I have rheumatoid arthritis. I’ve carried this burden around with me for more than five years now. I knew I would be faced with huge obstacles when trying to get pregnant, dealing with the pregnancy, and of course, the aftermath.
But in life, it’s impossible to be prepared for everything.
When I got pregnant, I was determined to not pressure myself about breastfeeding. Though Jamaican society strongly believes that breast is best, the fact that moms all over the world are condemned if they don’t breastfeed is extremely upsetting to me. Sometimes, and for whatever reason, you just can’t do it. Every body, and every baby, is different.
I had a unique experience when I was pregnant, to say the least. I had to taper medications which would be most harmful to the baby. I hit a brief reduction in RA symptoms, and for a moment I thought I was going to experience pregnancy remission…
And then the complete opposite happened. My body flared so much so that I had to reintroduce prednisone, get a steroid shot, and restart taking Celebrex. Despite all of that we confirmed the little bean inside me was perfect and healthy.
I was calm and I had my game plan down to a science in the moments after my water broke. My one must was that I wanted my baby to have a great latch so right after birth he would get colostrum. I would continue to breastfeed for as long as possible, but if my RA flared I had a fridge filled with sterile bottles. I knew that I could only take care of my baby if I was healthy and in a good place, so I researched which formula would be the most suitable substitute if the need should arise. But, if I could breastfeed for at least one week, and at best six—struggling through pain if necessary—then I would call myself an amazing Mom.
One hour after birth, and on our first try, my baby latched like a vacuum cleaner. He took as much colostrum as he could and “asked” for the other breast. Doctors and nurses were ecstatic, and so was I! I would breastfeed for as long as possible; he was fine and I was fine.
The next day, everything changed.
My baby was swept away and rushed to another hospital for immediate surgery. He had an imperforate anus. Following surgery, his food was restricted until they felt he could be introduced slowly to milk.
Doctors told me that breast milk would help flush bilirubin from his system and help his bowels to really start going. It’s also completely natural, and it would give him antibodies that would help his system get back to normal. But, at that point I had been expressing a little for relief, but not collecting anything. Why? I felt like my body was laughing at me, making liquid gold that he might never get to have.
I let myself cry, wiped my tears, and got tough.
Soon after, I discovered two other moms who had just been given the same instructions; pump and save. We became fast friends. We cheered each other on when we got a full ounce, and you were a goddess among us when you went over two!
When he could finally have milk, the nurse fed him only four milliliters, just to see what would happen. He gobbled it up! Two hours later he had some more, and it continued like that for a few days.
Then we hit panic mode. We needed more milk. But my hands were exhausted from hand expressing, and my RA was getting aggravated from all of the extra stress.
Eventually I would find myself sitting in the NICU, naked to the waist down, with a strange woman (a senior nurse) massaging and expressing my milk into a bottle. We got four ounces and my engorged, painful breasts could finally feel relief. We continued this way until they determined that it was safe to not monitor his milk intake by measurement.
At last, we were able to latch on again, and he did it like a champ! Two days later we went home.
He’s now 15 weeks old and thriving. I feed him directly when I’m around him, and I pump for his feedings during the day while I’m at work. I also pump in the filing room and my office completely understands, and sometimes we even continue to conducts conversations through the door if necessary!
I have two bags of milk which I brought home from the hospital. I can’t bring myself to defrost them. They are the most nutrient rich milk because his body would have told mine through breastfeeding what antibodies to produce.
But to me, they represent something deeper and stronger than just food. They remind me that I fought to get this baby here, that he fought to stay here, and that I was able to give him one of the most important and beautiful gifts and when his body needed it most. Those two bags represent for us why my breasts were best.