The year was 1969. I was a 20-year-old student nurse looking forward to the Christmas time birth of my first child.
My family shook their heads when I signed up for the rooming-in arrangement in anticipation for my post-birth hospital stay. Rooming-in—the idea of having the infant kept in the mother’s hospital room instead of a nursery—was a new and innovative concept at the time.
I happily imagined having access to our baby and learning to breastfeed. I pictured my husband and I holding our baby, bonding as a young family.
However, that was not to be.
I could not breastfeed, as our daughter was jaundiced. An incubator containing a bilirubin light was at my bedside while I pumped with an awkward plastic hand pump, and then I discarded the milk. We held our daughter only to give her water.
I was sad, but undaunted.
We were discharged in 5 days and I found myself in my grandmother’s home, surrounded by experienced women who had raised healthy bright children on formula made from canned PET milk (“the best”) and Karo Syrup.
My clothing was inconvenient at best. I wore handmade jumpers and smocks designed to hide my wide hips and self-consciousness.
To add to my sense of discomfort, I was ordered to nurse “upstairs.” I felt alone, banished, and isolated and so did my husband.
I was armed with good intentions and Dr. Barry Brazelton’s articles in Redbook Magazine. His writings encouraged so called “on-demand feedings.” He opened the door for moms to consider each baby as an individual personality from birth, and invited them to respond freely to their infants.
To add to my list of breastfeeding influences, I was surrounded by well-meaning voices confident in schedules, the dangers of “spoiling,” and too thin or weak breast milk. “Babies are to eat and sleep,” was their mantra—but not my baby! My now very awake little one made me question my choice to work as a Nursing Assistant 11p-7AM shift during the final months of my pregnancy.
As I agonized over my breastfeeding choices, I realized I was my own worst enemy in more ways than one.
Humbled, overwhelmed, and disappointed, my breastfeeding efforts lasted three weeks.
My daughter drank bottles of canned Enfamil and then whole milk at four months—GASP! But, I can report that she grew and thrived. Decades later she herself successfully nursed two daughters.
I’m happy to say I went on to have three more children, and had other opportunities to breastfeed. I will always remember the experiences as tender and empowering.
My marriage would go on to last forty-six years, and my nursing career lasted thirty-five.
In the end, I nursed for a total of two years…a drop of time in life’s bucket, that I wouldn’t change for the world. I never imagined all these years later I would have the opportunity to help develop a solution for easier breastfeeding and pumping.