When There Is No Glow- Nymphai and Nurturing Our Own Healing

by Jessica Martin-Weber
I have a tattoo on my upper right arm that starts at a three pointed scar on my inner arm and wraps up and around my shoulder. A twisty, viney type of tree with swirls, knots, and sharp looking points. The tree looks like it has grown around many obstacles and against the wind. It isn’t a tall, straight tree, it is a tree with gnarls and curves, marked by it’s struggle to survive. A beautiful tree that springs from a scar in the soil. Flapping their wings, 6 birds that may have just been resting on the curved and hunched branches of this tree are taking flight. Delicate but obviously powerful, these birds are majestic and strong. I dreamed of this tattoo for years, shared the vision with my tattoo artist Colin Kolker, sketched many variations with my husband Jeremy, and eventually Colin captured the essence in the design that is permanently etched into my arm. This tattoo means so much to me it is now woven into Tekhni fabric to carry babies. Find your opportunity to enter in a Tekhni giveaway at the end of this article!
This is why.
When pregnancy isn't glowing

Photo Credit: Meghann Buswell, Your Street Photography.

“You look terrible!”  There was concern in her voice, not malice. I did look terrible, frightening even. I could have been auditioning to be an extra in Schindler’s List. I knew I looked bad. Not wanting to explain much, I tell her I’m ok, I’m just pregnant. She looks horrified and whispers “I thought pregnant women glowed.”

No, nope, nu-uh. Ok, well, some pregnant women glow. Maybe even most. I don’t glow. Unless you count the green tinged pallor I sport in pregnancy a glow.

In my head pregnancy is going to be this serene existence of light, one with the earth, I’ll feel like a goddess, my body humming with the growing life within and a sense of wisdom and peace filling me. It radiates from me as I float along my every day life where everything suddenly has more meaning. I had expectations.

Unfortunately, that isn’t what happens.

Instead of floating, I crash to the ground in a heap of extra saliva and a stomach that rejects all food and liquid all day, every day. This causes my skin to lose elasticity, my body fat to burn off quickly, my kidneys to release toxins, my eyes to sink deeper into my skull, the tiny blood vessels in my face and neck to burst, my complexion to take on a green yellow hue, my head to spin when I shift my weight, my other organs to work harder as they dehydrate, and my veins to go into hiding so that every IV attempt results in bruises the size of plums up and down my arms. I don’t even know how to tell youHyperemesis Gravidarum.

Decidedly not glowing.

Every pregnancy I hoped the results would be different. There were plans, you see. Plans for how I would eat, how I would prepare for my coming baby. Plans for a level of physical activity and creativity bursts. Plans for how my baby and I would grow together, healthy and strong. Plans for how my friends and family would share in my pregnancy, how we would celebrate and enjoy the journey. Plans for how everything would go the way it was supposed to go. Plans that never came to be.

Because no glowing.

I hate being pregnant.

Cue a new glow, those fuming at me for not fulfilling my role of goddess mother because I dare to admit I don’t love pregnancy. Even Kim Kardashian, who people love to hate and hate to love, can’t state that pregnancy isn’t an experience she enjoys without encountering more vitriol than normal.

 

Pregnant mothers are supposed to glow and love pregnancy.

You can fail being a mother before your kid is even outside of your body.

All because you didn’t. feel. the. glow.

When pregnancy isn't glowing

Photo Credit: Meghann Buswell, Your Street Photography.

We have a romanticized version of all aspects of motherhood upheld in our society. A version that is always glowing, radiating from some isolated pedestal of unattainable idealism. While sometimes we may feel like a goddess in our mothering, for many of us those luminescent images require metaphorical if not literal special lighting, makeup, shape wear, and most elusive of all, a nap. In other words, the river goddess nursing her baby in the stream may be beautiful and remind of us some inner peace we’ve made contact with a time or two but for many of us it is heavily staged.

Most of my moments in parenting haven’t been glowing. Some of them I was barely surviving.

When pregnancy isn't glowing

Photo Credit: Meghann Buswell, Your Street Photography.

It can be crushing to realize that your experience with conception, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding aren’t a breathtaking image of serenity, that your reality isn’t naturally incandescent. When all you want is to glow, to radiate, to enjoy the path that gets you to your baby but what you get is near destruction, it can be hard to separate the journey from your own personhood. Sometimes it can be hard to separate the journey from the gift. There were times when my baby felt like my enemy, my torturer, my reminder of my failure. Those times were dark and twisted. But they were nothing compared to the times when I felt my baby suffered because I just. couldn’t. glow. The agony that my babies paid the price was by far the most painful to endure.

  • Infertility.
  • Pregnancy loss.
  • Pregnancy complications.
  • Birth trauma.
  • Relationship problems.
  • Financial stress.
  • Disrupted bonding.
  • Feeding difficulties.
  • Postpartum depression.

Whatever it is, the grief is real, the suffering is profound. And the shaping is valuable.

Even if you aren’t glowing.

Specially if you aren’t glowing.

Poopins front wrap Tekhni Nymphai

Photo Credit: Meghann Buswell, Your Street Photography.

When there is no glow, particularly when there is no glow when pure radiance is what is expected, how do you go about being honest with yourself and others? And how do you start to heal while accepting what it is?

Here’s what has helped me.

Journal. Write it all down. The reality, the struggle, the loneliness, the fear that the fact that you feel this way or have experienced these things means you’re not enough. All of it, write it down.

Cry. Yep, cry. You’re going to anyway. Give yourself permission and cry. And don’t dismiss it as hormones or being a woman or overreacting or whatever. Cry because you’re human and humans cry when something hurts. It is not weakness to cry, it is a strength to stop pretending.

Art. Whether you enjoy expressing yourself through art or not, drawing, coloring, painting, sculpting, dancing, playing music, you name it, artistic expression can be incredibly cathartic because sometimes words alone just art enough to full get those feelings out. And taking in someone else’s artistic expression can be just as powerful.

Talk. You may be afraid that people may not like hearing your journey because it isn’t warm and fuzzy but more often than not sharing your story will actually help someone processing their own glowless experience. That sharing can help you and them. Be it in person or online, opening up about our struggles builds community that values authenticity and that can actually help save lives.

Commemorate. An event, big or small, to honor the journey (but please don’t do a balloon release, it’s littering and hard on animal friends); a special purchase that holds a lot of meaning for you; a ritualistic occasion that connects deeply with you; a meaningful plant/tree/shrub planted in your yard as a hopeful yet gentle reminder; compile mementos in a book; create something unique that captures the profound nature of your journey.

The tree on my arm represents me, the birds my daughters. My tattoo turned Tekhni woven wrap, named for the nymphs of Greek mythology who nurture nature, has helped me glow. From reclaiming my body to having a beautiful woven wrap that represents so much healing, hope, and promise in nurturing that surrounds other moms and their precious children, I have found a glow I can’t contain. May we all glow with honesty and hope.

When pregnancy isn't glowing

Photo Credit: Meghann Buswell, Your Street Photography.

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Thank you for reading my story, I would love to hear yours as well. Comment here sharing your glowing or not-so-glowing experience with parenting, how you’ve found healing, and how you commemorate that experience.

If you’d like to share your story with a larger audience, submit your story with photos, your bio, and the subject #MyStoryMatters to content @ theleakyboob.com (no spaces).

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Jessica Martin-WeberDrawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com,co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, and co-creator of OurStableTable.com, supporter of A Girl With A View, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. She co-parents her 6 daughters with her husband of 19 years and is currently writing her first creative non-fiction book and a children’s book.

 

Enter for your chance to win a ring sling with a pattern based on my tattoo. This beautiful Tekhni Wovens ring sling in Clover is yours for the winning! Enter below:

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Not Having Enough But Still Being Enough

by LaTia Wilson Barrett 

Note from the editor: This guest post from a Leaky is sharing one person’s journey through breastfeeding. Her story isn’t a prediction for yours but like your story, her story matters. For those that can relate to LaTia’s story, we hope you find encouragement and support to know you are not alone, for those who can’t relate, may empathy and understanding be your guide.

LaTia Wilson Battett article- June 2016 pt.1

When I first found out I was pregnant, I was ecstatic. My mind was instantly flooded with all the hopes and dreams I had for myself as a parent. I was excited for the chance to experience that first flutter, first kick, first… everything. One of my first thoughts about giving birth, well, following wincing at some of the stories I’d heard about the process, was about the experience of breastfeeding. So many of the parents in the various online groups I was a part of talked about how much of a bonding time breastfeeding was, and how much their sweet newborn took to it right away, and how much pride they had in being able to exclusively breastfeed their baby. I read these kinds of stories with a kind of wonder and glee that one feels when thinking about the magic of Christmas. I mean, it all sounded so idyllic and perfect. I never had any reason to think that things wouldn’t be just as magical for me. As it turns out, it was not at all magical for me. I had always assumed that everyone could breastfeed their child if they chose, and it never occurred to me that I would have an issue. But I did. And it hurt. A lot. It shattered me, until I was able to redefine for myself what it meant to be a mother.

My daughter was born at 36 weeks and 3 days via emergency cesarean after 32 hours of labor and 1 hour of pushing. I had been induced due to severe pre-eclampsia, and by the time my daughter was actually born, I was too exhausted to fully enjoy the moment. But here she was, all 6 pounds 14 ounces of her, looking just as harried as I felt. But she was here and not too much worse for wear. While I was in the recovery area, one of the first things I asked for was a breast pump. I knew that if my daughter and I were going to be separated even for a just a few hours that I would need to try to get things started on my own.

However, a few hours turned into 5 days. Over the course of the days that we were separated I pumped, even during the 2 days that I spent in the ICU due to respiratory distress. I never got the “rock hard”/full feeling, I never woke up leaking, but I continued to pump, assuming that I was one of those women who took a little longer than a couple days for her “milk to come in”. I was so happy the first day I saw a few drops, and cried happy tears (and took pictures!) the first day I was able to pump a measurable amount (about 10mls)! I very clearly recall the day that I finally was able to put my daughter to breast. I cried because it was one of the moments I had been looking forward to the most since finding out I was pregnant. We were both tired and more than a little worn due to our experience, but we were finally together and all was right with the world.

LaTia Wilson Battett article- June 2016 pt.2

After 10 days in the hospital, we were finally released to go home. My milk still hadn’t “come in”, but maybe I was just one of those who was a little later than everyone else. I mean, I did have an emergency cesarean, an ICU stay, and was really sick following her birth. But, it was going to happen any day now, right? Right?? As it turns out, I did have milk, but it just wasn’t enough to feed my baby. It never dawned on me that I could actually have supply issues and that I wouldn’t be able to feed my daughter.

We are never really told what to do when breastfeeding doesn’t work out, aside from, “take fenugreek… pump more… drink more water…” But what about those of us who have serious supply issues that a simple cup of tea or oatmeal cookie just won’t fix? Why aren’t more women educated about what CAN happen, and how to address it? Why are so many of us made to feel like failures and told if we just “put baby to breast more often” or “pump more often” things will work out just fine? I spent many months and lots of money chasing my dream of breastfeeding my baby, when I really should have been more focused on just enjoying her.

LaTia Wilson Battett article- June 2016 pt.3

At the height of my breastfeeding journey, I produced roughly 2 ounces of milk PER DAY. My self-worth for quite some time was measured in ounces. It wasn’t until I developed tendonitis which required I stop pumping altogether around 5 months that I realized that my daughter loved me whether I gave her breastmilk or formula. She would smile just as bright and laugh just as long. She loved ME, not what my breasts could or couldn’t give her. And while I cried on the last day that I gave her my breast milk, I know that she has gotten not only what’s best for her, which is a full tummy, but I’ve also gotten what’s best for me, which is less stress. I still think about “what ifs”, and all the things I maybe could have done differently to produce more milk, and I still feel a slight pang whenever I see a parent nursing their child, but I know that our journey turned out “right” for us, and that’s just fine with me.
 

Concerned you may have low supply? Go here to learn more about what’s normal, what’s not, signs of low supply, what you can do, and when to seek help.

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LaTia's headshot- June 2016

 

LaTia lives in Maryland with her wife and daughter. She loves all things food and Disney, and tries to combine the two as often as possible. When not at Disney (or planning a Disney trip), she is a WAHM, babywearing educator, postpartum doula, and singer.
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When Food Makes Your Child Sick- Allergies and Parenting

By Heather Mackles, RN, BSN

When the food you’re feeding your child is making them sick, what do you do? One mother, a member of The Leaky Boob Community group admin team, shares her family’s journey with food allergies and how it has changed them. A registered nurse, the author shares some points for families on potential signs for allergies and how to proceed.

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It started with a crying baby, a “sensitivity” to my breastmilk, and a transition to soy formula under the direction of our pediatrician. Then it became vomiting, weight loss, and a hospitalization. Eight years later, we’re dealing with food anxiety, rebelling, and a struggle with autonomy. Somewhere in there was a major food overhaul.

Food allergies.

I am a parent of a child with multiple food allergies. We wield EpiPens, Benadryl and a rescue inhaler. We see a pediatrician, dermatologist and allergist every few months. We are one piece of candy away from a trip to the ER.

Food can kill my son.

Mackles11847

I was told while pregnant from a lactation consultant that babies rarely have an issue with actual breastmilk. Only babies with true milk protein allergies were unable to breastfeed due to the whey protein in breastmilk. My pediatrician agreed after we had several visits with complaints of horrible crying with no relief and constant diarrhea. He told me that my baby may have a sensitivity to my breastmilk and that it would be in my best interest to wean him immediately to soy formula. There was no mention of removing dairy from my diet first. Now knowing more than I did then, I probably could’ve tried removing all dairy from my diet and chances are strong that would have been a better option for my son. For more on breastfeeding a child with food sensitivities or food allergies, see this post here.

But I didn’t know then what I know now. I didn’t know how to fight and advocate for my son.

When we first got the diagnosis from the gastroenterologist, I made that first trip to Whole Foods. I was beside myself. I didn’t know what I was looking for. Then this saint of an employee came up to me, and asked if he could help me find something. I poured my heart out to him while he helped me navigate the store.

My child, who loved homemade fettuccine Alfredo (which starts with a stick of butter and a pint of heavy cream), now could not have anything that had the milk protein, casein, in it. It’s not a lactose-intolerance. He can’t just drink lactose-free milk and be fine. He can’t have any animal milks, butter, cheeses or whey protein. His reactions continued going up until his diagnosis had only been gut and skin related, but that doesn’t mean that the next exposure couldn’t affect his respiratory system.

The threat is very real.

My son can’t eat or have contact with:

  • Dairy
  • Gluten
  • Tree Nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Tomato anything
  • Nitrates
  • Fluoride
  • MSG
  • Artificial Colors
  • Preservatives

We now have to read every ingredient list for EVERYTHING. When he’s prescribed a medicine, or even if I go to give him over-the-counter medicine, I have to call the manufacturer and get the all clear that it does not contain dairy or gluten. Sometimes the manufacturer is closed, or won’t return my calls for days, but he needs the medication at that moment. So I have to take a deep breath, weigh the risks and benefits, pray, and give him the medicine. His allergy medicine prescribed by his allergist? I gave it to him for a month and couldn’t figure out why he was breaking out in hives and having diarrhea. It contained gluten as a main ingredient. Because his vitamins were cultured in milk, but they didn’t list it because they don’t contain milk, he had a reaction. Now he’s taking vegan vitamins to be sure they are dairy free. His allergies have evolved over the years, though he has yet to grow out of any, as many kids with one food allergy usually become allergic to other foods over time.

Every single thing that goes into my child’s mouth requires me to check the ingredient lists. Unfortunately, if something in it is milk-derived, it doesn’t have to list that according to the FDA. There’s a lot of ambiguity when it comes to artificial and natural flavors, colors and preservatives, and transparency is not required. So do I give him the food that should be okay and risk a reaction, or do I disappoint him and tell him it’s not safe? We play that game. Every. Single. Day.

Sometimes I hear him coughing in his room at night, one of his common early symptoms of a reaction, and the panic starts rising. “What did he eat today? Was it anything that we ate differently? Have I looked at our safe foods’ ingredient lists recently? Did they change their ingredients?” And then I mentally go back through everything he ate in the past 24 hours, because reactions can be delayed. His are usually around 8 hours after ingestion. Sometimes it could be anything, sometimes I may not even know for sure what he has eaten.

epipens

I cringe when other kids offer him food because he SO BADLY wants to take it, but he does good most days on refusing. Sometimes he slips, but I have to give him some autonomy. I cannot keep him in a bubble forever. He has had to learn how to resist temptation in the most evil of ways. Food is more than eating. It’s a social and cultural enjoyment. Good food brings people together and celebrations often center around food. Many people take offense even, including family members, when we say that he can’t have whatever they’re offering, because we aren’t sure of the ingredients.

My son experiences discrimination every time he’s on some sort of a team or in a group activity. I’ve heard such things as “We don’t accommodate for people with food allergies.” and “Can’t you just bring him his own snack to every game?” told to me by other parents, teachers, and team leaders. But there’s always that one parent on the team that texts me to ask me for suggestions on my son’s safe foods because they want to make sure he feels included. One parent who shows they care. They are the shining beacon of light, and by being able to share in team snack with everyone else, just like every other kid, you made his day. It warms my heart to see him so happy. And it makes me so angry when people blow off his food allergies like they’re nothing.

My child’s food allergies aren’t a preference, they are a life and death risk. I know it is inconvenient, my family lives with and accommodates those inconvenient risks every day.

Our safe restaurants include Mellow Mushroom and Disney restaurants. That’s about it. Going out to eat is another adventure. It takes a lot of time and energy, because we have to call ahead and make sure they can make something for my son that he can actually eat. He’s not picky by any means, but he does have his preferences, and most places either have 1-2 things on the menu he can have, or none at all. Like most of us, he wants to enjoy eating beyond considering whether or not it will make him sick. Most times, the restaurant’s employee we talk to on the phone can’t guarantee that they’ll have a meal free of his allergens. By the time we call around to 3-4 places we’ve selectively picked, we usually throw in the towel and make something at home. We make 95% of our food at home from the most basic ingredients. It takes too much time, planning and effort to go to a new restaurant, where most of the time, the employees are very poorly educated on food allergies and cross contamination. Fast food is mostly out of the question. We don’t even try there. If we need fast food, we make him a safe option at home.

Do I want to be this controlling? HELL NO. I want to let him eat whatever he wants, and I would cut off my left arm if he could just have one slice of birthday cake at another kid’s birthday party. But his diagnosis requires vigilance and I must provide that.

Still, I refuse to allow food to define my child. He is a smart, funny, easy-going kid. He’s never met a stranger and will hold a conversation with anyone he meets. He is good at acrobatics, circus aerial arts, and baseball. He just signed a modeling contract through a worldwide agency. His smile is infectious and that lights up the room. Food allergies are NOT who he is. He may have them, but they are not him. He is Ian, a boy who has food allergies.

And I stand in the background, ensuring he stays safe as he blossoms into his own person.

iansilks

Right now, we take it one day at a time and we learn and grow with him. There will be more rebellion. There will most likely be more ER visits in the future. There will be times where he chooses to not bring his EpiPens with him because it’s not cool to have special needs. Hopefully that day, he won’t need it, as most days he won’t. Hopefully he won’t learn this lesson the hard way. But there will also be good friends that we meet along the way, and we will cherish them forever.

I went on to successfully breastfeed two more children. My middle child was breastfed until 18 months old, and my youngest is 19 months old and still breastfeeding with no end in sight. We introduced the top eight most allergenic foods at 6 months old under the direction of our (new) pediatrician and both of my youngest kids have no food allergies.

There’s a lot I wish I knew back in the day with my son that I know now. For new parents it can be overwhelming and scary. Most of the time I’m not scared any more, just vigilent. And I’m able to share what I’ve learned. There are boundaries to learn, together we can figure them out. In this post, another parent shares a few methods about food boundaries with her food sensitive child. 

Want to know what to look for and what could be a warning sign of an allergy in your child? Here are some of the most common things to look for when evaluating for food allergies in children:

  •      Rash around the mouth
  •      Flushed face
  •      Hives
  •      Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  •      Behavioral changes, mostly severe anxiety or restlessness after eating
  •      Fast heartbeat*
  •      Face, tongue or lip swelling*
  •      Constant coughing or wheezing*
  •      Difficulty breathing*
  •      Loss of consciousness*
*If your child exhibits any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately as these are signs of a life threatening medical emergency.

They could encounter the allergen once and react to it, or they could’ve been exposed to the allergen 100 times before and all of a sudden start reacting to it. There is no telling when or how bad they’re going to react to the allergen, if their body chooses to react to that particular food protein.

Many life-threatening food allergy reactions (called anaphylaxis) happen to kids who did not know they had a food allergy. If you suspect that your child has a food allergy, please consult your physician for further allergy testing. 

If you’d like to learn more about food allergies, please visit: www.foodallergy.org.

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Living with the reality that the very nourishment that should sustain us, bring us joy, and lead to health could make our child sick, endangering their lives, isn’t easy. If you get to enjoy life without these scary obstacles, please be patient with those of us who must learn how to navigate them. If you are just discovering that allergies may be a part of your child’s life, you’ve got this. It may require a lifestyle change but you’ve got this. With community and information sharing you can be your child’s strongest advocate and learn how to navigate this terrain without it stealing your joy. 

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Heather Mackles is a 32-year-old retired PICU RN, who is happily married to her husband, and stays at home with her three children, two dogs and an antisocial cat. In her minuscule amounts of free time, between changing diapers and homeschooling/unschooling her kids, she enjoys traveling, taking frequent trips to Disney, sewing, and critiquing medical TV shows. She believes in advocating for all women from all walks of life, and loves helping women achieve their breastfeeding goals.
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#MyStoryMatters; Breast Cancer

by Ashley Thompson

Ashley Thompson- headshot

Nursing wasn’t easy for me but I knew it was what I wanted for me and my daughter. I’m 32 years old and my daughter was born almost 2 years ago. I’m so fortunate that I have been able to stay home with her full time since she was born. When she came to this world, I went ALL IN! I nursed exclusively on demand, I gave up dairy, and I very comfortably nursed anywhere I was. I loved nursing and so did my daughter!

Around April of this year something changed. I was feeling like maybe it was time to wean, and ultimately made it happen. Three weeks later, during a self exam, I felt a lump. I first called my OBGYN, and then a breast surgeon (I have a strong family history, and have seen one since I was 27). Neither had any sense of urgency, and were quick to dismiss me as I had just stopped nursing. I was told that breasts of a nursing mother are too lumpy, and milk would distort imaging. But I knew something was wrong. My mother, 2x breast cancer survivor, made one phone call to her doc and I was in the next day.

Four days before Mother’s Day, I got the call. One month later I had bilateral mastectomies. Six weeks after that, CHEMO. Breast cancer does not discriminate! I can’t tell you how many incredible young survivors I have met through this journey. What you said really hit home with me. Enough soup cans with pretty pink ribbons, and No Bra Day? Women don’t need to see beautiful models showing their brastraps in support of awareness.  Real, raw stories are what they need.

Ashley Thompson, breast cancer, guest post, Leaky to Leaky

 

Anyway… I’m done with chemo and now cancer free! I’m still in the process of reconstruction and I will likely be treating/preventing this the rest of my life, but it will be a long life! I am still mourning the life, and the body I had before, but am so grateful for the future! Children are so resilient and my daughter has been so amazing through it all! I miss nursing, and I hate that I will never nurse again.  Although my breasts are gone, nothing can take those memories away. Not even cancer!

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Adoption and Breastfeeding – A #MyStoryMatters

by Meaghan McKracken

It could be said that my adoption story centered around breastmilk. A reality most wouldn’t expect in an adoption story but adoption stories, like all stories, are unique in their own right. This is mine.

If you’re on this site you probably already know that the realities of breastfeeding can be difficult. For many women, concerns about sufficient supply, struggles with engorgement, clogged ducts, cracked nipples, and more can turn what may be natural into what feels like an entirely foreign experience. An experience further complicated when almost exclusively pumping, grief of separation, and a new but essential relationship with adoptive parents. As a birthmom, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be set up for success. In reality, feeding my little boy naturally became the success of my adoption. 

Allow me to explain.

Open adoption is still adapting; still evolving. What it looks like today is vastly different from how it was even 10 years ago. Still, there are holes in the process because when you’re dealing with complicated human emotions and trying circumstances, finding a balance is an ever shifting and unique challenge. Stress, anxiety, and doubt from both birth mothers and adoptive parents are a reality of the journey. But there is also joy; so much joy. 

Meaghan and her baby

Breastfeeding became my test. Incorporating a breastfeeding plan would mean a very gentle transition for the baby and myself. There would be no sharp and severed moment of goodbye. Everything would be slowed down and transition of care would be tapered. I felt this would reduce huge amounts of stress and trauma for my little one and myself. If I could find a couple who was cooperative and willing to take an inclusive approach in involving me in the care of our child, allowing my milk for feedings I felt it would be better for all of us. Such an arrangement would fulfill my desire for real openness between our two families. If they valued nourishing my son through human milk, specifically the milk that was intended for him, I could trust them to put his health first in the future no matter what their anxieties. It was the perfect and natural way to unite us, just as it is the perfect and natural way to unite moms and babies.

My adoption agency shared my specific birth plan with their hundred plus adoptive couples, and over half replied with a very strong yes. When I finally picked my adoptive couple I was blown away by the level of inclusion they were prepared for. Working for my son’s health became a common cause for us to focus on together. A truly baby focused adoption. 

Rowan was born September 28th, weighing 6.8lbs and just 7 weeks later, he already almost weighed 10lbs. I nursed and pumped a bit in the hospital after the pregnancy. The adoptive mother used SNS (supplemental nursing system/at the breast with supplemental nursing system) with my milk so she could also have the experience of nursing and bonding, reducing nipple confusion. Once again I felt supported and valued in a practical way that was good for my son. I stayed with them after my hospital stay to establish my milk supply and to pump milk for them to get storage going for them.

Meaghan's adoptive parents

It was so fulfilling to see them build their family, to share in the happy side of adoption, and to feel accepted as an advocate for my child’s well being. I had a very primal and protective instinct to nurture and care for this sweet little one that was not only met but encouraged. It was simply love without ownership or possessiveness. And truly, what was there to fear? Bonding? Affection? Why would we want to protect our children from experiences like these?

I signed the papers a little over a week after giving birth feeling fully confident I would see my son soon. That all of us were on the same page about what story we were writing for our family. So far it has been a joy and an adventure; the most beautiful work I’ve done in my life. 

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What do you think of breastfeeding and adoption? 

Do you have any experience with breastfeeding and adoption?

Share in the comments below your thoughts on adoption and breastfeeding.

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If you are a birthmom or know a birthmom looking for support or a community, On Your feet Foundation is an excellent resource. They have retreats, case management and an amazingly supportive community just for birthmoms.

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If you’d like to share your story with a larger audience, submit your story, photos, and your bio, with #MyStoryMatters in the subject to content @ theleakyboob.com (no spaces).

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Meaghan's headshot
Meaghan McKracken is a 32 year old mother of two. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and three year old. The adoptive couple of her youngest son also lives close by and they see each other on a weekly basis. Meaghan is a massage therapist as well as currently developing her skills as a Pilates instructor.
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A Poem on Postpartum Depression; A #MyStoryMatters

by Melissa Hoos

depression and motherhood

I’m mama to one amazing 10 month old boy. Having been diagnosed with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder at age 15, I knew I was at a high risk for postpartum depression. Pregnancy gave me a wonderful break from depressive episodes (my psychiatrist would tell me, just get pregnant! It’ll solve all your mental health issues!), but after my son was born, the relief didn’t last long. The hormonal high lasted a few short, awesome days, and then the baby blues set in. My husband went back to work, and I spent that day’s midwife appointment sobbing on her couch – partly because I just couldn’t stop crying, ever, but also because she said the words I was hoping to never hear her say: I think you need to consider going back on medication.

I’d worked SO hard to get off the medication so I could get pregnant, and I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed if I took the same medication again. So I was determined to overcome PPD/PPA without it. My husband took some more time off work, we made a plan, and my mom came to help for a while. It worked, for a few weeks, until it didn’t anymore. 

I knew I loved my son. I knew I could take good care of him. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was just not good enough to be a mother, and he would be better off without me. He wasn’t a colicky baby, and it wasn’t very often that he just cried and cried. My inner monologue often went along the lines of “what kind of mother gets angry at her baby? He’s just tired/hungry/wet and now I’ve made him scared too!” 

No matter how calm and rational I made my thoughts, I just could not translate that into calm and rational actions. It was like being stuck inside my own head, watching someone else pick up my baby with rough hands, hearing someone else say to my baby “what the f*ck do you WANT??” And then the next instant it was me again, sobbing and hating myself because how could I have lost it again? Nursing him after those awful moments was just as much an emotional reset for me as it was for him.

One night as I laid in bed crying, watching my baby in his bed after over an hour of fighting to get him to sleep, I wrote this poem. The first sign of a depressive episode for me has always been the loss of my creative side. I normally love to write, and I decided that despite the fact that I did NOT want to, I needed to. Even if it’s only to unscramble my brain so I could sleep. I let my husband read it in the morning, and I think it was the first time he truly understood how I felt. 

I don’t know exactly what snapped me out of that awful episode. It had been months. I knew the whole time that I should probably stop trying to muscle my way through and just take the damn medication. And then one day, I realized it had been a few days since I last felt out of control. I think, for me, the worst part was the anxiety. I was suddenly able to say to myself, “Hey, if he wakes up, it’ll be okay. I’ll just nurse him back to sleep.” Or, “Hey, if I can’t get him back to sleep, hubby will take a turn and I’ll go get a glass of water.” I started being able to recognize the start of a “bad brain day” and could take self-care measures to prevent another episode from beginning, just like before I was ever pregnant. The cognitive behaviour therapy, anxiety classes, and counselling started coming back to me.

It’s not completely gone now. And since depression and anxiety has been a part of my life for well over a decade, I doubt it ever will be. I don’t know what the next postpartum experience will hold, but I’m writing down ways to cope so that next time, maybe I can bypass a little more of the darkness. Ignoring it just doesn’t work, so I hope that shining a little light on the topic can help someone recognize PPD/PPA in themselves or someone they love, and get the help they need. 

This is my poem

When he’s screaming I can’t 
think and everything starts to look 
red and I just want to
scream right along with 
him, this baby I waited so
long for and asked
God for and 
thank
God
for

Where does my heart 
go when I’m so
angry because it isn’t 
here loving my
son, it is somewhere else and I just
can’t quite reach it

My brain tricks me into
thinking how dare he cry, but he’s just a 
baby and he’s telling me momma I 
need you which these ears fail to
hear with all the 
screaming

I just want to be a good
mother but all I seem to do is 
lose my mind and this isn’t 
me, it isn’t 
me, someone please 
help
me

In the dead of night I watch my baby
sleep in his crib and 
wonder if he will remember the
angry momma or the loving one and the
thought breaks my 
heart because what if he
remembers the
angry one?

He is a piece of me and I
love him fiercely but 
he deserves 
better than
me

God help me

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For more information about postpartum depression visit Postpartum Progress.

  If you’re seeking for advice and guidance, here’s an article on postpartum depression and anxiety.

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If you’d like to share your story with a larger audience, submit your story, photos, and your bio, with #MyStoryMatters in the subject to content @ theleakyboob.com (no spaces).

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Melissa Hoos

I’m mama to one amazing 10 month old boy. Having been diagnosed with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder at age 15, I knew I was at a high risk for postpartum depression. 
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Pumping And Grief In Adoption – A #MyStoryMatters

by April

To have swollen breasts filled with milk, and no baby to feed is painful, more so in the soul. The loss is magnified when the milk starts to come in, and you are faced with empty arms. Your body won’t let you forget and move on. Your body remembers. The right decision to be made isn’t always the easy one. Sometimes the right decision is difficult. I decided I wouldn’t fight my body.

I asked the adoptive parents if I could pump for them. They may not know this, but the fact they said yes helped me move forward. It gave me a renewed sense of purpose. One would think that pumping would increase the grieving process. In fact, it did the opposite.

Deciding to pump was healing for me as much as is helped the son I placed. I thought perhaps it would be hard to pump. But I loved my son so much I wanted to give him every advantage. I couldn’t give him much. What I could give him was milk. The research has shown the advantages of breast milk over formula. Due to his premature birth, it was needed even more. I decided to set aside my own pain and pump for his parents.

I placed a picture of him on the pump and the first few times, I wept. I think this was healing and cathartic. It started to hurt less and I started to feel that my self-worth wasn’t tied to my past and the only thing I was good for was being a baby carrier for 8 months. I was starting to look at my present and future. The baby I no longer had was being nourished with the milk I was able to provide with the love of his adoptive mother. I had an intermediary deliver the milk. Despite the fact my psyche was slowly healing, emotions were still raw. Seeing the son I placed regularly was not something I needed at that time. Knowing he was being given my breast milk was enough to start closing the mental wounds. It was enough to know he was given the very best nutrition despite being a few miles from me.

April image

My own nutrition and exercise regimen improved. Women already are faced with horrendous body image issues. Multiply that 10 fold after having a baby, and no baby to show for it. Pumping helped me lose the baby weight, eat right after my pregnancy (again, taking care of myself post adoption), which trickled into other areas of my life and become strong in the gym and out of the gym. I was able to face the world with a renewed sense of purpose.

Even though the baby I carried was gone from my arms, he wasn’t just a faint memory. He was real. I had to face it head on while pumping and that made me determined to be as healthy as I could post pregnancy. I did my best during pregnancy while battling hyperemesis gravidarium. Life didn’t end after the baby was delivered. This is so important to remember as birthmother. Life goes on. I had to go on too. Pumping milk reminded me of that, whenever I felt as if there was no future for me. Many people may feel that pumping was a selfless act. If anything, it was also selfish, in a very good way. It was part of my self-care.

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What do you think of breastfeeding and adoption? 

Do you have any experience with breastfeeding and adoption?

Share in the comments below your thoughts on adoption and breastfeeding.

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If you are a birthmom or know a birthmom looking for support or a community, On Your feet Foundation is an excellent resource. They have retreats, case management and an amazingly supportive community just for birthmoms.

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If you’d like to share your story with a larger audience, submit your story, photos, and your bio, with #MyStoryMatters in the subject to content @ theleakyboob.com (no spaces).

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April headshotApril lives in Chicago, IL with her son and and four pet rats! Post adoption she realized that being strong mentally and physically was important to her well being. She now works as a personal trainer teaching women to strive for more and be more. One of he goals is to combat the bodyshamng that is rampant in print and social media. She loves teaching women to shift focus from looks and the scale and INSTEAD, embrace their strength – whether it’s deadlifting their own bodyweight, swinging a kettlebell for 10 minutes without stopping, or doing their first pullup.

 

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#MyStoryMatters: Adoption ≠ A Better Life, Just A Different One

by Alyssa Ruben

Nobody prepares you for the grief you feel when you sign those relinquishment papers and forever become what society deems a “birthmom”. Nobody prepares you for the reality of your child’s adoptive parents closing what was promised to be an open adoption. 15 years ago, I gave up my oldest child for adoption. Everyday since that day has been a test of my strength because every day I feel weak. A test to my willingness to keep living, because there were many days in the beginning that I had wanted or tried to kill myself from the soul shattering grief that I live with everyday. 

Coercion in the domestic infant adoption industry is real. They feed on the love that mothers have for their children. They look you in the eyes and make you believe that your baby is better off with strangers. Young impressionable women, told over and over again how much better off their baby would be without them. How more money, 2 parents, a college fund, big house, older more established parents equals a better life. 

I was 17 when I discovered I was pregnant, and much to far along to have an abortion. It was a child by that point, in every sense of the word. Both legally, emotionally, and psychologically. I was homeless, bouncing from one friends couch to another. Unsure of where my next meal was coming from, let alone how I was going to keep a baby. Nobody offered solutions. Nobody offered alternatives. Nobody showed me the resources available to me to keep my baby. The family I ended up living with for the majority of the remainder of my pregnancy told me in no uncertain terms that if I choose to keep my baby I would be out on the street. They also didn’t offer my poor naive teenager self any alternatives or resources to help me make an informed choice. Just adoption. Only adoption. 

I distanced myself during the pregnancy. I told myself I was a surrogate carrying someone else’s baby, that he wasn’t mine. That he was never meant for me. I repeated all the crap the adoption agency told me in my head over and over again trying to convince myself that this was the right choice….and for many years it worked. I believed those words. Until I stopped drinking the “Kool-Aid”. Until I took a real look through open eyes at what I had done. What had been done to me, and what I had done to my child. I died the day I signed those relinquishment papers, forever severing my rights to my child. The girl I once was…is gone. She won’t ever come back. The child he should have been is gone too. He will never be who he should have been. I live everyday with a giant piece of my soul missing. Nothing will ever fill that, even with reunion.

I would love to say that promises were kept and my open adoption stayed open. It didn’t. Once they got what they wanted, they closed the adoption. They ran for the hills and never looked back, except for when they wanted to blame my genetics for problems that he has. Never once stopping to consider that it was because he was an adoptee that these problems exist in the first place. 

Holidays are hard, his birthday is even harder. Watching my kids that I’ve raised mourn the loss of their brother that they should have had is gut wrenching. Not being able to ease their pain, because I can’t even ease mine, is soul shattering. Adoption doesn’t just affect the natural parents. It affects everyone. It affects the aunts, the uncles, the grandparents, the raised children and the spouses. His life is not better because I gave him up. And my life is not better because I gave him up. Adoption doesn’t equal a better life. Just a different one. 

There is so much more I could write, and maybe one day I will. But I’ll leave you with this. If you are considering adoption please remember these words. Your situation is temporary. Adoption…adoption is forever. 

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If you are a birthmom or know a birthmom looking for support or a community, On Your feet Foundation is an excellent resource. They have retreats, case management and an amazingly supportive community just for birthmoms.

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If you’d like to share your story with a larger audience, submit your story, photos, and your bio, with #MyStoryMatters in the subject to content @ theleakyboob.com (no spaces).

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image1
Alyssa Ruben is a 33 year old doula, CPST-IC, student midwife, placenta encapsulation specialist and stay at home mother to 5 children. 4 that she is raising. She’s an advocate for national midwifery licensure, domestic infant adoption reform and passionate about car seat safety. When she’s not acting as chauffeur, personal chef and official boo boo kisser she enjoys reading, volunteering, and serving and holding space for laboring and pregnant women. She currently resides in Southern Wisconsin with her husband of 14 years and 4 children and one very fat cat. You can follow her on Instagram @squishymommy1.
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The Pumping Birthmom: Pumping for the Baby I Didn’t Take Home- Talia’s Story #MyStoryMatters

by Talia

Talia, guest post, leaky to leaky, open adoption

My son Yeshua was almost two when I realized I was pregnant again. But this time instead of tears of joy I cried tears of fear and disbelief. It wasn’t the right time. I called Journeys of the Heart and this is where my adoption process began.

I had never even heard open adoption before but Beth, my adoption counselor at Journeys had me convinced that it would be the best situation for me and the baby, so I was immediately on board. I found a nice couple that already had three boys and things moved forward fast. We had visits, Yeshua started playing with their kids, and Nikki (the adoptive-mom-to-be) even came to ultrasounds with me. We would have lunch and write deep sounding lovey fluffy emails to each other expressing our feelings about this crazy open adoption process we had entered together. Everything seemed perfect…until I was 36 weeks.

Now I’m a breastfeeding fanatic. Yeshua hadn’t had a drop of formula and I pumped at work for him like a dairy cow. I’m all the way crunchy. I even put my breast milk in my own ear when I got a sinus infection (I would have put it in my son’s ear too if he ever had one! But he never did, because he was breastfed). With all that being said, I was determined to pump and send milk to the adoptive family after this new baby was born as well. Even though I knew Zachary wouldn’t be coming home with me, I still wanted to give him the gift only his birthmother could give: breast milk a.k.a. liquid gold.

At 36 weeks it was time to sit down and make a “contract” that would set expectations or guidelines for how our open adoption relationship would play out once Zachary was born. I considered my expectations to be quite low, but one of them included sending milk that I had pumped. I never imagined in a million years that someone would turn down liquid gold for her newborn child. This couple refused. They gave no explanation for why, but they simply stated that they “preferred not to take it.” So I said, “Well they prefer not to have my child then.” Beth and I were onto a search for a new family that was right for me.

I fell in love with a parent profile that I had overlooked earlier with a couple named Robin and Jeff in it. Before I met them though, I asked Beth to call them to ask them their feelings about me pumping milk and sending it to them. Not only were they ecstatic about the idea, they actually already had a freezer full of frozen breast milk waiting for them from a friend whose toddler would no longer drink it. It was truly meant to be. We met and three weeks later I gave birth to Zachary Isaiah.

I was afraid to latch him to my breast. I was afraid to fall even deeper in love than I already was and I knew that many promised adoptions were ripped to shreds once the baby latched and the birthmother changed her mind. But I also knew I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t have those holy sacred moments with my perfect 6 pound newborn baby.

guest post, leaky to leaky, tail's open adoption story

I was sad and afraid that it was breaking Robin’s heart to watch me nurse the son she would take home the next day without being able to feed the same way, but she supported me and made me feel loved. I secretly asked her to forgive me in my mind. Leaving the hospital the next day without Zachary was the hardest moment of my life. I mourned the loss of a living baby which is so strange and distinct, but what was even stranger was that I was able to go home and start making milk for him right away, just as if he was right in my arms. A month after that I moved 5 hours away but that didn’t stop me; I kept pumping and froze the milk. In the meantime Robin’s friend with the freezer milk spent a small fortune mailing the milk over dry ice and between the two of us Zachary was an adopted baby that drank breast milk exclusively for the first 6 weeks of his life. I pumped for about three months but eventually I got a full time job and the supply was less and less. I lamented deeply as it all diminished.

I was able to visit with Zachary and his parents several times within his first few weeks of his life. The hardest part of those visits were holding my baby and smelling him and my body’s natural response was for my milk ducts to let down and say, “hey lady, it’s time to feed your baby.” I longed so badly to nurse him when I visited at their house, but I knew to request something so absurd would be crossing the line and I would never want to make Robin and Jeff uncomfortable because we had a beautiful open adoption. So instead of nursing him I went home and pumped and labeled the milk baggies “I love you Zachary.”

birth mom breastfeeding adoptive baby

Two years later Robin shared with me that because of our unique situation, Journeys Of The Heart had created new guidelines for new incoming adoptive parents. Now they tell adoptive parents that if the mother wishes to pump it is “highly recommended” to accept it. I felt honored by that change and hope to be an inspiration for birthmothers in the future to be encouraged to give a beautiful gift of milk that only they can give.

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What do you think of breastfeeding and adoption? 

Do you have any experience with breastfeeding and adoption?

Share in the comments below your thoughts on adoption and breastfeeding.

____________________

If you are a birthmom or know a birthmom looking for support or a community, On Your feet Foundation is an excellent resource. They have retreats, case management and an amazingly supportive community just for birthmoms.

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If you’d like to share your story with a larger audience, submit your story, photos, and your bio, with #MyStoryMatters in the subject to content @ theleakyboob.com (no spaces).

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guest post, leaky to leaky, Talia's open adoption story 
Talia lives in southern Illinois with her fiance and son.  After having an intense all natural birth with her birthson Zachary, she realized her dream is to be a midwife and help other women empower themselves through having the birth of their dreams as well.  She currently works as an OB RN and prenatal massage therapist, with plans in the near future to start midwifery school.
 
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A Birthmom Raises the Question of Breastfeeding and Adoption- #MyStoryMatters: Vicki’s Story

by Vicki

Kevin and Vicki

I am birthmom to Kevin. What is a birthmom you ask? That means that I did not raise him. I gave him to a family to raise. I was lucky though, open adoption was just in its infancy and I have known Kevin and his family his whole life. They are part of my family! When I got engaged I called my parents, my soon to be husbands parents and Kevin’s parents.

He is now the age I was when I had him. He is 21 years old and I could not imagine him raising a child at 21, just like I could not imagine myself doing it then. It is crazy to think I have a 21 year old kid when I am still like only 30 years old! Math can be weird that way. To me, being a birthmom means that Kevin is my son, but I am not his mom. He has a mom. The mom that raised him. The mom that tucked him into bed every night. The mom that he does not call or respond to while he is away at college! (No respect!)

Kevin photo

For years after I placed Kevin I worked as an expectant mom counselor. I helped moms make adoption plans for their unborn children. The reason why parents choose adoption is as varied as the reasons people have kids, but the main reason is wanting more for their child than they feel they can provide. A better life!

Breastfeeding and adoption has always been taboo. On both sides. But I do not think it should be and I hope it changes! And how do we change it? By talking about it and sharing our stories! I wish I had considered breastfeeding Kevin. I would have loved having that special time with him the first few days after he was born. And knowing I had provided him with milk for the first however-many-months would be a joy to me, even now.

Expectant moms are not encouraged to breastfeed when considering adoption. It is not even part of the conversation. The fear is that it will make placement harder for them. Having that intimate connection will make saying good-bye more difficult. So the perspective adoptive parents and counselors would not suggest something that they believe may encourage the mom to parent. But the truth is, it cannot be harder than it already is to give your child to someone else to raise. I know a few moms that breastfeed or pumped and sent milk. And it is amazing. I hope it continues to be more and more common.

On the flip side of the coin is induced lactation for adoptive moms. This is also taboo. This one is harder to put my finger on. There is some odd belief that breastfeeding a child that is not biologically yours is somehow gross or odd. (Crazy!) But there is also an emotional aspect for the birthmom. As a birthmom, once your baby is gone, what you have left is the knowledge that your body sustained the baby, there is connection that no one can ever take away. And the fear is that breastfeeding will somehow lessens that connection. The adoptive mom’s body is also sustaining the baby. And that makes the birthmom less important.

Of course neither of these things are true. It will not be harder to place your baby if you breastfeed (and if you decide to parent, good for you!). And an adoptive mom feeding her baby is not weird and will not lessen the birth mom bond. The important piece in all of this is doing what is best for the baby. Even if emotionally it is hard for you, we all need to step back and remember is not about us.

First and foremost, of course, feed the baby! However that looks. But my hope is that breastfeeding can be part of the adoption conversation, wouldn’t that be awesome?

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What do you think of breastfeeding and adoption?

Do you have any experience with breastfeeding and adoption?

Share in the comments below your thoughts on adoption and breastfeeding.

____________________

If you are a birthmom or know a birthmom looking for support or a community, On Your feet Foundation is an excellent resource. They have retreats, case management and an amazingly supportive community just for birthmoms.

____________________

If you’d like to share your story with a larger audience, submit your story, photos, and your bio, with #MyStoryMatters in the subject to content @ theleakyboob.com (no spaces).

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vicki's headshot
 
Vicki lives in Palatine, IL with her husband and 2 cats! After having Kevin at 21 she suffered from secondary infertility and is unable to have more kids biologically and has decided to live child-free. Vicki has always worked in women’s issues and currently works as a community manager at Ameda, a breast pump company where she loves helping moms meet their breastfeeding goals.
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