Unexpected Strength

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Life after trauma can be very confusing. 

Piecing together all of the nuggets of information that have been relayed to me about my son’s birth has been difficult. Trying to figure out the timeline of events, along with how long things lasted has been the most difficult part. I had my son on a Thursday and I was released to the postpartum area on a Sunday. We left the hospital on a Wednesday. That week felt like a lifetime. 

I remember laying in the bed while in the ICU, not knowing how long I had been there, who I had seen, and just wondering how long I would be there. I seriously thought I was going to be there forever. I didn’t feel like I was getting better. I kept getting sick from the magnesium drip, I wasn’t having bowel movements (though, you try to do that on a bed and see how it goes), and it’s questionable whether or not I had enough urine output. They did two scans while I was in there to make sure everything was ok in my stomach, I’m assuming to make sure the internal bleed had stopped. I didn’t really understand why they were doing any of it or why I was on so many meds and hooked up to so many things. 

Since I was postpartum, I was able to have a lactation consultant come see me to help with breastfeeding and pumping. The first time she came, we tried pumping and there was one drop on each of the flanges, which just looked a lot like blood to me, but she said it was colostrum, and told me I should continue to pump every 3 hours or so. 

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I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to pump laying down, let alone with several tubes hooked up to you, along with the fear of throwing up at any time, but, when that’s your situation, pumping is pretty much the last thing you want to do. I tried, but I just couldn’t find a good position to sit, and eventually gave up on that. I still figured my milk would come in, mostly because with my daughter, the first 5 days were pretty milk-less and then I got engorged without pumping much during the time leading up to that. I figured the same would happen with my little guy. 

I was hoping so badly that when I went back to the postpartum wing that my little guy would latch right on. He had started getting used to the finger feeds though, so I knew it was going to take a little bit of work to bring him back to me. 

The lactation consultant came to see me the first day I was in the postpartum wing and we tried feeding my little guy, and he actually latched, then we figured out all the logistics of pumping. She gave me a schedule, and I got to work. I was pumping every 3 hours around the clock and was supposed to give my little guy anything I pumped first before giving him any of the formula. 

At first, I was getting drops, so we would take a gloved finger, swipe it out of the pump and put it in his mouth. Then I started getting a ml or two. Then more, until I was filling the little syringes that they had given us to have him finger feed. I remember so clearly, the last night we were in the hospital the nurse came in and said, “Mama, you have milk!”

This seemed incredibly odd to me. I had just had a baby, of course I had milk! 

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We continued the pumping schedule, but I would always try to get my little guy latched and drinking before pumping. It took work from me, but it also took work from my husband. He pretty much had to help me every time, “tricking” my son into latching with drops of formula or breastmilk. We had learned some tricks from the lactation consultant at the pediatrician’s office when I had my daughter and transferred these ideas over to my son. It was starting to work! 

We, luckily, were able to get an appointment with the lactation consultant at the pediatrician pretty quickly. I call this woman the “breast whisperer” because she literally saved my breastfeeding experience with my daughter so I was certain she could help me with my son. 

When we arrived, I asked her if she knew my birth story. She didn’t, so I told her everything that had happened. She looked at me and I think she asked if I was producing milk. I told her yes. 

Then she told me something that pretty much blew my mind. After having an experience like I had, I shouldn’t have been able to produce milk. After trauma, it is very common for the mother to not produce any milk at all. She told me the only reason I was probably producing milk was because I breastfed my daughter and all the “equipment” was already there. I think that coupled with the fact that I breastfed my little guy before the second surgery, I tried to do skin-to-skin as much as possible, and we continued to try to get him latched, I had a better chance of succeeding in my efforts.

I look back at my stay at the hospital and it all makes a bit more sense. The surprised looks and comments from the nurses when they’d see the syringes full of milk. The lactation consultant not commenting when I’d say that I’d probably be getting engorged soon. But none of the nurses at the hospital ever once suggested we stop finger feeding or trying to breastfeed; that breastfeeding possibly wouldn’t be an option and for that, I am SO grateful. 

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You see, if I would have lost the ability to breastfeed, it would have made this whole experience so much more real. I didn’t really know what had happened, I was asleep for all of it. It seemed like a dream. I think I would have likely had postpartum depression- breastfeeding was THE thing I was looking most forward to being able to do with my son. The lactation consultant actually gave me a list of counselors to choose from that day, and encouraged me to go talk to someone because this was an extremely traumatic experience…the thing was, what I remembered didn’t feel THAT traumatic. It felt like I had an extended hospital stay. She couldn’t believe that I was ok mentally. It wasn’t common. 

But being able to breastfeed saved me mentally. It gave me my purpose right after I had my little guy. It was something I SO enjoyed being able to do for him, with him. It was our time together. 

I have to admit, I wish I would have taken the opportunity to go talk to someone right after everything happened, but I really hadn’t pieced it all together yet. I was still in newborn fog, coming off of two major surgeries, an ICU stay, was still extremely swollen (I lost 30lbs in 3 weeks) and still trying to be a good mom for my daughter too. I honestly didn’t feel like I needed it and maybe I was a bit embarrassed that all of this happened in the first place. The feelings I had are SO hard to explain. 

As crazy as it sounds, I don’t think I’d want this whole experience to be different. It taught me so much about myself, about how to live my life, about the things to be grateful for and the things that don’t really matter. 

“I am thankful for my struggle because, without it, I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength.” -Alex Elle