Mama, I breastfed through mastitis and surgery
Full Term and Full of Love: A Nursing Journey
By GUEST WRITER, Chandler Williams Cartozzo
My plan had always been to breastfeed our baby.
But when our son, Joey, was born, I found that while breastfeeding is the biological norm, it's not necessarily something that comes naturally or even easily.
Like most special things, it takes patience, perseverance and grace.
After Joey's birth, my husband, Sam, took nearly four months of paternity leave. It was a blessing to have
Sam home for so long and such a gift for our new little family to have so much bonding time.
As a newborn, Joey would nurse in hour intervals. My nipples were sore, cracked and bleeding and my
breasts were engorged. He’d fall asleep, I’d lie him down and not even an hour later, he’d be screaming
again for milk. I felt like all I did was feed him. I was devastated to see he was not gaining weight.
I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong.
So I got expert help: Kimberly Hampton IBCLC immediately found Joey’s lip and tongue ties - because he could not move his tongue nor flare his lip to nurse, he was compensating by chomping on my nipples with his gums; always at my breast but never getting enough milk to sustain him.
At nineteen days old, Joey underwent tie revision surgery.
By two months, Joey had changed from fussy and skinny to happy and healthy. My body and my breast milk had done that. I felt validated after our tough start. Joey was healthy and remained within the 90% for weight.
I however was still very engorged.
Over the course of Joey's first eleven months, I came down with mastitis eight separate times with three cases making me extremely sick. Thankfully though, my supply dropped each time. I was nursing and pumping daily to relieve my engorgement. Our freezer had more breast milk in it than Joey would ever need.
I took great joy in donating our surplus of breast milk during Joey’s first fifteen months.
We shared nearly 500 ounces with seven different babies around our home in Nashville, Tennessee. It was extremely rewarding to be able to help other women feed their children.
Shortly before Joey turned 18 months old, the fibroid with which Joey had shared my uterus had grown to
the size of a grapefruit and actions needed to be taken. My doctor gave me three options. Only one of
those choices would allow us to continue nursing. It was the most drastic option with the longest recovery
time but nursing was calming and rewarding for both of us and was part of our daily life.
Abruptly weaning, destroying that bond, was something neither of us deserved.
Sam went with me to the hospital for a three day stay to undergo major fibroid removal surgery while
Joey stayed with my parents. I was sick over the thought of being away from Joey, scared I might die on
the operating table, and worried Joey would wean from me if I lived. I wasn't ready for him to wean.
After the three hour long surgery, I awoke in a haze. I asked the nurse who wheeled me into recovery if
everything had gone well. She said it had and, very casually, that the fibroid had been so large, the
surgeon had needed to remove my left ovary to safely get it all.
I was shocked and grief-stricken as, in my mind’s eye, I saw our future children slip away.
I laid my head on the starched pillow and wept. I was still heavily medicated so my womb was not yet feeling the ache of the loss, but my heart was.
When my mother brought Joey to the hospital I was reassured as he climbed in bed with me, nursed then
fell asleep. My baby had not weaned. He was not ready either. It was a joyful moment amidst a difficult time.
Sam and I apply biological normal, attachment and gentle parenting techniques.
Knowing Joey will be our only child has made our family bond so much deeper. Knowing I will never again nurse a baby makes me cherish my time with him. When Joey is ready to give up Mama Milk, that will be his choice.
Sam and I have created a home where he has learned his independence through our loving attachment.
We have a strong community made up of many families parenting similarly who also practice “extended”
breastfeeding. We hike together and one of the most common reasons we stop on the trail is a child in
need of milkies.
We recently celebrated Joey's third birthday.
Having our village around us made the celebration all the more joyful. When I became a mother, I had no notion of “full term nursing” or if we would even make it to our year goal.
I did however quickly learn that the milk my body makes nourishes my son, calms him when he is
upset or scared, helps him sleep, is exactly what he needs when he gets sick and nursing brings us both
Stopping just because he turns a certain age doesn't align with our gentle parenting views.
Contrary to what our society would have us think, as the child ages,
breast milk only becomes better, changing and evolving to fit the child's needs.
Our three year and counting nursing journey has been filled with obstacles but it is paved with
determination and love. I don't know if we will still be nursing when he turns four.
But whenever we stop, it will be a mutual decision.
I am thankful to have so many supportive friends and family who understand the benefits of breastfeeding as well as the importance of full term nursing. I am grateful to have had such a unique opportunity to nurse an infant, a toddler and now a pre-schooler all in my same sweet boy.
Breastfeeding has been both the proudest and most humbling experience of my life. My body never ceases to amaze and empower me. I'm glad I didn't know ahead of time how this journey would go.
Each new day is a wondrous gift and one I wish every woman could experience.