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Nursing isn't always easy

It was to be one of the biggest moments of my mother's life. Her airplane had landed about two hours before, and now she was strutting up the walkway toward my front door to behold her only grandchild for the first time.

She swooped in, hardly able to contain herself, ready to whisk her new grandson into her arms.

Here is what she saw: her daughter with bleary, swollen eyes, sitting in a wooden rocker, my upper body rigged with tubes that dangled from a contraption tied around my neck.

I watched Mom trace the device from my neck down and around to the half-open mouth of a tiny boy who sloppily, and somewhat unsuccessfully, tried to feed himself.

"Shhhhh," I snapped. "I just got this thing working."

I had not seen my mother for a few months, and she tried to not appear taken aback by my cranky reception or the bizarre thing connecting my newborn to me. She stood there, a mother looking at a mother looking at a mother. Who was in greater shock, I cannot say.

Yes, I can. I was.

After having had a trying pregnancy in which most things went wrong, I found myself with a new baby who cried almost incessantly and who for some reason would not latch onto my breasts.

I was exhausted, in physical discomfort and had long given up hope that the birds would start singing anytime now, the way they do in commercials and breast-feeding pamphlets. No pink sunset here, I can tell you.

Mom managed to walk all the way into my living room and gaze upon the pride of our family, the grandson born six days before, on my Dad's 60th birthday.

There was no way she could look at him _ or me _ and not come back to the awkward plastic flask dangling from my neck.

"What is this?" she asked, apparently wondering whether the contraption was somebody's idea of a joke. She looked at me again and knew it wasn't. Nobody has a sense of humor like this.

I had asked my husband to intercept Mom on her way in, to tell her that if I even spoke, I might interrupt the testy process of trying to teach my baby how to nurse.

My husband started to explain it, but the point seemed lost on everyone. The baby started crying, then probably threw up, which he did a lot.

When Mom had her babies, breast-feeding was regarded as largely passe, and those who broke the norm probably would not have resorted to instrumentation to make it work. It just wasn't done.

Today, breast-feeding is encouraged. That and the onslaught of hormones during my pregnancy made me determined to breast-feed this child.

Our problem started in the hospital. The nurse brought me my baby, we looked at each other, and I fumbled with my gown. Austin, as he had been named for many months, immediately cooperated and seemed to be an old pro, more than we could say for his mom.

But the good times came to an abrupt halt. Next time around, he just looked at me as I gingerly brought him to my chest. He jerked his little egg-shaped head away, and the sobbing _ sincere, what-am-I-doing-here, please-let's-forget-this-whole-thing sort of wailing _ began.

The baby was crying, too.

There, in that hospital bed, I was introduced to my first nursing device _ a clear, nipple-shaped piece of plastic you place over the areola. A little hole on the end directs the breast milk to the baby.

Yeah, right.

The nurses came in, the doctors came in, breast-feeding instructional videos were popped into the cassette player. It sounded and looked so easy. But rejection devoured me. No amount of roses, cards or calls could lift my spirits.

My baby didn't want me.

Here was the problem: My breast milk did not "drop" for days, and my baby needed food. Because nothing came from my breasts, he wasn't interested in them. When a baby does not suck, the milk flow stops; or if it never started, it never will. It's a nasty cycle.

A Navy doctor friend of mine told me about the supplemental nursing system, the flask that hangs from around the neck. I called a local La Leche League counselor and ordered the device; my husband immediately went out to buy it from her.

I filled the flask with formula and taped the little dangling tubes to my breasts, with the tips coming out right at the nipples. There are little clamps you use to adjust the flow of the milk, based on the suction coming from the baby's mouth.

Sounds difficult. It isn't.

My hands trembled as I rigged myself up to what I imagined were sticks of dynamite. I braced for the explosion of failure as I brought my squirming little bundle forward. My heart quit beating. I let a few drops of formula touch his mouth.

He almost said, "Yum."

And, in a moment of success, my baby gave the thing a try. He latched on, and to keep getting milk from the tubes, he had to learn to nurse. Two days later, my milk came down.

My baby and I had conquered our first major hurdle in a life that was as new to me as it was to him.

And for the first time in what seemed an eternity, I noticed a bird singing outside our window. Oh, yeah. The sun was shining, too.


Expectant or new mothers seeking information or advice can contact the following for help:

La Leche leaders:

Citrus County: Sherri Wunderly, (904) 382-1600.

Dade City: Cindy Morris, (904) 521-3204.

Dover: Nancy Wolf-Maltby, (813) 689-0159.

Largo: Shirley Ives, (813) 536-7175.

North Tampa: Mary Anne Malone, (813) 962-7380.

Palm Harbor: Eileen Lachapelle, (813) 785-3991.

Plant City: Donna Wright, (813) 754-7126.

Safety Harbor: Dixie Walker-Duncan, (813) 443-0332.

St. Petersburg: Debi Lanning, (813) 867-2368.

Seminole: June Hartman, (813) 830-6186.

South Tampa: Michele Easterling, (813) 238-8384.

Zephyrhills: Reenie MacHarris, (813) 788-0050.

Also available for information:

Citrus County Public Health Unit: Melissa Salmon-Heil or Carol Burke, (904) 726-9222.

Hernando County Public Health Unit: Jill Brace, (904) 754-4076 or Janice Miller, (904) 688-5076.

Hillsborough County Health Department: (813) 272-6275.

Pasco County Health Unit: Denise Christian, (813) 869-3900, ext. 297.

Pinellas County Health Unit in Clearwater: Robin Grimmer or Pauline Koberna, (813) 893-2700.