This is the first moment Natty tasted breastmilk.
This is not a photo I thought I would ever share with anyone. I have stumbled across it, yet filed it away several times. Intensely private, it was almost too painful to look at, yet now I see it anew, with pride in my heart. This is the first moment Natty tasted breastmilk.
|Natty's first taste of my breastmilk and 'Kangaroo Care' at 4 days old|
I see every detail within it now; the hospital gown, the engorged milk-ready breasts, the birthing necklace, tubes taped to my skin, jaundice, fragility, fear. A faceless, nameless angel helping our baby learn to feed. My baby's first taste of my milk, taken from a hard plastic syringe. Gowns, monitors, beeps, disinfectant. Blankets and toys donated by unknown wellwishers.
I have recalled very little of that detail until now, blocked by the healing of time.
But the time has come to share this image. Spurred on in part by the arrival and feeding journey of my first baby niece.
I know it conveys a powerful message and if it helps one Mum continue to feed her vulnerable tube-fed baby with her own milk, even partially, even for one extra day, if she wants to, then it is worth broadcasting. For only now, with hindsight, do I see that it is a beautiful, positive image and one that shows that babies in special care can be fed their mother's milk.
I don't want to suggest that all mothers and babies who find themselves in a similar position should or could achieve the same. For some the stress and worry of the arrival of a poorly baby is more than enough to contend with. But for me, feeding my daughter gave me a purpose, a focus, a tangible act I could carry out for her, while she still wasn't quite 'our' baby. I know that many women are told that babies with Down's Syndrome are unable to feed, often by midwives. This is to dispel that myth too.
So here is our story, of the first 3 weeks of expressing for our baby.
Fortunately I had experience of breastfeeding before Natty arrived. I had fed her elder sister Mia successfully for around 20 months. We'd overcome a shaky start, with blistered raw nipples, and some stress-related milk flow reduction, and gone on to enjoy the close bond and easy convenience that breastfeeding offers. I too was breastfed, and that is all I had ever really considered for my children.
When Natty entered our world I was left shaking, shocked, blankly staring ahead, while she lay several wards away in SCBU fighting for her life.
Our birth companion asked a midwife what we were to do about the breast milk.
The reply cut through my numbness;
'Don't worry, it'll soon dry up after the shock she's had today.'
The assumption flicked a switch in my brain. Despite not being sure if I even wanted to see or touch this baby with the scary Syndrome called Down's, my instinct to feed her myself was switched on at that moment.
Several hours later, we returned home our community midwives joined us there. Supportive, positive, offering firm words of wisdom, and bringing with them a breast pump.
They advised me on how to hand express the precious colostrum and collect it in a syringe. The plan was to refridgerate it and take it to our baby in the morning, when we had tried to get some rest. Suudenly I had a role, something useful to contribute in a situation in which we were otherwise useless.
The morning came and I prepared myself to collect the life-giving colostrum. This was not how it should have been, alone in a bathroom at home, our baby lying unloved 30 miles away. She should have been latching on, cuddled in my arms, feeding as and when she wanted. By rights, we would have been snuggled up in our bed watching her latch on minutes after she was born.
I collected the liquid gold in a teacup, poured it into the syringe, put the plunger into the syringe, and, stupidly, squirted the lot over the bathroom floor. My exhausted brain couldn't have foreseen this epic failure. I sat, broken.
To this day I feel guilty that Natty didn't get this vital shot she so deperately needed.
Next step; using the pump. I was lucky to have been lent a pump, but in fairness it was a very basic one. Electric at least, but not powerful and it only catered for one boob at a time. It was the kind of pump you might buy to express a little bit to leave with a babysitter whilst you pop to the shops. It was not the kind of pump you need to express every last drop your growing baby needs to sustain it. It sufficed however, for at least a week, but it was a slow process, so I would spend literally hours every day plugged into the thing. I would have to wake myself twice in the night to express as milk flow was better at that time. Visitors would come to the house, and Bob would talk to them while I sat in a corner with my back turned, hooked up to the milking machine. I had become a glorified dairy cow.
Somehow, the knowledge that the milk might give her strength, might heal her, protect her from the illnesses to which she was vulnerable, might give her one or two additional IQ points made me carry on. I'd read it could strengthen tongue and jaw muscles, helping speech, that if we could ever get her to feed it would draw us closer. Or maybe I just don't like to be beaten by anything, stubborn and determined.
Each bottle filled, would be labelled with my name and the time and date. They were stored at home in the fridge, before being transported in a Coca Cola cool box, that had belonged to Great Grandma, to the hospital, and put in reverse date order in a massive communal breastmilk fridge.
Whilst in the hospital each day I had access to another, much more powerful machine. This baby really worked! What I needed was a machine fit to milk a cow. I mentioned this to a neonatal nurse, and she conjured one up from somewhere for me to bring home. It was a large blue brick, double pumping, with suction a Dyson could only dream of, and suddenly I could get double the amount of milk in half the time. Just as well, as Natty's daily requirements were ever increasing, which brought about stresses in itself. Would I always be able to fulfil her requirements.
But during my hours spent in hospital each day, a beautiful seed of the beginnings of breastfeeding began. At around 3 days old, a nurse asked me if I had heard of Kangaroo Care. I had! Delighted that our daughter was well enough for this, I prepared to give her the skin to skin contact she needed. This was when we first introduced her to the first tastes of my milk. Studies have shown that premature and poorly babies in SCBU benefit greatly from this skin contact with their parents. Quite literally the love they feel heals.
From then on she was allowed a few minutes a day at the breast. Too weak to latch on, too tired to stay awake long enough to actually feed, still relying on the naso-gastric tube, but being introduced slowly to the mechanics of what would be her first of many achievements in life; breastfeeding.
This pattern would continue for the next three months once Natty came home, me having been taught to insert fresh naso gastric tubes. Together we learnt the little Mummy baby dance of feeding, of ways of keeping the little warrior awake, of making her hunger for the milk she needed. And we've been dancing ever since...