By Hilary Flower
She probably knocked first, but what I remember is her blasting into the room, heels clacking emphatically on the floor, not looking at me, until she reached the other side of the room and spun around. By this time I was used to being the bare-chested madonna in my hospital bed, my one-day-old daughter nestled in my arms. And I was used to a parade of people marching in and out of my room with their own agendas. But who the heck was this? She leaned back on the wall and held a clip-board out from her belly. It must be said that her cleavage was a prominent feature in her otherwise business-like attire.
"Hi, I'm Janice. I'm a lactation consultant with WIC," she said in a brash New York accent. "How's breastfeeding going?"
Breastfeeding? It wasn't going at all. My daughter hadn't latched on since that first euphoric hour after she was born. Suddenly this person¹s prominent bosom took on a different meaning, like a beacon flashing in the darkness. "Help!" I probably blurted out, my eyes undoubtedly bulging with sleep deprivation and the panic I no longer tried to conceal. In a rush I told her about how my new baby had not managed to latch in the last 23 hours, how the hospital nurses were pressuring me to supplement with formula (or soon she won¹t have the energy to try to nurse!), how they kept pricking her heal to test her blood sugar (and even when the result was good, they threatened that it would soon plummet), and how one nurse made a point of recording my "attempts" at breastfeeding, "or else the empty chart makes it look like you're not trying!" - events that culminated in my daughter taking in, and promptly spitting back up, 3 ml of formula.
Janice washed her hands and put her pinky in my daughter's mouth. "Ah," she said. "She's a dud sucker." Janice helped me pump some breastmilk and I watched in amazement as she carefully cup-fed my new baby some of my orange milk. A rush of happiness hit me as I saw my daughter taking in the nourishment. Both my partner and I studied Janice¹s technique as she burped our baby--we were new at this and needed all the help we could get!
Feeling warmly towards our new best friend, we asked Janice about co-sleeping, something we were still undecided about. The night-shift nurse had cautioned me against having my daughter in bed with me, saying, "That's just what she wants to do, so don't get her started," advice which was unwittingly helping convince me that sleeping with my daughter was exactly what I did want to do, too. Janice didn't miss a beat: "How can you not?" She told us of her co-sleeping experience and assured us that her teenagers no longer sleep with her. "You need to get a book, it's called the Baby Book by Sears." We wrote it down.
Then Janice gently handed me my daughter and showed me how to hold her and offer her my breast. Her instructions felt so natural and right, nothing like the bizarre lunging the nurses had coached me to do. My daughter latched on and sucked until she fell asleep like that. I felt like someone had led me back to something I had lost, something precious.
"What do I do if she doesn't nurse tonight and they want to feed her formula?" I asked, as Janice was starting to slip away.
"Lie," she said simply. "I'll be back tomorrow." I did lie that night when the nurses flipped the light on every two hours to see if my baby was nursing ("Oh, you just missed it. She nursed. For ten minutes!"). And Janice did come back to help again the next day. On the third day, when my daughter had finally achieved a wet diaper, we were permitted to leave the hospital, still unsure about nursing, but we were armed with Janice's phone number.
We readily met all of the breastfeeding challenges that followed. And, fast forwarding four years, my daughter recently weaned after a long and satisfying breastfeeding relationship, and she still sleeps within easy reach. I often think of Janice, who, like a superhero, serves many in crisis and disappears when the job is done. She was not even supposed to come into my hospital room since I am not with WIC. We had the gumption but not the knowledge to conquer that first breastfeeding hurdle, and Janice fought off the foes of breastfeeding and lent us her magic powers long enough to get us going. To Janice I am one of many. But Janice is my hero.
Copyrigt 2003 by Hilary Flower
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