Thursday, January 31, 2013

Liquid Gold

Breastmilk, girls.  That's what I call it.

I believe I got that name from a book I read while I was learning to breastfeed my daughter, Ce-silly.  "So That's What They're For:  Breastfeeding Basics."  Pause while I look up the author.  Janet Tamaro.  It was full of hilarious anecdotes.  I prefer learning with humor than by rote education.

With Ce-silly, I was obsessed and terrified of nursing and pumping.  I had a wonderful breastfeeding mentor, a resident two years ahead of me, named Mellificent.  No, she is not an evil stepsister, as the nickname implies.  She is magnificent.  I wrote about breastfeeding once before, you can read it HERE.  I recently re-read it myself so I wouldn't repeat too much here.  Eek.  I highly do not recommend re-reading old things you might have blogged - way too embarrassing.  I laughed as I read it though - implying that Cecelia was easier than my son Jack.  The beginning with her was oh so rough.  The cracked nipples, the bleeding, the feeling that every time your infant needed to nurse your sensitive nipples were being attacked by razors instead of baby gums.  I found breast shields, and used them until I healed.  I felt like I had been visited upon by a miraculous wonder masquerading as a piece of soft plastic.

I was in Conway last Friday - there is something magical about going to a different location once every month or so.  Pluses and minuses.  I am a fish out of water for sure (new electronic medical records, not my office with my reference books in my order) but I can relax in a way that I cannot at my home base in Little Rock.  Without the demands of my space - bills, kid things to attend to during my spare time - I open up a little more with the lab techs and administrators.  I was having a long hour lunch - a luxury for me.  I usually heat up a veggie burger and make lunch 5-10 minutes.

I was having a conversation about nursing with a lab tech and a lab administrator.  One of them told me her story. When she was having her first child, she was living in the Mississippi Delta.  Very isolated from family and friends.  It was back in the day when women came into the hospital in labor, were snowed with drugs, and woke up with a baby usually many hours old.  When the female nurse propped her new son on her lap, after she had woken from an unnatural slumber, she expressed a desire to nurse her baby.  This was what she got in response.  "What?  Nurse?  I have already fed your baby two bottles, and he took them better than most.  Are you going to ruin my efforts by trying to nurse him?"  Ouch.

The other woman at our common table in the break room expressed different, but similar reasons for not being supported in nursing.  It was in the eighties.  The eighties were tough for nursing moms.  My mom nursed both my sister and I in the seventies, but my brothers were born in the 80's.  My dad's best friend at the time, a great guy, was a formula rep. My mom was busy with growing her brood from two to four and her career pursuits.  Both my parents have individually expressed regrets to me about not nursing, especially my middle brother, who is seven years younger than me (I'm 39.  No really.  40 this year, ugh.  I mean yippee.  But I did get carded tonight, and she told me she had to card everyone she thought was under 30, so yay for that, it made my decade).  He has a terrible case of Crohn's.  I diagnosed that today on a biopsy, and thought of him.  He is a successful graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and holds a Ph.D. in food science from Cornell.  He has a great job in industry and lectures all over the country in his field.  Who is to say that nursing would have saved him from all his health issues?  Who am I to judge my parents here?  Our wounds make us who we are today.  They make us strong and successful.  We are our own worst critics, we don't need anyone else tearing us down.  Especially our sisters.

And do I sit in judgment of my lab tech friend and administrator friend for their issues around nursing?  Hell no.  I worked hard to nurse and pump.  I wanted to go for a year for both, but I did 11 months for Cecelia and 8 for Jack.  Do I look back at myself and see my failure there?  At the time, yes.  Now, no.  I am proud as hell for what I did there.  With all the support I had.  When I was at a very unhealthy juncture in my marriage, I let a freezer full of milk in an outside carport languish for months.  I was a veritable cow - could pump 36-40 oz. a day.  One of my friend's husbands at the time told me I should sell my milk online.  At the time I freaked out at the thought, but I hear there are donation stations for premies and I wish I would have investigated back then.  I finally asked my ex to throw the milk out in a fit of OCD cleaning while I cried in the house.  I could no longer face my own failure there.  I needed it to be removed from the premises, because the presence weighed on me like an anvil.  I was not organized enough to get my Hispanic sitter to use it or to even go out and get it myself.  I forgive myself.

My neonatologist dad is a great counselor for anxious new parents who are dealing with more than they bargained for.  He tells them this.  There are babies and toddlers in other countries and our own that survive on much less.  Rice filled with bugs and stones.  Peanut butter sandwiches for years.  But they survive.  There isn't much you can do to hurt this little one as long as you are loving it.  I agree.  Those babies grow up, some of them, to be so strong.  Wearing their wounds like a badge and using them to educate others and change the world.  Isn't that the coolest thing on the planet?

I wrote this blog last night, and was trying to insert a video from YouTube.  Was having trouble, and accidentally deleted my blog around midnight (a first in many years of blogging).  I was so upset, but resolved to finish it.  The video is Mining For Gold, by the Cowboy Junkies.  I'm not going to try to embed again, ha ha.  It is a cover of an old work mining song, original author unknown, as far as Wiki goes.  Ce-silly reminded me this morning when I was telling her of my bad night that of course she knew that song, it was burned in her brain, I sang it to her over and over when she was a baby and a toddler.  Go check it out on YouTube if you are interested.  It is a lovely song, and reminds me of why songs are so ubiquitous and full of empathy.  I can be nursing my babies, and feel the pain and glory of gold miners from many years ago.  We are all mining for different types of gold.  As Mothers In Medicine, our gold may take a different shape, but it's not breast milk really.  It's love for our children, and dedication to our jobs.  We are miners.

I went to a popular restaurant tonight in LR with a girl friend.  I saw my sis-in-law and her husband, toddler, and baby.  She was nursing her son at the table.  It was one of the most beautiful sights in the world; my head did a little dizzy happy spin watching her and reliving my own memories.  She is a path resident, following in my footsteps, and I am so proud of her individuality and unique spin on the path I took before her, in mothering and in medicine.

Thanks R, a dedicated fan, for e-mailing me last week and inspiring this post.  You are awesome - get to the gold mines, girl.


  1. Awesome. I think breastfeeding is one of the very hard things that a mom can do, and it's wonderful when a working mom is successful, and sad but not at all blameworthy when it doesn't work out. I've worked full time throughout the time I breastfed both babies and abhor the stress that comes with breastfeeding/pumping. I made it to 12-13 months with both kids and am now expecting our third. I dread having to pump, but know that I can do it, having already done two.

  2. Thanks Kelly! Good for you, you should be proud. You are about to be outnumbered, good luck. I remember when I was nursing my daughter a friend from high school expressed curiosity that I was "still nursing" at 4 months and thought aloud that it was too gross to do herself. I remember hiding in another room at the party we were at to nurse, feeling shamed. Now I feel sorry for her that someone so important in her life gave her that impression about nursing. We need support to breastfeed, and you and I were lucky to get it.

  3. Very nice, nuanced post. The main problem I have as a Pediatrician is that not enough women even think of breast feeding as an option. I can't tell you the countless families in nursery who don't even think of breastfeeding as an option/ were never asked about what they know/ never knew a single person who successfully breastfed/ were taught formula is "better". It's a tragedy. I give kudos to anyone who goes against the norm and finds out about breastfeeding and then makes a conscious decision about it for the health of their baby. Just a decision. Just the thought. :-)

    1. Thanks, Mommabee. I am glad you are out there on the front lines. As a pathologist, I don't really get to encourage mom's to nurse. Only friends and family. And hopefully someone with this post. You are right, there are unusual success stories out there. Like my partner who, although childless, grew up in the projects surrounded by drugs and family in addiction or jail and despite all that became a successful pathologist. If we could just support everyone in life and pursuit, anomalies wouldn't be so tough to come by, I agree.

  4. Beautiful, thanks for sharing.

  5. Thanks for this post. I really enjoyed reading it. I had such a long journey with breastfeeding. My milk never came in with my first, and I tried everything under the sun, and even after the lactation consultant advised me to give up, I persisted. I breastfed while supplementing for 18 months. Second time around, I was able to produce enough. I write this with my nursing baby, my almost toddler, snuggled asleep in bed with me. Yes, pumping at work is very stressful. Yes, engorgement hurts, and mastitis is beyond pain. But I love breastfeeding and feel all of it is worth it. I love the first time a baby latches, the eye contact, the little fingers caressing the belly, the happy giggle baby still makes when he sees my breast after work, and so many moments I can't put onto words. My little one is almost 11 months old. My only complaint is that our babies grow up too fast.

    1. Thanks buttonchops. I am proud of you for sticking it out. My fountain of milk didn't last more than 6 months or so - I had to supplement with formula after that, and it was a relief, in a way, to be able to fall back on something I knew was nutritious and allowed me a little less pressure on myself. I'm jealous of your snuggly, nursing baby. Our babies do grow up too fast. I didn't realize it until #2, nursing #1 seemed to last ages. I'm glad there are other milestones to celebrate, such as basketball tournaments (tonight!), learning to ride bikes, etc. My daughter turns a DECADE next month, and we planned the invites and party together. What fun to have a consultant/planner to aid in my own neurosis/craftiness. Enjoy your little ones - the days can seem endless at that age but they are truly numbered and will soon be mourned.


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