As I lay in bed with my son nursing on the right and daughter on the left with their fingers playing with each other, Aah! I feel so fortunate.
Thank you God! I take my phone and click a selfie. Beautiful picture! I keep looking at it again and again and everytime i look at it i feel so different.
From feeling fortunate of having such beautiful angels who are bonding so well to feeling trapped in this tandem nursing journey. From feeling satisfied for being able to comfort and satisfy my children's need to feeling completely out of control. Mixed emotions, mixed feelings and then i tell myself.... Hello check! Hello check! Thats your reality Mamma! You made this choice!
Yes! I made this choice, but when i made this choice i was so passionate about it that i missed on taking a factual account of what i have to really give up and for how long. I knew little of what i will become in this process. For many i was a supermom, a superwoman and an inspiration! To some my choice seemed a big mistake. And only a handful of people wanted to know how i really felt?
Honestly, quite often i felt miserable, i felt molested by my own children, i felt helpless, i felt lost, i felt judged, i felt hopeless as a mother, i wanted to end my marriage......
I was shutting down!
I never felt like a supermom!
I would call myself an ambitious woman, a perfectionist, a fitness enthusiast and an achiever. It was not easy to leave all this behind and accept motherhood gracefully. I was going through a constant battle, i was in conflict as i wanted the best of both worlds.
People say everything is possible, surely it is! But to make things possible one needs support, energy and a good state of mind.
Motherhood brings with it greatest joy, incomparable to any joy in this world but it can mess you up too.
I have two angels in my life, i have an accomodating husband, my life is great yet messed up in many ways. I love my children, they are the biggest priority in my life. They brighten up my gloomy day!
Now, unlike before, i don't sulk anymore, i love myself more than ever, i'm trying to set an example in front of my children to never stop loving yourself, to never stop taking care of yourself, value and respect the life God has given you. Every single day i do something that makes me happy at the same time i have finally come to terms with my reality.
I face the same challenges every single day but instead of crying over it, I ARRIVE! I arrive to my reality everytime i feel out of control. I still have my low's but i'm better skilled at coping with the messiness in my life. I feel more resorceful!
I'm glad i came across people who helped me see through the dark tunnel, who helped me find my path towards a HAPPY ME!
One such beautiful soul who influenced my life positively is, Yasmin!
I went through parent communication workshop by Yasmin, it has been a biggest milestone in my life, it not only provided me with skills to deal with children but also with adults.
Craniosacral therapy with Yasmin brightened my life, Post Partum Depression (PPD) was turning me into an abusive parent and ruining my marraige but the therapy saved my married life and my children's life.
Thank you so much for being there.
I'm ever grateful to you.
Lots of love,
Extended Breastfeeding- My journey of making the best of this free gift! (Preeti Birla Nair | Mumbai | June 2016)
I share my story here, not as a prescription on the motherhood journey, but as a live instance for those who are thinking of or are curious to know and explore the experience of extended breastfeeding (beyond one year). I am sure you will choose the path that appeals best to you.
5 April 2011: A few weeks after my daughter Radhika was born, in a meeting with my Lactation Consultant Effath Yasmin, I was asking her; “So Yasmin, what is the recommended time to nurse, is it 3 months or six months?” She had simply said, “When your baby’s all needs are fully met, she will wean on her own”.
26 July 2016: Radhika is more than five years old and she continues to nurse – maybe once a day or sometimes once in 3-4 days; for a few seconds. On other days, she is happy just checking in on her “mamma dudus” to see how they are doing, give them a big hug- her most adorable friends!
To me the simple logic intuitively appealed- Why do I need to put a stop to the nursing process when I am certain I will not have a nursing teenager! Do I need to interfere with a natural process? Can I trust this natural process and let go of my urge to control? I did not need to intervene for my baby start talking, start walking or even start nursing, then why is it me who decides when to stop nursing. I am sure when the time is right, her body and mind will lead her to wean away, I thought. At the same time there were few doubts too, honestly, it seemed like a long long long long way …and I wondered if I would have the wear with all to continue nursing, especially given that I would be resuming full time work by the time she is six months old…. I decided not to worry too much about it and just take a day at a time. Here was a chance for me to give the best nutrition possible for my baby’s body and mind, and I wanted to make the best of this opportunity…that’s it!
If I can call my aunt’s sister on the other end of the world for the best crib, if I can travel in horrid traffic to get her the best clothing, surely I can try to give the best nutrition available for her body and mind, sitting right inside me for as long as she needs. (and in a sense it also allows me to continue to be lazy!)
Of course this has not been a very easy journey, but honestly it has not been that difficult either, once I was internally convinced and also received the right support. This has been a journey which primarily involved 3 Ps (the management jargons don’t leave easily!) Planning, Persuasion and Perseverance.
The first crucial phase which helped to later sustain extended breastfeeding was the transition back to work. I had a meeting with my lactation consultant Yasmin weeks in advance, to plan the transition. This helped me be prepared at my end and also to become familiar with some of the unexpected situations that may arise. Without this preparation, focusing on breastfeeding can become quite a challenge as the work front transition also requires a lot of time and effort after the maternity break.
My consulting sessions with her helped me to identify the type of breast pump I needed. I gave myself enough time to familiarise with using this machine. I could deal with the initial phase of hardly being able to express few drops of milk as I was still at home. (this phase can demotivate any mother, if it’s too close to the time of joining work, which causes stress, which in turn impacts expressing efforts) By the time I was ready for work, I was at ease expressing and had already stocked up the freezer with ‘Reserve Milk Supply’!
I had also pre-selected a day care close to my office, which allowed mums to come in and nurse the child. While the initial months of nursing were manageable, I did have to negotiate my way through with the day care when it came to nursing Radhika beyond 1 year. The toddler section had certainly not experienced mums coming to nurse. This might sound strange, but here is when my daughter came to my rescue – there was a night when I spoke to her in bed about my challenge of continuing feeding her in the afternoon as the caretakers were finding it an additional task to put her to sleep after she woke up to nurse…Since the next day, till the day I stopped the afternoon nursing session, Radhika slept through all her afternoon feeds! I would tip-toe to her mattress, tuck myself next to her, she would nurse in her sleep, while I found my solace with her and went back to work refreshed from our quiet time together. I chose to do this every afternoon, because I had learnt that having mothers milk externally while provides the nutrition, takes away the suckling opportunity which has its own benefits both in terms of physical and psychological development. (This and many other such facts was shared by my LC which started strengthening my conviction to nurse by baby as long as she chose to)
The work transition plan also included a session with my peers and seniors at work – to talk about my nursing plan. This helped build expectations, so I could excuse myself from office, during my lunch break. This preparation included me being comfortable with myself – to utter the word ‘nursing’ / ‘breastfeeding’ , in front of my Boss, or other male colleagues too – especially as I was working in a male dominated work environment. So I said to myself, “Madam, is your discomfort with the words more important, or feeding your baby what she deserves and can get only from you?” The answer was obvious.
I realised that when I communicated my requirement with conviction, I received the support I needed be it from my office, the day care or even at home with my husband or parents. Many times, with our cultural mindset, we end up giving our needs the last priority. We also create the myth of being indispensable at work and feel guilty of stating our own needs – which may need a bit of adjustment and allowance from others. This was a new way for me to approach being at work too. I had to remind myself to not burn myself out in trying to fit into this image of a SuperMom in some cereal and detergent ads. I trained myself to seek help both at work and at home and to forgive myself if I fell short of my perfect standards. This helped me create time for my baby. Our nursing sessions in the evening and nights helped me reconnect and bond with my little one and de-stressed me too. It also meant catching up with work at odd hours after baby slept – was certainly not complaining about that!
I also learnt to plan my working day better, with greater focus at work and realised how some of the corridor talks or unplanned events eat up time. The time I created for myself, I used to express milk at office, once or twice a day, or sometime none. (while not the ideal way, but my office had decent wash rooms for me to feel comfortable to express milk). I used to store the milk in the office refrigerator and then transfer it to the Day care fridge in the evening for them to use for Radhika the next day. Expressing milk at night time, which over a period of time became an easy practice was used to keep the freezer stock. This was my best decision as there were many days when I was too tired, caught up with work and then, I did not have to worry about her milk supply for the next day!
By now I was so convinced that I was doing the right thing for me and my baby, that one day at work in our ritual of sharing a ‘health or safety moment’ before a long meeting starts, I decided to share about the importance of breastfeeding in a room of 7-8 men – and I was the only woman. To my pleasant surprise we had a good 10 min conversation on it! Ok so let’s add a fourth P – Passion!
Co-sleeping helped me have restful nights too. I was grateful that with this decision, I did not have to get out of bed and sit upright every time to feed her. It meant rolling over to her in my sleep so she continues to suckle in her sleep!
Challenges: The answer was in the resolve and in being creative
And surely there were challenges – like any other aspect of life!
Other sources of my support apart from Yasmin were books on breastfeeding, stories of women around the world who have been in very challenging circumstances as compared to me and yet were committed to breastfeeding. Also becoming a member of the La Leche League (LLL) library helped me borrow books that were relevant to my stage of nursing relationship. While I could not attend too many group support sessions, but the LLL group meetings is a great place to share joys and challenges with like-minded nursing moms which also goes beyond learning about feeding to other aspects of attachment parenting.
My Lactation Consultant Yasmin who offers a myriad of resources for mothers like me including running a LLL Library as a part of her NGO initiative also offered a workshop - the parenting communication skills workshop which opened up a whole new world of communicating with children, very different from the notions I held earlier.
The other challenge has been to deal with questions and disapproving looks and body language from some of the close family or friends who may not be alignment to this approach of extended feeding. It has at times led me to re-assess my own decision, which more often than not would fly away the moment I would see Radhika comforting herself after her hard day’s work (if you think being a toddler is an easy job, think again! So many new things being thrown at your face each moment and coming to terms with so much of discovery is no child’s play!). From logical explanations, to skirting the issue to laughing it off, I’ve tried to be creative and compassionate and at times abrasive too!
Over a period of time, by the time Radhika was two, the demand for nursing started reducing. Of course by now, even for me this had become such a natural and integral part of our life that it clearly did not feel like an “additional task”. It was part of our play time, bed time, morning fun etc. Then suddenly, there was a phase where she went back to frequent nursing. As soon as I would get back from work, she would want to nurse. Her garden time also shortened and she would get back and nurse again and then again before going to bed. At one point I started getting irritated with this behaviour, even my husband mentioned that maybe it is time now to end – anyway I had done ‘more than enough’! I decided to call Yasmin to talk it through who allowed me a deep space of acknowledgment from her. Here is what I realised after my call with her, based on my reflection to some of her well-directed questions – What I was calling ‘frequent nursing’ was hardly that – yes, she seemed to need me more, but not like she was nursing for 15- 20 mins, each time…it turned out to be barely 5 mins! I noticed that I had been quite busy at work of late and this was Radhika’s way of saying - Mamma I miss you and need you – how beautiful. I also realised that my irritation was placed in the pace that I had unconsciously allowed myself to get into (the wannabe SuperMom was getting the better of me!). So I took a deep breath, relaxed, let go and loved my baby and our nursing moments were of course a part of it.
And I am ME too..not just MOMMY!
And then there are times - few and far in between though…when a No was a No. When I have just not been in the mood to be giving in, when I really was dead tired…by now Radhika was old enough to understand Mamma’s firm No. I would let her know how I felt at that time and that today was no dudu time, or I would make it Dad’s turn to put her to bed with a storybook.
I had decided that upto the age of three I would not spend the night away from her – and that’s how things turned out for me. I could live up to that – at times it meant that the entire family went on my business trip, but what the heck! My company supported this arrangement but after I had asked for what I wanted without making my own assumptions.
Post that I was ready to go out - the first time, a long way off, to Houston, for ten days on business. Radhika did great, along with her dad. She did not cry for her favourite time, did not miss mama dudu – and the moment I was back, it was back to our ‘usual routine’! The words of advice from Yasmin turned good friend by now rang true that your baby senses your need and will support you when you really need it. I saw that happening for real. I had of course prepared her well in advance of my long absence and so she knew what to expect. (that should lay to rest the common myth of breastfed babies being clingy!)
After this there have been innumerable trips, on work, training and even a girl gang goa trip! Only to come back to the tight hug from her- I guess these little away times helped us both!
Memorable Feeding moments:
Here are few of the many memorable moments, which I may have missed, if I did not continue our fun feeding time as she grew. While I am writing this I am also thinking, its like, I put in all the hardwork to get the feeding rhythm right, the positions, the expressing, the night time sessions etc. and what a shame had I given up just when it started becoming fun and easy ! - where we play more than drink, where we only have night time swigs, rather than full meals, where we hear the little one tell you what all does “dudu” taste like (honey, strawberry – and my favourite- it tastes like YOU Mamma !), where their imaginations run wild – from ringing the ‘door-bell’, to climbing the ‘mountain’, from purring there and rolling in laughter, to having naming ceremonies for her two best friends, to having a feeding session under the waterfall – and I could go on..You also get to know how close she feels to her friends based on whether she wants to share mamma dudu with the friend or not!!
A month or so ago, when Radhika did not ask to be nursed even though we were doing Storytime in bed together at night, I thought to myself the next morning..looks like this beautiful journey is nearing its end and my eyes were moist. Would our closeness be this close I wondered, sure it would, in a different language though, I assured myself.
I felt proud of myself and very fulfilled and satiated that I chose to go all the way… and had amazing people and life circumstances that supported me.
And as if the universe was watching this quiet moment of mine.. I got a call from my close friend to watch the rehearsal of their new play they were opening – my jaw dropped when I heard what was the play about. It was a play on Hirkani – the brave mother in Shivaji’s kingdom who despite all odds, climbed down a dangerous cliff to breastfeed her little son. And as I watched the play, with me as the only audience, I rejoiced and celebrated my journey. On my way back home, I got a call, checking if I could write my experience on extended breastfeeding! From just having watched a story, to writing one of my own! What can I say! Life Is Beautiful and I am grateful.
Extended Breastfeeding Credits:
Thank you Yasmin, Rakesh, my parents, my home-help, my Organization and…. Radhika…and my nursing shawl!
Extended BF – the lazy mom’s joy
Tips from my experience:
Preeti Birla Nair is also a freelance HR consultant, Life Coach and Playback Theatre practitioner. She was working with BG Group, during the phase of her journey described here. She is more than happy to share her experience with natural birthing and extended breastfeeding and can be reached on email@example.com
You can reach my Lactation Consultant Effath Yasmin and access her numerous resources such as parenting communication skills workshop or even her LLL Library here www.nourishandnurture.in
When I had my tongue-tie release, I shared my experience with friends, some of whom have tongue ties themselves or have kids with tongue ties. Many shared on with their family. A certain friend's brother in law said to her " If this is such a big deal, then how come no one knows about it. Even if modern doctors don't know that much, how come ancient Indian texts mention nothing." She shared his question with me and l felt no need to prove anything beyond just sharing my experience.
A few weeks later, I had friends visiting from Pune who immediately noticed the difference in my energy signature. I shared the story again. At that my friend Khushmita Sanghvi said "Ofcourse its in the texts. Its in Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Its called Kechari Mudra" A google search later, there it appeared, an account of the lingual frenum and how it should be severed to create advanced states of consciousness." That totally explained my experience after the frenotomy (which you can read in the account on my website or here)
Yesterday, I was sharing about the tongue-tie release with my dance teacher Salome Roy Kapur (someone i deeply idolise because she's full of life and yet so spiritual and compassionate). She's also a regular yoga practitioner, homeschooled (because the nuns would not have a student who danced in their convent school) and i can go on.... Anyway, she said "Oh the yogis talk about this, its called Kechari Mudra".....amazing na. Here's my experience once again....yes i'm going to keep sharing to create awareness of this disability . Please share to create awareness.
Part 1 : Guzz guzz gruzz the anxious buzz
guzz guzz gruzz goes the anxious buzz. This is the background score that plays relentlessly and restlessly on the instrument of my body in its many nuances. It pulls at my fascia(the connective tissue that is really is our second skin) here and there, tugging and drawing on my bones, sinuses, adrenal glands and physically raging a ceaseless war with an unknown, unnamed, unsought enemy.
War is not my thing, yet war ravaged my inner landscape for 33 years. To understand what this meant for me, I invite you to come and experience my life here, come inhabit myself, come journey as me.
I am playing; I must be about 5 years old. I use the upturned boxes of my father’s visiting card boxes, with the tiny finger holes in them to make a stove. I place upon them my kitchen vessels and as I am cutting out rotis from leaves with a discarded metal soda topI am unable to be absorbed and completely immersed in what I am playing. I am five, I am curious, I want to be absorbed and immersed by my play of making rotis but I don’t understand the guzz guzz gruzz anxious buzz. It feels like a restlessness, like this is what I want to be doing, but it’s not what my body wants, and there’s no peace and stillness inside. It is a very live wire, electric shock kind of experience that I can feel in my body. I cannot be still and must keep doing and planning for the next do-ing when one thing was nearing completion. Although I don’t know what this anxious buzz is, my little self knows it must be vanquished
As I am growing, I try role playing, I make different kinds of friends, I seek out new experiences……anything to get rid of the guzz guzz gruzz anxious buzz. Perchance, I dance, I discover the freedom and catharsis and pure fluid relief that movement can bring…..somewhere in that experience, the buzz gets a little faint, sometimes, if I’m lucky, it is so faint, it is almost gone. I realize I have a possible solution, I feel elation even in the buzz that still scourges on.
Whenever I am angry or upset, the buzz pulls my whole body taut, like a stretched violin bow. The sound that I hear and feel inside is like the highest pitch on the violin. I feel the tautness more than I hear the high pitched sound. When someone is yelling at me or a friend is saying unfriendly things to me like she doesn’t want to me my friend, the sound inside me is louder and more dominant than the yelling or the unfriendly tone of my friend itself.
I also discovered that slamming the door shocks the buzz into a state of freeze. It is like the buzz is still there, but doesn’t move. It is frozen. Then I discover when I lock myself in a room with music, drape my dupattas just so, and stare into the long mirror on my dad’s Godrej almirah, I can transform into another character and I dance and I spin……and boy! can I spin…… In the dancing and in the spinning somewhere in an uncertain space….there is a moment, sometimes longer of bliss. The buzz is gone, oh so momentarily, such a will o the wisp, almost like that special moment when your child did something unique or funny and then it was gone.
I am in the 9th grade. I am fiercely competitive. I love learning and still do, but I also vociferously want to always stand first. I put myself through all this self-imposed expectation and then there are all those fat ICSE textbooks that need to be studied. And I remind myself that I must not lose my rank because my Hindi is not good enough. Exams stress me out and I have these horrible migraines. It’s like my head will explode and burst. I am short tempered, the smallest thing will annoy me and I am drinking coffee and studying at night. Coffee helps intoxicate the buzz, so it doesn’t grab attention over the books.
I am in college. Someone I know throws a toffee wrapper on the ground, just because they know I will pick it up, and I do. I am called Captain Planet and it’s not funny. When someone is sarcastic as some people just are, my entire body goes into clamp down mode. It’s like in Prison Break, when there’s a security breach and the alarms are buzzing and red lights are flashing the order is lost and all the heavy iron bars and doors are racing with the siren to clamp down and shut down. It’s all inside my body; my mind is completely aware and able to make sense and to just ignore the comments. I cannot emphasize enough that this is what I feel entirely in my physical body alone.
The anxious buzz made an over achiever out of me, not allowing me to be, just do do and do….it’s not entirely a bad thing to be charged up for achieving, but oh those moments of silent bliss, where there is no background score, just a feeling of lightness and quietness and a silence could give me the feeling of being ‘rested’.
At some point I realized the entire quest of my life had been to get rid or quieten the guzz guzz gruzz anxious buzz.. I had dancing highs, Vipassana highs, yoga highs and love highs.)These highs were the silent symphony and it was becoming more frequent. I sought it …….always. I remember sitting in psychology class and hearing about self-actualization and wondering if that was what those moments of silent symphony were.
I never spoke to anyone about this anxious buzz in my body; I just assumed everyone must have it in their body. I want to say here, that origin of the buzz was in my body and its effect on the mind was completely an escalation of the physical experience of it. Though like everyone I have challenges in my personal and professional life, the buzz was only further escalated at these times….but it always existed.
It would also feel an excruciating overwhelm physically to be in the presence of many people… The anxious buzz would feed on other people’s vibrations. If someone is angry, even a random women fighting for a seat on a crowded local train, the buzz in me would go befriend her energy. So the buzz was gathering unto itself all energies it came in contact with.
Travelling in Mumbai was a hellish experience anyway and add the buzz to it; it would feel like I am gathering energies of random people that tend to be restless, hasty, quick to anger and racing. Being in local trains was so excruciating, with the energies of women that had woken up too early to cook and pack tiffin’s and catch the right bus to catch the right train and get a seat so they could chant or chat before they went on in exactly 18.55 minutes into the next necessity. I invested in a Walkman and listened to the best of Gypsy Kings or Madonna hanging on that central pole of the train by the door, alighting at every stop, safeguarding that final step before the train left for my feet to find, space, my hands to find space, my ears were plugged in, listening to Madonna….. “Just like a prayer I’m going to take you there.”
I experience many moments of sometimes extended silent symphony as my yoga practice gets stronger. I have experienced that with Latin American dance, which really calls to me with its unsurpassed joie de vivre, the silent symphony is shorter and further between. A month in the Himalayas studying yoga begins healing a terrible L5 slip disc that doctors said was only degenerative because of my congenital scoliosis (irregular curvature of the spine to one side, also a midline defect) and brings me experiences of silent symphony that I only later read about in books from great masters.
A few years later my time spent in Bermuda, quite deeply immersed in my yoga practice in the lap of nature, and in dance too bring home to me a discovery of personal truth. Not as flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods, but rather, as butterflies, sheltered in a cocoon of grace as we go through intense and necessary periods of metamorphosis, because fly we must, it is our very nature to do a fluttering dance, that comes from the stillness within our bodies and beings, dancing in rhythm to change that is inevitable.
guzz guzz gruzz goes the anxious buzz….it is not gone yet…will it ever?
Republished from Mirabelle Dcunha's blog http://mirabelledcunha.com/guzz-guzz-gruzz-the-anxious-buzz/
PART 2: The Silent Symphony
Years later…..I sat on her couch in Mumbai, this complete stranger (Effath Yasmin), with my 9 day old baby in my arms, helpless, tear filled feeling like a complete failure of a mother. My baby was unable to nurse. The buzz was devouring me, it was loud, it was bold, it was taunting, my body was overwhelmed with shivers of volcanic proportions, my fascia were stretched to tearing point, and were yet being played upon by porcupine quills.
To add to this I could feel the buzz in my infant….this could not be happening…..it was beyond surreal, beyond a divine joke. Imagine feeling my own guzz guzz gruzz anxious buzz and then feeling as palpably as labor surges, the buzz in my child. My husband was my only solace.
This stranger was the messenger, nay the midwife of my release, but we both didn’t know it. After a long and tedious journey, we discovered the little angel had a tongue tie. A path breaking first time in India on an infant with laser, she had a frenotomy, a small surgical procedure that is quite painless and bloodless. This was preceded and followed by Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, that made the buzz go away from our baby. Read more about the procedure here That meant the buzz in me went back to my normal average. I didn’t think much of it, but was elated and on top of the world that she could nurse and nurse she did for a long time to come and what grace that one act of being a mother cow can bring, is journey that I wrote about in another note.
Exactly 4 years later I sat on her couch again. We were friends now, Yasmin and I having journeyed like only soul sisters from a universal mother can. Our daughters were having a sleepover and we were up chatting into the night. I am about to move to the Cayman Islands, so we are making the best of whatever time we have with our dearest friends. Yasmin and I often talk about tongue ties, it is her area of expertise and deeply interests me. I have since counseled many mothers whose babies have tongue ties, I have friends whose babies and older children have tongue ties but do not have it resolved, mostly due to unsupportive fathers. I can diagnose simple tongue ties physically and definitely know many of the symptoms behaviorally. I can see that I have several.
I request Yasmin to check me. This also coincides with her understanding and her investigation that while my body would respond to improved function after every Biodynamic Craniosacral treatment sessions over the past year, it would recoil into some unknown buzz again. Its almost like my body cannot sustain the better function. Her investigation was the restricted structure must be the cause. It comes as no surprise that I have a tongue tie. There is not a flicker of doubt that this must be resolved before I leave. I have 6 weeks. We get to work with Biodynamic Craniosacral sessions, a beautiful nonintrusive way to ease the body into its optimal wholeness and well-being by improving body’s physiological function
I have my frenotomy. It redeems me. It is done under local anesthesia and even through the anesthesia, as soon as the frenum is severed, I feel my jaw relax and I start to feel like a big weight has begun to lift off my neck and shoulder muscles. Apart from that I feel pretty normal. We leave the clinic and Yasmin gives me a ride to the homeopathic chemist, so I can get bio-chemical salts for anti-trauma and pain if needed. I am beginning to feel something peeling off my inner skin, so to speak. I don’t say anything though. As we wait for the remedies, I talk to a close friend that needs a frenotomy and tell her I’m feeling relaxed and pretty normal.
Suddenly the lightness gets larger than life, my inner skin was still feeling like it was peeling. Imagine one of those heavy collagen face masks peeling off various internal layers of your body you never knew existed. I decided to sit down and focus on my Ajna Chakra. I feel a little more focused. I go off to the next store to get a paracetamol, just in case I need it for pain. By now whatever was happening, was escalating. Yet my inner core was still as a lake. The peeling of the inner skin (which I now know was fascia) was progressively relaxing rapidly. It felt like a lot was falling away, like cascading away. Yasmin comes by me and I ask her if she can take me home and then involuntarily collapse into a heap in her arms.
I am completely conscious and feeling fine, except for the physiological happening. My body was saying, hold on I need to take over for a while. My entire body started vibrating. Not like a phone vibrates, but a very subtle yet powerful vibrating. Something more like diffusing, like an essential oil in a vaporizer. It kept on going. I was so high in my head; it felt like I would become one with the universe. I have had this feeling before, during a yoga practice in the Sivananda Ashram and while birthing. I am not alarmed, yet everyone around me is.
In that busy street of Mumbai, a crowd has gathered. I am able to tell Yasmin, who is not panicking at all, that I am well. They give me glucose. I don’t want it. I have eaten a good breakfast and I know something incredible is happening, that just needs allowing and time. Yet I sip. Slowly the vibration reduces to 80% and I am able to volition my body into movement. I receive a message, as I often do, some call it intuition, for me it is so crystal clear I can never doubt it. I must be taken to the doctor who performed the frenotomy because he does this procedure more so from the limited view of a anatomical restriction and not so aware of the depth this small minimally invasive procedure could hold for people like me.
I get home and rest in Savasana. Yasmin offers me a Biodynamic Craniosacral session. I sleep, but I am completely aware. Little tingling sensations are taking place all over my body. This continues and after 8 hours, I have a massive headache. It is the most awful thing ever, I know these sinus headaches, they have made me feel like banging my head on a wall and cracking it open and only go after I throw up, and the change in head position while trying to throw up is another roller coaster all together. I have been taking biochemical salts anti-trauma pills as suggested in my post-operative care by Yasmin and then receive a Biodynamic Craniosacral therapy session. This brings much relief.
Once that headache is gone, I sleep without a pillow in savasana for a few days. The re-calibrations continue as tingling and shifting in my body. I continue with the frenum massages, so the frenum doesn’t reattach. These massages make the tissue in my mouth feel more comfortable and help with eating food , which could otherwise have been stiff and painful.else it could make me feel my mouth more stiff. The healing on the physical plane alone was amazing. The pictures will speak for themselves. I was extremely tired for a week. It was like all kinds of toxins were released with that peeling off feeling. But what can I say the guzz guzz gruzz anxious buzz had gone away! This time completely.
The so-called normal activities around in our life like the machine that droned spraying mosquito repellent or the tearing noise of the brown tape on the cardboard box didn’t grate on my nerves anymore. You may relate to how it feels when someone scratches their nails on a rough surface or when chalk scrapes on a blackboard
There are some relationships that one has that don’t come with a choice and some of those could really annoy me, because of the buzz in those people. After the frenotomy, could meet the same people where they were, without judging them, just seeing and feeling genuinely at peace that we are all on different paths to the same place. I cannot tell you what a relief that was! Not to want to convert everyone to healthy eating or even to make sure their kids had the frenotomies they needed that were the answer to all their issues. Whatever it was that used to irk me in my body before was gone. The guzz guzz gruzz anxious buzz had really gone!!
I got my first yoga practice in a week after the frenotomy. There is a natural resistance when you do yoga, but there was something like a fight earlier, even with years of practice. The fight was now just gone. Yoga, my absolute love was really “sthiram sukham aasanam” that which is still and in which there is contentment.. I stopped a few minutes into my surya namaskaars. I was crying….so much ease was just too good to be true. I mean this is what the yogi’s meant. It wasn’t about flexibility and strength and how much you can do, or how long you can hold, it was about being at ease and content in a pose/asana and that stillness of mind with the complete natural surrender of the body that is energetic and beyond flexibility is the most incredible continuous bliss ever!
I started to be more at ease with everyone. I was able to be at ease when my daughter went to sleep a little later than her schedule or meals were a little late or occasionally not healthy. The presence of other people’s buzz didn’t affect me. I can still sense it with great clarity, but it does not affect me anymore. This alone has created heaven on earth. All the Biodynamic Craniosacral Sessions over the past year prepared my body to receive the gift of a tongue tie release that would last perhaps a life time.
I am now on the beautiful Grand Cayman islands on the other side of the world from Mumbai. In my 4 months of being here, I have not experienced any headaches that lasted for days ending up in a throwing up and head banging feeling before. I have not experienced any sinus attacks that would cripple my life for days on end before. I managed a massive transition of moving home from India to Cayman Islands with minimal help with ease.
During my short stay here so far I have met many adults and children who have tongue ties. Their parents struggle with discipline and food issues. Not everyone will get this, maybe not everyone is prepared. It took 34 years for me to be liberated, everyone has their own journey. My mother and mother in law are both tongue tied and I can see how their lives have been affected. Even if you look at only the physical impact, it is large. I hope that in time, Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy will prepare them to arrive at a space where they can have the frenotomy they need.
I write this thinking of all the mothers I have spoken to, with infants that cannot nurse and are too “colicky”, the mothers who know something is wrong, but have no support from their spouses. I write this for all those that continue to experience the anxious buzz, all day, all night, lifelong.
I write this for the children that have this anxious buzz and cannot express or understand it. Like the little me, I know their trauma.
I write this for the doctors that have been given such a narrow, limiting view of the human body as something that is fixed in form and function.
I write this because most tongue ties are yet undiagnosed and under researched.
I write this because I witness Yasmin going through her journey having selflessly dedicated her life to serve and support people and families who are affected by tongue ties against all odds in her life.
I write this because this kind of liberation from disability is everyone’s birthright.
I write this because I am free!
Republished from Mirabelle Dcunha's blog http://mirabelledcunha.com/oh-the-sweetest-silent-symphony/
How did you know that you needed help with lactation?
From the very first day after my delivery I was facing numerous problems during breastfeeding and felt very helpless. My gynecologist suggested me to use nipple shield which became inconvenient afterwards and it caused low milk supply. When I started feeding without nipple shield I used to have intense pain because of the improper latch on. I had no way to know what was causing the pain and felt inadequate about the way I positioned my baby. I have asked so many pediatricians and doctors about the issue but there was no help at all. Everyone suggested me to have patience and wait it out and said this is normal for many first time mothers and I was asked to do nothing about it and not to complain about it. Unfortunately I had to start giving formula milk when my baby was one month. This was the most devastating thing for me to feel that I did not have enough milk for my baby and that I was letting my baby starve if I dint give formula. I felt like a failure.
Where did you look for help and what help did you find?
I turned to my gynecologist first and then to several pediatricians for help desperately but I disappointed. I was also aware that there were lactation consultants who were specialized and could help in solving the lactation related problems. When I searched online I got two to three consultants. But doctor Effath Yasmin was the only person who understood my problem and was confident enough to resolve it. She finally gave me hope.
Yasmin took a detailed history from me and has spend hours with me and provided me thorough guidance and support despite it being online and long distance. Never once did I feel I left alone after connecting with her. She gave me comprehensive support via phones calls, pictures, thru every possible way as I was not able to travel with a baby of one month. From the pictures and videos which I have shared with her she diagnosed that my baby was tongue tied. And suggested the resolution called as frenotomy. She gave in-depth support to protect my dipping milk supply and kept me motivated every day until we worked to find resources to resolve the cause.
How was the experience?
Let me tell you the most interesting thing is that the actual treatment was only for 10 mins mostly including the preparation time. That’s it. But the whole journey towards it was bit difficult and the main hurdle was lack of awareness. In fact lack of importance for continuing breastfeeding when issues occur and huge lack of awareness amongst the medical community to help a breastfeeding mother like me was the biggest huddle.
First thing was to convince family to get that treatment done, then finding the right doctor to do it, then convince that dentist about the issue and how that treatment will help to resolve it. Doctor Yasmin has been immensely supportive by talking to my family, helping them understand the implication of the problem and the importance of the treatment for long term improved health for my baby. She worked with me to find a doctor and provide professional educational support to help the doctor understand the importance and the need for this treatment.
Finally the frenectomy was done but my baby responded to it very slowly. Doc Yasmin suggested me few exercises which I need to do on a regular basis to get the expected result. And on one fine day I got complete freedom from the fear, worry, pain, and nipple shield! My milk supply got better and increased over the weeks following the procedure. Now he is five and half months and completely breastfeeding, no other supplements and also zero pain while feeding. I cannot tell enough about how liberated I feel about finally enjoying being a mother to my baby.
What was the treatment called? What did it involve?
The treatment is called frenotomy or frenectomy. In this treatment baby suffering from tongue tie and a lip tie is helped with releasing the tie with a small slight cut on his frenum to improve the tongue movements and help baby have ability to deeply latch, suck and swallow. It involved doctor preparing by swaddling the baby to prevent movement and used normal sterile scissors to snip open a small portion under his tongue which was less than half a minute. Preparation took longer than procedure.
Yasmin reevaluated my baby’s tongue and suggested further release since it was complete the first time. I did not hesitate to go the second time since I knew it really is a small procedure with huge benefit with no risk. Even no anesthesia was used.
How is your baby now? Did the treatment help him?
My baby is healthy and happy now. His weight gain is proper and everything is absolutely fine now. I am a happy nursing mom now.
How important is breastfeeding to you?
Breastfeeding is the most important thing for me and baby. This is the first step towards healthy life for a bay and a mother. I have gone through a huge emotional, psychological and physical trauma because of lactation issues but finally I could resolve it with the help from Doc Effath Yasmin and now feeding is the most pleasant thing for me and my baby. I cannot thank her enough for the support she has provided me.
I would like to spread awareness and help new mothers if they are facing any issues in lactation. I already started providing information to my family friends and relatives. I feel empowered as a mother. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to share my experience.
Expert Notes by Effath Yasmin an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant IBCLC, Mumbai, India
A tongue is an extremely complex muscular organ which is essential for sucking, swallowing, breathing, speech, eating, drinking, chewing, tooth and gum health, and digestive health. A baby’s mouth is designed to breastfeed effectively and any loss of normal breastfeeding experience either by the mother or the baby must be evaluated or treated as early as possible to avoid future problem and more importantly from premature weaning.
A tongue tie is and a lip tie is tightness in the normal tissue that attaches the tongue to the floor of the mouth and gums of the baby respectively. This prevents normal range of movements of tongue preventing important functions of the tongue. Some of the symptoms may involve
Frenotomy is a small procedure which is essential for release of a tie and is the first step to restoring normal tongue and lip function. Rehabilitation of the tongue motor function is an important follow up treatment after the procedure with tongue exercises and sucking. This procedure requires no anesthesia. The rehabilitation period is sometimes longer for older babies and children. Therefore it is best done in infancy as early as possible. Most importantly this protects an important experience of breastfeeding for the mother and her baby.
Interview published on healthsite.com
In India, a number of new mothers face problems breastfeeding their newborns, but are afraid or shy to talk about it. Here is the story of a young mother, who struggled with breastfeeding issues, but did not give up. Her baby had a common condition, but the lack of awareness only prolonged her trauma. Here is an interview with the mother and her lactation consultant Effath Yasmin:
Urban Satchitānandā: A mothers account of her quest to feed her baby (Mirabelle Dcunha (Mumbai | Jan 2012)
Saturday 14th January 2012
This is not a subject generally discussed or shared with anyone besides ones close family and friends. I share this because I feel the learning and awareness our experience has the potential to create is tremendous. If even one family is saved the intense pain and trauma such an experience brings and if I can share the positive learning we gleaned from it, a HUGE difference would have been made.
What is this taboo topic? Nursing, less subtly known as breast feeding. In Bombay in particular it appears to be a taboo to discuss this (unless its advice of what foods you should eat) . Everyone discusses the “labour pains” ( which in my experience, through physical and mental and spiritual preparation were very mild and quite pleasurable and exciting) but no one tells you, nursing (I’m using the less taboo word so I don’t offend some sensibilities) can be consistently painful.
In my own preparation for the little one, I did not give much attention to nursing, though I did attend a session by a La Leche League leader. My thinking was, birthing is where the intervention occurs, so let’s study about that, so we can make informed decisions as parents-to-be. Feeding I thought was most natural, like giving birth and since no doctors intervene, I didn’t need to prepare at all. Life always has a way of making me shift my beliefs with the aim to help me shed them all eventually.
The following is my recollection of the experiences of baby, daddy and me from her birth until the challenge of her feeding was resolved at 3.5 months. From guilt and pain and feelings of inadequacy caused by an internal locus of control and an aggressively pro breastfeeding and even more Nazi advice giving Indian society to visits to over 10 of the best doctors in this city to the discovery (thanks to our wonderful Lactation consultant Effath Yasmin) that our daughter had a posterior tongue tie. None of the doctors were able to diagnose, until connection was established with a NY based doctor over the internet and a local doctor was found in Mumbai and the surgical procedure for a posterior tongue tie was performed 3 times on baby and possibly for the first time in Mumbai or even India!
I share this not to seek your admiration or pity, I share this to empower women that are pregnant or will be pregnant or have friends that may be pregnant or trying to nurse. In an era of supposed women’s liberation, I take the courage to share, a very women centric experience so a difference may be made. I want to reiterate that doctors as wonderful as they are, do not have the intuition you have with regards to your baby. While most doctors recommended we feed Sivaanaa formula with best intentions in mind, doctors and our families and social circles must respect that how to meet our baby’s requirements is a personal choice and a personal right. The story is long, but I urge you to read on ....you never know when you may be able to help someone.
The streets are bleached ashen under the glare of the night lights. The moon and its powerful silence are obscured by construction cranes, unfinished buildings and the impatient honking of cars whose drivers are racing away seemingly ahead even when there is opportunity to relish the concrete city stillness. Pariah dogs languish in their familiar hunger. The last vegetable vendors are pushing their carts home. Cars jam the road to the airport- impatient, excited, in a hurry, apprehensive, overwhelmingly emotional, -- all of the above. A myriad stories incompletely told.
Today my being has taken over my mind and my pain body. I can only describe the is-ness of my being as an urban satchitananda; clarity of truth, existence and possibly a short lived but rare human bliss in the midst of urban functionality and a resilience that is unique to the people of Mumbai.
Why this clarity, this pervasive peace? Why this morsel of divine nectar? After 3.25 months of a God gifted challenge, our daughter is able to nurse freely. This day I have awaited more than the day I wed my soul mate, more than when our daughter was born. It is here. ‘Ask and you shall receive’ is the divine promise, always fulfilled in His time.
Little Baby Sivaanaa Magdalena is born. Desire for natural birth is thwarted by divine intervention when her head gets stuck in the birth passage after 14 hrs of an intense but very pleasurable labour. She is airlifted through a C section while lights are dimmed and powerful mantras pervade the OT.
I am in the most intense physical pain I knew up until then. Bedridden, unable to sit up and feed my child. Emotional bordering on irrational. Rudy is such a blessing.
Slowly recovering physically. Constant nightmares during the few winks of sleep. Why despite my yoga and our preparations as a couple and the most amazing spouse and calm gynac and third eye Ajna Chakra buzzing labour did we end up with a C-sec? A myriad other questions in the same vein. No answers just tears.
Add on several doctors visits. Baby dehydrated. Dr asks if I have enough milk (like how would a first time mum like me know what is 'enough ' and asks us to give formula. Formula is a Forbidden F word to me. But baby's dehydrating so I snap at the relentless pro natural fundamentalist voices in my head and get my first n hopefully last tin of formula. I use it sparingly. Trying to breast feed. Baby latching properly. Check. What's wrong then? Whip out the breast pump I got for occasional use. Maybe one lonely drop of mother’s milk in an hour.
I am bruised. Still depressed n overwhelmed. Recovering from surgery n hemoriids from natural birth. Possibly not lactating adequately. Baby’s latch meets all perfection criteria. Something must be wrong with me. My body's letting me down again. Frustration, anger, and deeper depression.
I'm sent an invite to a breast feeding workshop by a friend on FB. Baby is just 12 days old. We cart her to Goregaon. I learn even more fab things about breast milk n feel lower. We set up a private consult. Early diagnosis; possible birth trauma and mechanical tongue restriction. We need to address these and work on building up an inhibited milk supply . Recommended treatment; Cranio Sacral therapy. I'm still meditating or should I say intermittently tuning in, so I'm getting answers n guidance in bits.
We start cranio sacral therapy for Baby and me. My body and pain body need release from the trauma of the c-sec as well. I am helped and Sivaanaa loses her deep gag response. I begin expressing and pumping milk, one little drop at a time. Feels like a drought. Meanwhile we chart the little ones weight. She must stop dehydrating and at least get back to her birth weight. We note with tallies the number of pees and poos and their quality n quantity. Sivaanaa is such a peaceful baby. Yasmin our lifesaving LC (Lactation consultant) says we will have to take help of formula as a medical aid until her weight is regained. Me the natural birth n breast milk fundamentalist is left choiceness. Baby refuses the steel vati, the medicine dropper etc so we use a SNS (for those as clueless as I was it's Supplementary Nursing System. ) a tube with formula or expressed milk is taped to the breast to allow the double function of retaining the baby at the breast and stimulating the production of milk. Meanwhile I pump every two hours almost around the clock. The times that I miss, because I'm exhausted or sleepy I feel bad about. Rudy is always there hugging me, making breakfast, changing baby and just being the peaceful gentle nurturing soul he always is. I am low but I count my blessings every day. Somewhere along the way, I collect 100ml in a day’s pumping. It will account for 3 of her meals. I take a picture with the bottle. My most prized trophy ever! I dance around the room. Some hope gleams in my tired and anxious eyes.
All the dink laddoos, methi seeds, Ayurvedic capsules, organic lactation promoting teas etc have been consumed. I have visualised a Ganga of milk flowing from Shivas head. I have composed a ditty to get milk flowing- my personal lactation mantra. I know it’s only my stress keeping me from lactating. I must let go of my negative view of baby’s birth. All 3 of us prepared so well, that a c-sec could only be her choice in choosing how to come. Having had both experiences God gave me the learning that nothing is good or bad. Some things are preferable on a personal level, however none must be judged for who knows what drives their choices. SNS is not working. It's very painful, so to give me rest and allow me to focus on building supply, we use an infant feeding tube attached to a syringe. Poor baby, I cry every time I see that tube and syringe feeding her.
Did I mention that Yasmin our LC thought baby might have a posterior tongue tie based on how I'm getting bruised and distorted? We visit the best paediatricians in the city, the breast feeding experts, the works. We drive across town, stopping at kind friend’s houses so Rudy can feed and change Sivaanaa while I keep to my pumping schedule. So what did the doctors say, including one renowned senior paediatric doctor, who also happens to be an ardent breastfeeding advocate/expert ? Baby’s latch is perfect. She doesn't have a tongue tie and this statement without even looking at her mouth ! I was recommended to discard the bottle and feed for 48 hrs at the breast. The pain I was told is natural, though how women would opt to nurse their babies with this kind of 'natural' pain for aeons is totally unbelievable. So I did the 48 hour thing. I was desperate enough to try. Little fighter baby fed for 18 of 24 hrs and then again the next day. Eventually she was exhausted and sleepy and I was bleeding. That led to blood in her stools and more panic for me. How many times I swore I would give up and go the formula way. Yet there was a persistent intuition that I would be able to feed the little one.
Baby was now almost 3/4th on expressed milk though feeding from the tube. Sterilising and tube feeding was too cumbersome. Hooking it all up at night etc so, I convinced Yasmin to let us use the bottle. Actually I think it was more like an understated threat; we use the bottle or I quit. I was formula fed and I turned out slightly weird but happy.
Week .... I’m losing track here...
Baby never liked the bottle. Believe it or not there is such a thing as bottle stress and she had it. Shoulders up to her ears, forehead frowning, tightly clenched fists and tightly cringed toes. Poor little girl. It was very convenient though for all those times she felt hungry while we were in the car driving to the next doctor in our quest for answers. Doctors say once the baby has the bottle, it loses its preference for the breast. Maybe some babies or most babies....not this one.
Meanwhile we worked with Yasmin, slowly eliminating all possibilities or rather possible problems and were left with the tongue tie. As parents our observation was that our very peaceful and smiley child tended to gag and cough every time she tried to laugh, which was often. It was like something was yanking her tongue back. She also cried very softly and there was something distinctly different in her cry compared to those of other crying kids we observed at our many paediatric visits. Yasmin said a paediatric dentist was more likely to be able to help identify a tongue tie than a paediatrician since the former studied oral anatomy in more detail. And so we went to a well recommended paediatric dentist, who assured me baby has no tongue tie and I should be just glad I can feed her my milk through a bottle and stop looking for problems when there were none!
Finally, thanks to Yasmin, we sent a case report with her observations and a video of baby’s mouth as she cried to a dentist that specializes in tongue ties in Albany, New York. Dr. Lawrence Kotlow has helped many a child feed by performing a frenetomy, a surgical procedure to clip the frenum and free the tongue. He agreed with Yasmin’s report and said it appeared Sivaanaa had a tongue tie and definitely she had a lip tie but he couldn’t make a definite diagnosis from a video. He connected Yasmin with a Mumbai based laser dentist . There was hope finally. My intuition told me that it was most certainly a tongue tie and if the frenetomy was performed all would be well. So we proceeded to what hopefully was the end of our quest.
Dr. Suchetan Pradhan examined Sivaanaa in joint-consultation with Yasmin. He agrees with just a lip tie, no tongue-tie he says. Phew! He said he could use laser to sever the lip tie. He wasn’t sure it would make any difference to her feeding though. We decided to go ahead with it. It would help her dental development positively anyway, so why not. We were so nervous....read all about the procedure, risks etc.
Yasmin could not sleep that night because the pieces don’t fit in together. The presentation of baby oral function and feeding assessment indicated a posterior tongue tie. She had earlier spent lots of time patiently matching Dr. Kotlows video of how to diagnose a posterior tongue tie with Sivaanaas video, frame for frame. Such selfless dedication, this woman is truly called to do what she does) Now she sends Dr. Pradhan the finer details of her observations and Dr. Kotlows video on how to diagnose a posterior tongue tie
We go in for the lip frenetomy. Dr. Pradhan had received another call from Dr. Kotlow, so he decides to check her tongue again. Guess what he finds? A posterior tongue tie! We are so happy!
The labial frenectomy is in process...Sivaanaa is confused but trusting. Dr Pradhan and his wife Dr. Shalini are calm and organized. They keep us in the loop. We play mantra music through our phone. The procedure is over in 15 minutes...Sivaanaa seems fine. We go home, waiting to feed her and check if it’s worked. We are so proud of the little one...she was so brave.
Labial frenetomy made a 5% difference for me...not significant but it gave us hope. Two hours later the anesthetic gel wore off. Sivu was howling like we had never heard before. I hugged her close, gave her skin to skin but she kept crying. I swore to put a stop to all these breast feeding experiments. Enough is enough!
We got our dear homeopath Dr. Rashmi Jaising to prescribe homeopathy for the pain and soreness Sivaanaa was so intensely feeling.
A week later we were back to get the tongue job done. Nervous again. This ones tough. Why? Because a little baby is constantly moving her tongue so one wrong nip would lead to a catastrophe. Dr. Pradhan was going to do local anestheisa and administer chloral hydrate (a hallucionogenic called a sedative by the medical community) Anyway, they said they would try with only the anaesthetic gel. Dr. Shalini, his wife, suggested using the Indian bath position to stabilize baby’s head. It worked. Sivaanaa clamped down on Dr. Shalini’s fingers and that stabilised her tongue a bit. Drs and Rudy and me, spoke to her before, telling her how important it was to try and keep still and how proud we were of her and how brave she was. She looked in our eyes and drank every word in...she even smiled. It was like she knew all along that this would change her fate and that of many babies in India with similar challenges. How I thank God for giving us the gift of his presence!
Dr. Pradhan only does a little. He takes small breaks and talks to Sivu in between as do we. It’s done. We are home again. Guess what 80% difference. WOW.... I feel so good... she can almost feed now. Still incomplete though. We give it a week to sort of evolve. A week later, more frenetomy. Now I can feed her. The pain and distortion are almost gone. I would have liked some more, but Dr. Pradhan doesn’t think it’s necessary since she can now feed.
Right after the second lingual frenetomy procedure, Sivaanaa can laugh almost uninhibited. She makes all these sounds she couldn’t before. Hell she can cry an assertive adamant baby cry! She can roll her tongue from side to side. The most priceless thing ever was the first time she fed successfully. She obviously felt the difference too. He face had the patient enjoyment of a meditator....not wishing to go forward in time or backward, in the NOW and relishing each moment, silent and serene. When she was done, she came off, looked me straight in the eyes and gave me the most radiant, blissful toothless smile ever. I have been in heaven and it’s a sweet sweet indescribable bliss....
..........the street dogs continue to languish in their familiar hunger, the cars honk impatiently and the city races mindlessly. In the midst of all this sit Rudy, Sivaanaa and I, content in our urban satchitananda.
Sivaanaa refuses the bottle, even expressed milk in a bottle. She still smiles when she feeds, even in the middle of the night when she feeds with eyes shut. I wish the frenectomy was complete and the pain gone. Sivaanaa would not need to feed so often then. We would be truly free, but we accept that it may not be time for that yet. She came to challenge me to find my limitless strength, she came to empower, and she has made an example and a successful experiment so no other mother and child (and father) would willingly have to suffer like we did. A few days ago, another baby had a frenectomy and there is an improvement in her latch. More babies will follow. We hope the doctors will devote more time and energy studying the details of ensuring the procedure is complete, so our baby can be completely healed. Our journey has already empowered so many others. We are all so limitlessly blessed and presented with opportunities to find and share our bliss. Happy blissful living!
*All this was made possible because of the selfless care, empathy and understanding and deep study and knowledge of our lactation consultant Effath Yasmin. May she always be blessed.
We also commend the courage of Dr. Suchetan and Shalini Pradhan, doing a new procedure on an infant for the first time ever while taking every care to be safe.
And how can I ever thank my darling soul mate and husband Rudy for his relentless selfless love, service and support. May our souls be always inextricably linked forever.
It is impossible to thank God for his energy and presence, his faith in us and this well disguised opportunity to evolve our souls. We love God insanely and are truly humbled.
Published in Babyoye Online and Mother & Baby Magazine - https://babyoye.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/effath-yasmin-ibclc-mirabelle-sivaanaa-story.pdfbabyoye.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/effath-yasmin-ibclc-mirabelle-sivaanaa-story.pdf
After more than a decade of searching inside and out, I found that my work, on social and environmental justice issues, the experiences from it and the ideology behind it gave me my identity and a sense of self and purpose in life. I also identify myself as a woman – a feminist. These multiple and converging identities gave meaning to my life, they drove me and defined many of the choices I had made in my personal life. It has been no cake-walk but rather a struggle to keep up with the demands that this imposed on me – but the struggle, so far, has been worthwhile, despite the failures and falterings or rather, i should say, because of them.
My journey towards Motherhood was not going to be different, i told myself (much before I found out that I was pregnant). It would be a part and parcel of my belief system that had evolved and is still evolving as a part of my life and work experiences . I wanted birth and mothering to be as natural as possible, as free of the medical market contraptions and systems and as empowering as the other journeys of life this far. It couldnt be anything else. Or so I believed.
Finding a sensitive health care provider
The fight started from day one. All I wanted to know was that I was indeed carrying a baby, that I had concieved and that I was ok. And so I looked for the 'right' health care provider to help me with the same. (Four and a half months after having my baby I still havent found one). Instead, what I got was either a private nursing home offering me the latest ultra sound technology, another with an extremely cryptic and pre-occupied gynaecologist unwilling to answer questions and then a civil hospital with missing doctors. I live in a small town (in Himachal Pradesh), i thought to myself. But then if it could have an ICICI ATM, i could surely find decent health care service. Turns out that the deifinition of decent is one that can offer you, if you throw some money at it, a range of options in medical care – but all which treat the pregnant woman as a 'patient'.
My general allergic reactions to doctors and hospitals apart, I was not going to be treated as if I was sick or ill when I was actually having a baby – that women have been having since time immemorial, way before the ultra sound came about. Dont get me wrong, am not throwing the baby out with the bath water (no pun intended!) - it is ultimately the medical technology that came to my aid when things went wrong. But I was driven to the 'wrong' place by the way the system works. The attitude of the doctors and the intense medicalisation of pregnancy made me averse to seeking the service and change doctors frequently.
Some of the choices I made against the doctors' orders: choosing to have fewer ultra sound scans (I had 3 ultimately but if I went the doctor's way it wouldve been 5 or 6), avoiding medications that were unnecessary (I was reccomended eco-asprin to facilitate fetal brain growth. A bit of research indicated that perhaps using a blood thinning medicine was not really needed). I skipped the amneocentecis, a test to indicate if there was risk of fetal anomalies, especially down's syndrome. Again this invasive technique puts the fetus at risk of injury and I was not about to let a needle into my womb. The one that I could not escape was the tripple marker blood test – a really expensive blood test to test abnormalities in the fetus. It was only after I got the results that I found out that all it does is tell you the chances of the risk. This the doctors will forget to tell you and so will they that the chances of a false positives are extremely high in both amneocentesis and the tripple marker test. They will ofcourse not forget to tell you how desperately you need these tests because you are an 'elderly preemie' – the term used to describe you if you are 35 or above and pregnant. Disempowering to say the least – this reminds you your age and its limitations and grills in the notion that your body is no longer 'fit' to be nurturing the fetus, it needs all the help and external assistance and you must act like a 'patient'. Am not sure if the constant reminder of being an 'elderly preemie' helps exercise more caution but it does undermine confidence.
My dream of having a natural birth was going to fail. This was the message that every health care provider and statistics in mainstream medical literature tried to drive home. What it actually attempts to do is prepare you or rather brain wash you into believing that you are incapable of pushing your baby out and that you must be ready to go in for interventions ranging from induction of labour to a cesarean section. I was not ready to go under the knife to bring my child into this world. After much searching I found Asha didi. She was a midwife in the village I lived in and I was thrilled to hear from others in the neighbourhood and her that birthing at home was doable for me. She was casual about many of the things that the doctors were always on tenterhooks about. I instantly decided that I would give the home birth with Asha didi a full shot. She was trained – though in 1980s. She wasnt recognised by the health care system because she was not even 8th pass. So naturally she had no equipment and was unaware of the latest in midwifery. She was just a traditional dai who believed that there was little requirement for any kind of invasive method even during birth (she did not even support episiotomy).
As the due date came closer I became more convinced that Asha didi was the way to go. But in the meanwhile i continued my prenatal check ups at the civil hospital and once in a way visited the private doctor. “What if there is an emergency?” was always a question that i faced from family and friends and one that I myself posed to the dai. She said she would be able to identify the emergency well in advance for a hospital transfer. Only thing I knew was that I wasnt going to find a doctor who would be pleased if I walked into the hospital in that state. I kept trying to work out possibilities. I read like mad about home birth experiences of mothers accross the world and slowly I prepared myself, family and friends that I could do it. Am not sure whether it was my persistance or for the fear of saying 'no' to me (who isnt scared of the family rebel) that everyone decided to flow along – yet again I was grateful that when the system was failing there was community and family support. So there I was – all of 90 kilos and waiting for the day when I would go through a process, the feeling of which I was not even able to imagine. It just had to be felt, i guess.
The due date, 11th February, came and nothing happened. No contractions... just a few false ones here and there but no real stuff. I went to the private doctor as the civil hospital doctor I was seeing was on leave. The minute she saw my face she, virtually ordered me to “get ready to be induced since you are past your due date”. My heart sank. I wasnt even a day late. Why wont she give it 24 hours even? I mustered up the courage and told her I wanted to wait for the labour to arrive naturally and all I wanted to know was whether the baby was ok. She refused to do a physical exam and threw me out of the clinic saying that she was “not going to let me have my way and that she was not free on the next two days if I came back to her for my birth”. (The next two days were a weekend) Whatever happened to the Hippocratic Oath? Anyway, it was too much of an insult for me and my baby – so I walked out of the clinic with damp eyes but my (hot) head held high. Obviously I could not go back to her if there was an emergency.
Being over due was normal and I was going to wait it out. On the night of the 13th I started experiencing some pain. By early morning the contractions were more frequent. Till then I had the plan in place. My friend Nidhi's car was ready at the road head and Asha didi had been informed that the labour had started. If Asha didi gives up and so do I, we would sit in the car and go to the government hospital at Kangra (about a 45 minute ride). The only problem was that I dint discuss the plan with others. All of us assumed that there would be no problem and the baby would come at home with Asha di's help. By 11 am next morning, a good 10 hours since the initial contractions started, I was getting anxious. But the contractions were not as intense for another three hours. I do not remember how and why my memory of the labour phases (that I read about so many times) failed me but I just know that when Asha didi asked me to start pushing I was not really ready. She assumed I was after she felt the baby's head. But still it was clear that I wasnt dilated enough and yet I kept pushing (in between short naps) I did this for the next 12 hours.... At 2 in the morning, on 15th Februrary I started getting the intense contractions. In my head I knew that active labour had just begun and that what I had gone through for the last 24 hours was just the initial phase. For some reason I was not able to communicate this. This analysis is more in retrospect and the memories are vivid. It was pouring outside and there was a power cut. 7 women – friends and family, the midwife and her friend Kamla (assistant) were continuing to encourage me to push. By 4 in the morning the intense pain was coming at 2 minutes. I was probably just beginning to dilate more – it was going to be a long haul, my instinct told me. But by then the early and needless pushing had exhausted me, the look of distress on the faces of those around (especially in candle light) made me worried and I kept looking at Asha di for encouragement and found little. She had a responsibility on her shoulders and though she knew of labours that went on for 3 days even, she suggested that we should go to the hospital. That is when I realised that we were not going to head far in this situation. I was not panicking about the baby – perhaps because my water had not broken yet. There was no time to go to Kangra and we went to the nearest private nursing home with an emergency section. I picked up myself and did not wait till the umbrella or torch was handed to me. I dragged my exasperated myself with support from a friend on the undulated stony path to reach the car in less than 10 minutes. I had two contractions on the way and the crazy feeling that I may have the baby then and there but thankfully nothing happened.
The birth of Abir
What transpired at the nursing home then was more devastating for me. As long as I was in the comfort of my home, I went through the labour with much support, constantly being fed hot drinks and soup, hugged and held. The minute we reached the hospital, at the first instance I was separated from the family. I later realised that it helps in successfully carrying out prisoner's dilemma so that decisions are not taken by the 'patient' in consultation with the family members .After a good 15 minutes the young gyneacologist walked in. She did not have any conversation with me, nor asked me any questions even as I yelled in pain. Finally she took me for an ultrasound. She told me that the baby's heartbeat was fine and asked me why i waited so long into the labour – I chose to remain silent on the 'home birth' for the fear of being kicked out. I made up some story and then I remember her asking for the 'husband' to be called. I was promptly taken away. I wanted to be a part of the discussion but had no energy to ask any questions as the contractions were killing me by now. I just remember lying on a cold metal stretcher with legs up on stirrups. I just hoped that the doctor would help me get the baby out now. The doctor walked in after a while and asked for 'the truth'. I knew that Prakash (my partner) had told her everything (which was a wise thing to do). I later found out that unlike me he was told that the baby's life was in danger. I let the cat out of the bag and asked her to get on with whatever she had to do. They said that a normal birth was 'risky' as my pelvis was small and there was meconium in the discharge. They had to cut me up. It was clear that she had shifted her position from attempting to give me a normal birth to going for an emergency c-section. Whether the c-section was really required still remains in the grey area for me – I havent made my peace with it but then, at that time I said to the doctor “please do as required”. I was conscious through the operation but my eyes had been covered. Within a few minutes after I lay down I heard the whimper and a loud cry from the baby. I wanted to howl, hold the baby and wanted to know if it was okay. I was asked to be still and not talk. I drifted into deep sleep. They woke me once I was stitched up with a loud “Congratulations, You had a baby boy!”. I was relieved. But still couldnt see him. They said the baby was taken to the family. My stretcher was rushed into the room as I just saw a glimpse of the family but couldnt see the baby yet. I still had no clue of how traumatised the family was but i apologised to all for putting them through a tough time and thanked my stars that the baby was alright. He was the most alert newborn I had seen and so red faced that we went on to name him 'Abir' which also means 'gulaal'. He certainly would bring much colour into our lives and I could not wait to hold him.
The Post birth period
The hospital staff did nothing to ensure that I had an interaction with my baby immediately post birth. The lower half of my body was numb, I had a drip on and I needed to rest and so I was not allowed to spend time with family nor have the baby lay next to me. In retrospect, after reading post birth experiences of other women who had had c-secs I realsied that a lot could have been done to ensure that I got to put the baby to the breast for a while atleast. Another fact that I am yet to make peace with. The resulting disconnect with the baby was overwhelming and still makes me feel guilty and angry. By the afternoon of the birth day I started getting anxiuos and I wanted to be with my baby who was put in another room with family. I was sharing the room with another mother to be and the only way I could get to Abir was if I climbed down to the basement where his room was. By evening I had decided I needed to be with my baby and prepared to get up and walk down. I sent out several messages to the staff who finally relented and helped me get there. I held my baby 12 hours after he was born and I could put him to the breast much later in the night.
“Ouch! That hurts”, was my reaction to Abir's first few minutes of suckling. The milk had not come in yet and I was assured that it would soon. While a few nurses came in occaisionally and pressed my nipples (hard) between their fingers to check if I had started lactating, none of them offered me much counselling on breast feeding. During the pregnancy I had read up all I could for upto the birth phase and so I had taken for granted the post birth part – of which breastfeeding was a central part. “Ofcourse, I will breast feed my baby – no dabbe ka doodh for my baby” I had thought confidently. It wasnt long before the confidence evaporated in thin air. Though the milk came in three days later and I kept putting Abir to the breast, I realised that this was going to be no mean feat. In the next three weeks Abir and I still struggled to establish a nursing relationship. It hurt me when he fed and so I would give him short feedings of 10 minutes on each side instead of the frequent feeding which is essential to establish a good milk supply in the first few weeks. I would avoid feeding him at night because I was exhausted when actually i shouldve been feeding him in the nights when the prolactin levels are better (to aid milk production).
I learnt these basics of breastfeeding only in the 4th week as Prakash, my partner and I began educating ourselves since Abir had not put on his birth weight and was looking rather skinny. Many of the other basic norms to facilitate breastfeeding had also been flouted. For instance, we top fed him with a bottle – leading to possible flow preference (the breast can never match the flow of a bottle nipple). Also, I switched breasts from one to another looking at the clock rather than the baby. Not letting the baby finish on one side and access the hind milk which is more fattier was also problematic. Once we understood the fundamentals of it at six weeks we got Abir off the bottle and any top feed (though it was minimal in quantity – about an ounce a day – in the first place). For the next few weeks Abir was on exclusive breastfeeding. Breastfeeding if going well can be an empowering experience – that my baby needed me to provide nutrition and I was able to give him what he needs made me feel good. The pressure to top feed continued from family and friends – clearly on the grounds that Abir's weight gain was still poor through out. But I kept trying to convince everybody that he was okay as long as he was pooping and peeing. If there was output it means there was something going in. But the fact that the amount consumed cannot be seen in case of breastfeeding was making everyone anxious, especially my mother.
Through long discussions with my mother I learnt that I was formula fed as well. This was in the 70s and formula feeding was just emerging as the trend in the west. I was born in Oman, a middle eastern country and this was the time when the exposure to the western markets had begun. An American doctor had given our family the advice that formula was 'good' for the baby. 'Cerelac', another gimmick from the western world, was also given to us as baby food. Other practices that came from the west and were adopted by the upper and middle class families initially in other parts of the world and later in India included - early weaning from breastfeeding because it was “inappropriate” to breastfeed a toddler. Or it was 'wrong' to breast feed in public – these ideas clearly came from the 'developed' world and have been adopted by urban Indian families. (On the other hand, Prakash my partner who was also born in the 70s in a village in Uttarakhand in the same decade as me breastfed for four years! A clear indicator that breastfeeding for as long as there was milk was a common trend across rural India and still is).
My mother tried to pass on some of her 'knowledge' even in the face of complete dismissal by me. While I had been rejecting a lot of the family norms for many years now, this time it was not easy – because there was a baby involved and I was up against my mother who had reared three children. It was most difficult to resist her ideas because she was otherwise a tremendous support at this hectic time of my life and I know I ended up hurting her everytime I refused to follow her advice.
This was the time that I got in touch with Yasmin, a La Leche League (LLL) leader. I found a mention of LLL (an international organisation that promotes breastfeeding) in almost every breastfeeding website and article I read and wondered if they had any lactation consultants in India. I was lucky to find Yasmin through this who from then on became my guide and confidant to deal with my breastfeeding challenges. She introduced me to many new ideas and with her help I was able redefine breastfeeding success when at 3 months Abir started getting extremely fussy and impatient during feeds. It was apparent that my milk was not sufficing and the flow was too slow for him. After much angst and three doctors diagnosing him with 'failure to thrive' I had to start supplementing with formula. With each bottle of formula my milk supply dwindled and so did my motivation. The only thing that was on the rise was anxiety becuase by 3.5 months Abir was feeding only once at night at the breast until one night he refused to breast feed even at night. He just wanted the bottle!
I chewed Yasmin's brains and read up all I could to figure out the problem that Abir and I were having. Why was the supply not building? There were too many possibilities – that our BF did not start off at the right note, that Abir had a upper lip tie which made latching on difficult, that I had hypoplastic breasts or Insufficient Glandular Tissue (which makes for low milk supply). My life was now revolving around Abir's weight gain and breastfeeding – perhaps to the point of obsession. I travelled across to Shimla and then to Delhi. I got the lip tie fixed and rented a hospital grade pump to increase my supply. I downed more than a kg of methi (fenugreek – a galactogogue) in the last few weeks.
Am not sure how I finally came to terms with the fact that after all this I still had to formula feed Abir. I think time handled some of it. But I have to give credit to Yasmin for introducing me to 'supplementing at the breast' (SNS or supplemental nursing system), which played a critical role in relaxing me and letting go of the high standards I set for myself. I remember I first read about it and laughed and said “These Americans will go to any length to feel good about themselves”. I guess it was reverse snobbery on my part! I was resistant to the idea at first - I mean why would I put my baby to the breast and then feed him formula/pumped milk with a tube? If the source is the bottle then let the baby have the bottle, no? I felt I was fooling myself and Abir. But that was on day one. I must credit Prakash who constantly urged me to use the SNS – he saw the practical aspects of it which I dint. He saw that Abir was back to the breast, his sucking had improved and believed that he was getting my milk even while I was using the feeding tube. I soon found that Prakash was right but my biggest realisation was that the closeness and bond I felt when Abir's tiny hands held on to me and he closed his eyes and sucked intently, was giving us both something emotionally and using the SNS had helped re-establish that relationship. Abir knew no other way of relating to me in the first three months and the bottle had temporarily interrupted that relating. I understood what Yasmin meant everytime she said “Breastfeeding is not just about the breastmilk”. By day 3 of trying the SNS I was feeding and supplementing Abir at the breast only. I got a hang of using the tube and I could insert it in my sleep even. Put together with the pumping this was our best shot at giving Abir the nourishment he deserved.
Up until Abir was 6 months old I was going strong with the use of SNS and the pump (with which I had a love hate relationship). But the day I started Abir on solid food he took to it like fish takes to water. Its been great offering him a variety of coarse cereals, vegetables and fruits and he is finally gaining weight. I still breastfeed him about 4 times a day though he's probably just getting enough to quench his thirst or provide him the much needed comfort after his hectic explorations. Am not sure till when I can sustain the breastfeeding relationship. I dream of it lasting till Abir expresses his need for it.... but am not placing a benchmark this time – so that letting go is easier.
The journey so far has taught me a lot. While Im proud of my perserverance I am also re-thinking on the ideals that I have formed, the pressure I put myself under (not to mention others) to live up to those and whether I can do the same now that I am responsible for another soul. 'Personal is political' is the principle that ought to be followed – but how does one deal with the emotional turmoil involved... how can I continue to follow this principle and find more creative ways of doing it? As I slowly get back to work and start seeing myself in the bigger picture, it comes to me... the merging of my multiple identities with a new identity – of being a Mother. An identity which has brought with it not just newer ideals but also newer ideas. There is another life to evolve and share these with and a fresh chance to grow up, once again.
Manshi Asher is a mother and an environmental activist. She lives in Palampur, a Himalayan town in India. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
“And we won’t worry, we won’t shed no tears we’ll find a way cast away the fears forever yea”.. (Dr Amrita Narayanan (Chennai | Feb 2011)
In the beginning
When the labor pains start it is dawn or perhaps a little earlier. I wake Parag and we slow dance a little together: he holds my belly and I sing: “Can I just ask for one moon dance with you, my love”. We have walked a long road for this moment. We moved from the United States to India just a few months ago. We’d tried long and hard to find a midwife for a home birth but none of them had been available. Travel weary from our immigration we’d decided not to brave the trip to the birth center in Goa but to stay at my parents place in Chennai and bring all our wisdom, childbirth classes and years of yoga and ayurveda practice to the clinic where we would have our birth.
Over 24 hours later
We had been so unprepared for a cesarean section that we hadn’t even run through the protocol with the doctor. I’d known every detail about the stages of labor and the positions to assume, the oils with which to anoint myself, the herbs I’d been taking in preparation for months. Everything but the c-section protocol. I knew my body but not the medical system. When they wheeled me into the operating room the only words they kept repeating echoed in my head: “we can’t wait, there was meconium in the fluids”. Parag and I are both crying: we had toiled through over thirty hours of labor with no pain medication only to have the plug pulled on us—or so it felt—with the doctor’s mandate that we get the baby out instead of allow her to continue her journey. So when they refused Parag entry to the room of his own daughter’s birth, when they didn’t tell me it was a boy or girl until I asked, when they whisked away my daughter for observation rather than give her to me in the first minutes of birth, we endured the losses as best as we could without an iota of protest. I finally held my baby girl in my arms several hours after her birth and even then my joy was truncated: the doctors denied me the right to feed her.
We lost our sense of “our baby” that day. That day the institution owned her and lent her out to us on a supervised loan--like a rare book. A draconian nurse closely watched the “visit” of my baby girl to my room. The only symptom that our baby had was a tachypnea—rapid breathing—not uncommon in infants who had a long labor and typically abating after 2-3 days. Yet the doctors decided that it was better not to allow me to feed her “just in case and to be absolutely safe.” Instead she was given IV fluids and kept in an incubator. I know today that it would have been much better for her to be near her mother’s skin and feeding as much as she could but in the moment of pain, exhaustion and disappointment that was our birth experience we were completely shorn of our sense of agency. We did not think for ourselves. We listened and obeyed with rage but we were not able to assert ourselves.
We did have one subversive moment that I recall with pride. On that first visit when the nurse’s back was turned for a moment I allowed Ranya to get at my breast—the word choice is purposeful, this little girl was going for her milk from the get-go—and she managed to get a few drops of milk.
The doctor enters our room furious. “You fed the baby, you should not have fed the baby. She has thrown up”. I tell her flatly that my baby did not throw up because of the milk. I am getting my energy back and I look her in the face and say: “maybe she threw up because you pumped her full of antibiotics”.
The power ultimately is hers because we gave ours away by coming into the clinic rather than having a home birth it seems. We are denied the right to have visits in our room because of the “risk” that we might feed Ranya-ru—yes we gave her a name amidst all this—again.
After several hours of strategizing and a few arguments with a couple of different doctors—the pediatrician as well as my own Ob—we agree that we can have four visits per day to Miss Ranya or little Ru as we are now calling her—who is kept in the “baby room” for observation.
I cannot do the visits to the baby room tonight. The walk is too long and too painful on my wrecked cut-up body but more than that the emotional wound of holding my baby standing up in the room, the ignominy and pain of being prevented from feeding her, is overwhelming. Parag goes instead, he holds her and sings to her, the nurse tells him that Ranya-ru is very sweet tempered and hardly cries
Till today Parag and I recall the first night we were all allowed to sleep together as a family as one of the best sleeps of our life. Little Ranya is adorable, painting-pretty, intelligent and our hearts are so full we even thank the doctors as we leave the next day, our fury at the birth experience somewhat quelled by the joy of holding our baby girl in our arms.
Day five, the days that followed, and my introduction to the sisterhood of the powdered milk
Then you stop and think a little, are you the victim of the system?
Any day now, they’re going to let you down,
Remember Jah will be there, to see you through.
Today when I think about what happened next, these lines from a Bob Marley’s song echo in my head. Conspiracy theories have a certain allure because they lay the blame outside. Call me paranoid, but I like them because they are doorways to the unconsciousness. Even though the blame is laid outside, the conspiracy theories we believe in tell us about who we are inside: though we are conspired against from without, the vulnerability comes from within.
The rest of this story is about milk, breast-milk to be precise and the conspiracy that exists against breastfeeding. It’s personal and yet it’s also about society. I am going to tell you about how, despite being consciously philosophically strongly in favor of breast feeding, a series of circumstances and key players drew out my unconscious (till then hidden) feeling that my own breast milk was inadequate or insufficient for my baby and that I should revert to “Formula” milk powder instead.
Two days after my discharge from the nursing home. I was back in a room full of nurses. My baby had been screaming and crying at my breast, and I’d brought her in to ask for help. I was tense and worried and had been up all night and when the nurse put a manual pump to my breast it did not yield much milk. Within minutes of the low yield pump the on-call pediatric doctor had been contacted. Six pairs of eyes watched my dismayed face as she announced: “your baby is not satisfied by your feeding, you will need to supplement with Naan brand infant formula”. I was incredulous. Just days ago my breasts had been painfully engorged and now I was being told I did not have enough milk. Six pairs of eyes watched as the head nurse demonstrated how to mix and feed Naan brand infant formula. Thirty spoonfuls or so and little Ranya spat out a little of the white liquid. “That how babies show they are satisfied,” said the head nurse authoritatively. Rule number one of the sisterhood of the powdered milk: babies will always behave in a reliable and predictable manner.
Nobody mentioned that using formula would set my milk supply lower. Nor did I think of this, so flooded was I with humiliation, shame, and exhaustion. I didn’t feel like I had another fight left in me though I longed to breastfeed. I turned my face to look at Parag when the nurses left, tears in my eyes. “I don’t believe them,” he said. “Lets use the formula today for the next feed while you get some rest and then we’ll try again. I know you have milk”.
Within days I was back to breastfeeding and supplementing with expressed breast milk because Ranya still seemed hungry after the feed. She never did do the satisfied spitting up that the nurse had indicated but over a month later as our eyes met over the plastic bottle that was brimming over with over 6 ounces of expressed milk Parag and I both knew it was true, I did have milk.
One Month Later: the plot thickens
Ranya was not nursing well and we were having to administer expressed milk in a bottle feeder even after she spent over thirty minutes at my breast, in addition she often pulled on and off my breast as though she had not got a good latch even though numerous people including our breastfeeding consultant—who was long distance in Bombay—and the hospital nurses said that the latch seemed fine.
Having suffered the hospital route we were determined not to use any more allopathic medication for what looked like stomach acidity that was causing the frequent crying in baby Ranya. We consulted an ayurvedic physician—one with whom I wanted to have my birth but who was not available to tend my labor—who recommended a digestive aid that is given to babies—Rajyanyadi powder. Ayurveda works slowly however and it was almost two months before we saw a clear improvement—in the meantime various diagnoses such as thrush and GERD were thrown out from the side of western diagnostics. However when we had no luck with off the counter or prescription carmicides we decides to wait it out and let the Ayurvedic treatment take effect.
I cannot emphasize the stress to our family unit during this time. Ranya cried constantly and loudly day and night partly from her stomach pain and partly from not being able to feed effectively. Sleepless nights, common for most newborn parents, took on a whole another meaning for us. I was constantly haunted by my infant’s obvious distress and family members constant enquiries as to whether she was getting enough food. When an early weight check suggested she was on the lower end of the continuum our pediatrician—whom we had not had the energy to change—expressed some skepticism about whether I had enough milk to breastfeed. Do you have enough milk for at least twenty minutes of feed? Are your breasts feeling heavy before each feed? Rule number two of the sisterhood of the powdered milk: most likely a mother does not have enough milk so doctor’s must assess for signs and symptoms of inadequate milk.
I completely panicked. I doubled my efforts to express milk, pumping into the day and night and breastfeeding and then providing expressed milk first through a spoon and as Ranya’s needs grew, through a special needs feeder. All the while Parag and I became more and more stressed. Hell bent on this goal of breastfeeding, we were unable to enjoy our little daughter.
I became terrified of her appetite. All her cries no matter the cause struck fear in my heart that they were a cry for food that I felt unable to answer. During this time Parag’s mother suddenly passed away and the house was flooded with relatives during which time many women assured me that Ranya-ru’s crying was most likely because I did not have enough milk. Rule number three of the sisterhood of the powdered milk: every cry of the baby that occurs less than two hours apart is a sign that the mother does not have enough milk.
During this time I was sustained by brief moments of light. In those moments, either in Parags arms, while holding my baby girl or rarely alone, I felt connected to what Marley would call Jah, to a force that would see me through this. Other times I was miserable, bereft, angry, exhausted and badly wanting to quit. The strong arms of Parag, his parents and mine, the homes that held us and fed us during this time held me up towards my own goal when I myself could no longer continue.
Two months: Mumbai bound
At two months we were feeding a combination of expressed and direct breast milk but I still had the feeling that something was terribly wrong and could not understand why our little one always seemed so hungry. Despite the protests of my mother with whom I was staying at the time—she felt that our baby was too young to travel—Parag and I decided to make the journey to Bombay to see our till now long-distance lactation consultant Yasmin.
We’d gone armed with two four-ounce bottles of expressed milk that I’d woken up twice in the middle of the night to pump. When I remember that flight from Chennai to Bombay and the level of tension I felt during the flight I can say that I while my conscious fear was of not having enough milk and of having to publicly breastfeed a baby with latching problems my unconscious fear that quickly emerged was of being inadequate myself, of not being able to cope and of failing: failing my baby to provide the nutrition she needed and failing myself as a mother. And this is where the conspiracy meets unconsciousness: if we have these flotsams of low self esteem in us they act as receptors to the popular paradigms of patriarchy. My own fears had made me vulnerable to the sisterhood of the powdered milk and there was nothing I could do about it except now that unconscious fears had been made conscious to tackle them head on through the metaphor of milk supply.
A day after arriving in Bombay we met with Yasmin. She had been my lifeline during the early days and I was so happy to see her. However the first meeting we had with her was a disaster. First, I’d arrived there with a “just in case” bottle of formula (which in fact we had not used at all in over a month). When Yasmin expressed surprise about me bringing formula instead of expressed breast milk I felt immediately ashamed and defensive. Ranya reacted by becoming very fussy and agitated. Then, looking at the way Ranya drank milk and hearing that I supplemented each breast feed with expressed breast milk to the tune of 3 ounces Yasmin declared that Ranya couldn’t possibly be getting enough during her breastfeeds. I was so vulnerable at this point that all I heard was “not enough”.
When I returned home that evening I could not express any milk at all and I had to supplement with formula for the first time since Day 5 and 6. For the next few days it was tough to express milk and I was in a panic. I remembered my own mother’s story that her breast milk had stopped overnight and though Yasmin assured me that this was impossible, I was convinced that the same fate had come upon me. When I talked to my mother she agreed that this is what had probably happened and she suggested I come home to Chennai where there was a chance I could revive and perhaps get my milk back. But Parag insisted we stay in Mumbai and keep trying.
Then two things happened. First another Yasmin recommended Cranio Sacral Therapy (CST), a relaxation therapy that was known to help breast-feeding mothers, particularly those who’d been separated from their babies during birth. We were introduced to Zia, a CST practitioner whose beauty and confidence were instantly calming. Second Yasmin suggested a breast-shield, a plastic device that would help Ranya latch better. The breast-sheild was instantly helpful and her crying dropped about 50 percent overnight.
CST feels a bit like healing: like a massage to the body’s energy. I enjoyed the relaxing vibe of my healer and found myself brimming with milk after the first session. This time the Bob Marley song in my head was about how conspiracy is conquered by love “And we won’t worry, we won’t shed no tears we’ll find a way cast away the fears forever yea”
3 Months: cured but not yet healed
It had become completely clear that milk supply was not an issue and yet I needed constant reassurance on this score. This I attribute to the conspiracy and to my vulnerability: every time someone suggested I might have inadequate milk—be it a relative or a stranger who doubted the power of breast-feeding—I felt a strange panic arise in my breast. Thus, even though we were completely feeding little Ranya breast milk, I felt cured but not healed. I was haunted by the fear that I was going to loose my milk at any time and my body felt still in the emergency mode. Every time Ranya had a poor feed I would be terrified that this would affect my milk supply. Though we were not using formula I felt I was still relating to the formula. This means almost daily I would have the thought “oh good thing I did not use formula today” or “it has been one week of no formula” or mentally calculating and recalculating “well in the past three months I gave 10 formula feeds”, or was it eleven, let me see again”. Long and short was that formula was prominent in my thoughts even when I wasn’t using it.
I began to realize that only if I could trust completely my own ability to breastfeed and Ranya’s ability to receive nourishment at my breast that I would be truly healed. As long as I had the attitude that I had somehow escaped the enemy (formula) I was still giving the powdered milk much more importance than I wanted. In addition, by continuing to fear that I would lose my milk supply suddenly, I was in fact suffering an ongoing trauma: that of being told I had inadequate milk--as had happened several months ago at the nursing home—except this time it was me who was allowing the ongoing violation. I knew that if I did not find a sense of home with my feeding and with my milk, the voices of the pediatrician and nurses from the early days would still echo in my head.
I had to conqueror the inner fears, the Duppys as Bob Marley might say, of being replaced by a powder that was priced at $3 for a kilogram. I believe these fears were still at large for two reasons: First my own inner sense of inadequacy that had been brought to the fore by a difficult birth and unsupportive doctors who believed in formula over breastfeeding. Second my own infant trauma of being switched from breast to formula at three months because my own mother’s milk “went away” overnight had become a trans-generational trauma where my mother’s fear about milk that could magically disappear overnight was still at large in my own psyche.
It took a lot to get to take back my power. It took pushing through some very fussy feeds where it might have been a lot easier to mix powder and water—just even for that one feed. It took re-training my mind to step away from constant measurement and to trust in the flow of milk, to feel milk in abundance instead of milk by the ounce. It took suffering through the anguishing worry that my daughter may not have been getting enough to eat and that it might have been my own stubborn fault that this was the case. It took being on tenterhooks every time there was a weight check. And it took all this over and over again but I slowly began to see signs of change such that when I went back to Chennai and visited the pediatrician who had been there at Ranya-ru’s delivery I earned a compliment from her: “you are such a confident mother”. Emboldened I asked: “in hindsight, knowing all that you know now, would you still have recommended the 3-day separation that you insisted upon when she was born”. She paused and then said slowly: “perhaps not. I just wanted to be on the safe side”.
I was grateful for the acknowledgement though perhaps in an enraged sort of a way. To contemplate the possibility that our suffering might have been unnecessary was both affirming and numbing at the same time. I demurred to my gratitude: I was too tired for rage and too relieved that I’d come though the worst.
5 Months: the triumph of the invisible
At the beginning of Ranya’s fifth month we found ourselves in Ahmedabad where Parag had a new job. We were still feeling that “stranger in a strange land” feeling where the newness of the India that we previously “knew” was hitting us hard. The summer was blazing hot. We had no friends in the area and were completely dependent on each other for support. Locally that is. In Bombay and Chennai we still had our parents and Yasmin, both of whom continued to be of incredible support to us. I make the comment about the weather, about our immigration stress and about the absence of friends because I think all these are important factors in breastfeeding. In a patriarchal social climate where there is very little support for breast feeding every little bit of support you can get counts—whether it is from a balmy day or a good friend. So perhaps you will understand when I tell you that I seriously considered formula once again.
It happened one of those hot days when we went to see a new pediatrician. Dr. Vyas came recommended as “breast feeding friendly”. At this time, although Ranya-ru was indeed breastfeeding (with the nipple shield) I was still not fully trusting of the process. I was ashamed of using the breast shield in front of people and found breast feeding outside the home impossible. I was also terrified that she was not gaining enough weight.
When Dr. Vyas’s nurse weighed Ranya as his office my heart was in my stomach. Sure enough Ru’s weight had changed very little from the last weighing. I was terrified that I was not providing her with enough, somehow starving my own baby. Dr Vyas responded to my fears by suggesting I start solids four times a day as soon as possible. When I called my mother, before I could even tell her what had happened, she told me that she had serious misgivings about my decision to breast-feed without adding the supplement of expressed milk. “Your baby is growing and will need tons of nourishment” she said. I myself had read and heard from Yasmin that the truth was that my baby took in no more milk at five months than she had at two but it was hard to ignore my mother’s words and the implication: that I could not meet my baby’s needs via breast-feeding.
Materialist is the word that comes to mind when I think about this: the world is a lot more comfortable with materially visible and measurable food than with breast-feeding. Materially visible food spreads the sphere of influence and control to a larger community and while it may allow the mother a break, it also breaks the exclusivity of the mother-child relationship. I began to wonder if this mother-child feeding relationship was threatening for some people. What I know for sure is that breastfeeding past 3-4 months is not supported even by doctors and people who support it in the beginning. In my anxiety, I tried a watered down version of the doctor’s suggestion and gave Ranya a little mashed up chikoo two days in a row. I gave up on the third morning when Ranya was screaming and crying as she pushed out a huge (for her) stool. I went back to worrying and exclusive breast-feeding. Parag took the strong stance that we were not going to weigh Ranya again, something our Ayurvedic physician had recommended a long time ago.
I think it was this decision, this taking a stance that was spearheaded by Parag and followed by me that was the turning point. If you want to conquer your fears you have to risk everything. I had to take the risk that perhaps my head was right to understand that it was my heart that was true. My head said Ranya was not gaining adequately. My head trusted the numbers. My heart trusted my lover and my own squashed breast-feeding instincts. Ten days later as she was feeding Ranya ripped off the breast shields and continued feeding. Amazing amazing experience. The breast shield had made lying down and feeding impossible (slipped off especially at night) and was cumbersome to fit on and keep clean. Ranya’s decision to progress to naked breast, live and direct, was a huge relief.
Six Months: birth of a mother
I continued to worry a bit about weight for a while but you’d be amazed at how much it helps to avoid weighing your baby! Over time I started to get my sanity back as my sleep improved—I slept with Ranya beside me and night-time feedings got easier and easier. And slowly, I don’t know how exactly, I started to feel more and more confident about my breast-feeding.
We slowly introduced solids again at six months—a little rice kanji—and Ranya was interested in trying them but mostly for the taste: breast milk was still clearly her primary nutritional source.
One more hurdle: it was hard at this point to cope with the success of breastfeeding. The consequences of successful breastfeeding is that your baby needs you a lot. Mine certainly couldn’t manage without me for more than an hour and a half or two at this point and this put a huge damper on my grand plans for getting back to work. I’d been working at a hospital as a doctoral level clinical psychologist and had earlier planned to start seeing hourly patients at a local clinic but realized that if I wanted to continue breast feeding this was going to be very hard.
As luck would have it my daughter’s needs for me to be at home, gelled with my own crystallizing. My pregnancy had germinated an old dream for me: I had begun to write again and nurture the hope of publishing my work. Deeply satisfied with being a breast feeding mother, I decided to revise my plans to be a full time clinical psychologist for a while and to stay home and write. This allows me to nurture my own dreams as well as be there for Ranya. I keep in touch with my field by teaching a few hours a week and seeing patients a couple of times a week but I restrict myself to only those patients whom I can see at home thus cutting out my commute time. Since we did not choose to have a nanny I only work when Ranya-ru was sleeping or when Parag was available to take care of her. This a time when I firsthand understood what it meant to put foundations underneath my castles in the air and become comfortable with a pace that is slow as molasses but yet deeply satisfying.
This was another turning point. When I realized how much work it was taking to fuel my visions, I began to allow myself credit for what I was doing both as a mother and as a psychologist-writer. There is no faith like your own and my ability to see myself clearly as such doubled my confidence. For the first time I feel I am living the feminist and non-materialist credo that I espouse, meaning that I give myself as much credit for the work of motherhood as for the material that I produce, also that I receive as much reward from Ranya’s growth as I do from my other work outputs. While previously if Ru was having a fussy day or night I would resent this tremendously as it would eat into my other plans for the day, however now that I consider her to be my “plan for the day” (so to speak) I’m able to integrate my work and Ranya with much more joy and satisfaction and less resentment.
Nine months (and milk-ily ever after)
Two weeks before Ranya-ru’s nine month birthday I was about to board a flight again, this time armed with only my own breasts. I flew trans-continental to the United States with my baby and had a smooth flight accompanied by tons of breast feeding and sleep for both of us. So when I reached my brother’s house in New York city, imbued by my strange new sense of confidence, I popped her on his bathroom scales and finally the numbers lined up: at nine months Ranya-ru had tripled her birth weight.
Today I still wear my confidence shyly at times, though I can be a bear if I need to. In recalling all that happened I still sorrow that there were so many women, “the sisterhood of the powdered milk”, who discouraged me from breast feeding. Professionally I learned firsthand about the concept of womb-envy or breast envy—that patriarchal forces fear a women’s power to breast-feed. Personally and politically I learned that many women who were raised under that patriarchy, reinforce the idea to new mothers that “not enough milk” is a reality and that powdered milk is an answer to this problem. I’d also learned what I’d always suspected, that the healthcare system is run from a patriarchal basis, meaning that it values man over nature and that doctors, both men and women, trust their protocols, their pharmaceuticals and their instrumentation far more than they trust nature’s process and mothers’ instincts. As a human I learned about the “it takes a village” cliché firsthand—for we could not have successfully breastfed without the numerous source of physical, emotional and financial support from both families and from Yasmin and Zia.
In my experience and in hearing the stories of those of my peers who gave up on breast feeding and those who didn’t, the primary reality that gets in the way of breast-feeding is not lack of milk but lack of support both social and personal. A close second comes a woman’s own feeling that she is not enough and so by derivative the milk must not be enough either. To process these two realities is a tremendous journey, a journey of subversion of social order and surmounting of individual shadows requiring huge support but the results are well worth it. For milk I still maintain is not only liquid nourishment, it is flesh and fluid communication between mother and child. When I see how close Ranya and I have become, how deeply in tune we are I think of breast milk as a metaphor for a common source that keeps us both connected. As Ranya nears one and the topic of weaning comes up I am proud to say that Parag and I feel confident and ready to plunge into it as a process not as a goal. Weaning won’t be something we do because its time according to a book or to someone else, it won’t be something that happens because there is not enough milk, it won’t be something that is decided by me or Parag or Ranya-ru alone: it will be a relational process that will unfold in the space and tenderness that lies between us.
Email note written to Yasmin on Nov 1, 2011
Yes in a way Yasmin you are my mother. You pushed me to open more and grow more. I was so angry with you when we had the "disaster" meeting but actually what I realized later was that my anger was against my own mother who shut down her body due to anger at her mother in law and her circumstances and stopped breast feeding me when I was 3 months old. And you called my attention to how I was imitating my mother unconsciously. And I was. But how to be better than your mother without feeling guilty? In month 9 and 10 of my nursing I felt an immense guilt because I had nursed longer than anyone else in my family and I could not come to terms with this at first. In the end I was able to move away from the competition model of thinking about things and I could just accept that I was nursing--not longer or better than anyone but just right for myself and our family--for this also you were a role model in the way that you shared information about your own daughter without a sense of competition or comparison.
There is so much more Yasmin. Truly I feel this could be a very long article and I had the thought of contributing it to a Psychoanalytical Journal because it is a true example of a concept we call "intersubjectivity"--where one person's inner self communicates with another as happened between us through your dream that you were then able to communicate to me. Even though I could not speak with you about it at the time due to my complex feelings of "overtaking" my own mother and a peculiar sense of dedication to being just like my own mother and her sister (who did almost solely EBM rather than nursing because in the end it was too hard for her not to know exactly how much milk was being taken in).
You must realize the depth of our gratitude to you and your role in our life, not just for Ranya's breast feeding but also for my growth as a mother, as a woman, and as a human being. I continue to grow in love for you as we communicate ongoing. ~ Dr Amrita Narayanan (2012)