During my ultrasound when I received the news that H has a cleft lip and probably palate, the first thing I wanted to do was head to the maternity ward and express some breastmilk for my baby. Since that time 57 days ago I have expressed approximately 45 litres of milk, some of which is stored in my new deep freeze. An unexpected baby bonus investment. My electric breast pump was the other.
My first real challenge with H's condition was accepting that we would not have a traditional breastfeeding relationship. Facing the multiple surgeries, potential problems with speech and hearing, the emotional challenges for her were secondary in those early days to her not receiving milk from the place we both instinctively knew she should be getting it from. I have lost count of the times she has been rooting at my breast and I have gone to unflick my bra to feed her. We still have lots of skin to skin contact and I offer the breast when I take her orthodontic plate out but of course it is not the same and it never will be.
As you can see from the photos, things started out from a very tiny place with me celebrating yields of a mililitre. The photo where I am holding the two syringes on colostrum was such a proud moment of a tremendous volume of 14ml. Without the support of a few wonderful women from the hospital and a couple of darling friends I am not sure things would have gone so well in those early days.
An unexpected difficult part of our journey is well meaning breastfeeding advocates telling me that cleft affected children can breastfeed. Yes, absolutely in some cases, but not in ours. Maybe post palate repair we could have a slim chance, but even then I will still need to supplement. So hearing that I could be breastfeeding from people who have probably never seen a child with a cleft lip and palate, let alone actually reading the material that they are suggesting I read themselves upsets me.
While talking about and working through the hard parts, I like to focus on the positives and with our different breastfeeding style there are numerous. With all the appointments we face and our reliance on so many health care professionals it is nice that there is one thing that only I can do and provide for her. She is thriving on my milk gaining weight each week.
I am proud of every millilitre I express for H and make sure I make my pumping sessions (usually around 6 a day) as pleasant as possible. ABC's iView for one is brilliant as well as my dvd collection revisiting favourite shows and movies. When H is awake during pumping time I prop her up on the bed next to me and talk or sing to her. The great thing is she can talk back. Something the girls with a nipple in their mouth did not get to do.
Another great thing is a newfound ability to get on top of blocked ducts very quickly and have them cleared within a couple of sessions. I lost count of the amount of times I got mastitis while breastfeeding the older girls. This time blocked ducts happen quite easily but fortunately do not last.
I was planning on talking about nourishing the nourisher too, but this post has gone on long enough. Maybe another time.