‘My son is exclusively breastfed. But he doesn’t get an ounce of breast milk from me. He is exclusively breastfed by another woman.’

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“My son is exclusively breastfed. But he doesn’t get an ounce of breast milk from me. He is exclusively breastfed by another woman.

I had my son, Titus, on May 29th, 2018. He was my first boy after four girls and the first baby that I was educated enough on breastfeeding to realize how important it is. I was passionate about breastfeeding my little guy and I couldn’t wait for that journey with him. I was attempting a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) with him and I was excited at the idea of being able to walk out of the hospital without the horrendous pain that came with my previous C-section. I had it all planned out; the peaceful delivery room with my worship music playing in the background and my ‘normal’ delivery without the lengthy recovery time.

The morning of his birth my water broke in my doctor’s office. I immediately went to the hospital, a bundle of nerves and anxiety. My labor was slow and comfortable with my monitor showing gentle contractions and a strong fetal heart rate. Six hours later things were still progressing the same when suddenly my contractions changed significantly, and my son’s heart rate began dropping. The contractions quickly became unbearable, sharp and stabbing streaks of hot pain, even though they weren’t registering as being any stronger on the monitor. I had an overwhelming fear that something was not right. My doctor came in to do a vaginal exam and when I saw her gloved hand covered in blood, my fears that something was terribly wrong were confirmed. I spent some time praying and then told my doctor I thought it was best that we moved forward with another C-section, and she agreed. I was absolutely heartbroken that I wasn’t getting my VBAC but in the moment I couldn’t think past the idea that something was wrong with my son or myself.

Woman who can't breastfeed lays in hospital bed holding newborn
Courtesy of Lisa Johnson

I was taken back to surgery and laid on the cold table shaking with fear. I tried to ignore the medical terms being tossed around by the nursing staff and just focused on praying for my son to be okay. My C-section seemed to take ages, but I finally felt the extreme pressure that meant my son was being pulled from my body. A moment later I heard the beautiful cry that let me know my son was alive and well. Within a few minutes I once again began to feel that something was wrong while I was laying on that table. I looked at the anesthesiologist standing by my head and told him that something wasn’t right. Everything was taking too long and I was experiencing extreme pain in my upper abdomen. I looked at the monitor showing my vital signs and saw my heart rate was 161 beats per minute, well above the normal range. I was immediately given medication, a ‘cocktail’ that included dilaudid and fentanyl, that put me to sleep for the remainder of my surgery. I found out in recovery that my uterus had ruptured open during labor which can cause severe complications, including hemorrhage, and can be fatal. Had we not chosen the C-section when we did, my son and I could have both been in serious danger.

I immediately attempted to breastfeed after surgery. This was the one thing I knew I was going to be able to do for my son and I was so excited about it! I had read all the beautiful stories about the amazing bond that mothers experienced when breastfeeding their babies and I couldn’t wait to join that club! I was surprised when my son couldn’t latch on to me; I thought for sure I’d be a natural. The nurses reassured me that ‘my hardware’ should have been fine for him to latch on to, and they helped the best they could, but the hospital didn’t have a lactation consultant and the nurses had other patients to tend to. After a few hours of trying and failing, a nurse finally brought him a bottle of formula. While this wasn’t ideal I reassured myself that we could keep offering the breast after I got him settled and fed. Strangely enough, he also couldn’t latch on to the bottle nipple. I immediately suspected a lip or tongue tie, but the pediatrician checked him the next day and said he was fine. I spent the next few days in the hospital trying everything I could think of to help him latch on, and while he did continue to struggle, we eventually got a nice latch with a nipple shield. We were finally breastfeeding exclusively, and I could quickly see why other moms talked about the exceptional bond that came with using your body to nourish your baby.

The day after I came home from the hospital I was slammed to my core with postpartum anxiety. I’m not sure I can accurately find the words to describe how awful it was. My fluctuating hormones and fluid levels caused my heart rate to drop down into the 40’s and I consistently felt like someone was sitting on my chest and strangling me. I was certain I was having a heart attack and I ended up spending  several days in and out of the hospital, completely wracked with fear, while my son was forced to bottle feed with his dad because I wasn’t able to be there. Numerous test results came back normal but there was no convincing me that I wasn’t on the verge of death. The fear consumed me in a way I never thought was possible. When family and friends came over to meet the new baby I would sit in another room because I couldn’t handle anyone distracting me from checking my pulse and making sure I was okay. I began to feel like I was completely losing my mind, and eventually I wasn’t able to attempt breastfeeding at all. My milk didn’t come in the way I thought it was supposed to and I was certain I was starving my baby. He cried so often and I obviously wasn’t getting it right. He had become used to the bottle and wasn’t interested in the breast anymore. The first night I sat and fed my son a bottle of formula, I sobbed. And the next time I fed him a bottle, I cried again, and again the next time. Sure he had taken bottles before this, but this was the permanent change from breast to bottle. This was complete defeat. This was utter failure.

Soon after the bottle feedings began I started having thoughts that were pretty scary. Every day that I felt the searing pain that comes with healing from a C-section, I was reminded that I had failed my VBAC and I was full of anger towards myself. Even though I knew it wasn’t realistic to blame myself for a ruptured uterus, I blamed myself anyway. I failed at breastfeeding and this I COULD blame on myself. What kind of mother let’s herself get so carried away by anxiety that she couldn’t even breastfeed her own baby? How weak-minded do you have to be to walk away from something that was so important to you? WHY WAS I EVEN HERE? My kids didn’t need me. No one needed a failure. Thank God it didn’t take me long to recognize the signs of postpartum depression.

I was able to reach out to a close friend from church, and as God always does, He led me, through my friend, to having conversations with others who had similar experiences. Just being able to speak to these women helped tremendously! I was honest with my mom about my fears and my feelings and she walked with me every single step of the way. I spoke with my doctor as well and decided to start counseling, while also spending a lot of time praying and strengthening my walk with God. All of these things were so helpful and I could feel my mood improving, but nothing changed the heartache I felt when Titus ate his formula. He had been on formula for about a month and he was extremely constipated, he fussed continuously, and he clenched up and cried from belly pain. As much as my mental health was improving I couldn’t shake the raw disappointment I felt in myself for allowing this to happen.

Then God sent me Trina.

I met Trina through Facebook. I had learned of breastmilk donors and I had reached out looking for someone to possibly donate breastmilk to Titus in the hopes it would relieve some of the struggles he was having with formula. I had no idea I was about to meet one of the greatest blessings I’ve ever had in my life!

Trina just happened to have a daughter who was born the same day as my son, and she just happened to be over-producing. After a few Facebook messages she invited me to come to her home to pick up some breastmilk for Titus. I was expecting a few ounces to get him some breastmilk once or twice a day. She sent me home with 300 ounces of milk!

Table full of donated breast milk for woman who is unable to breastfeed her child
Courtesy of Lisa Johnson

Over the next few days she consistently messaged me to check on us and to see how Titus was doing with her milk. It didn’t take long for all of Titus’ issues to disappear! He was no longer constipated, in pain, or crying non-stop. I was in absolute disbelief at how well he was doing and how quickly it changed him.

When Trina found out how well he was taking her milk she volunteered to be a PERMANENT donor for my son! Do you guys understand what that means?! It takes an incredible amount of time and effort to breastfeed and/or pump for one child, and here she was volunteering to do it for two of them! In the month of July alone, Trina donated 900 ounces of breastmilk to Titus while also exclusively breastfeeding her daughter. Last week I picked up 400 ounces of breastmilk for my son. I had picked up 360 ounces just the week before. My son is exclusively breastfed and doesn’t take formula at all anymore.

Five bags of donated breastmilk for woman who cant breastfeed's son
Courtesy of Lisa Johnson

Trina gets up every 3 hours, around the clock, to pump for our babies. She works a full-time job, 12-hour shifts, and continuous to pump on schedule the entire time she’s there, while also raising her newborn and two older boys when she’s home. THIS WOMAN IS A SUPER HERO!

Woman who donates milk to mother stands with her own three children
Courtesy of Lisa Johnson

I have a son who is thriving because of Trina. She took away my heartache and my sadness. She took away my son’s pain. She has been such an amazing blessing to me and my son and there are no words beautiful enough to describe her or the gratitude and love we have for her.

Woman who donates breastmilk to another mother sits holding her daughter and baby who receives her breastmilk
Courtesy of Lisa Johnson

We are a month in and she still checks on us regularly. She educates me on things I wouldn’t know about, like my son needing vitamin D drops. I have come to think of her as a close friend, a ‘baby mama’ if you will. Every single time I pull out a bag of breast milk for my son’s feeding I am reminded of how blessed I am and how the world is a better place for Trina being in it.”

Woman who donates breast milk stands with her daughter beside woman who receives her milk with her son
Courtesy of Lisa Johnson

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lisa Johnson, 36, of Urbana, Ohio. Have you overcome hardships as a mother? We’d love to hear about your journey. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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