Heart Hero Daughter, Milk Hero Mom (Christine & Rory)
Have you ever heard the saying real superheroes live in the hearts of small children fighting big battles? In this case that couldn’t be more true! What’s even more true is she is the daughter of a real superhero, a superhero mom that no matter what the scenario her daughter Rory was in or going through, heart surgeries,complications, feeding issues and more, she focused on one very important aspect of their journey from the beginning, hope, hope that one day she would be able to give her daughter the best, the best comfort and bonding relationship, by breastfeeding.
In almost all cases the nutritive benefits of breastmilk can make a big difference, especially in a medically complex case. What some don’t know is that it’s not just the nutrition that baby is receiving through her specially unique designed breastmilk, but also mommy and baby are releasing a hormone called Oxytocin, the hormone produced by the pituitary gland in the brain is also known as the cuddle or love hormone. This is what produces that lovey dovey feeling you have while breastfeeding or even while holding baby skin to skin. Oxytocin is also responsible for let down and for the bonding you feel while breastfeeding. That bonding feeling in itself can sometimes make all the difference, especially with our heart kiddos after heart surgery. This is a story of an amazing fight not only in Rory, but in Christine as well.
Rory was born in a hurry and ready to fight. We had a prenatal diagnosis, so we were prepared for her to have congenital heart defects as well as Down syndrome, and I knew we weren’t likely to be able to breastfeed right away. We soon learned Rory’s heart defects were more complex than we thought, and her hospitalization was going to last a bit longer. While Rory received her nutrition from her IVs and feeding tubes, I started pumping. Pumping was our placeholder, waiting for the day she would be able to breastfeed. It was hard. So hard. The first few weeks were the worst, I often wondered how I’d get through. But I had a goal of getting to one year, and a bigger goal to be ready to breastfeed Rory when the time came. At 67 days old, after two heart surgeries with difficult recoveries, Rory breastfed for the first time. She took to it immediately, it was amazing! Unfortunately, after a couple of blissful days, we realized she wasn’t able to transfer milk. It wasn’t a total surprise, because she struggled with the bottle as well, but it was disheartening. We were determined to keep trying, though, and we developed a routine: I offered her the breast first, then the bottle, then tube fed the rest of her expressed milk while I started pumping. While her team addressed the medical reasons that impacted her eating, we also offered milk to her every way we could. I tried using a supplemental nursing system, nipple shields, special feeders, an array of bottles, we exhausted every option we had. She eventually started to make slow progress with her bottle, and we continued our routine in case she was ready to breastfeed one day.
"Pumping was my place holder, waiting for the day she would be able to breastfeed"
At 3 months Rory was finally discharged. Her team wasn’t convinced she’d be able to eat on her own. Their plan was to place a g-tube before we could leave, but we begged to try feeding her at home first and they agreed to discharge her with her NG tube. Eight days later, she came off her feeding tube and took all of her feeds by mouth. She still wasn’t able to transfer milk from the breast, and bottle feeding didn’t come easily, but she persisted. We continued to try breastfeeding, because it was so comforting to her (and to me!) and I thought maybe, one day, she’d be able to transfer milk.
Rory breastfed non-nutritively until she was 13 months old. One day she just wasn’t interested and she never looked back. It was bittersweet, but it felt like an accomplishment to make it so far. She was still growing well on breastmilk, and because of her feeding difficulties, it continued to be her sole source of nutrition. At that point I was still pumping around the clock. My supply was out of control, I was pumping over 160 ounces a day for awhile. We donated the extra milk and knowing I was able to provide for Rory and many other babies helped me to keep going.
When she was 17 months old, Rory had her third, and subsequently fourth, heart surgeries. After incredibly difficult recoveries, she regressed with her eating and relied on a feeding tube again. We learned during her hospitalization that my milk was high in calories, and knew that was why she was growing so well. Knowing she not only tolerated my breastmilk well, but thrived on it encouraged me to keep going. But my supply took a hit while she was hospitalized, we had to scale way back on how much milk we could donate. Still, it was enough to fuel Rory and that was enough to keep me going.
Until Rory was three years old, breastmilk was her primary source of nutrition. She flourished on it and her team was so supportive, which made it so much easier for me to continue. I was always worried it wouldn’t be enough, but her doctors continuously assured me she was growing well on it and it was everything she needed. She had her fifth heart surgery at three years old, and yet again breastmilk got her through recovery when she wasn’t able to eat food.
Rory turned four in July. For the most part, she’s eating consistently enough that we no longer rely on her breastmilk. She has one bottle a day and I suspect I have enough frozen milk to finish out this year. I’m actively weaning from the pump now, with the goal of being done completely by the end of the summer.
Rory’s worked incredibly hard to get this far, and I’m so proud of the work she’s done. Feeding didn’t come easily for her, but having a team of people fighting with us to help her made all the difference. Finding people who support your goals, no matter what they are, is invaluable. And being flexible with your goals so that they don’t feel unreachable helps to make it a little more bearable. I didn’t set out to pump for four years. It wasn’t fun, or easy. There have been more days than I can count when I wanted to quit. I loathed lugging my pump around with me, always being on a clock, being tethered to a machine. I don’t regret it, though. I’m so grateful I was able to provide for Rory for so long. Things didn’t work out the way I planned, or hoped, but because of the way things went we were able to donate over 23,000 ounces of breastmilk to other babies. It’s certainly not the path for every person, but I’m so glad it worked out for us, despite all of the challenges along the way.
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About The Breastfeeding Mommy-Christine H.
Hi, I’m Christine, Mama to three wild, little people I am so happy to be raising. I love to take a ridiculous amount of photos each day, convince myself I can make things for less than I can buy them for, and sing badly to music I love.
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* Have you ever donated breastmilk to a baby in need or have you ever had someone donate breastmilk to you ? Comment below with your answers! *
Bridget or better known as Rycker's mommy. Loves being a full time mommy, but she is also a full time writer. No matter if she's writing for Rycker:the ups and Downs, Serving ALL Moms|The Breastfeeding Mommy or an article for another blog or publication, she's happiest when helping others, especially moms. She can be found taking long strolls, no wait this isn't a personal ad, she can be found with a coffee in her hand, trying to keep her eyes open while chasing after her 1 year old almost crawler!