From Italy: I am Sara, but since four years, I am especially a mom. I said especially, do you know why? Because I devoted my body, soul and heart to my daughter Nicole, at times forgetting to be just Sara. It all began on March 6th, 2011 with a sweet home birth. I was with my partner Diego, the silence of the night, the candles, the singing of my grief, his strong arms that accompanied my body. How a beautiful settting of childbirth!
When I held Nicole in my arms for the first time, I felt that a special soul has arrived and has chosen us! Yes, she chose us because she is suffering from Down’s syndrome. Every time I think we did not know that, I am heartened because if we had known earlier we could never have given birth at home and follow a path full of love for her.
Breastfeeding was really so hard, like a climb to Everest. Once you get on top you can see the world from another perspective, you can discover and see things that you thought could not possible… Nicole was hypotonic and she struggled to suck. I had to wake her up every four hours to feed her. The milk didn’t arrive because I wasn’t enough stimulated and I used to take advantage while she was sleeping for pumping the milk. I remember I lost hours and hours of sleep. I spent six months not sleeping: two hours a day. I had an inexhaustible strength and power that came from inside but I felt frustrated, I felt like I was nothing, unable to feed my baby. I was lucky because our midwife Lisa helped us in these difficult moments with a thousand ideas, proposals and so much confidence. Our puerperium lasted three months, Lisa was always with us and I thank her for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, the milk didn’t come out not even with the breast pump. My nipples were so huge that stoppered the pump’s funnel and the milk could not be extracted. Therefore, I learnt to squeeze my nipples although it was difficult because of my ample bosom. Before having Nicole my nipples were tiny, now they became as real pacifiers adapting to the physiological needs of Nicole. The weeks went by and I was thinking only about how to feed that little bundle, full of hair, with black eyes that seemed to come from another planet.
One day our midwife Lisa proposed us to ways: the DAS (device for additional breastfeeding) or another mother breast milk. It was difficult to accept both proposals but I wanted to and I felt that even my little baby needed to latch to my breast, a skin contact, to smell her mom. The use of the additional breastfeeding device was a nightmare for me, even if it saved the lactation. I hated him and I loved him at the same time. It is a sort of bottle containing milk that can be put like a necklace. From the bottle come out some cannula that have to be fixed near the nipple with tape. In this way, the baby stimulate the breastfeeding by sucking while feeding with milk bottle. I tried so many times to insert my nipples and the cannula in the right way, but it was so difficult. Sometimes when I did on the first try, made me go “Yippee!” Slowly our breastfeeding was beginning. We were at the Everest base camp 2! At that time, I felt split in two. I had the strength of ten women because I had the goal of breastfeeding but, at the same time, I felt helpless because I had a child who had a syndrome of which I didn’t know anything and I felt scared. It all broke down when I decided to use another mother’s breast milk. Her milk, her emotions, her life, her taste. It wasn’t me, it was another. I felt like I robbed of my role as a mother, but at the same time my daughter had to eat to live and giving the formula was a huge defeat for me. Therefore, I poured the milk in the DAS.
I still remember the “glu glu” of my baby and hearing that my tears flowed like a waterfall. I didn’t know if I was doing the right, but I did it. I watched her latched to my breast and the cannula. Her lips moved and she decided to move also her little hand stroking my breasts: Nicole wanted to give me a gift. That was the moment when I discovered I almost arrived at the top. Often when I could sleep I preferred watching her, caressing her, talk to her… I told her words of love, I told her that she was a warrior, I told her mother made a promise and she would have kept it! Our love was inside a floating bubble but we became as one even though we hardly knew. I could feel her emotions inside my belly and I learnt to know her in her silence. It still happens that we communicate only with one look or one touch. This is insane and amazing! Every time I am astonished! We had to do something drastic because milk still did not arrive because of the fatigue accumulated during the months and psychological stress in thinking about all the things they tell you to do when your son suffers from Down’s syndrome.
We tried to delay as much as possible all examinations and blood test to avoid any Nicole’s trauma and because she was healthy! One night I turned to my partner: “Diego, can you help me? Can you try to suck?” It sounded as a joke, but we looked into each other’s faces and we understood it would worked. The midwife proposed it as a natural thing to do and very exciting for the couple. I still laugh when I think about it because when Diego latched on my breast, a lot of milk came out. I had the milk, it was in my breast, lots of milk! It was a rebirth for me! Now when mothers ask any advice or help, I will suggest them to make their partners suck milk. For many it is still a taboo, but I would scream to the entire world to do this immersive, deep and intimate experience, which creates a unique bond of love and confidence.
Nicole had 5/6 months when I finally began to breastfed her seriously. I still remember when I said goodbye to the DAS: it was like taking a boulder on my shoulders. It was our climbing backpack. I breastfed anywhere, just as she asked me, and I felt the most beautiful mother of the whole universe. The day in which my breasts were free of cannula, tape and breast-pump and there was only the little mouth of my daughter was the day I touched the sky. It was my peak. I was hers, all hers. I was and I am of Nicole.
Finally, we could look in each other’s eyes and it was like breastfeeding through those. So much love flowed through my breasts and my eyes until she was two, until she decided to stop in a natural way. We were ready to say goodbye to the breastfeeding and continue our way, hand in hand, to tackle other climbs, always together. – Sara.
-Chiara De Marchi is a regional photographer for ABB Project in Italy! To book a shoot with her, visit www.recordidefiabe.com