My Birth Story, Part 2: The Golden Hour and The Days That Followed

April 13, 2020, Hailey Cain

The moment I first saw Delilah and they placed her on my chest was a moment I’ll never forget but the rest of that hour that is a blur in my memory.

After such a long induction and delivery, I was so out of it. Like a growing number of hospitals around the country working towards a more family centered birth experience, the hospital where I had Delilah recognized the practice of The Golden Hour after delivery. The Golden Hour is where non-emergent medical procedures like weighing and measuring are delayed and the baby is placed directly on the mother’s chest after birth for no less than one hour of skin to skin bonding time. After reading and hearing so much about this practice, I had so much anticipation for this magical moment. It’s hard for me to express how I feel about the experience because nothing feels like the right words. I don’t even remember our first attempt at breastfeeding during that hour, but I know we tried! Along with sleep deprivation comes a spotty memory and giving birth at 3 am doesn’t help with that. The next thing I remember after holding her is being wheeled to the recovery room.

I think the sun was just about to rise by the time we settled into our room and no matter how hard I try I can’t remember much more about those first few hours. However, I do remember that breastfeeding was a struggle from the start. We saw the lactation consultant the same day she was born, which was wonderful but I still had so much trouble. I wanted so badly to be like one of those perfect breastfeeding stories, where the baby latches right away and everything’s wonderful, but that was just not the case for us for couple reasons.

First, I come from a family of “top heavy” women and that made breastfeeding even more complicated. It felt so awkward and uncomfortable because it took both of my hands just to hold my breast or the lactation consultant had to help me hold it so I could hold my baby. To be honest I was just so embarrassed by the whole process and when I got overwhelmed I would cry because I felt like I wasn’t able to feed my baby without two other people to help me.

Second, we also couldn’t get Delilah to get a good latch. She just wouldn’t open her mouth wide to latch well, no matter what. On a positive note, I had great production from the get go, and I’m so grateful. I’ve heard first hand from other women how hard it can be to deal with production issues. Having ample production helped so much when we got frustrated with breastfeeding because it allowed us to supplement with breast milk using a syringe to feed her so we didn’t have to use formula.

And third, Delilah had a case of jaundice, nothing too serious but something that needed to be watched to make sure it went down. At her 24-hour screening, her bilirubin levels were still rising but not high enough to need treatment so we just had to watch and wait another day. On our second day, we were hopeful to be able to take her home, but her levels were still too high to go home and yet not high enough for treatment. We were so frustrated that our little baby had to get her heel poked multiple times for blood tests and that we had to stay in the hospital longer as concern for COVID-19 was growing. On our third day, they tested her again at around 6am. Her levels were one point away from the level needed for treatment. We had the option to go ahead and start light therapy in the hope that we could take her home that night.

The light therapy could be done in our room or in the nursery, where they could use more intense lights and the treatment time could be shorter. I didn’t want her out of our room but we really wanted to get her home as soon as possible. The lights were scary looking, but they put protective goggles over her and she looked like she was going skydiving. Each time we went to the nursery for feedings, she was stretched out under the lights asleep, as if she were suntanning on the beach. She ended up being under the lights for about 12 hours and we all headed home around 9pm that night.

Going Home and My Continued Experiences With Breastfeeding

It was after 10pm when we finally got home and brought in everything from the car. Getting home so late made our first night a little more stressful. The first night wasn’t too awful, but I really don’t think I slept at all. I really want to acknowledge the amazing support system I had for our first few days and weeks at home. Joshua was able to be home and my mom took two weeks off work to help with the baby. Between feedings, when someone would hold her so I could sneak in a nap or a shower, I spent the whole time wondering how I’d manage everything on my own.

The day after going home, we needed to meet with the lactation consultant at her pediatrician’s office to check that Delilah’s jaundice levels weren’t rising again. Due to COVID-19, it felt like the world had changed overnight. When we went to the hospital for Delilah’s birth, everything was still open. When we left the hospital, almost everything had been shut down. Even the pediatrician’s office had new procedures to prevent transmission. We checked in by phone from our car, and the lactation consultant came out and led us in through a side door straight to the room where we were seen. We left the office in the same way.

For me personally, the COVID-19 pandemic has added an extra strain to the emotional aspect of my postpartum recovery. There were a few instances where I would get the blues thinking about everything, and one occasion where the constant negative updates were so much that I had to put my phone away for the day to clear my head of it. What got to me the most was thinking about when Delilah would be able to meet her extended family. Before the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, my dad, brother, and grandparents were planning a trip from California to meet Delilah. That trip has been postponed until things get better. The first few weeks have passed and I am feeling much better about everything, but there is still the lingering question of when Delilah will get to see her family members in California and Idaho.

Unfortunately, breastfeeding remained incredibly frustrating after we got home from the hospital. I could not get her to latch properly no matter how much we worked at it. Whenever she did latch, it was incredibly painful. I think the breast shield was the only reason we were able to nurse in the beginning. My milk also came in with a force and I was dealing with a ton of leaking. I was going through so many nursing pads and soaking through my clothes and burp cloths during feedings. Between the trouble latching and the constant leaking, I would just feel like a defeated and milk-soaked mess by the end of each feeding. Joshua tried his best to cheer me up and make me laugh by reading Delilah’s books to us in silly voices during her feedings, but after a while the constant frustration started to really get to me. It also didn’t help that each time we met with the lactation consultant Delilah would magically feed really well, but never at home.

After a while of struggling and crying, I started contemplating giving her a bottle with expressed milk just to me a couple hours of relief. I had already started pumping a bit to help with the leaking and engorgement. The decision to introduce a bottle was not an easy one. I cried and agonized over the thought of giving her even one bottle a day to give myself a break because I was worried that it would ruin our chance at successfully breastfeeding. And I wondered if I could make breastfeeding work if I just stuck it out a little longer. I wasn’t even thinking about switching her to bottles all together. all of these feelings were at the thought of giving her just one bottle. Ultimately, I decided to give her the bottle, and I cried while I gave it to her. After that we gave her a bottle when we reached those moments of absolute frustration and for a while it really helped.

It began to feel as if we were progressing backwards when it came to nursing. Instead of transitioning away the shield, we were completely dependent on it. And before we would start the feed without it and bring it in when it wasn’t going well, but now we needed it to nurse at all. After a lot of thinking and trying to figure out what was best for us, I decided to slowly make the switch to exclusive pumping. Since I was still able to nurse with the shield and my production was good, my plan was to swap out one nursing session at time with a pump and bottle feed. I thought this would be the smoothest way to transition to the demands of exclusive pumping and it went great! I can’t even describe how much better I felt about feeding her, even just swapping two nursing sessions a day with bottles. I felt so much relief and like the stress of failing at breastfeeding was off my shoulders. I was no longer failing at breastfeeding, but instead I was succeeding at pumping.