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World Breastfeeding Week


For all of the mothers who have breastfed or attempted to breastfeed their babies, you understand how hard it is. I had the false assumption that breastfeeding was going to be totally natural and instinctual for me. Um, no! Breastfeeding truly is a skill that requires learning, practice, and tons of support and patience. In honor of World Breastfeeding Week (which just concluded), I’d like to share my breastfeeding experience with you all.


Breastfeeding was something I have very little experience with before I became pregnant and had my own children. I had never seen a woman breastfeed in public when we were out shopping or visiting friends and family. I remember seeing a friend of my family breastfeeding her baby but it was always behind closed doors and out of sight. Dare I see an areola or nipple that wasn’t my own! There was a high regard to this mother’s privacy, which I respect in hindsight, but she never nursed out in the open.


Back then, breastfeeding was referred to as nursing. A word like “nursing” alluded to a “tending to the baby” without being specific about what was happening unless you witnessed it first hand. There was a feeling of secrecy and exclusive access when a woman was tucked away “nursing”. Growing up with a church community, there was a separate room in the church nursery that was labelled, “private for nursing mothers”. There was a locked door and it was set apart from the cribs, changing tables, and rooms with toys in it. I snuck into that room to see what the big secret was all about but I only found a dark room with rocking chairs and a few blankets.


I am a child of the 80’s. I was born in 1979 and modesty amongst women, especially the mothers I grew up around, was very much a thing. Seeing a mom wearing shorts or a bathing suit was rare and all the skirts and dresses were long and flowey. I honestly didn’t know what boobs were until I had my own and once I did, I didn’t know that they served a greater purpose later in life when I had children of my own. It’s sad to think about that disconnect now and I am sure I am not the only woman my age that feels that way. No one ever taught me that babies were fed by the breast of the mothers who gave birth to them. I guess I may have suspected something similar when I saw a neighborhood cat feed her kittens but I don’t think it clicked that the nipples on that cat’s belly were the same as the ones on my body.


Fast forward to 2009 and I gave birth to my first child. Everything about pregnancy, labor, birth, postpartum, breastfeeding, placentas, bleeding, shrinking uterus, episiotomies, engorgement, hemorrhoids, you name it... it was all new to me and I was learning all about it first hand on my own. Thank goodness for my lactation consultants, doctors, and girlfriends who were willing to divulge all of the details and share insight. It’s true, no one told me what to expect! My evolution into womanhood had a unique dynamic as my father was the one who helped me through my first period and took me to buy my first bra. More on that at another time.


Breastfeeding was my biggest misconception with my first childbirth experience. I had no fear of breastfeeding and didn’t do any research on it besides the small chapter in the pregnancy book I was reading. I imagined that breastfeeding would be instinctual and that my baby would be born and know what to do. Essentially, I expected him to teach me! Oh boy! Had it not been for my lactation consultant, Irene Cullagh, I would not be able to say that I successfully breastfeed my three babies for over 18 months. Irene taught me the fundamentals of latching, milk production, switching sides, holding techniques, supply and demand, nipple care, engorgement relief, pumping, milk storage, expressed milk preparation, freezing and defrosting milk, shelf life/expiration of expressed milk, how my diet affects my milk supply, and so much more!


My first and third child breastfeed exclusively with me for well over a year. However, my second child and I were only able to breastfeed for five months. I was diagnosed with cancer when he was five months old and was not able to continue feeding him on my own due to treatment. I still carry a vivid memory of being in my hospital room with my gown on, IV tubing coming out of my arms and being tangled up in the tubing of my breast pump. I was alone, lucid, in pain and willing my body to make milk come out and collect in those empty bottles for my little baby at home. Sadly, I was not able to produce milk. I was going through trauma on many levels beyond my comprehension. For years later, I lacked closure in regards to that experience because I never had a “last time” with him and my milk dried up and that was it. It was one of those experiences that was swept under the rug in the chaos of being treated for cancer.


Thankfully, with the support of those around me, I was able to come to terms with the fact that I needed to focus on my own personal health and let my desire to breastfeed him be put aside. He was able to be nourished by the support of formula lovingly fed to him by my husband and myself as I recovered. Our bond continued through those feedings and he carries a special little place in my heart because of that experience. I often call him my angel baby because he came into my life at a time when I very much needed hope. It’s true what they say, “children come through you, not for you”.


I share this lengthy experience about my breastfeeding journey because each child was different. Each experience was different. I learned something about myself spiritually and physically with each child I breastfed. After the experience of cancer in 2011, I wasn’t sure if I would ever have another child. But in 2015, after welcoming a baby girl into our lives, I latched that ten-pound chunky cheeked babe onto my breast and immediately felt the closure and the love and attachment that I felt that I had lost all those years before.

Peace and Love,

Robin


August 8, 2022 - Newsletter 005

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