Please enjoy this All About Breastfeeding podcast with Christine Farrugia
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“I remember hearing her swallowing my milk and those cues that let me know I got this right, this was working.”
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Episode 50 Christine Farrugia is from Long Island NY. She is a mother of four children and very active in many volunteer positions in her community.
Christine fulfills many roles but the most important role she has is as a mom to her 4 precious children. Christine has 3 daughters and one son. She works part time as librarian and as a Mom-Mentum group development manager. She also volunteers as a Girl Scout Leader and is PTA president.
Christine grew up in Smithtown, NY. She grew up with her parents, one sister who is 2 years younger than she is and a family dog. When Christine was younger her best days were when her parents would take her to 2 different libraries in the same day. She has always been an avid reader, a major, major library user,a huge fan of the library, and has written poetry. She always knew she wanted to be a writer or do something with books and she also thought a lot about teaching. Christine got a minor in journalism and her major is in English Literature. She worked in the library as a high school kid as a page and continued to work in libraries.
After undergraduate work she went on to get her Master of Library Science. She tells us that she has worked in libraries for more than half her life. She connects with teaching goal because she runs programs with children of all ages and with parents and caregivers.
Christine talks about being intrigued about pregnancy and birth when she was very young. She had many conversations with her mother about this subject. Her mother told her that she was given an injection of some sort to dry up her milk. She was greatly discouraged from breastfeeding and that is just the way that it was. While I do not know exactly what her mother received, the most common medication given was called Parlodel also known as Bromocriptine.
Interestingly enough, the fact that her mother did not breastfeed, Christine still knew that this is something she knew she wanted to do. From a very young age, she wanted so badly to be a mother. She shares a fun story about planning her wedding and seeing an ad for a Baby magazine. There was a caption that said: “Here’s to life’s next magic moment and she remembers thinking,, Oh, I can’t wait for that. She had not even walked down the aisle yet and yet still excited for the time when she became a mother.
Christine has worked with children and parents for so many years. She has done a lot of work on educating parents on different topics and has been exposed to many books on breastfeeding much sooner than other woman are before they become pregnant.
The most extreme story of my breastfeeding history is the first time around. Everything about her birth experience was copletely what she did not expect. She planned on having this tansformative nirvana experience and without any pain medication at all.
Christine has 4 children. She decided to share her experience with her first baby, which was quite a traumatic experience. She says that everything about her birth experience was completely not what she would expect. She thought she was going to have this trans formative nirvana experience, birth without pain medication, that it would be efficient, fairly quick and uneventful. She laments at how she does not know why, perhaps she was naive or ignorant or hopeful, but her experience was anything but that. Her first baby was 2 weeks late, and said her OB was pressuring her to be induced. Christine insisted on waiting, but ultimately she was induced at 42 weeks. She gave birth after an induction and 1 1/2 days of labor. There was no transformative experience. There was lots of pain medication, there was an epidural and wound up with a post partum hemorrhage and a terribly long and difficult recovery.
She very much wanted to breastfeed, but sadly enough this particular hospital did not have a lactation consultant on staff and there was no support for breastfeeding. Knowing that I wish I had chosen a hospital that had one. After her daughter was born, she was quite weak, quite ill and every challenge was amplified that much more. She had just been through a traumatic birth experience and after her daughter was born, she was weak and quite ill. Every challenge she had was amplified that much more. It was not just the new mommy exhaustion. It was more than it just being an intense experience and being exhausted. I just went through a traumatic health experience and I hope I am okay and the drs are concerned about me and all these other dynamics that complicated everything.
It is easy to say that I am going to do this, when push comes to shove and you are sitting there holding a newborn baby it is much harder that anyone is told. Just because it is the most natural thing in the world to do, does not mean that it comes naturally.
It was really tough because the nurses were really pushing formula. She remembers her roommate kept telling her that you can try and do both and Christine remembers feeling like fish out of water. She did not know up from down. The nurse came in and my baby was crying and she said your baby is hungry and she needs to eat. I said that I am trying to feed her and the nurse said well you probably just need to give her a bottle. There was so much I did not know about early breastfeeding and my milk coming in and there was just no help and support for her. She could not believe the lack of support and how out of her element she felt. When she came home, her milk came in and she kept trying to breastfeed.Christine kept referring to books. She had the La Leche League book and she kept trying. It does not matter what you think you were going to do. It is different and very hard when you have a screaming, crying and hungry baby in your arms. You want so badly to nourish and you feel like you can’t and you just don’t know what to do.
The only thing that got her through was perseverance. This is what else she tells us: She does not know where she got such determination. But says she had a script that played in her head,” if I don’t get this right, what about my other babies. If I give up, what about my other babies? I have to make this work. I cannot give up. It is not just about her, it is just about my other babies. She kept having this internal dialog going on in her head. She remembers one day, sitting in her bed, surrounded with her books and water and pillow.
Her husband who is worried about her and the baby said to her: This is so hard, it does not see to be working, maybe you should not do this. I looked at my little baby and felt like we were on this island. I looked at my little one and said Savannah we are going to do this. We are going to do this. She was a very alert and active baby that hardly slept, but with breastfeeding she was always eating and awake and rooting and looking to eat. She was not a sleepy baby, so we just kept trying and in between working on breastfeeding I was definitely supplementing. We got to the point where we eventually stopped supplementing and where breastfeeding became really easy. I do remember though, the first days and hours that never ended. At some point, in that haze of hours of days and nights that have no definition, I remember hearing her swallowing my milk and those cues that let me know I got this right, this was working. I remember all the sensations that come with along with the success that let you know things are working well. My breasts were full and they were lighter when she was done and I held on to all these things that did become normal after a while. I was lucky that it all worked out. When women tell me they tried , they were so tired. The baby was crying that it just didn’t work out, I understand that because I was they were so overwhelmed. I get it because I was at that moment too at that precipice where I was going to fall off and cave in. Someone hand me a bottle, I can’t do this anymore, someone catch me and and make this chaos stop I could not do that anymore. But for me, personally, it would have been devastating if I hadn’t given it my absolute all, and more and beyond that.
Christine explains in further detail what exactly about breastfeeding that was not working out. She remembers once she learned how to properly breastfeed there was no doubt in her mind what was happening the first few days in the hospital and when she came home. She states that her latch was completely incorrect and that was huge part of the problem. She was having a hard time getting her to latch on properly and that resulted in sore and cracked and bleeding nipples and that hurt so badly. That was a problem in and of itself because this experience that is supposed to be amazing is becoming physically painful. Her baby was not latching on properly and she became hungrier and hungrier and when a baby becomes so hungry, that becomes even more challenging.
Christine also talks about things became clearer as she began to recover. She realizes now the impact that birth has on our breastfeeding. Because her blood pressure spiked during labor and she hemorrhaged, she was kept on multiple medications after labor. This meant she was hooked up to IV’s postpartum. She realizes that all this made maneuvering and holding a baby at breast was difficult. With all these things sticking out of her arm and I think that hurt my chances for successful breastfeeding in the beginning.
Christine did not take a specific class just for breastfeeding. She did take a childbirth class and in retrospect, she would have taken a class. She thinks that if she had another mom tell her that breastfeeding might not come so easy, she would have taken a class. She just did not think it would be anything else but natural and easy. She tells other mothers now they should consider taking a class.
Her husband needed to go back to work and he needed sleep. She spent nights on the couch with the bassinet next to her. It was just this little world with her and the baby and she wanted so badly to take care of her. Many moms will say that this time is a blur for her. Her daughter barely slept, perhaps in 15 increments. She would fall asleep and think she would sleep for a long time, but she would wake up 15 minutes later. She would wake up and Christine would think to herself: how could that be? It was astounding. She was up so much more than she wasn’t.It was nuts. It was a touch and crazy time. You would have thought I would have learned the second time around. She thought that things with her next baby it was going to be a cinch because hey I was a veteran breastfeeding mom. I had done something phenomenal I really thought this was going to be easy and no issues and there were many issues which were surprising and really caught her off guard.
Christine felt like it took at least 3 weeks until she thought that it was going to be okay. It sounds like such a short time but looking back at it, it seemed like such a long time when you are in the thick of it. By the time my 3rd and 4th came around certain things came easy but now she had 2 other beings running around and I had to figure out how to coordinate all their activities. there were all these other challenges ike how to manage these little people and how to get the older one to preschool when the other one was keeping me up at night.. things like that!
Points of discussion during this interview:
1. The importance and the wisdom of taking a breastfeeding class.
2. What life is like when your husband needs to go back to work needs his sleep, and yet you are up half the night.
3. Christine tells us that it took about 3 weeks or so until she felt like the breastfeeding was beginning to get easier.
4. Why she felt that breastfeeding was going to be easy with her second baby.
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Christine shares a story about her second babies birth, her son Paul. He came a week early with her water breaking and that was another new experience and she did not even know her body was capable of doing that. She had another long labor, her son was 9.5 pounds and he had aspirated quite a lot of meconium and the NICU team was in the room with her. At birth, he was not crying and having hard time breathing. He was taken to NICU under an oxygen tent and she was not able to hold him for 48 hours, which she states, was one of the worst experiences of her entire life.
The hospital has since been renovated and redone the layout, but when she delivered there the NICU was several floors down from the pp unit. In those first hours, when all she could think was this was a punishment for something that I did wrong. What a cruel, cruel, cruel thing to be able to hear other babies and she could not even hold mine. Her second birth was with a midwifery practice as well as my other babies. This time was in a hospital and there was an LC and she said and was sympathetic and acknowledged how difficult this task was wanting to breastfeed a baby who was in NICU. She brought me a pump and so she pumped during those early hours. At least this time, because I had pumped at work before. The breastpump was not a foreign object to her. You don’t grow up learning how to use a breastpump. Once you get it down pat, it comes easily as habitual as brushing your teeth and flossing. She brought me an electric pump and I had only used a manual pump. I told her I always had used the Avent isis pump and she said oh no that is not going to help you with a NICU baby. Christine does say that she hated the electric pump and wound up using the manual pump. It was so comfortable and it is what she was used to and did her best with. By the time she was discharged, she was still not breastfeeding.
Once she was discharged so began this very difficult and emotional journey. It was chaotic going home. She had her almost 2 year old daughter and dealing with helping her and mommy was gone and where is my baby brother. I wound up setting my alarm every two hours and so I kept up this routine. My husband would bring the milk up twice a day and I went up twice a day. One of the things I remember so vividly. One of the nurses said that I see how hard you are working on breastfeeding, but I want you to understand something, he can still be a breast milk fed baby but your baby may not be breastfed baby but he can get your milk. When someone says something like this to me.. And another thing another nurse said to me as I kept trying and trying to nurse him.. They would draw this little curtain around the NICU it was so noise and beeps. The NICU, is such a place that no baby should ever need to be there. No one should ever have to go through that emotional experience. We are very pro breastmilk, but we can’t be pro breastfeeding here because we need to measure every ounce of intake for your baby, as the weight gain is so critical and when you are nursing we can’t measure. You have to understand that it is easier for us when you give a bottle because we can measure it.
Christine had this realization that she could not believe how hard this experience was turning out to be. Now when she brought him home and he was finally latching on, he had a hard time staying awake. She had to work hard to wake him up and keep him awake while breastfeeding. It was a very really intense and overwhelming experience again and she remembers thinking..how can this happen again. People think it is a good thing to have a baby that sleeps and this is not true. It makes breastfeeding very difficult and very hard to keep him well fed. She was so incredibly exhausted.
Points of discussion during this interview:
5. Her traumatic birth experience with her son Paul and how this impacted breastfeeding.
6. How difficult it was to be discharged and at home and how challenging this was.
7. Seeing your baby in the NICU unit and how difficult this is.
8. Paul was in the NICU for 10 days.
9. Her daily mantra became “one hour at a time.”
10. Christine gives us all the details about how and why she became involved with Mom-mentum.
11. Christine talks about how she was hired for her current position with Mom-mentum and her history with this organization.
Mom-mentum: Christine talks about her journey with this organization which began in 2010. My second daughter is Charlotte and my youngest daughter is Jasmine. My local library has a Mother’s Center group. I met a bunch of moms and made friends for myself and my older children. I need to create another group of friends who have younger children. My other friends had kids that were older. My goal was to find little friends for my daughters. It was amazing. Jan was my facilitator and she is a dear friend. I got everything out of that and so much more than I could possibly ask for. One of the woman I met is now my co-leader with my Girl Scout troop. I met Jan and as the years went by and a lot of the kids started to age out of the group, I didn’t want to leave Mom-mentum and I wanted it to continue to be a part of my group. I wanted to become a facilitator and felt right for me, so I went to facilitator training and was hired as a fac at the library to run the group which I currently run on Monday mornings. I became more involved with the staff and went on their annual retreat which was transformative. The focus is on all the tings Mom-mentum is about. Advocacy, work/life balance and I was offered a job with the organize itself and I serve as the Group Development Manager. I am the connecter piece to all of our mother center groups and to help start more groups at libraries.
Words of Wisdom: As trite as it may sound, really believe in your intuition. Listen to the voice inside your heart and inside your head. Remember what you thought that it might not be able to be that. but it ( breastfeeding) might still be possible even if you have people telling you that it can’t and it isn’t. And at the core of all of us as moms is the love that we have for our baby and that is something that is bigger than any challenges or anything else that we wind up being faced with and that is something that our children know and our babies know. Whether we can or cannot breastfeed. Whatever decisions we make along the way, know and that is one of the first of many, many challenges.. As long as we remember that love is something that they feel and that we need to be loved too. we are very hard on ourselves.
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