Roberta’s Story: Breastfeeding And Family Bonds
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 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.
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.
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