28.Aug.2016 Breastfeeding Through Adversity

Poppy was born in the Spring at home. It was one of the most beautiful births I have ever seen. Her mother Jen and father Marty labored together with such love.  They radiated joy when Poppy was born.

Nursing was not an easy start for these three. Even though Poppy had enjoyed all the benefits of a gentle birth and skin to skin care, she did not latch in the first 24 hours of life.  Jen and Poppy ended up needing a lot of assistance before nursing became secure. The first three weeks of life were filled with daily home visits, regular weighing, nursing and supplementation devices, pumping, and lots of work and worry. Jen reports that she had to let go of a lot of her ideas of what motherhood looked like, how babies slept, what asking for help meant, etc.  After three weeks though, nursing was more stable and Marty was able to return to work.  Jen is really pleased that during that entire time she never thought that “nursing wasn’t for us.” She felt “every ounce she gained was a victory.”

Having the rough start to nursing really helped Jen and Marty when Poppy got sick in the Fall. They had the shared experience of working together and of receiving support.

Poppy after her first surgery.

Poppy after her first surgery.

On the evening of Halloween, when Poppy was 6 months old, she had a seizure and was transported to the Emergency Room. The doctor did a CT scan just to rule out the unlikely possibility that Poppy had blood in her brain. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the scan revealed, and the medical team indicated that Poppy needed to be flown elsewhere. A pair of pediatric specialists was dispatched from Salt Lake City to help care for Poppy. It took several hours before they arrived and were able to stabilize and finally transport her.

Poppy’s health deteriorated during the flight. By the time the plane reached Salt Lake City, it was the middle of the night, and Jen and Marty were moved to the side while an expert team took over Poppy’s care. Jen and Marty provided information when asked but were mostly left to watch from the perimeter. Very quickly, the team was able to determine that the blood was caused by a ruptured aneurysm on a main vessel in Poppy’s brain. They explained this was unheard of for someone Poppy’s age and that the necessary brain surgery was typically not performed in the middle of the night. Jen and Marty waited and watched for 5 hours until morning came and  Poppy was prepared for surgery.  Jen says she realized how much breastfeeding meant to her when, in the midst of it all, she stopped to wonder and ask a nurse, “Will Poppy ever breastfeed again?”

In the beginning, the team had complete control of Poppy. There was nothing for her parents to do.  “My role was to pump. All I did was pump. Pump and label my milk. I had to believe she would drink it again. It gave me purpose.”

Jen was able to provide much of the food that Poppy needed during her three week hospital stay. At one point point she had to remind herself that formula was really the least of her worries.  When Poppy was discharged she was drinking thickened breast milk from a bottle, a way to keep her safe while she relearned how to coordinate swallowing.  Heading home, Jennifer and Marty knew that they could feed Poppy. Because of the struggle of those first weeks of life to get breastfeeding established, they knew that they could make the transition to nursing again.

IMG_0265And they did. They transitioned to life in Bozeman. They had regular contact with their local physician and their team in Salt Lake. Poppy was on several medications. Breastfeeding became the norm.

Then while visiting family in Jackson, another ER scan revealed blood in Poppy’s brain the day after Christmas. A new, second aneurysm in the same area had developed quickly and ruptured. The second time was harder for Jen and Marty. Poppy had another surgery. This time the team decided to occlude (or block) the fragile vessel. They knew this would cause a second stroke, but determined it was necessary to save Poppy’s life. She recovered well and was moving all of her limbs almost immediately upon waking. The family was sent home after eight days. While Poppy recovered, her parents were left feeling more unsettled. Jen said that being able to nurse through the second surgery and hospital recovery comforted her as much as it did Poppy.  She was able to feed her daughter. It delighted her every time a nurse would see Poppy’s chubby thighs and remark “This is a healthy breastfed baby.”

Poppy has had only one seizure since coming home in January. She continues her care with her local physician and checks in with her Salt Lake City team every six months.dance

Jen says “I made my choices where I had choices. Every mom has to give herself permission to do what is right for her family.”

She and Poppy are still nursing.


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