Hello readers, my name is Faith. I’d first like to extend my thanks and appreciation for being nominated as the 3Clothing Woman of the Week. In addition to wearing these awesome clothes, I am the wearer of many different hats: labor and delivery nurse, lactation consultant, yoga instructor, wife, daughter, sister…..however, my most important and prideful role of all, is mother, to my 7-year-old twins, Michael and Anneka.
I always ‘knew’ that I’d have twins, as my mother is a twin, and I had been told growing up that “it skips a generation”. We were thrilled when we found out this exciting news and dreamed about all of the amazing things that were in store for us. My pregnancy was relatively uncomplicated, however, my extreme discomfort from the kids crowding out my organs, accompanied by a weight gain of 75 pounds left me feeling physically disabled. I longed for the day when I could move about freely with ease. On bed rest, I was left alone with my thoughts and the constant companionship of my babies stirring inside my belly. I already loved them immensely and anticipated meeting them, holding them, smothering them with kisses and seeing who they looked like (they were camera shy at every ultrasound). I envisioned their birth as this perfect day, as all mothers do, and how the series of events would unfold, consuming us with overwhelming love and adoration as we enveloped our twosome in our arms.
Well, that didn’t quite happen. The delivery day came 5 weeks early, which as a labor and delivery nurse, I knew was a very real possibility with a twin pregnancy. I was very grateful to have made it this far. However, due to some causes for concern, the kids needed to come out. I wasn’t particularly worried as the situation wasn’t emergent, their gestational age was decent and I had the unusual privilege of delivering on my unit, with my L&D family at my side.
My husband was calm and reassured, as he knew the smiley faces that cared for us, and we trusted that we were in the best of hands. Mikey and Anneka were born, and from the head of the OR table I heard them both screaming their heads off. My coworkers were like the paparazzi snapping away, capturing and immortalizing these precious memories for us to forever treasure. The decision was made to send the babies to the NICU, and after seeing them for a blur of a moment, they were gone.
The whirlwind of my immediate post-op period was also a blur with the onslaught of family and coworkers showering us with congratulatory affection, my husband, Mike, ushering several groups of 3 over to sneak a peek at the babies in the NICU, and a lactation consultant introducing me to the ins and outs of an electric pump - I could barely keep my eyes open. Everyone got to see them, but me, which really did not seem very fair. I was left to rely on the digital camera zoom button, to magnify the images to familiarize myself with their features. Then I was transferred to my postpartum room. It was odd to be on the Mother Baby unit without the babies. It was just little old me. Thank God for my husband, as I lay prisoner in my bed until the next day, waiting for the spinal anesthesia to wear off - he was my life line to the babies. How I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in the NICU! He must have driven the staff crazy with his near constant presence and endless stream of questions. Yet his hourly updates and attendance to their bedsides were so comforting to me since I could not be with them, I will forever love him and be thankful.
The next day I was wheeled to see them and I was immediately overwhelmed and intimidated by my situation. It was very weird for me, being on the other side of the fence, in the role of the patient. I felt myself becoming subdued and losing my ‘voice’. Anneka was on CPAP to help her with her breathing. Michael was a bit more stable. I longed to reunite with them, hold and cuddle them and tell them that I am here and that I love them. My urge to snatch them up into my arms was powerful, instinctual. In that moment, I wanted nothing more on this earth, than to have them close again. They both had cables and IV’s all over the place and I figured that since no one was offering for me to hold them, then I wasn’t allowed to hold them. After all, I worked there, and if I was able to hold them, I’d be the first to know. If I were able to do the beneficial Kangaroo Care, that I had read about, they would urge me to do so when the time was right. So, I didn’t ask. So, I didn’t get. Instead, I settled for petting the tops of their heads, as this seemed to be my only option.
When it was all said and done, I didn’t hold my son for an entire day, I didn’t hold my daughter for two days…..but, when I did, I was overcome with happiness and the tears spilled down my cheeks as I finally held my little loves. Although I waited impossibly long to finally come to this monumental moment, I was full of gratitude that they were well and that we were all together again. Recalling this lack of initial bonding brings out a raw emotion that makes my belly twist into knots, as I most definitely could have held my kids, knowing what I know now. I don’t know why I became so meek, so timid. Perhaps I felt as though I was inconveniencing the staff by asking. Why didn’t I have the courage to speak up? When I revisit this from time to time, I also can’t help but wonder why no one offered to help me, to grant me my motherly wish, seeing the desperation in my eyes. As my babies were not gravely ill, just in need of assistance, accommodations could have, should have, been made.
I was a ghost on the postpartum unit, since I spent most of my waking hours in the NICU. I pumped like a champ, determined to give them my milk. It seemed like the only thing that I could really do for them, to mother them, besides maintaining a near constant presence beside them. The NICU wanted to ensure that they were able to coordinate their suck/swallow/breathing, which sometimes can be a challenge in the preterm baby. They gave them bottles of high calorie formula to help them gain weight, since they were under 5 lbs. My milk came in and I pumped around the clock to boost and protect my supply. Nobody suggested that I try to attempt to latch them onto the breast, so our goal was to get them discharged as soon as possible so that we could go home. Once we were home, I’d breastfeed.
Only it wasn’t that easy. Despite my breastfeeding knowledge from my experience helping mothers to breastfeed on a daily basis on L&D, I couldn’t get them to latch. I read some books, kept a journal of every minute detail, offered the breast before every bottle of pumped breast milk. Nothing worked. How could this be happening? I knew everything about breastfeeding (or so I thought). I was a bit embarrassed that I couldn’t figure it out for myself. I found myself with a lack of adequate support and encouragement. I heard a lot of “if they aren’t latching now, they’ll never latch”. I was crestfallen. I had desired to breastfeed, and I felt sad that this might not be possibility for us. As everything happens for a reason, an acquaintance, an antepartum nurse, initiated a casual conversation on Facebook, about the kids. I mentioned my breastfeeding issue, and she gave me some encouragement that they could still latch. For some reason I believed her, and my confidence was restored. Determined, I pushed on. And…they finally latched! Michael took 2 weeks, Anneka took 5 weeks, but we did it! We went on to exclusively breastfeed for 13 months. Breastfeeding has truly been one of the most rewarding experiences in all of my life and I will forever cherish this precious time with each individual child, soaking in their sweetness, etching each detail of their eyelashes, little earlobes, curled fingers, etc. forever into my mind. It allowed us to simply be…. present in the moment.
Once I returned to work part time, I was invited to become a member of our unit’s newly formed breastfeeding committee. The hospital was taking the leap into achieving Baby Friendly designation, and this was one of the first steps. Our goal was to implement a skin to skin initiative on Labor and Delivery, as opposed to the familiar swaddled baby against gowned mother. We watched a video on the breast crawl and I was fascinated. When we rolled this out on the unit, I was in complete awe of how babies truly, instinctually know how to seek out the breast, latch and feed with minimal assistance from us “pros”. The more I placed babies skin to skin immediately following birth, the more at ease the moms (regardless of their feeding preference) were, at having immediate access to their babies, the smoother the babies transitioned to extrauterine life being in their natural habitat, and the near effortlessness of the initiation of breastfeeding in the immediate post-partum period. I was excited! Wasn’t this wonderful? How could we not have realized? It makes perfect sense – commonsense! I went all gung ho and created bulletin boards, power point presentations, hosted a lunch and learn. I was sold on skin to skin and breastfeeding for all. I craved breastfeeding knowledge and wanted to learn as much as I could. I was deeply moved witnessing the magic of a mother being granted the gift of holding her new, precious little life close to her heart. This embrace is a priceless, once in a life time opportunity. I passionately educate and advocate for skin to skin and empower mothers, especially those of preterm babies, to ASK to hold their infants and to continue to ask for help in holding them.
After a while, I seemed to become the go-to person in my circle of family and friends, when it came to breastfeeding support. This circle expanded to include coworkers, neighbors, acquaintances in Facebook land and friends of friends. I really found a sense of purpose in helping mothers to breastfeed, and it made me happy. The natural next step for me was to pursue the path to becoming an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). I passed my boards and received my certification, and I am now employed as a lactation consultant in a thriving lactation private practice. I proudly work alongside some truly talented, knowledgeable and compassionate breastfeeding experts. I continue to help mothers pursue their breastfeeding goals, overcome obstacles and forge rewarding, successful breastfeeding relationships with their babies. Looking back, I am thankful for my experience, for if it played out differently, I may not have been drawn to this calling. My personal experience was a catalyst to help others, making my struggle worth it.
Faith Pedersen, RN, BSN, IBCLC