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Spreading Her Wings

Cynthia Goertz
Longmont CO USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 2, March-April 2005, pp. 51-52

I sometimes wonder what kind of parent I would be if I had not breastfed my daughter. I think I would have missed many opportunities to grow and define my mothering style. Certainly, I would be different because, after all, breastfeeding is not just a food choice. Breastfeeding has had a way of prompting changes in my lifestyle and personality. Strange as this may sound, breastfeeding my daughter, Sarah, has influenced every aspect of my life and has helped shape her into the little girl she is today.

Breastfeeding taught me about attachment parenting. My husband and I quickly learned that sleeping with our baby was the best way for all of us to get some rest. We grew to be a very cuddly family and the wooden cradle became home for Sarah's stuffed animals. Because I held and carried Sarah everywhere and followed her cues, I taught her to trust. I also learned about trust.

I am a very energetic person. Sitting for long periods of time to nurse, rock, and snuggle Sarah enabled me to slow down, have patience, and be still. If I had I bottle-fed, I'm afraid I would have frequently passed her to my husband for feedings because there would always have been something else that I "needed" to do. Breastfeeding helped me to let go of things more easily. I had to decide what was more important: cleaning the bathroom or nursing my baby? Sarah always won hands down. Breastfeeding made my husband more helpful with chores, too. While I sat and nursed Sarah, he did the dishes, cooked, and tidied up.

Since Sarah was quite the attached baby, she learned a lot from being with me all time. Sometimes I wonder if that's why she easily caught on to learning how to use the potty. I'm a stay-at-home mother and she is with me constantly. After 16 months, she was very interested in sitting on the toilet, too! She also experienced my doctor and dental visits. She sprawled out on my legs while I got my teeth cleaned and sat on my lap as I had blood drawn. When it came time for her to have a dental checkup, she was confident and fearless. The dentist said she was a poster child for perfect teeth.

Sadly, at Sarah's three-year wellness visit, her pediatrician detected a significant heart murmur. We learned that she had a heart defect that required surgery. There was a hole in her atrium wall that affected her mitral valve. It was a shock for my husband and me, as Sarah had never displayed any symptoms. Sarah was scheduled for open-heart surgery in spring 2004.

During the weeks leading up to the surgery, we talked about the procedure, toured the hospital, read children's books on hospital experiences, and played "surgery." These experiences proved to be very valuable in helping chase away Sarah's fears. When her blood was drawn for her pre-op testing, she barely winced and the phlebotomist was quite surprised. I wasn't surprised, however, because I knew that Sarah trusted us.

Sarah was not allowed to eat after bedtime on the night before surgery, so it was very comforting for her to able to nurse a few hours beforehand. She was also comforted by the fact that my husband and I were permitted to be alongside her as she went under anesthesia. We sang to her as she went under. Fortunately, the medical team gave us frequent surgery updates so we felt as if we were in the room with her.

After surgery, seeing Sarah with tubes, wires, and needles all over her body was difficult. She was pale and seemingly lifeless as she received her morphine drip. The surgeon said she needed blood and was glad to know that I had made a direct donation of my blood for Sarah. I watched my blood trickle down the tube into her body. We saw the color return to her face and life come back into her body. Just as my milk had nourished her, so did my blood.

Over the next few days, nursing was a huge comfort to Sarah, especially when the tubes had to be pulled from her abdomen. Although she had had a dose of morphine before the procedure, it was clearly very painful for her. My husband and I comforted her and I leaned over so she could nurse. The doctor was thankful and impressed.

Amazingly, after three days, Sarah was her usual active, energetic self. Two days later, she was released from the hospital. I am certain that breastfeeding and attachment parenting made all the difference in the healing process.

Sarah has recovered beautifully and hasn't been on any medications since a few weeks after the surgery. Except for the three-inch scar on her chest, no one would ever guess that she had open heart surgery.

In October 2004, Sarah weaned herself a few weeks before her fourth birthday. We had planned a party with a butterfly theme for her. As it turned out, it was very symbolic. Our little caterpillar had turned into a butterfly and was spreading her wings. Since giving birth to her, I have morphed, too.

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