Brandi Johnson | Breastfeeding


NAME: Kindred Photographer (Brandi Johnson)

[A breastfeeding story about growth in the eyes of Chelsea, mother of 2.]
Recently I was asked about my experience with breastfeeding. What it has been like. What I’ve learned. If it’s been worth all the struggle. For me, I feel as if the birth of my daughters set the tone for our breastfeeding relationships. So here’s our story…

At the ripe age of 19 my husband and I were blessed with our daughter, Aubree. Her entrance into the world was forced, rushed, stressful and unnatural. Not at all how I planned it to be. Not at all how I wanted it to be. Due to my epidural, physically, I felt nothing. When she was placed on top of me, it was almost like I didn’t expect for her to be born yet. I honestly didn’t know how to react. I was in shock that that moment was actually happening. I was meeting my daughter for the very first time. The person I would raise and love for the rest of my life. I had no idea who she was, what she’d be like, who she’d look like… it was all overwhelmingly new. She was whisked away minutes after birth and taken to the nursery for monitoring. It all happened so quickly that we never got to bond. I never got to absorb every detail of her newness or memorize her scent. We didn’t get to breastfeed or experience skin to skin. Meeting her mother was no different than meeting the hospital nurses.
Aubree stayed in the nursery for several hours. I still don’t even understand why. Time began to blur. I wanted my baby. I wanted to bond with her, to smell her, to nurse her. Against my wishes, she was given formula while away from me. I was devastated because I didn’t want anything to negatively effect breastfeeding. It had been about 12 hours after being born before my sweet babe was finally brought to me. I was ready to begin nursing and experience her first latch and suckle. My upbeat mood was soon shot down. Nursing for the first time was indescribably difficult. It wasn’t that easy, naturally occurring thing that I imagined it to be. It was work. A lot of work. I was propped up by several pillows, holding my newborn in weird positions and had a strange nurse giving me a book load of strange instructions. She had me pinching my nipple and forcing it into Aubs mouth, wiggling her chin and petting her face to keep her awake, switching positions to find the “right one for us”. It was endless and exhausting. Thankfully, Aubree latched and nursed. It gave me hope for success.
After being discharged and arriving home, the uphill battle continued. I had raw, cracked, and extremely tender nipples. The slightest touch would take my breath away. Nursing was unimaginably painful. I dreaded having to nurse because getting her to latch felt like my nipple was literally ripping off. Unfortunately, it didn’t help that my breasts were hard as rocks and the size of small watermelons. While in the hospital, I pumped to ensure that my milk would come in. It definitely came in. In an abundance. I had an over supply and got engorged regularly. At night, I would completely soak the mattress and during the day I went through breast pads every couple of hours. That first month of motherhood was extremely difficult but those struggles passed. My virgin nipples grew accustomed to nourishing my sweet babe and my supply regulated soon after I stopped pumping. I was finally experiencing that blissful euphoria feeling that I imagined nursing would bring. It was a source of comfort for both Aubree and myself. When I’d have a let down, not only would my breasts be spewing with milk, it would also release a hormone that relaxed me so much that often I found it hard to stay awake. Nursing seemed to be going great.
Over the next two months my daughter formed a terrible rash on her chest. It was bright red and worsened over time. After several weeks, it became extremely raw and obviously painful. She was constantly upset. Screaming all the time and almost inconsolable at times. Multiple trips to the doctors office and even the ER all proved to be pointless. Every time I was dismissed as an over concerned first time mom and was told that she just had eczema. It wasn’t until I began doing my own research that I found a potential answer for my child’s pain. I demanded a blood test for food allergies and sure enough, she tested positive for milk protein. Her allergy to milk is different from lactose intolerance. She reacts to dairy in an anaphylactic manner. Swelling, hives, difficultly breathing, diarrhea and vomiting. The whole 9. Breastfeeding suddenly presented another challenge. Aubree was only 4 months old when she was diagnosed. The milk in her system was coming from the dairy in my breastmilk. I had to commit to a 100% diary free diet in order for breastfeeding to be beneficial and healthy for her. I’m not going to lie, I cried a LOT that month. It might sound silly but changing my diet that drastically overnight was extremely hard and was a huge learning process. But I was determined to stick with breastfeeding and was committed to doing whatever it took to ensure that my baby received the best nourishment I could provide her. A couple of months later we discovered that Aubree was also allergic to peanuts after she came into contact with peanut butter. That was truly the scariest day of my life. She immediately went into anaphylactic shock. Within minutes her skin was covered head to toe in bright red and white hives and whelps. Her airways were closing and she was barely getting air. She was given Benadryl while 911 was called. A helicopter was being sent to meet us. We were out in the country so we needed to drive to a parking lot where landing was possible. I will never forget what happened next. In the car my scared, aspirating daughter began to reach for my shirt. I knew what she wanted. It was practically instinct, I unbuckled her raised my shirt and began to nurse. The moment she latched was the best feeling ever. She was sucking. She was breathing. We were both calmed and comforted in that very moment of nursing.
Our breastfeeding journey continued until Aubree was 17 months old. At that time, we were wanting to get pregnant with another baby but nursing was preventing me from ovulating. The extremely difficult decision was made to wean. I was so emotional about the decision and regretted it for the entire following year. I missed the bond that was shared when nursing. I missed the sweet and innocent “baby” feeling that nursing brought. And the comfort that it gave to Aubree when she’d cry out of fear, pain, or just the need for cuddles and love will always be missed. Breastfeeding Aubree brought so much growth to my life. It taught me how to surrender my wants and desires to meet those of my daughter. It taught me self control and sacrifice. I had to give up my entire diet and change the way I ate and cooked solely to continue nursing. It taught me what real love felt like. It gave my daughter and I an indescribable bond accompanied by the assurance of total trust and comfort.

During my pregnancy with our second and youngest daughter, Charlotte, I was determined to have the birth experience that I’d always dreamt of. I wanted to bring my child earthside on my own. Without medical intervention or the temptation of pain medicine at my fingertips. I wanted it to be a sacred, private and intimate experience for my husband and I. I planned to give birth at a birthing center accompanied by a midwife but things change. During the weeks leading up to delivery, all I wanted was privacy. I was loving being pregnant and was soaking up every moment of it. I was also cherishing every last day of Aubree being an only child. Things happened and my heart changed towards the birth plan that I had. October 2, 2015 at 41 weeks pregnant, my husband and I welcomed our newest jewel into the world at home, unassisted. She was 10 pounds and posterior. Bringing her earthside was a challenge but it was beautiful and completely perfect. My wish was for my husband to be the first one to hold and bond with Charlotte after birth. So when I looked up and saw him holding her bundled up in a towel, my heart was happy, content, and completely at peace. I rested for an hour after delivery and when I regained some strength, it was time for me to meet our daughter. Meeting her was better than I imagined. I still felt the same feelings of newness and questioned who she was but this time around, I was able to touch, smell, and memorize everything about my newborn. I was eager to begin nursing so minutes after meeting, we began our journey. I was laying in bed and cuddled my sweet babe up to my left breast. To my surprise, she effortlessly latched right away. I did nothing. No uncomfortable positions, no squeezing of my nipple and no forcing it to happen. It was natural and effortless. That’s been the tone for our journey thus far. Completely different from my first, yet somehow the same. Nursing on demand and avoiding my pump has been wonderful for us. This time around, I’m not engorged or spewing milk uncontrollably. I have the perfect supply for my babe. My body responds perfectly to Charlotte and meets her needs without my intervention.

Charlotte’s birth and our breastfeeding journey together has shaped me into a better person. I’ve learned to let go of control. I didn’t force her arrival or her first latch. I don’t control her schedule, she’s formed one on her own and I meet her needs as she cues me. Nursing her has taught me to enjoy my children to the fullest. Laundry can wait. Dishes can wait. I’ll eventually get around to painting over the lip gloss and applesauce stains on the walls. And one day I’ll have the time to invest in hobbies again but right now I’ll continue to invest my time into my babies. Charlotte is 5 months old now. I’m a stay at home mom and haven’t missed a single day of her life but I still can’t believe that she’s not a tiny, puffy newborn anymore. When I look at Charlotte, I am reminded of Aubree as a baby. It seems unreal that she is 3 years old now. My baby has grown to be a child…and where did time go? Breastfeeding allows time to pause. It makes me stop what I’m doing, no matter what I’m doing, to focus on my children. It’s a daily reminder that nothing else is as or more important than my girls. It’s helped me grow into the woman that I am. Bettering myself as a wife and mother. It’s been beautiful and I look forward to continuing our journey for however long it will last and can’t wait to see how it continues to promote growth in my family.”
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