Giving Thanks for Breastfeeding

*A little delayed, I know. But that’s parenting twins for you.


It may seem weird to talk about breastfeeding in a post about thanks giving—my thought exactly when it came to mind. But as I consider all the things I’m grateful for over the holidays, I realized that nursing is at the top of the list, in part because of the hardship it presented in the beginning. Of course I’m grateful my babies are healthy. I’m grateful that I have a job that I enjoy while so many people are being let go in this employment market. I’m grateful for friends and family and the ability to share this holiday season and good food with them. But breastfeeding was the first thing that popped into my mind, because getting the hang of it was the most difficult thing I’ve endured in a long time.

With breastfeeding, ‘hooray for boobies’ just doesn’t cut it. It isn’t so much about the boobies but about the mother’s perseverance through pain, the alien changes to her body, preexisting exhaustion furthered by giving all of one’s nutrients to her baby, and the fears of judgment, inadequacy, and failure. This is the part all the proponents of breastfeeding don’t tell you. Pregnancy and labor are often considered the test of a woman’s strength, the limits to which she sees her body can go. But for me, the first few weeks of breastfeeding made me second guess everything—my womanhood, my abilities as a mother, and my sanity.

Everyone kept telling me, ‘you have twins. You don’t have to be supermom. You can feed them formula’ (I’m sure mothers of singletons have heard the same thing), just like everyone told me I didn’t need to prove anything by having a natural birth. They said these things out of love, I’m sure, and I certainly was not trying to get supermom of the year award; I was doing what was best for me and my girls. And breastfeeding is one of the most fulfilling decisions I’ve ever made.

There’s a deep, almost primitive enjoyment to be had in being able to feed your child your living tissue. That sounds Walking Deadish, but it’s a fitting phrase for the inexplicable connection nursing fosters between you and your child. Breast milk contains living tissue that adapts to the nursing baby’s specific needs, and so too does a woman and her newborn adapt to the demands of the new experience, but it doesn’t seem that way at first. Because breastfeeding is a natural way for mothers to provide nourishment for their babies, many women, including myself, expect it to be simple. But that’s not always the case. At first, it can be torture on your emotional state, while already being torture on your battle-worn body. This is probably a major source of postpartum depression for some women, whether one is unable to breastfeed at all or is trying and it seems impossible to continue. The latter was my situation.

It seemed I was doomed to fail at the outset. In the hospital, I had trouble expressing my colostrum and it seemed that the girls weren’t latching properly. The lactation consultant took forever to arrive and when she finally did, my girls were sleeping and I was exhausted. So I couldn’t get her advice on the latch. Before we were discharged, staff recommended that we supplement with formula because of how much weight the girls lost in one day. I would have liked a little longer to try solely breastfeeding, but I didn’t know then that breastfed babies lose that initial weight faster, and that newborns are equipped with enough fat to sustain them until mother’s milk comes in. I gave in because of my ignorance. Not only that, but my husband wondered if they were getting enough, and with good reason. He saw how little colostrum I was producing, and there were two babies sharing it. So there was an element of pressure but also the very real uncertainty as to whether breastfeeding would be enough for my twins.  So we began supplementing with formula.  Despite this setback, I was determined to breastfeed as often as I could.

When we got home, the difficulties increased without the help of nurses round the clock. With my husband working at the time (he’s stay at home dad now), I never felt like I had the chance, waking hours, or mental fortitude to go see a lactation consultant. I called the hospital consultant for help and never received a call back. I tried to reach another lactation consultant over the phone and she just told me that it sounded like the girls were tongue-tied and needed to be clipped under their tongues. After that, I stopped seeking help.

Those first couple weeks, the most trying time of breastfeeding my daughters, was a blur of sleep deprivation. But I remember the pain of cracking, raw nipples, teeth grinding every time they latched and because of improper latch, continued pain even after I began developing callous. I remember the severe neck and back pain, not fully recovered from the labor and without enough sleep to rest my weary muscles. I remember feeling the lowest I have ever felt in my life, that I was failing my girls even as they suckled from me, oblivious to my tears falling on them. Not in spite of that horrific time and struggle, but because of it, the moments I am able to look down at my nursing babies in contentment as they lay their tiny hands on my chest are all the sweeter. Not only did I overcome the hardships of breastfeeding, but I overcame myself at my lowest.

I share my story because breastfeeding is a trial of the self in so many ways. As I explained when I began this mom of multiples journal, I want to help the other women out there who wonder if they’re alone in this struggle, who wonder if their feelings are normal. The thing is, this natural way to provide for our baby is a brand new experience for a new mother and her baby, and, assuming it’s even possible in the first place, it takes grit, perseverance, practice and the understanding that the difficulty is well worth the reward.

As a mother, as a writer, as a human, it is that which we have to work the hardest for, the things we have to stumble on or straight up fail at that, in the end, have the highest payoff and mean the most to us. I am so grateful, every day, to have learned the extent of my strength in overcoming limitations from this awesome experience.

As a final note, if any women are out there struggling with this beautiful but sometimes excruciating, exhausting experience, please, please ask for help. Turn to a fellow mom, a lactation consultant, or feel free to Email me if you want to talk about it.



My Birth Story

It’s a long one.

Love this photo.

Everyone gets over the labor and delivery part of pregnancy pretty fast, because woah, now you have an actual baby—or two. Pregnancy itself is a terrifying, amazing time, but it culminates in something a woman can never forget and becomes old hat. But the labor and delivery of my twins is still so fresh in my mind, because of the challenge it presented to me, the sense of accomplishment in my struggle, and the reward at the end. It was the best, most exhausting high I’ve ever had. I felt like I could run a marathon. I felt like I could climb Mount Everest when it was over. I also felt like I could sleep for nine months (ironically, now I won’t have an uninterrupted block of sleep for another 18 years Open-mouthed smile). Okay, enough with the Hallmark clichés.

At the doctor’s office the day before delivery

Here’s a unique beginning to this story: I wasn’t ready for these girls to be born. You always hear about women toward the end of their pregnancy wanting it to be over. ‘I am so done with being pregnant’ or ‘I just want to hold my baby’. But I would have carried them forever if it took that long for them to be ready. And I wasn’t going to feel ready to be a parent until they were my body told me I was. I had a plan, and I felt out to sea anytime it was threatened. Part of that plan was to let my labor start naturally-no induction. Even though I told myself that I needed to be prepared for the unexpected, you can never really prepare for the unexpected, right? Due to some potential medical complications (elevated liver bile levels, my risk throughout the pregnancy for gestational diabetes, and the fact that it was a twin pregnancy), my doctor insisted on induction. And because I had carried them so much farther than twins usually go–39 and a half week gestation — she repeatedly assured me they were ready. My body just needed the extra push to get started, she said. Still, here was my birth plan being thwarted from the outset. So on the morning of September 23rd when I’d checked into the birthing center, I felt nervous and I wanted to (did) cry. I got into my gown that the first (not so nice) nurse directed me to change into, and I laid on the bed to be strapped to all the monitors and machines. I felt horribly vulnerable. Thankfully, my other half was constantly assuring me everything would be okay. Also, the rest of the nurses I saw were nicer.

The first (nice) nurse came in and I started in with my questions. ‘Will I still be able to get up to go to the bathroom?’ ‘Can I walk around while laboring?’ They make it sound like it’s a little inconvenient for them for the patient to go off the monitors.  But I was determined to be able to keep that part of my birth plan. So, I unplugged and walked to the bathroom carrying my trail of wires. I knew laying horizontal in a bed was not conducive to an expedient labor, and if there’s one thing you need to do in pregnancy and labor (and now, I’m learning, in parenthood), it is to listen to your body and your instinct. I was terrified of a 12+ hour labor, specifically because I wasn’t planning on receiving any drugs. I’d done some research and decided the pain-reducing drugs weren’t for me. In some cases, they can slow the labor. The doctors then administer Pitocin to speed things back up, which can make your contractions unnaturally painful and intensify the baby’s experience of them in the birth canal. I wanted to avoid all of these factors. So I got my wish to walk around, freely use the bathroom, and even, surprisingly, eat. You’ll be surprised to know that though our bodies probably labor better with the energy stores food provides, many doctors/nurses/hospitals will deny a laboring woman food in the event that they need to use anesthetics to operate. And with a twin pregnancy, the chances of an emergency c-section skyrocket.

So I got my food, which I was really worried about, because I wanted to be in tip-top condition to deliver these babes. But though I had felt starving moments before, I took a bite of my prepackaged croissant turkey sandwich and felt nauseous. About this time, some contractions began. They were the beginnings and weren’t that intense, but apparently my body was getting ready. I also learned that the Braxton Hicks contractions (false labor contractions that don’t hurt) I’d been having the past four months were now considered labor contractions because I was some centimeters dilated. My doctor knew that I wanted to avoid drugs as much as was reasonable, so she planned to come in and break my bag of waters to see if things started moving along on their own. If not, then I’d be put on a Pitocin drip. Thankfully, just breaking Baby A’s water did the trick. My doctor broke it midmorning and said we should expect to have our girls by that evening or the next day. Thinking we had plenty of time, my husband went home to feed our animals, eat, and get some things (like the birth ball I never used). He returned around noon to me having painful contractions.

I thought I had a high pain tolerance. I figured this would be manageable. After all, my mother had three daughters with no drugs and didn’t even scream. Well, I didn’t scream either, but I was making some pretty unearthly sounds. Something between a growl, moan, and whimper. During the contractions, my husband knew enough to step back and away from me, and offer his hand if I reached for it. He also knew to be quiet. This was pretty important for concentrating on blocking the pain out while trying not to fight the contraction that is actually helping push the baby out. When the contractions passed, he came back to me, massaged my neck and shoulders and gave me pep talks about taking deep breaths when I feel the next one coming on. The ten minutes, which turned to five minutes, and finally three minutes between contractions were some of the most exhausting moments of my life (right up there with the first night after the birth and the first two weeks of the girls’ lives).

The pain of the contractions was nothing compared to the final throes in which my body began sending me signals to bear down, but I couldn’t yet due to not being dilated enough. I had to literally fight my entire body from pushing. This is when I started to seriously think I would need some sort of anesthetic. I was denied by the anesthesiologist, however, because I had never been instructed to stop taking Tylenol through my pregnancy, which put me at risk for hemorrhaging. I’m actually so grateful for this oversight on mine and my doctor’s part, because it kept me from pointlessly derailing from my birth plan. I say pointlessly because things moved very quickly after that. I asked for the Fentanyl as an alternative, which is a drug that helps take the edge off the pain. I had a couple more full blown contractions, and then had one or two that felt like they were just the smallest fraction diminished in intensity. And then I was fully dilated and telling them ‘I have to push’.

They got me to the operating room pretty fast. All twin pregnancies are delivered in OR because of the higher risk for a C-section. I was fortunate enough to have the option of a vaginal delivery. Why would someone opt for this over a scheduled, predictable, controlled operation? Faster recovery time, and the rush of hormones and euphoria that accompanies a natural delivery. And that’s exactly what I got. After 5 hours and 15 minutes of labor (yes, I know how unbelievably lucky I am), I had Baby A at 2:53 PM on September 23rd.

After she emerged, I immediately felt some relief from the pressure and fullness I’d felt pretty intensely for the past couple months of my pregnancy . They laid her outrageously long, warm, plum-tinted body on me and she unfolded her limbs and did a push up right on my chest to look me in the eyes. It was surreal to see this actual little human, this baby that had been more of an abstract idea in my head and heart, and here she was, a separate being. Baby B came out, exactly ten minutes later, much the same way, only she peed on my arm, and then did her push up to look me in the eye with her dark, ethereal stare.

Moments after delivery

The rest of the day was a haze of navigating our new roles as parents, sleep-deprivation, all-consuming hunger, and awe-struck reverence at the two lives we’d brought into the world. I wanted to tell this story first as the kick-off entry for my mom of multiples journal because this was more my life-altering experience than anyone else’s. All family and friends remember now is the birth of the babies, but I remember the work and the fear and the exhilaration and the limits to which I pushed my body to bring them here. And I don’t want to forget a single moment of it.

Now that you all know more about me than you probably ever bargained for, I hope you’ll continue to read about my pilgrimage in parenthood (times 2!). And I really hope this helped other pregnant women or mothers of multiples out there that were looking for answers, encouragement in your decisions, or reassurance that you’re not alone in this amazing, scary, life-altering time. Please feel free to share your own birth stories, pregnancy concerns, or questions about labor in the comments. Or, anyone with questions is more than welcome to email me at ashley.davis1020[at]gmail[dot]com , and I’ll be more than happy to answer.

Baby B, left; Baby A, right