As she approached pregnancy and parenthood Megan Travi had ideals about her parenting style, the way she would raise her children, and how she would care for them. She always knew she wanted to breastfeed.
However, when she and her husband, Spencer, found out they were having twins Megan admits that she was totally scared. “I felt a sense of loss, of mourning, because my ideas of parenting had to totally change. I had to reshape what parenting would be like for me.”
Breastfeeding was a “no-brainer.” “I thought it would come naturally,” she stated.
Megan went into spontaneous labor at 39 weeks and 1 day and the babies were born three days later when she delivered vaginally in the middle of March. Amos was born on March 10, 2015 at 11:26 p.m. and Hazel was born on March 11 at 12:19 a.m.
Nursing for most new moms is challenging. While nursing is natural is certainly isn’t easy. Learning needs to occur for both the mother and the baby or in this case babies. Nursing twins has it’s own set of challenges.
For the first three days of their lives Megan said she felt “shell-shocked”; exhausted, and confused. She was able to get the twins to latch and the first latch was really good so she thought nursing was going to be easy. The hospital was very full and the nursing and lactation staff was spread thin, Megan wasn’t getting the support and attention she felt she needed. Megan left the hospital in tears, worried that her body wasn’t working as it should.
At home her milk still hadn’t come in and she was terrified breastfeeding wasn’t going to happen for her. Breastfeeding was her lifeline to a sense of “normalcy” in the wake of being a mom of twins and she was desperate to make it work. When she left the hospital she was given a pump, a feeding plan that listed “typical amounts” babies should be taking per feed based on their day of life (which she was nowhere near producing), as well as a handful of worksheets to monitor all feeds, supplemented amounts, pumped amounts, and their output in terms of pee and poop diapers, and instructions to come in for a lactation appointment immediately the following week.and how much milk she needed to pump in order to build and maintain her supply and assure the kids were getting enough. As time went on, the stress of the “numbers game” was getting Megan off course; she became more focused on how much she could pump instead of spending the necessary time developing a healthy breastfeeding relationship. She said in hindsight “I just didn’t really understand breastfeeding, including how much effort it takes in those early weeks. I wasn’t prepared for doing that job.” one thing I don’t think I really understood was breastfeeding.”
Time Does Not Exist In the Same Way To A New Mom
In those first few days, weeks, and months of a baby’s life the mother is in such a swell of hormones and sleep deprivation that time simply does not exist in the same way to a new mom as it does to a partner, those without children, or frankly, the rest of the population. Determined to provide enough breast milk for her babies Megan sought help from several lactation consultants but was still not having success at the breast and was receiving conflicting information. Therefore she turned to exclusively pumping for three and a half months.
Pumping might just be one of the biggest hassles any breastfeeding mom experiences. The pump, the parts, the washing, time spent pumping – and for a mom of twins it’s literally twice the amount of work. “I would literally be pumping milk to put into a bottle to feed a hungry baby,” Megan said.
Fed up and frustrated with round the clock pumping, Megan resolved to make breastfeeding work. She started taking milk boosting supplements and began practicing with one baby at a time to get them to latch.
It took a lot of work and patience to get the nearly four month old babies back to the breast. Spencer told her “maybe you should just push through [worry, fear, “I can’ts].” “I was mad at him at first, wondering how he could think he knew something I didn’t. But later that day, when I felt I had a little space to try without a fear of failing in front of others, which was a giant obstacle for me in hindsight, I gave it another try and took Spencer’s advice. It was just me and my mom, and she made me feel safe more than anyone else in those early days. “So, I took a deep breath and just sort of forced Amos on my breast. To my absolute elation, after a few moments he latched then nursed to sleep. I was crying, my mom was crying, when my dad came home from running errands I’m pretty sure he cried too. It was a turning point for me that I absolutely needed in that moment.”
While Megan was continuing to work towards making the transition from bottle to breast Megan had a light bulb moment; “I was feeding Amos at 1 a.m. one morning and I was going to give him a bottle but I just felt something, I could swear that he was signaling he signaled to me with his eyes ‘I want you mommy, not the bottle.’’
When the twins were four months old Megan got great news from her lactation consultant. She was told they had received enough milk during their feed at the appointment and got the tentative ‘green light’ to exclusively breastfeed. But with a caveat — she had to keep a close eye on their weight gain, so the next step was to rent a scale and weigh them every 2-3 days to make sure they were being sustained from her breastmilk. After two more weeks, she was finally in the clear.
Find Your Village
One of the most important factors to being successful at breastfeeding after such a trying start was surrounding herself with supportive people. Megan’s parents lived with her and her husband for the first few months of the twins life. Megan reflected “I’m so appreciative of my parents for being there. I’m not sure I could have done it without them.”
Megan befriended another twin mom and had her come to the house. She would come over with her kids and Megan would watch her breastfeed! Seeing other women breastfeed was so important. “I would have been better equipped if I had been more exposed to other breastfeeding moms, if I could have just seen others do it. But we don’t really encourage that in our society, which made me pretty angry as I struggled,” Megan said. This sentiment is true across the board. Seeing other women breastfeeding normalizes it and its mothers’ confidence.
Set Small Goals
The path to continuing to breastfeed her twins was focused around small goals. Once Megan got the hang of nursing the twins individually she tried tandem nursing (nursing both at the same time). Being able to tandem nurse allowed Megan’s confidence to sky rocket.
She set small goals moving forward – make it to 6 months, make it to a year, let’s see how it goes at two years.
Around the twins second birthday Megan was starting to feel it was time to being weaning Amos and Hazel. She remarked “I was starting to feel ‘touched out.’”
In addition there were clothes and bras she hadn’t worn since before she was pregnant. Megan was ready to start setting some boundaries for the benefit of herself and her children.
The idea of a weaning party and weaning vacation were set in motion. The purpose was to prepare the twins for the transition and to honor and celebrate the breastfeeding journey Megan and her babies endured. For a few weeks prior to the weaning party Megan told Amos and Hazel a story. She told them that “mommy is giving her milkies to another mama to feed her baby.” The twins also picked out books from their book collection to gift to the other baby who would be receiving the milk.
Weaning her babies certainly came with mixed emotions. “I had really mixed emotions. I was scared about giving it up; the finality of it. But I also knew in my heart it was time for me.”
“The idea of time away was my husband’s idea,” Megan said. She thought of a week away with friends or doing something pampering, she felt like the world was her oyster in terms of her vacation options. “It was a little overwhelming to decide what to do, in fact!” “But I just kept coming back to nature and solitude – I have such a personal connection to camping and the outdoors, and I wanted to create my own intimate experience, without any restraints.
Again, there was a flood of emotions. “I had put a lot of thought into how I would transition my children, but not enough into what it meant for me. After someone brought that to my attention, I was flooded with emotions and realized I needed to celebrate all the hard work, because this has been one hell of a journey!”
Megan camped alone for the week but also met several people who became close companions while she was away. She had both solitude and community. Part of the week Megan created her own rituals for celebration and gratitude. She burned her nursing bra that first night. “I had a love hate relationship with it. I was actually wearing it because I had needed it earlier that day during the weaning party, for “last milkies” – it was so uncomfortable. I spontaneously took it off, sat with it in my lap and pondered all of the experiences I had with it – good and bad. Then tossed it into the fire and watched it burn. It was such a peace,” Megan said.
“On the final night I climbed up a rock that stood over the bank of a lake, bringing two objects with me. I held one as I said aloud all the negative experiences this journey has brought me and then released the object into the lake. Then I held onto the other object as I said all the positive feelings I’ve felt and released it into the lake. Lastly I put some of my breastmilk into the lake and said goodbye.”
Returning home was joyous and healing but not without a few stumbling blocks. “Amos asked for milkies right away. I told him mommy doesn’t have milkies any more ” and that was hard for him to hear. But each day has been a little easier for Megan and her children. “When they asked for milkies, I would offer snuggles and kisses instead. Pretty soon, they were asking for snuggles.”
“Before this and even during the vacation I don’t think I realized how burnt out I was, how exhausted. Since I’ve come back, I’ve felt so much more clear-headed and energized, more of a complete person. And the love that I gave to myself by making this trip has brought in more love for my whole family.” The trip and the rituals were an attempt to reconnect with who I was. Who of my past I wanted to bring forward into the future. It feels good to know myself again.”