Friday, August 9, 2013

The Power of his Mom's Milk

Calvin's Story
Written by his mother, Faith Galante

I have always acknowledged the benefits of breastfeeding. Growing up with a Lactation Consultant for a mother will do that to you, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect to witness them first hand like I did. Twenty weeks into my pregnancy with my brand new husband, an ultrasound revealed a hole in our baby son's stomach. The ultrasound tech handed us off to an OB who could barely pronounce the defect, Gastroschisis.

At a specialist appointment, we learned more about this anomaly that had busted into our lives. Gastroschisis is a rare congenital defect that affects about 1/2,500 births. In the past ten years, the frequency has doubled. I watched the little shadow baby on the screen bopping around my womb without a care in the world, and I also observed the hole in his abdomen that his small intestine had begun to herniate through.

Things began to happen very fast. We were lost in a sea of doctors appointments, surgeon interviews and NICU tours, all the while trying to come to grips that a "normal" birth just was no longer in the cards for us. The plan was for him to be taken early, via c-section, to prevent damage to his exposed intestine. He would be rushed to the NICU and operated on just hours after birth. I found solace in survivor stories on the internet, videos of gastro babies on youtube, and the charity and support group Avery's Angels.

In the beginning of May, we set a date for my planned c-section that would bring Calvin into the world just a few weeks early. His exposed bowel looked good as far as the ultrasounds could tell, and we wanted him to stay put as long as possible considering what was waiting for him after birth. It seems fate had other plans for us.

On May 14th, I woke up with a pit in my stomach. Something was wrong. Calvin wasn't moving. My husband couldn't get a word out of me on the way to our specialist. I was bracing myself for the worst, but a strong heartbeat appeared on the monitor! I felt a wave of relief, but it was short lived. Our specialist came in instantly with a simple "Okay, you're done! How fast can you get to the hospital in Austin?" Not even twenty four hours later I was laying on the operating table watching a troop of neonatal super heroes resuscitate my son.

Calvin was born on May 15th, eight weeks premature, with his small and large intestine and stomach exposed. He inhaled a great deal of meconium and had a heart rate of only 40 bpm. Once they stabilized him, they wheeled this fragile little boy over to me and then took him away.

 Calvin weighed just over three pounds when he was born. In recovery, I couldn't stop shaking so a nurse gave me something to calm my nerves. I remember an on-call surgeon coming in and asking permission to operate. In a haze, I said yes. He returned—in what seemed to be just moments later—and explained that while he was able to get a good deal of his intestines back inside, Calvin was very small and he couldn't close the defect yet. His exposed tummy was hanging above him in a plastic bag so that gravity would slide them back in slowly.

While I was stuck in bed waiting for the okay from the nurses to visit my baby, I was given what every mother in my situation craves—the opportunity to help her baby in a way no surgeon could. I was given a medela pump. I couldn't hold Calvin, I couldn't even see him yet, but I could ensure that he had the nutrition he needed! Within four hours after birth, I had collected over 36 mIs of colostrum! My husband would be walking to the nurse’s station every two hours, each time with a little more milk. I heard the babies crying in the rooms surrounding me. My baby was upstairs hooked to monitors and a ventilator, but what I had was a pump and gosh darn it, I was on a mission to establish my milk supply!

My husband wheeled me up to meet our son ten hours after he was born. Through two locked doors in a tiny warming bed, Calvin was recuperating from major surgery. And he was beautiful. When we left the hospital to drive 45 minutes back home, whatever primal hormone your body releases to keep mothers from leaving their young wrecked me. What kept me sane through all of this was my ability to pump. Even something as simple as that fulfilled me in my time of desperation.

Due to his two surgeries and waiting for his gut to wake up, it was a full two weeks on intravenous nutrition before we could introduce some of my milk. Just 2 cc’s at first, but after a few initial setbacks, the volumes increased, the TPN decreased. Calvin's tiny body began to heal. He astounded the neonatologist’s and the nurses for how well he tolerated his feeds. I'll never forget when he was up to two ounce feedings, I tentatively asked when I could breastfeed. The nurse just looked at me and said "Now." I cried I was so happy! Calvin had been a champion taking bottles, but honestly, whose nipple is really shaped like that? The nurse started walking away to find a nipple shield when suddenly Calvin popped himself on perfectly and started nursing away no problem. The staff was astounded yet again.

A few days later, one neonatologist called to tell me that if Calvin didn't gain enough weight on "just my breast milk", he wanted to introduce Neosure, an infant formula. I couldn't believe it. Not only had Calvin gained weight consistently, but due to his prematurity and damage to his bowel, the chance of necrotizing entercolitis, a devastating intestinal infection, was something like 20% higher if they gave him formula! I was seething. 20% didn't use to seem like a high percentage to me, but since my baby son was born with a defect with a 0.02% likelihood, that seems huge now.

Thankfully my mother has her lactation world "connections". Kim at the Mother's Milk Bank was an absolute godsend! I went there with my mother and, as a favor, was able to have my milk tested. It was 21 calories with a high protein count! Kim sent a copy to the head of the NICU.

After 35 days in the NICU, before he should have even been born, Calvin left the NICU without a drop of formula, and with a special hand crafted belly button. Leaving my baby alone in that hospital every day was the hardest thing I've ever had to go through, but these babies are so strong and have such a will to live—it is truly amazing.

Calvin is such a fighter, and I'm honored to be his Mommy!

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