An Earthy Mother sharing her experiences in today's world....

Monday, April 26, 2010

Guest Blog: Parenting without vaccines

By Sarah Sparkles- mama to a girlie aged 8, a boy aged 2 and one on the way.

Before becoming a parent I trained as a nurse and practised for some time, mainly in the mental health field; I loved my job but the politics were getting to me. It felt very strange administering drugs, then going home and using homeopathy! I have a disease called Perthes in my hip- this means essentially my hip is undeveloped and can cause me a great deal of pain- I've always been medicated in one way or another and I've always felt a resistance to it. When I was in my teens I started to look at other ways of managing health and I was convinced there just HAD to be another way to get through my life without codeine rotting my organs! I found a holistic practioner who was happy to realign my spine and pelvis (as I walk with a very slight limp which gets pronounced when I'm tired). My parents were convinced I was bonkers for a while; they let me try alternative therapies but were soon tired when I wasn't conforming to their idea of treatment, despite the obvious fact I was happy doing better and not half high on vast amounts of painkillers. I was very worried that by the time I was 30 my liver would pack up- never mind the fact that I was already taking massive doses at just 16.

My consultant was amazingly receptive as Perthes is not a common disease- his sole request was that I go in to be monitored for ways to help others too; he was brilliant and pointing me towards NHS services that are so called unconventional. At nearly 30 it's stabilised and I don't use any drugs and haven't for years.

When I left home at 17 I started to flower within myself; for so long my personal philosophies were suppressed and as time went on I found it really hard to nurse and be myself.

At just 19 I found out I was pregnant with my daughter- sadly things didn't work out with her father and we parted. Frightened and very depressed, I found the whole thing very hard to manage; the fear from the midwives that I'd not be able to carry to term because of the hip issue, the agonising pain as I progressed through my pregnancy, soon I was swamped with "help" and once again my notions were dismissed as madness.

They intially wanted to do a planned cesarean section as they just weren't sure how my pelvis would expand- if at all! I found an advocate to at least let my pregnancy go on and plan closer to the time of birth, I really was so sure I wanted to deliver vaginally. Three weeks before my due date my labour started. I was at home alone and very very frightened of all the tales about how it "had been the worst pain of your life/ the most horrendous day/episiotomies/tears/botched/forceps/placenta left in".... No-one had a good word to say about giving birth, I had planned to just let things roll and take on one pain relief option bit by bit- I had a TENS machine but within a few hours I had rung an ambulance- my contractions were on top of another. My daughter arrived on the sofa with just gas and air and I felt joy! It did hurt, I did tear a tiny bit- but it wasn't what they all said... I felt like a goddess!! We went to hospital and later discharged and I started to re evaluate my thoughts- what else were they wrong about?

I started to breastfeed but the help was poor; my mum truly finds it sexual and spent a LOT of time telling me not to do that in front of my father... My sister had never even considered there was another way to feed other than a bottle and so I had no support beyond a few weeks- soon my confidence slipped when she ws feeding lots; I thought I wasn't making enough- and then the nagging started that I wasn't being fair and I was being a martyr so the formula came out. I was feeding her in secret at night when no one knew. I didn't even tell the health visitor - I don't know why but I started to believe I was wrong, the saddest part is that if I'd have said something I would have known she was a HUGE advocate for breastfeeding but didn't need me to feel bad for my choice as she could see I was already teetering.

Then the vaccination schedule started- I didn't feel quite right.

I allowed oral Polio and then was persuaded to give the diptheria. This was at the time of the MMR debate and I had started back to work so I was privvy to how scared the NHS was; this made me question why they were so frightened if it was so safe. I started to look into it all and decided to hold off,she'd been SO ill with a tummy bug after the last vaccine I didn't want to carry on she has always been a tiny thing and couldn't afford to lose an ounce. Dr was not happy and voiced it to me but was open as well. We agreed to postpone. Indefinitely.

I never really said much to my parents knowing I'd be ridiculed, by now we were all but strangers.

Her dad and I had worked it out enough that we were on friendly terms and he still sees her often.

Time went on and my health visitor retired to be replaced by a lady that was pretty convinced I was a terrible mother and made it very clear. I did start to question myself,but by now my daughter was 3- a happy bright little thing had never been ill - the odd sore throat or a cough & cold type thing. That was enough for me. We moved house some 100 miles when she was 4- a new start, a new life. I'd had a late miscarriage and I needed to be away from everything, have some time out and move on.

Soon after we moved, my daughter caught chickenpox after going to a baptism. It was mild and a few days later she was right as rain! In 2008 my son was born at home. The midwife was great. He didn't even consider that I'd not breastfeed. As my son latched on for his first feed the midwife smiled at me and said "That is the best gift you can ever give your son." Family life settled in; Mark has always been very supportive of my choices and desires, simply making sure that everything else is done so I can just sit and feed. This time I was proud to shout out YES I'm breastfeeding- I don't speak to my family anymore. I just stopped calling, and so did they. I do often wonder what they'd make of my life!

I've had a few bad days where I'm knackered - I work as well by choice and necessity but I can look at my boy and know I am doing the VERY best by him. The health visitor popped by when he was 2 weeks old as is standard here; sadly I was hoping for 'wow, well done' and I got lots of 'how I could have more sleep and how selfish it is when dad can't feed' - I asked her to leave and not return.

Daniel has only been ill once- possible Rotavirus (he just breastfed lots, was sick when he needed to be sick, and I just worked with it- within a week he was back to normal.) I had shingles a little while back I was a bit worried as I was in my first trimester, but all was well. Daniel caught chicken pox from me - so mildly I only saw a spot in the sun! All he needed was some extra breastmilk and he was fine.(In the UK we don't vaccinate for chickenpox nor Rotavirus. ) Both children have been fit & healthy; both children go to groups and activities an awful lot and have never caught anything.

I don't really have a lot of friends; I find it quite hard to mix with people. I do genuinely enjoy my own company.

My girlie has 100% attendance record for school which she's very proud of and itching for a certificate!

I asked the midwife that attended Daniel's birth to be my midwife for this pregnancy as well he's quite happy to let me call the shots. He's never tried to persuade me to do anything and truly believes that we all have the right to informed choices. He was overjoyed when I said I was still feeding Daniel!

Overall I guess I've been quite lucky- I've met some resistance but not much.

Monday, April 5, 2010

On being a wetnurse.....

I've always been in childcare, from my beginnings as a babysitter in my early teens until now. I have always loved children- loved their innocence, loved their simplicity, loved their exuberance and acceptance and fearlessness.

I had read about women who breastfed other babies- I always considered it sort of peculiar. It made sense, but surely formula is just as good, right? Wrong.

When I became a mother, I continued to work privately, looking after children in their own homes. I couldn't tolerate the factory-style care in child care centres, where basic needs were met but there was little time for nurture, love, care or individuality. I loved forming a bond with the children I cared for, and this is difficult to do when you have 4 children under 18 months in your care, which is common in child care.

After my son was born, I continued to work, but I did not wet nurse. It was never something which entered my consciousness- why would I physically breastfeed someone else's child? I had a huge supply though, and after my daughter was born and I tandem fed my children, I realised I was capable of producing a lot more milk than most women. I sprayed milk everywhere whenever let down happened. I soaked through towels every night. I could hold a cup over my nipple while feeding only one babe, and I could easy catch 250ml pouring out. Forget breastpads, I soaked a hand towel on a regular basis.

When my freezer filled up with milk, I realised I should donate breastmilk or it would be going to waste (I went and had blood tests and got a clean bill of health first). So I gave it away whenever I could to the people around me who needed it. I donated to a woman interstate who had hypoplastic breasts. I donated when a woman I know was admitted to hospital suddenly and they could not admit her 3 months old baby- she was so dehydrated she was unable to make enough either. I donated to a friend in anticipation of her premature baby being born 8 weeks early so her premmie didn't have to be exposed to formula in NICU. I donated to a woman I didn't know a few suburbs away who has a tiny supply- she has since become my friend. I was in awe of my breasts- these amazing mammaries which could feed more than just my babies.

The first baby I wetnursed was the child I was donating to a few suburbs away; she came to collect the litres of milk I had stored for her, and he was hungry. She asked if I would feed him instead of using some of the frozen milk- so I did. It wasn't strange- it felt really normal, really natural. It felt right. I was starting to see just how beneficial this would be, and wondering why more women didn't do it. So many women are using formula to complement their baby's breastmilk- why not use donated breastmilk, or have another woman cross-nurse your baby?

I started work with a new family one day a week, and the mother was the first to broach the subject. I hadn't considered it before this- I had felt the urge, the instinct, to open my top when holding a crying baby, but I had never been asked to breastfeed someone else's baby directly. She was very casual about it, and I agreed. I began offering it to him in the middle of the day before his sleep, but he refused. One day he was upset, so I put him in a Mei Tai and he snuggled up to my chest. After a few minutes, he licked my cleavage. I whipped out my breast and left it there for him to access, and after a few minutes he latched on and drank deeply, falling asleep in minutes. Success! The next few times he smiled at my breast for a while first, as if discerning the friendliness of my nipple, before latching on and heartily drinking. Before long, he was actively asking for a breastfeed, coming up to my shyly and gently pulling on the neckline of my top. Whenever my daughter was breastfeeeding, so was he- soon he was having 3 breastfeeds a day.It felt lovely to be able to give this little person the perfect milk for him. (That is the prince himself, shown at right.)

I have now started wetnursing with a new family who have a 6 month old baby. I was hired because of my babywearing experience, childcare experience and attachment parenting ideas. The mother had never considered I would wetnurse her baby, but when she spoke to my reference (who is the same woman who encouraged me to wetnurse), she told her about the breastfeeding relationship I have with her child. She was quite shocked- wetnursing is now something alien to our society, whereas 100 years ago it was common practice. When I attended my interview, she discussed it with me. At first, she said she was quite 'weirded out' by the idea of me breastfeeding another person's child. It is a challenging thing to wrap your mind around in our homogenised society. She thought wetnursing was a bit strange. But the more she thought about it, the more it made sense. If her baby was distressed, I could comfort him in a way that holding and rocking never could. Expressing enough wasn't as much of an issue. If he wanted more milk than she had left, he has a fresh supply. Just because his mother had to return to work doesn't mean he misses out on breastfeeding while she is gone. Her comfort zone was challenged, her preconceived ideas about what was normal were questioned, and she came out the other side with a totally different view.

Society used to condone wetnursing- it was used in the case of ill women, mothers who died in childbirth, women without supply, the rich, the poor and everyone in between. Sisters, mothers, aunts, even grandmothers breastfed babies who needed to be fed. In ancient cultures, it was common to breastfeed any child you knew who needed to be fed. In indigenous tribes babies are fed by the village- not only does this help share the burden of childrearing, but it also gives children access to more antibodies than their mothers could ever provide alone. Yet our society has become one of people being afraid of others, of disconnection, of isolation. Our world is becoming more detached- we are encouraged to move our babies away from us, give our babies alternatives to nature, feed our children genetically modified foods and clean our houses with toxic chemicals. Our society is moving further and further away from being human, from connecting with nature and each other.

All children should be breastfed for a minimum of 2 years. When you look at the suggestions from the World Health organisation, you see that even they recommend wetnurses.

"For those few health situations where infants cannot, or should not, be breastfed, the choice of the best alternative – expressed breast milk from an infant’s own mother, breast milk from a healthy wet-nurse or a human-milk bank, or a breast-milk substitute fed with a cup, which is a safer method than a feeding bottle and teat – depends on individual circumstances." (W.H.O,
Yet we live in a society where women would rather buy modified, sugared, powdered cow's milk to feed their babies because they simply don't consider there might be women out there opening their arms and their nursing bras to babies who need to be away from their mothers or who are born to mothers who cannot breastfeed. Women would rather feed their babies modified inferior milk from an unhappy, antibiotic-tainted cow than put out the call for breastmilk donors or a wet nurse. It isn't even considered an option. Other people's breastmilk is considered strange, gross, a bodily fluid. Our breastmilk is fine, but other people's breastmilk is just too foreign for many women to even consider. Why is this so? If a woman has had testing done, and eats a healthy diet, why wouldn't you choose her milk over that of a cow? With everything we know about how superior breastmilk is to any alternatives, why are so many women still turning to formula?

When I look at these two options if I can't breastfeed my child, I know which one I would choose.

If you have cross-nursed or wetnursed a baby, please feel free to share your story.