By Jenn Seager
Issue 142, May/June 2007
Breastfeeding was something I had always looked forward to. I had warm images of cuddling my future child as he or she suckled happily at my breast. Breastfeeding was the only option for me. In my opinion, there is nothing more natural, perfect, and healthy for a baby.
So there I was, waiting for the day when I’d become pregnant, then the day I would give birth and share the ultimate bonding experience with my precious child. From the time all the stars were properly aligned and I knew it was time to begin to try to conceive, it was an agonizing six months until I watched my pee perform magic tricks on a stick. Two pink lines confirmed it: We were going to have a baby. Finally.
My pregnancy began as had so many others I’d heard about. I was emotional. I had ‘morning’ sickness 24 hours a day. I had crazy cravings. I had the ‘glow’ that came mainly from knowing there was a life growing inside of me—a perfect miniature human being becoming itself in the warmth of my own body. It was all amazing and surreal.
After a bout of bleeding at 12 weeks, my husband and I discovered, through an ultrasound, that we were expecting not one baby but three identical little boys. One of my main concerns was breastfeeding. Would I be able to do it? Could I produce enough milk? How would I handle three hungry, crying babies at one time? I nearly drove myself mad with what-ifs, until I finally gave up on worrying and believed that it would all take care of itself—that yes, I could do it. If I could create, carry, and give birth to three babies, I could sure as heck provide them all with mummy’s tasty milk.
I was still unaware of the monkey wrench that would be driven through the slowly wheeling spokes of my idyllic ever-afters. Because mine was considered a high-risk pregnancy, I had ultrasounds done every two weeks to check that the babies were growing properly and that there was enough blood flow to them. It was after one rather long scanning session, 15 weeks into my pregnancy, that my husband and I were given the numbing news that all three of our boys had cleft lips, and that one of them also had a cleft palate.
I went home that day in a fog, feeling so sorry for these innocent babies who, before they’d even been born, already had a lifetime of challenges ahead of them. I agonized over the mocking they would receive at school, the pain of the surgeries, the permanent scars. We immediately were referred to the hospital’s fantastic ‘cleft team,’ a group of medical professionals who educate families dealing with these facial differences. Reading about clefts and meeting with the parents of cleft-affected babies helped put our minds at ease, but some of my questions were still unanswered. One of them was “Will I be able to breastfeed?” No one I asked—parents or doctors—had an answer.
I began to take it as given that, through no fault of their own, my poor boys would be denied their right to nurse. My feelings of guilt were overwhelming, though I didn’t know why I felt that way. In my heart, I knew that their clefts were likely just a genetic fluke caused by the intricacies of a single egg dividing to create three individual beings. Still, that didn’t stop me wondering if I could have done something to prevent it. I don’t take drugs, I don’t smoke, I eat healthily—I racked my brain to think of some external source that might have caused this. I wanted to blame something, someone. I wanted certainties—but life doesn’t deal you those.
Time passed and I endured. At my 29-week checkup, I was told to go home, pack, then head back to the hospital. There was an issue of blood flow to two of the boys, who now had to be delivered right away. On March 27, 2005, our three beautiful boys arrived by cesarean sectio