By Maggie Jones
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I was committed to breastfeeding my daughter from the very beginning. Her
conception was a complete surprise, but as soon as I discovered I was
pregnant I began researching everything.
I decided to have a water birth at home with midwives, and learned
everything I possibly could about breastfeeding. I received many warnings
from well-meaning family members to not be too disappointed if my plans to
breastfeed didn’t pan out. But thankfully, I trusted my body’s ability to
provide everything my baby needed and vowed to stick with it no matter what.
I never set a “goal” about how long I wanted to nurse her; I knew I’d be
breast feeding until she decided she was done– be that two years, or five.
Olive was born in the water on September 2nd, 2012 after a peaceful and
joyous labor at home. Breastfeeding was a challenge at first– sore
nipples!– but all and all, educating myself on the most common pitfalls
really seemed to pay off. I had to do some problem solving when I developed
an oversupply and forceful letdown issue, but other than that our
breastfeeding relationship came very naturally.
Never have I been so thankful that I decided to breastfeed than now. Olive
was diagnosed with AML leukemia at the beginning of August 2013, just a
month before her first birthday. We are currently undergoing her third of
four very aggressive rounds of chemotherapy.
Her first week in the hospital was the most frightening and painful
experience of my life. Awaiting a cancer diagnosis and a prognosis for your
baby is something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.
Olive literally laid in my lap and nursed for five days straight. Through
blood transfusions and physical exams. Through the day and through the
night. The cancer was causing severe bone pain for her, and nursing was our
only saving grace; her only source of comfort.
I will never forget my horror upon being led into the hospital room that
(little did I know) would become our home for the next six months and seeing
the thick metal crib. I was terrified they would have a policy against
co-sleeping. Lucky for us, I just needed to sign a safety waiver and the
crib (read: cage) was replaced with a standard hospital bed for us to share.
In that first week she had to have an IV placed in a vein on her head, a
PICC line placed in her upper arm, a central veinous catheter placed in her
chest, a bone marrow biopsy and lumbar puncture– all within the first three
days. I would put her in her favorite baby carrier and wear her while going
from our room up on the seventh floor to the operating room in a different
wing of the hospital. I held her close until the very last second when I had
to hand her over to go in for the procedure. They gave her a drug to help
her forget being taken away from me… I only wish I had a drug to help me
The first time I ever left Olive’s side since she was born was when she got
her port put into her chest so she could receive her chemo treatments. I
wasn’t allowed in the operating room. I was so scared and felt like a part
of me had been ripped away… Not what I had envisioned when I had imagined
Now, three months later, two rounds of chemo down, she is in remission! As I
mentioned above, we are currently inpatient while Olive undergoes her third
The doctors warned us of many likely side effects Olive would experience
from her treatments– mouth sores, high fevers, nausea, loss of appetite
often resulting in tube feeding, etc.
So far we have seen minimal side effects. And although her appetite has
definitely fluctuated with solid foods, she has been able to tolerate breast
milk through and through.
It’s difficult to know why she has done well with her chemo because there
are so many variables, but I know that my milk has helped her avoid mouth
sores and the antibodies have helped protect her from secondary infection
while she is extremely immunocompromised.
There are even studies being done on the potential cancer fighting effects
of breast milk, so who knows for sure, but I’m fairly certain my decision to
breastfeed has played an integral role in saving my baby’s life.
We still have a long road ahead of us, but hopefully be early 2014 Olive
will be done with treatment, cancer free, and our nursing relationship will
continue for years to come.
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