placed on a cooling blanket treatment for four days and not allowed to nurse (or get anything other than an IV) or be picked up. I got to see the him next morning, but had to leave Rory in our hospital room because he was not allowed in the NICU. My twins, who had been together for 38 weeks 2 days, were separated for the first time.
When day four arrived and Patrick was taken off his cooling treatment, the first thing I wanted to do was nurse him. He had a lot of catching up to do! And to my surprise, my tiny boy latched on right away! It was a weak latch but a latch nonetheless. It was my intention for this baby and his twin to be exclusively breastfed. But plans change. And in order for him to come home more quickly, he needed to be given bottles of Mama’s pumped (and some donated) milk. There would have been no way for me to exclusively breast feed both babies when they were not allowed to be in the same room. And even if I could have exclusively breast fed Patrick, the NICU doctors liked to keep track of intake and I knew the bottle would get my baby home faster. I went down at every feeding I could and administered his bottles myself, also offering the breast so he could practice. I called his nurse after every feeding I was unable to make it to in order to find out how many cc’s he had consumed. It was two steps forward, one step back for twelve days. During that time I consulted with the hospital lactation consultant who basically told me I was doing everything right and while that was flattering, it was not at all helpful. I knew that once I got him home, I would need to call BABES, a very reputable and supportive lactation consultant organization here in Houston.
Patrick came home on Valentine’s Day, 2014 which was my original due date. I always nursed him first. And then I would offer the bottle. He came home on a Friday. By Wednesday, my lactation consultant, Leah, came to our home and gave me some amazing advice on how to hold him so he had a better angle. By the following Friday, he was OFF THE BOTTLE! We were so blessed! I know it would not be that easy for everyone. I was and am so grateful that we had bottles when we needed them. And I am also grateful that we no longer did. Both parts of our journey are precious and special. Both provided needed nourishment to my baby. And even when I was bottle feeding him my pumped milk, I felt this incredible connection and bond as I nourished his little body.
Patrick has now been nursing for one year, four months and three weeks. Rory has been nursing for one year, four months, three weeks and four days. Neither shows any sign of stopping any time soon and while nursing toddlers (especially TWIN toddlers) presents its own challenges, I love this season of life. They both had Mama’s milk exclusively until their first birthday as planned, consisting of mainly nursing with occasional bottles so Mama could get out for a bit. Mamas needs breaks in order to be good mamas! It has been an amazing journey providing nourishment to all three of my children and I look forward to doing it again one day.