Little Sunday story time by Sara @shiraivf
I always wanted to be a mother, but a disastrous first marriage at the young age of 23 ended in divorce at 26, before years of fruitless dating and intermittent singledom. Before I knew it I was over 35, with a loudly ticking biological clock - as one friend put it, “my ovaries are screaming!”
Then on a girls’ night out after yet another break-up, I finally met my soulmate. I was 37, he was 29.
We got engaged on my 40th birthday and started to try for a baby, but unfortunately due to my age we weren’t successful. The doctors did tests and told me that I had diminished ovarian reserve, meaning that my egg supply was very low, and the eggs that did remain were not good quality. My chances of pregnancy with my own eggs were less than 5%, and the chance of having a live birth was only 1%. After two failed IVF cycles, we were advised to move on to IVF treatment using my husband’s sperm and donated eggs from a younger woman, which would give us a 60% chance of success.
Happily, our first donor egg cycle worked, and our baby girl was born in April 2018, one month after I turned 43.
I was so desperate to breastfeed her, after my body had failed me so much when we were trying to conceive. The physical and emotional experience of pregnancy forged a strong biological link between me and my daughter. We may not share DNA, but we shared blood, my body nurtured and protected her, building and growing her from a tiny embryo into a full term baby. I felt her kick inside my womb and I pushed her out into the world. To me, breastfeeding would be another important biological connection for us, as well as all the other wonderful benefits that it has for babies.
I was induced at 37 weeks due to gestational diabetes, but my breastfeeding journey began a couple of weeks before, when I learned how to express colostrum. Gestational diabetes mothers are often encouraged to do this in order to stockpile extra colostrum (“liquid gold”) which can be needed after the birth. I was given training in how to do this by my hospital, and became very proud of my freezer stash of colostrum-filled syringes.
Following her birth my daughter was diagnosed with jaundice so we had to stay in hospital for seven days while she was treated with light therapy. I was encouraged to express more colostrum until my milk came in, and the team of midwives and support workers were wonderful - I had help at the touch of a button 24/7, and this gave us such a great start with breastfeeding. I struggled with the latch initially but the main problem was the baby falling asleep all the time; jaundice makes babies extra drowsy, but they also require extra feeding. I was advised to express milk and give top ups of the expressed milk as well as breastfeeding.
It was stressful in the hospital as I was so worried about our little girl, and I hadn’t slept properly for a week (I had had three sleepless nights in hospital before giving birth while being induced).
There was one nurse who came in to weigh my daughter around day 5 and said that she was losing too much weight. This nurse gave me a feeding plan and told me to top up with formula. I was a bit intimidated by her tone, and too drained and tired to argue, so I just did what she told me. For less than 24 hours my daughter had formula as well as breastmilk, but I noticed an instant change in her poops and in her spit-up - there was a nasty smell that hadn’t been there before when she was having only breastmilk. This just didn’t seem right. I never saw that nurse again but I decided to stop giving my girl formula. I am very glad that I stopped, but I’m frustrated that I was told to give formula in the first place.
Once home, the health visitors and community midwives supported me with breastfeeding and expressing, and my baby slowly began to gain weight. She was on the 9th percentile at birth - by three months old she was on the 50th! She’s now ten months and still breastfeeding, sitting nicely between the 50th and 75th percentiles. She also now has three meals a day, as we started solid foods at six months. It hasn’t been easy, particularly during the summer heatwave when she clusterfed constantly 24 hours a day and I was almost dehydrated myself trying to keep her hydrated. I remember looking at the weather forecast and seeing more than ten days in a row of 27/28 degree temperatures and crying with frustration, it seemed like it would never end.
It’s now such a wonderful part of our mother and daughter relationship and I feel so proud that my body has not only kept my baby alive, but it has helped her grow, develop and thrive.
I am also delighted to read that research shows that breastmilk contains genetic material from me which passes to the baby (exosomes and stem cells).
My ovaries may not have been able to provide an egg to make my baby, but my uterus and placenta grew her, and my breastmilk is nourishing and sustaining her every day. What a miracle!