Roberta’s Story: Breastfeeding And Family Bonds

July 1982. With my oldest, Emily who was 5 at the time. We were vacationing on the Jersey shore.

Roberta Newell, Kentucky

In December of 1954, I was adopted at the age of 3 1/2 months. My birth mother left a month after I was born, and I was placed in foster care until I was adopted.

My first child, Emily, was born when I was 22. I had always planned to breastfeed. This was 1977, and not too many were breastfeeding. I was the only one I personally knew who was planning to breastfeed. My roommate at the hospital and I were the only ones out of 30 women who had given birth at the same time who were breastfeeding.

I gave birth at 8:29 a.m., and at lunch I wasn’t brought a tray. When staff came to pick up my roommate’s tray, I asked about my food. They had to rush around to get something for me, which wasn’t much! Then at 1 p.m. my roommate’s baby arrived but not mine. I asked where my baby was and was told mine was in the nursery for observation for 12 hours (hospital rules) and that I would get her at 9 p.m. I don’t know if she had formula, water, a pacifier or whatever.

The nursery was in the new wing, and I couldn’t even go to see her. One afternoon (I was there three days) as the nurse brought her in at 5 p.m. (every four hours per the hospital schedule), she remarked that my baby had been crying for me.

My milk came in, my breasts were swollen, and I was engorged. I walked up to the nurses’ station and asked if there was anything I could do for it. The nurse, without even looking at me, said, “Nurse when they bring the baby to you.” Like I wasn’t doing that already! I never had sore nipples or latch problems.

My mother holding me in the rocker on Christmas Eve with my sister sitting beside the chair. I had just been placed in their home on Dec. 21st.

My daughter did cry at night, and I attributed that to learning to cry in the nursery at the hospital and to giving her vitamins (per the pediatrician) at three weeks. I was patient and walked the floor with her every night. One memory I have was when Emily was about four months old and we were at my in-laws. She was crying to beat the band. Nothing was working. My mother-in-law offered to calm her down. She brought her back to me still crying. I thought how much Emily loved our pool, so I filled the bathtub and got in with her. She calmed down almost immediately and nursed to sleep.

Why had I always wanted to breastfeed? Well, it seemed natural. I remember knowing who had breastfed as I was growing up. When I was a junior in high school, I gave a speech on natural childbirth in my 20th Century Problem Solving class. It was taken from a Glamour magazine article I read entitled “Natural Childbirth is for Chickens”. The article basically had natural childbirth and breastfeeding going hand in hand.

When I was pregnant, I avoided the blue La Leche League (LLL) manual (early edition of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding) like the plague! I had heard all the stories about those “radical” women. When my baby was 11 days old, my parents came by to see us, and my mother brought a present – that blue LLL manual! I was horrified.  But that night, while nursing Emily, I picked up the book and started to read it. I fell in love, realizing that there was absolutely nothing “radical” about them. Breastfeeding cemented that bond I had with Emily. We were in a cocoon, just the two of us.

When I had Emily, I realized that she was the first person I knew at that point who was biologically connected to me. As I nursed Emily, I studied every little thing about her, from physical traits to personality traits. I realized that I was looking for things I knew I had. When I saw things that were not in me or in my husband’s family, I would then wonder if she inherited something from my birth family. I was always wondering.

2006. My three kids, Abbie, Sam and Emily, at the reception after their paternal grandfather’s funeral laughing at stories people were sharing about their grandfather.

When Emily was 18 months old, I found the doctor who delivered me after looking him up in a Louisville, Kentucky, telephone directory. In October 1978, I wrote him a letter and thus began the search for my birth mother, culminating with finding her in November 1980. I met my birth father in 2012, after initially finding out his name in 2005. Some of the physical and personality traits that I could not see in myself or my husband’s family, I saw in my birth family.

I nursed Emily until she was almost seven. Christmas Eve of 1983 is the last time I remember nursing her. My next two nursed until sometime in that six to seven-year range. Emily has one son who weaned in his fifth year. She told her LLL Group that she remembers nursing.

Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].

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