Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Breast is Best

I rolled my eyes and groaned loudly when my eighth grade English teacher assigned Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet as part of our required reading for the term. I was only 14, at the time, and assumed the play, which was overflowing with antiquated words and phrases that I'd never heard before, would be way too hard to understand. But I was so wrong. From the first few lines I was immediately sucked into the tale of the young, star-crossed lovers. Never had I enjoyed homework as much as when I was reading Romeo and Juliet. And, as an unexpected bonus, I changed schools for my Freshman year and was thrilled to see my favorite Shakespearian masterpiece on my English syllabus for the second year in a row!

So, why am I telling you this little anecdote? What does it have to do with my baby, who is currently 14 weeks along in Lyndsay's borrowed uterus? Let me explain.

If you've ever read or seen a cinematic version of Romeo and Juliet, you know that Juliet's mother is only a mother in the biologic sense. Yes, Juliet still lives with her parents, but the person she really considers her "Mom" is the one she calls "Nurse". No, not a nurse in a doctor's office. This woman was Juliet's wet nurse from birth. I'm aware that wet nurses are scarce these days so I'll fill you in on the job of these special women. In the days of Shakespeare, and maybe even in some places now, wealthy women would give birth to a child then immediately pass her off to a woman who was hired to dote on the child until she left her parents' house and moved in with her new husband. Generally, the women who were chosen for these jobs were new mothers who had lost a baby in the days following its birth. Why is that, you ask? 


These women were lactating but didn't have a baby to feed. And, since the wealthy, new mothers didn't want to be bothered whipping their boobs out to satisfy their infant's needs, a wet nurse was the perfect answer for them. It allowed them the glory and attention of having a new baby without any of the fuss. So, now it makes sense why Juliet was so attached to her Nurse, doesn't it? The bond between a baby and the woman who nurses her is unbreakable. 

I know that bond.

Thirteen years ago yesterday, my son, Dylan, was born. He was three weeks early and such a tiny, little thing! From the moment the stick turned blue I became adamant about breast-feeding. "Breast is Best," I'd heard over and over again from doctors and nurses and books and magazines and TV shows and random women at the grocery store who noticed my giant belly. And then, finally, he was here! Let the boobies flow! But no one could've prepared me for what this supposedly beautiful and natural process of feeding my child would actually become. 

That shit HURTS!

The two weeks following Dylan's birth consisted of sore, raw and bleeding nipples, a baby who couldn't figure out how to correctly latch on, which caused a clogged milk duct and an infection in my boob called mastitis. Symptoms of mastitis include a giant, red, swollen boob, chills, aches and a fever. Antibiotics were required. But I pressed on! 

I basically walked around all day in nothing but a nursing bra because Dylan was a "snacker." All the books and the classes and the nurses insisted on 20 minutes per breast for each feeding. Yeah, right! Within three minutes of latching on the kid would fall fast asleep mid suck. I tried to wake him up to finish but it was useless. I followed all the advice I was given. I undressed him so he'd get cold, I changed his diaper, I even flicked the bottoms of his feet! Nothing I did would wake him long enough to get back to the boob for more than another three or four minutes. I was a slave to the baby. But I pressed on! 

Finally Dylan and I started getting the hang of my milk jugs and things started to get easier. Then, one day Dylan spit up and I clearly saw blood. After rushing him to the pediatrician for a check-up that included the doctor sticking her finger up my baby's little tush to check for blood in his stool, she said, "I think the blood is coming from you." After thinking about it I realized I had been having a burning sensation in my left nipple for awhile. I scheduled an appointment for myself which revealed a second infection; this time it was in my nipple. I was instructed to feed from the right and pump from the left until the infection cleared up. But, oh, how I hated that breast-pumping machine! I hated the sound it made and how it stretched my nipples into unGodly looking utters. My unadulterated loathing of pumping forced me to ignore the doctor's words and just leave the left side out of it altogether for awhile. Ah, if I'd only known that seemingly harmless decision would lead to a left breast that was a full size smaller than the right breast for the next six years, until I couldn't stand it any longer and commissioned a plastic surgeon to even them out and put them back the way they came. But I pressed on!

Nine months later, when we were on vacation at the beach, Dylan decided he was done being a boob-man (at least for the next 13 years or so) and refused to nurse anymore. I had hoped to go a full year with him but I was ok with his decision to cut it a few months short. After all, I'd been supplementing here and there with formula since he was four months old, so it wasn't like he'd only had breast milk since birth. And, at that point, I think he was down to only a morning and a night feeding anyway.

And then, two and a half years later, out came Justin!

Justin was born the size of a three month-old and had a voracious appetite to match his size. The kid was barely 10 minutes old when he latched himself onto me with a vacuum hold and didn't let go for the next thirty minutes. And then he did the same with the other side! Even though Justin nursed like a champ right from the beginning, I still ended up with another painful bout of mastitis. But I pressed on! He was such a good eater but, for some reason, I never wanted to supplement formula with him like I'd done with Dylan. And it was a damn good thing, too! When Justin was 6 months old the pediatrician gave us the green light to try some baby yogurt. My little boy was barely two spoonfuls into the creamy snack when he started breaking out in welts all over his body. He was drooling and coughing and Benadryl did nothing to stop the reaction. As we were grabbing the keys to rush out to the hospital, Justin threw up - all over me, of course - and instantly turned back to his normal color. The welts went away and the drooling and coughing stopped. That experience led us to a full panel of testing which revealed severe allergies to milk and peanuts. And when I say an allergy to milk, I do NOT mean he was lactose intolerant. A few more bites of that yogurt and Justin may not have been peacefully sleeping upstairs as I type these words now. After hearing the results of the tests a weird feeling came over me. How did I know not to supplement Justin with formula? Every time I'd leave the house to run to the store or go to lunch with a friend, I'd leave a bottle of formula. But, every time, right before Justin's scheduled feeding, I'd call home and tell my ex or my mom or the babysitter to hold off and I'd be home to nurse him. It must've been some sort of maternal instinct. After all, regular formulas are milk-based. A bottle of formula would have killed my baby.

And now I'm expecting my third child. The thought of breastfeeding Baby A was never a real consideration since I'm not carrying her myself and wouldn't be able to produce milk without synthetic hormones that may or may not be dangerous with my history of cancer. During our initial meetings with the fertility clinic, we were asked if we wanted Lyndsay to pump and send milk. I said no, not only because pumping sucks, but also because it felt strange to me to use someone else's breast milk. Besides, I was bottle-fed with formula and so were 90% of the babies when I was born. We all turned out ok…right? 

But then, a lunch date with my friend from high school started the wheels turning in my head.

Because I haven't asked permission to use her name, I'll call my friend R. R and I had lunch the other day because she thought I could use the ear of someone who knows what it's like to have someone else carry her baby. No, R didn't use a gestational carrier, but she adopted both of her children and was involved in the pregnancies from very early on. During our conversation, R mentioned that she had fed both of her babies with donated breast milk. One for about nine months, I believe, and the other for a full year. At first I was pretty grossed out by the thought of my child ingesting milk produced by another woman's breasts. But then I remembered my baby is living and growing in another woman's uterus. Is there really a difference? "Tell me more," I prodded R, and she gave me all the information she could. 

Since that lunch last Thursday, I've been online researching donated breast milk like crazy. So many questions are rolling around my head. Is it worth the effort to find a donor? Will my baby really be healthier with breast milk? How will I feel using someone else's milk when I can't bond with my baby that way myself? 

I decided to e-mail Dr. C to ask if the hospital in Minnesota where my baby will be born has a milk bank. They do not. I've found a few online but the information is overwhelming. R used a milk sharing program rather than a bank, which definitely sounds more personal since I'd actually know who is providing my baby's nourishment. But can I trust these people? How do I know they'll eat the right foods and they won't do drugs or drink alcohol? Ah, yes. More issues the control freak can't control. 

I think I need to go back to the days of Shakespeare and find a wet nurse. Maybe Juliet can lend me hers.

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