So, I would sleep! Sure….
I have always been a light sleeper and found that I couldn’t stay sleeping because my daughter was making grunting, almost moaning, noises. There was a newly instituted protocol called, “rooming in” where the newborn was to stay in the room with the mother during the recovery period instead of the traditional nursery.
But, I couldn’t take it. I needed to sleep. If that was to happen the baby had to go to the nursery. I not so gently nudged my husband, who was snoring in the vinyl recliner beside me, to take our girl to the nursery down the hall. “Sure.” he said.
But then there was that noise again.
I opened my eyes to find my daughter in her bassinet beside me with my husband continuing to saw logs. Did I mention he is NOT a light sleeper? This time he may or may not have gotten a punch in the arm and a raised voice telling him to GET UP AND TAKE THE BABY TO THE NURSERY.
The next thing I remember was a bright light flashing in my eyes and someone loudly whispering, “Mrs Dzioba, Mrs Dzioba!”.
I jumped to attention in my hospital bed. A nurse was standing at the foot of my bed with a flashlight.
“There was an incident with your baby.” What? My brain wasn’t working.
“ She stopped breathing and has been moved to NICU.”
I was delirious. Incident? Stopped breathing? What’s NICU?! I wasn’t quite sure if I was still dreaming.
This is what it felt like after 72 sleepless hours.
The panic of the situation kick-started my adrenaline and I found myself out of bed, shaking my husband. “Get up,” I told him, “we have to go to NICU!”.
What was happening?
My breast milk was causing my daughter to choke & stop breathing
It was determined that my daughter had reflux.
What did that mean? It meant my breast milk was causing her to regurgitate and she would choke and stop breathing.
She finally had “successfully” nursed and it almost killed her. What? How was I going to feed her? The solution was medication. One medication caused her stomach to empty faster, narrowing the availability of stomach contents to “come up” on her (and have explosive poops!). Another medication reduced the acid production in her stomach so that, when she did have reflux, the contents were not as acidic to her esophagus.
For the next week, my routine was to march down to NICU, suit up, scrub up and pick up my baby girl. We would nurse, cuddle, sing, change diapers, and repeat.
I still wasn’t sleeping. My anxiety was horrible. I was terrified.
Real worries kept running though my head:
• What if she stopped breathing again?
• What happens when I take her home and there won’t be a team of specialized doctors and nurses to look after her?
I told one of the nurses on the ward that I wasn’t sleeping. She got a doctor to prescribe a sleeping pill. But I would have to wake up 2 hours after taking the pill, pump my breast milk and dispose of it because the medication would be passed through to my milk.
So, I took the pill and then worried I would sleep through the alarm that would go off in 2 hours. I’d force myself to wake up and have the wherewithal to work a breast pump and pump for about 20-30 minutes (keep in mind my milk-letting wasn’t all that efficient at this early stage).
Then probably the hardest step of all: pouring my liquid gold down the drain. It took so much effort, energy and time to produce that milk that it was heart-breaking to watch it wash away…. After going through this process twice, I determined it was not worth taking the sleeping pill. Because it wouldn’t allow me to sleep anyways!
After 10 days, we went home with a monitor to detect her heartbeat and breathing.
This monitor, a machine that was supposed to give me peace of mind so that I could soundly sleep, instead would abruptly sound off, alerting me that my child had stopped breathing. This would immediately set me off in a panic, running to her room and tapping the bottom of her feet until she would breath again.
My daughter continued to have reflux “episodes” after settling back home.
My doctor asked me what I was eating. Perhaps my diet was affecting how my baby was digesting (or not digesting) the milk? What are some common, reflux-causing foods? Garlic and onions! My husband is Ukrainian and regularly cooked with garlic and onions. Dairy! Perhaps I should remove dairy from my diet? What didn’t help this strategy was the continuous bombardment of Dairy Queen’s Blizzard of the Month commercials, taunting me.
So far, no part of the “natural act” of breastfeeding felt natural
Here are a few more issues that occurred during my year of breastfeeding:
• Cracked nipples: There is not much more that I can say about this. Yes, it is as painful as it sounds.
• Thrush: I noticed white spots in my baby’s mouth. My doctor said it was a yeast-like fungus and easy to treat. The problem was I had thrush on my nipples. We were passing it back and forth to each other at each feeding. Solution? A nipple guard. Luckily (or maybe not so) I was already a pro at using the nipple guard (see: cracked nipples).
Don’t get me wrong, I am a proponent of breastfeeding. It does offer so many benefits – when it works.
I’m just not a proponent of guilting, shaming or forcing a woman into breastfeeding.
There were MANY times during my nursing journey that I wanted to give up. Had I not had a husband that would dutifully wake up at any hour, change the baby’s diaper, swaddle her into the most perfect burrito you have laid eyes on, and bring her to me, I would have switched my daughter to formula.
Taking care of yourself…
It’s kind of like the airplane scenario: you have to put on your own air-mask before you can assist others.
The mother must have her own needs taken care of before she can successfully produce and deliver breastmilk! Not every mother has her needs met. Mine were. And so, once my baby bird was done feeding, I would not so gently nudge my husband from his slumber to return her to the safely of her nest.
Oh, by the way. My daughter is a healthy young woman. We both survived our crazy journey in the beginning.
If you need help or support during your pregnancy talk to your physician, midwife, doula, counsellor, family, or trusted friend or partner. Sharing our stories helps us understand ourselves and pregnancy.
You’re not alone.