I’m Nursing My Son, Who is Adopted
By Susan Speigel
It sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s not.
After 2 years of miscarriages and a failed invitro fertilization, my daughter impatient for a sibling, us longing for another child, we began the adoption process.
With our home study almost complete we were about to embark on an intensive search for a baby internationally, in Ontario, on the internet and in the US. The week before we were to register everywhere, my sister-in-law went to the doctor, though pregn ant, had not made it public. She asked her doctor how it was possible no one had noticed. The doctor remarked that she had a patient 36 weeks pregnant and no one had noticed. This young woman was looking to adopt out her baby.
My sister-in-law called me, we cried on the phone together. After years of miscarriages this felt like it might be the light at the end of the dark, lonely, infertility tunnel. I met the Doctor and gave her our “birth letter”, a compassionate letter that is written to birth mothers to explain who you are and why you feel you or your family is worthy of adopting. Over the Easter long weekend the doctor presented a number of birth letters to the birth mother. She chose us and we arranged to meet. We had a very long intimate evening in a lawyer’s office. Each of us spoke frankly about our dreams for our lives, hers with a university education, ours with more children and our mutual desire for openness in the adoption process.
We all waited for the baby’s birth. It was to be a 2 week wait, that ended up as 4. These 4 weeks were exactly what I needed to induce lactation. The first moment I heard that we might be able to adopt this baby I called “every-woman-in-Toronto’s” l actation specialist, Dr. Jack Newman and he encouraged me to pump my breasts every 3 hours with a dual electric pump. It was a wonderful way to begin to slow my pace down and dream of this new child the way a pregnant woman does for 9 months. Dr. Newman prescribed a drug, not a hormone, called domperidone — a digestive drug that has a side effect that can cause breast leakage. After 10 days I felt drops of liquid and then saw the golden colostrum for a few days. I was producing a tablespoon of milk be tween both breasts before the baby was born.
The birth mother was committed to her decision to adopt out her baby. As she did not want the child to be in the nursery alone after birth she wanted us at the hospital as soon as the baby was born. My husband and I waited with her father in the fath er’s waiting room as her mother went back and forth to the labour room. When the baby was born we were called to the delivery room. The birth grandmother placed this tiny newborn baby boy in my arms and the doctor escorted us to our room in the hospital . I immediately gave the baby my breast and he sucked on and off all night. It was a pure and utter joy.
The next day in the hospital we all spent time together, the birth mother, the baby, the birth grandmother, myself, my daughter and husband. It was as wonderful and intimate as can be imagined. Then the birth mother sent us home to begin the process of bonding.
In the beginning the baby was not gaining weight fast enough. Dr. Newman and his lactation nurses encouraged me to compress (hand-pump) my breasts while nursing. This got more milk to the baby faster while my milk supply was building up in the early weeks. We experimented with 6 herbal teas that are considered lactation aids and my milk doubled. The next visit they told me to try Fenugreek seed capsules, which is much like domperidone, a digestive that also increases lactation. It doubled my milk supply again. The baby started to gain weight and flourish.
I was hoping to be able to nurse without supplementing with formula, but I certainly wasn’t going to starve my baby in order to satisfy myself. Dr. Newman and his wonderful staff showed me ways to get more milk to my baby medicinally, herbally and man ually. They were incredibly emotionally supportive of nursing in general and nursing an adopted baby as well.
“Wet nursing”, as this is called, has a long history. It was considered a respectable job for women until the middle of this century. Wet nurses, whether relactating or continuously lactating, were women who nursed children not born to them. Nursing an adopted child is different than wet nursing because women like myself are nursing children that are emotionally and legally ours not just a nursing job. Although wet nursing is no longer common in North America, it plays an important role for women a nd children in country’s devastated by natural disasters and war.
There are many people who cannot nurse or do not choose to nurse and their babies flourish. Just as pregnancy is not the only way to form an attachment, nursing is not the only way to bond, but nursing was a way for me to provide some of the physical intimacy missing in adoption.
I am still nursing my son at 12 months and will continue for some time, although the rigour of the regime of pills and teas are not for the non programmable person.
Nursing will not eliminate the mourning an adoptee like our son will have to do over the original loss of his birth family. We are hopeful that through our open adoption, the security and intimacy we are establishing through cherishing our adopted son will help him through the joys and sorrows of his life.
BEGINNING REGIME AND DAILY REGIME: This is the exact regime I followed. It is not for the faint of heart and there is no guarantee that what worked for one person will work for another. I certainly wish I had a guideline to follow when I started. I would have felt less apprehensive. Pl ease feel free to send feedback on your experiences and opinions of the following:
PUMPING: For 4 weeks I used a dual electric pump every 3 hours for 20 minutes each time. I divided each session into 6-7 minute cycles with the pump on low, medium and then high. I did not pump during the night, but I did pump right to 11:00 pm, which meant I pu mped 5-6 times a day.
DRUGS: I started out on a drug called “domperidone maleate” prescribed by my fertility doctor @ 30 mg/day. The lactation doctor quickly upped the dosage to 80 mg/day. They are in 10 mg pill forms.
HERBAL TEAS: Comfrey, raspberry, nettle, red clover, alfalfa leaf and fennel. I still take 6 cups of tea daily, one of each herb plus a fenugreek tea bag.
HERBAL CAPSULES: Blessed Thistle and Fenugreek seed capsules. Fenugreek, much like domperidone is a digestive that also increases lactation.
THE DAILY REGIME: Four times a day I take the following pills/herbs with a cup of tea and then another cup of tea between times (total teas 6-7/day)
Pill regime 4 x a day at 7:30 am /11:30 am / 3:00 pm / 7:30 pm
1) 2 x Domperidone – (total of 20 mg)
2) 2 x Fenugreek capsules – (total of 1410 mg)
3) 2 x Blessed Thistle – (total of 870 mg)
4) 1 cup of tea with 2 bags, Fenugreek plus one of the 6 herbs above
5) and another cup of tea as above between pill times
6) I often hand pump while nursing (especially during the 1st 6 weeks).
I have had ample milk although not as much as when my older daughter was born. I was always spraying and leaking with her. I occasionally leak now, but never spray. On a very hungry-3-month-old-kind-of-day I sometimes felt I didn’t have enough milk by the end of the day, but that is common with many nursing mothers.
The above was my basic timing and my present regime. I don’t know how many women would be interested in this kind of regime because you are constantly evaluating yourself and mixing a witches brew of food intake, fatigue, stress, pills and teas to keep your milk up. Sometimes, even now, I need to triple the tea bags each tea time on a bad day or take an additional dose of fenugreek capsules. I feel very in touch with my body, so it was not too difficult, but it may feel too onerous for some women.
Despite the regime listed above, the fact that the body can be so responsive feels like a miracle. Our whole adoption process has felt like it was meant to be. We were very fortunate to have been able to adopt a wonderful son.
PRINTED WITH PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR, SUSAN SPEIGEL. Copyright © 1997-2005 Susan Speigel. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.