Wednesday 18 January 2012

Hot Milk!

Breastfeeding is cool.  It just is.  I’m a big fan.  When I was pregnant with our first baby, it was Mister Husband who first broached the idea of me breastfeeding.  I didn’t have a strong opinion on it one way or the other.  Like a lot of people, it has to be pointed out.  So I decided I would “give it a go” and do it for the duration of my maternity leave at least.  A lot of things about pregnancy, birth and motherhood surprised me.  I surprised me.  
 I hit the three month mark, then it was six months, soon after that the first year was celebrated and we were still going strong.   One of the things I wasn’t prepared for was how much I would enjoy breastfeeding.  I’m quite territorial when it comes to my newborn babies.  I’m not a fan of everybody having “a hold” of them in the hospital.  They stay with me, thank you very much.  For me breastfeeding was a sort of extension of that.   I learned the basics, like the proper latch, not to bother timing feeds, to always feed on demand, and as time went on, I learned a little bit more.  Hardly a day went by in the early days where I didn’t learn something either of casual interest or of scientific value.  The human body never ceases to amaze me.  I love how it prepares to nourish from the moment of conception.  Your body is putting down the groundwork to feed your baby before you even know you’re pregnant. Now that’s cool!  I thought I’d share some of my other favourite cool things about breastfeeding.  (Not in order)
o   It’s free and it’s perfectly tailor made by me for my baby.  There is never a need to worry about whether he’s “getting enough.”  Screecher Creature No. 1 was more or less exclusively breastfed for 13 months.  Ok, so there was the odd toilet roll insert thrown in for variety, maybe the corner of the phone book and no newspaper was safe while he was around, but breast milk was what mostly sustained him.  
o   Anyone from a farming background?  Then you’ll be familiar with “beestings.”  Us humans produce beestings too, except sophisticated bunch that we are, someone decided to call it colostrum.  This “liquid gold” is my baby’s first food.  My milk won’t actually come in for 3 to 5 days after birth but colostrum is all my baby needs till then.  His little tummy is no bigger than a marble anyway and this is the perfect first food for him.  Colostrum is a natural laxative and helps flush all that meconium out of my baby’s body too!   
o   Breast milk is always on tap and at the perfect temperature. No getting up in the middle of the night and stumbling around in the dark, going to the kitchen and slicing my foot open on a piece of Lego.  I just lift Screecher Creature No. 4 from his bed, climb back into mine and we’re both happy out.
o   Have baby, will travel.  Got to pop out at the last minute?  No bother, just fire a nappy into my bag and head off to do the errand.
o   Roaring, screaming crying baby?  I’ve always plugged mine in for instant peace and quiet.   I know a couple of momma’s who have fed their baby during a vaccination.  Not a peep out of them.  The baby’s I mean.  The momma’s always cringed!
o   When Screecher Creature No. 4 was very wee and crying to be fed, I got stressed if I was tending to the others and couldn’t get to him immediately.  But as soon as I latched him on, a sense of peace and calm would wash over me.  It still does.  This is because endorphins and oxytocin, the feel good hormones are released during breastfeeding.  You are statistically less likely to suffer from Post Natal Depression if you breastfeed.  We all know that didn’t happen to me.  Twice.  But who knows how bad it could have been had I not been breastfeeding.  And two out of four ain’t bad!
o    Breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from ear infections.  This is due to the sucking action assisting the opening of the Eustachian tube –  where all that yucky fluid tends to become lodged (glue ear), thus reducing middle ear infections. 
o   During hot weather (aye, even in Ireland!) or on holidays in a hot climate, my breast milk will change in consistency, ensuring that my baby will never go thirsty.  Another interesting fact in this area.  If my baby is too warm or chilly, my breast will change in temperature to keep him comfortable. 
o   Breast milk changes from feed to feed.  And during feed to feed.
o   Breast milk is the perfect cure for sticky eye.
o   I can eat what I like when breastfeeding and still lose weight.
o   My milk carries the taste of my last meal so when my baby gets his chops around solid food, he is more likely to have a broader palate.
o   If I’ve got a cold coming on, my body will produce antibodies which will be passed on to my baby through my milk, providing a “home made” antibiotic to fight off the bug.
o   Here come the science bits.   My breast milk has a high lactase level which is important for the development of my baby’s brain.  Cow’s milk has high protein levels because the calf needs to physically grow quickly in order to keep up with his mother.  The milk of a whale has a high fat content as the calf needs to build up a thick layer of blubber very quickly. 
o   Listen to this one!  A donkey’s milk is closest to human milk in comparison when it comes to composition.  How mad is that??  So why then, is cow’s milk so popular with us humans?  Cinch.  They’re easy to herd and produce large volumes of milk. 
o   Another little bit of science.  Research shows that breastfeeding can protect a mother from certain female cancers.  In the case of breast cancer, the risk decreases by 4.3% for every 12 months of breast feeding.  So if you nurse more than one child for the same length of time, or longer, the percentage just gets higher.  (La Leche League)
o   Breast feeding can be used as a method of contraception.  And before you ask, no, I wouldn’t trust it either.  But if my baby is under 6 months of age, still exclusively breastfed, (this means no dummies, no bottles, even of expressed breast milk) and not going for more than 4 hours during the day and 6 hours at night between feeds, I have a 98% chance of not falling pregnant.  This, by the way, is called LAM – Lactational Amenorrhea.  No, I can’t pronounce it either but isn’t it amazing what the body gets up to in order to ensure survival of the fittest.
o   In keeping with the above point, my baby, through nursing, controls the release of the hormones that are necessary to kick start ovulation.  Back in the hunter/gatherer days, a woman would have breastfed her baby for up to three years.  When her cycle returned, she would become pregnant again.  So it could be another three years before her cycle starts up again.  These women would have had extended periods of LAM.  Scientists believe that through not having the modern day mood swings and PMS due to the absence of these menstrual hormones, it possibly leaves the female reproductive organs less vulnerable to ovarian, endometrial and breast cancer.  Doubly cool, eh?
o   And my favourite! I know you’ve heard of the breast stroke, but do you know about the breast crawl?  A newborn baby is at his most alert for about 40 minutes in the first hour of his life.  His arms flail, he locks eyes with his mother, and his sense of smell is heightened.  This is all part of the bonding process.  But back to the flailing arms and keen sense of smell.  A newborn can smell his mother’s breast and will, literally, crawl to his mother’s nipple in search of food.  That’s what the flailing of the arms is all about; the propelling action helps the baby arrive at his destination.      
At the end of the day folks, we’re all animals.  I realise it’s not always as simplistic as just listening to your body and it will tell you what to do.  Sometimes a little help is needed, no matter how unexpected the stumbling block.  But you could do a lot worse.  A lot worse indeed. 

Wednesday 11 January 2012

The One That Flew Away

I’ve thought long and hard about this one.  I didn’t quite know how to approach it as it’s quite a personal experience and can be very different for everyone.  I worried about upsetting those who didn’t react the way I did and quite possibly offending others with my attitude.  I’m talking about miscarriage.  In particular, “my” miscarriage and by “owning it”, I’m hoping I will not be judged or criticized for my feelings.  I wrote a couple of different accounts of my experience.  This is my third.  The one I am going to share with you.  I’m still not sure how to go about it.  Do people want a medical account, a personal account, a partner’s account, or should I combine all three?  The one thing that did strike me was how differently people are affected by it.  My husband reacted very differently to me.  Some might be of the opinion that our reactions should have been reversed.  You see, my husband grieved.  I did not.  I had a miscarriage, it physically happened to me, so naturally I was affected by it.  I was very disappointed by our loss but I didn’t grieve.  I accepted that it just wasn’t the right time for us.
I have the utmost respect for Mother Nature and truly believe that all things happen for a reason.   I know this is how I was able to make my peace with my body’s loss.   
My husband surprised me with a very uncharacteristic statement after I had given birth to our first child.  He told me he hates pregnancy and cannot rest until both of us are safely delivered of each other.  Having had a very happy and healthy pregnancy followed by a normal and straightforward birth, as far as I was concerned, he was worrying and stressing unnecessarily.  I didn’t understand how he felt until I was expecting our second son.  And our third and fourth.  I spent the first trimester of each of those pregnancies on knicker watch, not expecting to find, but waiting nonetheless, for spotting.  Those little drops of blood that can signify all is not well in uturo.  Our first son was 10 months old when I discovered I was pregnant for the second time. 
On New Year's Eve I came belting down the stairs waving a freshly pee’d on stick at Mister Husband who was lying on the couch.  He leapt up, hugged me and kissed me and Only Child Screecher Creature looked on at the two nutters like we had lost it!  So on New Year's Eve five years ago, we discovered I was about 5 weeks nearer to birthin'.
Life went on and a month later I attended my GP for a routine check up. There was a locum attending and I found him to be quite unfriendly.  He made me feel silly coming in for a check up when I was only 10 weeks and hadn’t had a scan yet.  I told him I was just following my usual doctor’s instructions.
That evening I noticed some period like discomfort which I thought was odd but soon forgot about it as Mister Husband was heading off to a class.  Later on there was some blood and I knew by the colour what was more than likely happening.  
When Mister Husband came home, I waited until we were in bed before I mentioned it to him.  We were both very calm and matter of fact, both of us in our own way, accepting the inevitable even though there was no pain or anything like that.  Because I was lying down, the bleeding stopped over night but once I was up and about the following morning, it began again so I rang the GP.  I was dreading getting the locum but I was put straight through to the nurse and I explained what was happening. She said it sounded like a miscarriage or it could be a threatened miss.  Her advice to me was to go and lie down, take it easy to see if the bleeding would stop.  It never occurred to me to ask her what could I expect to happen if it was indeed a miscarriage.  Unfortunately I was to find out.  Mister Husband came home from work to mind our son and I took to my bed.  I managed to snooze on and off, the bleeding was getting slightly heavier but still no cramping.
At about 5pm that afternoon cramping started and I needed to get to the bathroom pretty quickly.  There followed a long and very uncomfortable 50 minutes where I passed an enormous and frightening volume of blood.  It was impossible to deny what was happening to my body.  The cramping was slightly stronger now and when I was able to, I got my phone and rang my GP.  The nurse had left for the weekend and I was advised to ring the hospital.  They asked me was I sure I was having a miscarriage.  I told them I had lost a lot of blood and passed several large clots.  Convinced, they told me to come straight away and be prepared to stay overnight. That stopped me in my tracks.  For the first time, I felt panicked.  “But I’ve got a baby.”  I blurted out. “And I’m breastfeeding.”  It was quickly established, by them, that my baby was almost a year old and all of a sudden their concern changed back to brisk business as usual.  How were they to know that I had never been apart from my boy and was fretting over it?  I hung up the phone and had a little cry out of sheer panic.  How on earth was I going to leave him overnight and for the first time ever!!  I think it was a delayed reaction to what was happening with my body. 
I was freaking out over his bath time/bedtime/defrosting expressed breast milk from the freezer, anything other than the task at hand.  Mister Husband had taken him for a walk so I rang him and quickly filled him in.  He engulfed me in a brief hug as soon as he came in the door.  I started to fling overnight stuff into a bag, still visiting the loo frequently.  By the time I was ready and had our son’s night clothes packed to bring with us so Mister Husband could get him ready for bed in the hospital, it took well over an hour to arrive at our destination. 
I didn’t think it was possible to loose any more blood, in fact, I thought the worst was over and the flow would have slowed down but I was wrong.  Maybe it was due to the fact that I was sitting down but it started up again and despite the provisions I had made for it, I was soaked within minutes. 
I had to get out of the car with what the medical profession called “pregnancy product” coming out of the leg of my trousers.  I walked like John Wayne in a Western, with blood everywhere, squelching out of my shoes and trailing behind me on the floor.  I stood there with everyone in A&E looking at the sorry state of me as I was told I would have to go to gynae upstairs.  I pointed out that I was bleeding heavily and was making a mess on their floor.
Someone found a wheelchair for me then and I was turbo speeded up to gynae where everything was cut off me, bagged and binned.  Nothing was salvageable.  A quick scan confirmed that the sac was empty and I was in the throes of a dramatic miscarriage!!   A doctor asked me if I had “saved any product from home.”  Surgery was mentioned in the event that the bleeding didn’t stop and a form was produced.  I didn’t get a chance to read it, instead I was shown where they had X’d the spot I was to sign.  A couple of lines above that there was some wording to the tune of “anything retained from surgery was to be property of the hospital and the lab.”  It was all very disconcerting but I knew that my pregnancy was over and signed the form.  A drip was magiced up from somewhere, a couple of bags of blood were on standby due to the amount of blood I had lost and I was given a nice jab in the bum to stem the bleeding.  I then had what was very similar to a mini smear.  All the while Mister Husband was told to stay outside in the corridor.  He had no idea what was happening to me.  All I had left behind in the car was a sodden seat and the last he saw of me was my back as they ran with me to gynae. 
Finally I was brought to a ward where I was re-united with a very scared and upset Mister Husband and our lovey, lovely boy.
I was still operating on auto pilot and as it was getting late, I asked Mister Husband to get our son into his night clothes.  We had been at the hospital for a while, he was tired and they were probably going to have to go home soon.   Things started to go blurry suddenly and everything started to sound like it was very, very far away.  I began to shake.  I could feel myself loosing all sense of what was going on, a very weird sensation.  I could hear Mister Husband calling me from afar.  I saw him grab our half naked son and run for a nurse.  Through my eyes this was all happening in slow motion.  The nurse got me to lie down which was easy as I was halfway there already. My blood pressure had dropped dramatically.  A couple of doctors came in to check my "bandages" and as the bleeding wasn't stopping they decided there and then that surgery was the only way to go.  So I was prepped for a visit to theatre for 10pm to have a D&C. 
I remember someone rousing me and when I opened my eyes a nurse was wiping a tear from my cheek.  I had no idea I was crying.  She told me everything went well and I would be brought back to the ward shortly.   I fell into a deep sleep despite the drip inserted in the back of my hand.    
I was in the car and on my way home by 11.30 the following morning.  The entire thing over and done with in less than 24 hours.  How fragile human life is.     
More than one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage for any number of reasons.  It is never anyone’s fault.  Although for some people, this is a mere platitude.  Some women grieve for long periods of time, often finding it difficult or impossible to even contemplate conceiving again.  And when they do, guilt wracks them.  For some odd reason, I scoured the Pregnancy Loss board on a parenting site I frequent.  I never felt like I identified with anyone there but I felt drawn to it nonetheless.  Once, Mister Husband asked me to stop talking about it.  He found it too upsetting.  And I think he addressed the problem head on with that statement.  Oftentimes the support out there is for the woman and the woman alone.  The men, the fathers to be, are brushed to one side and as in the case of my husband, they can feel the loss all too keenly.  This was driven home too in the hospital.  The nurse that was on the night shift came in to see me before she finished up and went home the following morning.  Mister Husband and Only Child Screecher Creature were there to take me home.  The nurse commented on how much better I looked after “my ordeal” the night before and reminded me that I had been in a bad way.  Nobody said anything to Mister Husband.   It was as if he hadn’t been a part of it.  When I became pregnant again, for the third time but with our second son, he couldn’t relax until the pregnancy was well under way.  He has spoken off and on about the miscarriage and once, when I was trying to figure out how old an acquaintance’s child was, he knew straight away.  Because, he said, their boy was born around the same time our miscarried baby would have been.  It was then I realised how much he had been affected by it.  I had all but put it out of my mind.  Of course, I was affected by it because it happened to me, but I had very much gotten on with my life and the pregnancy that happened three months later.  If I were to sit down and do the sums on my fingers, I would have that lost date of birth as well, but Mister Husband doesn’t have to think about it.            
People are funny and life is funnier.  Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason for the events that take place.  For me, I literally picked myself up, dusted myself down and got on with things.  I was back in the office on Monday.  But that’s me.  I still feel today that because I had an early miscarriage, I was able to cope with it.  I know for an absolute fact that had I been for a scan, saw the heartbeat and then for the miscarriage to happen, it would have been a very different experience for me.  A couple of people said I was lucky to have a child already as that softened the loss.  Maybe so.  But naturally enough, as it wasn’t my first pregnancy, I cannot possibly comment on how I might have reacted if that were not the case.  I’m not one bit religious, I prefer to think of myself as spiritual, but for me, it just meant waiting an extra couple of months before Screecher Creature No. 2 came into our lives.  Maybe, but absolutely in this case, some things are worth waiting for.