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Pumping in the Intensive Care Unit

By Emily Carlson
Salt Lake City UT USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 3, May-June 2005, p. 104

In August 2004, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, MaggieJean. The delivery went smoothly with no interventions or complications. My sister, Rebekah, an LLL Leader, flew across the county to attend the birth and help guide us through our first breastfeeding attempts. MaggieJean quickly latched on and proceeded to nurse with ease. The next day, my husband, Dane, and I eagerly brought our daughter home from the hospital.

As I adjusted to the routine of a mother with the responsibilities of caring for a newborn, I was overcome with fatigue. I had difficulty breathing and a low-grade fever. Upon initial evaluation by my primary health care provider, nothing seemed to be imminently wrong. Yet, my condition quickly worsened. Five days after I gave birth, I started itching from head to toe. I was so uncomfortable that it was even unbearable for me to hold and nurse MaggieJean.

My sister took me to my midwife's office, where my husband met us. I was anxious and in pain and no one seemed to know what was wrong with me. I was transferred to the emergency room and poked, scanned, tested, and x-rayed by multiple doctors. They told me that I had to be admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) in critical condition with sepsis. The doctors were concerned that I might have the early stages of toxic shock syndrome or an infection from an unknown source. I was given multiple intravenous antibiotics, morphine, and heavy doses of saline. Eventually, the doctors determined that I had a severe Strep A infection.

Not realizing the severity of my condition, I assumed that MaggieJean would stay with me in the hospital. I was told, however, that she was not allowed in the ICU. They didn't know how long it would be before I could see her again. In an utter panic, I begged to see her one more time. The medical team allowed me to hold and nurse her before I was admitted. Leaving my baby was painful. My sister tried to reassure me that everything would be okay and that she would care for MaggieJean. Shocked, my husband began to call our immediate family to inform them of my unstable condition.

In the following hours, my body grew weaker, yet all I could think about was my baby. I had wanted to breastfeed so badly, but the grim reality of the situation was sinking in. At my request, the medical team secured a pump from the maternity floor. As my husband sat at my bedside, he did the most amazing thing. He pumped my breasts because I was too weak.

Initially, he was only able to pump one ounce, but he still made the long trip home with this small amount so that MaggieJean could benefit from it. He continued this routine during my hospital stay as my vital signs drastically moved up and down.

My sister knew how important it was for me to be able to nurse my daughter once we were reunited, but no one was sure when that reunion could take place. She had little time to prepare for taking over the care of MaggieJean, but she was aware that introducing an artificial nipple to such a young newborn could jeopardize our future breastfeeding relationship. Over the next several days, my sister, my mother, and my husband took turns feeding her with a finger feeder.

While some people might speculate on the safety and effectiveness of my milk in this condition, I was confident and reassured that the immunities outweighed the dangers of antibiotics or painkillers. I think receiving my milk comforted my baby while we were separated, and I was definitely comforted because it gave me a purpose. Otherwise, I don't know how I would have been able to recover from my illness.

Fortunately, my body started responding to the treatment. Unlike so many other patients with severe Strep A infections, I recovered fairly quickly. After two long days and nights, I was able to see MaggieJean again. Our first visit lasted only an hour and all I did was hold and nurse her. After our brief reunion, I knew that all of the effort put into pumping and giving her my milk had been worth it.

When I was released from the hospital, I was so relieved. After MaggieJean and I were together again, breastfeeding became second nature. It was almost as though we had never been separated. I can't express my gratitude enough for the support and the sacrifices my family made. I've never experienced such selflessness and dedication.

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