21 February 2009

Spilling Oxytocin

Years ago, even before LPN school, I spent a summer working the night shift in the Neonatal Nursery at Kalispell Regional Medical Center. It was one of those banner years, when everyone seemed to be in labor. We helped deliver dozens of unexpected babies. Moms on vacation from places like Texas, New York, California, British Columbia, (and even one from Germany) were delivering babies in Kalispell, Montana.

We were filled to capacity. Our nursery was designed for 13 well babies and 4 NICU babies. All of our beds were full. We were medevacing women to Libby, Missoula, and Spokane. And it wasn't just well babies that were coming in record numbers. Even with the 4 NICUs, we had to send sick babies to Salt Lake City and Seattle. (We had one born 21 weeks gestation, and another whose mom presented placentae abruptio.)

I mean we were busy, with a capital B. We even had contracted, Traveling Nurses from Quebec and New Zealand to help staff the NICUs.

Consider this a preface, a mural, a backdrop to what I'm dying to tell you. For like 14 weeks straight, there were babies everywhere; Nurses rushing from room to room; Women screaming; Docs, midwives, tribal elders all talking at once. Patients and family speaking Blackfeet, Crow, English, French, and German - medical jargon, pleas, profanity, yelps of joy...everyone in blue scrubs and blue paper shoes.

And in the nursery, wee babies. Bundles of love who had no clue what mayhem their arrivals wrought.

As with most hospitals, our policy regarding post-surgical, bottle-feeding moms (C-sections, tubal ligations) was to let them sleep that first night. When it gets down to it, back then, unless mom specifically asked that she be wakened to feed her baby, we pretty much let her sleep the night through, anyway.

It was the nursery staff who feed their babies. Me. I got to feed their babies.

I worked the 11 to 7 shift. And I spent a good half of it with a bottle in my hand, cuddling babies to my breast. I spilled so much oxytocin, I'm surprised I didn't start producing milk. The sensation of letting-down was certainly there. I called it phantom at the time, but actually, the reflex was real. There just wasn't any milk to secrete.

Every morning I came home to my husband, yearning for these babies. And when each of them went home with their mothers, I grieved.


Patia said...

Wonderful story ... and picture.

studio lolo said...

I think you would have been a fabulous mom.

I have to say that I'm okay with not having children even though I remember feeling the finality of never being able to give birth after my hysterectomy.
I don't get mushy over babies.
Puppies and kittens, yes.
I think I convinced myself (after five miscarriages and cancer)that babies were overrated.
Whatever gets you through, right?

This was beautiful ;)

DragonTat2 said...

You know where I found this... lucky me! Now it's gone. Put it back... after editing. ;)
Great story. I remember the feeling. I also remember several times being drenched with my own milk at the sound of crying babies. Made me cry a time or two.
Awesome hat, btw.

INDIGENE said...

An amazing life story! I love the jewel tones and the little peek of nipple! Beautiful image.

fredwrite said...

My sister's eighth and youngest child is a grown man living and working in China, but she still lets down milk after all these years. Doctor says it's a habit her body can't stop. She told us this after my girlfriend started lactating for no apparent reason. Her doctor wanted an MRI, suspecting tumor on the pituitary. Tessa got online and figured out it was the Reglan she was taking for nausea. Seems Reglan suppresses dopamine which suppresses dopamine which suppresses prolactin. Take away too much dopamine and you've got milk, Baby. Which sort of explains why she developed depression all of a sudden. She discontinued the Reglan and the milk and the depression both went away.

kslaughter said...

This is a such a lovely, tender illustration---yet so contemporary. I love everything about it and your story just makes it almost an iconic thing. Thanks so much for sharing~~

artandsoul said...

Gorgeous! Love the picture, love the story!

You're very awesome.

Anonymous said...

Cool. I was surprised (and not) when there was all the hubbub last week about Selma Hayec breastfeeding a baby that wasn't hers.

soulbrush said...

what a magnificent piece of work.

Kevin McGinty said...

Good story catnapping. Thanks for sharing it with us...

Renee said...

That cannot be easy.

Not easy to love children, to want children, to take care of children, to let them go.

Thank you and all the nurses everywhere who help young Moms.

Love Renee

studio lolo said...

I've thought about what I wrote and I just want to say that I love children, I really do. I just can't fall apart because I never had any.
Does that make sense?

I think what you and all the other nurses did (and continue to do) is amazing and loving work.
Touch is so important to babies. To all of us.

Catnapping said...

Thank you all. I wanted to say something that I've said before, but it bears repeating:

In these last decades since menarche, the only times it didn't suck to be female was when I was in bed with a man who knew what the hell he was doing, and when I was breast-feeding.

fred: it's amazing what can interfere with our bodies' hormones. what a mess that had to be for your sister. i'm glad she found the problem.

lucky for me, no milk was produced...just a lot of bonding and milk ducts squeezing...

DT2: it went ignored for over an hour, so there didn't seem to be much sense in leaving it there.

god, i remember those days of wet blouses. those stupid store-bought pads were useless!

bookbabie: i loved that she did that. it served as a reminder that all children used to be loved by the entire community...reared by the entire community.

when i was breast-feeding my daughter, i fed my next-door neighbor's child once...it was a stop gap thing. she was late getting home, and he was hungry and very angry. her husband didn't know what to do, so i put a nipple in his mouth (the son's not the dad's, heeee).

studio: i'm sorry for those losses. as to baby making...i think we're making too many. we're overtaxing the planet...and our own social and economical systems...we weren't intended to live in these crowds...we're not wired that way. and most, if not all, of our planet's pollution and resource problems would disappear if there weren't so many of us using her like some dishrag. (yikes, i feel a rant coming on!)

my illustration was done digitally, after a sketch i made of me in a paper hat and scrubs...but as i drew it out with my mouse, i got a bit fanciful.

i'm glad you folks liked my story and the illo. thank you.

Renee said...

Hello doll: yes that picture was a photograph and as you know my story, I have no idea where I got it.


merlinprincesse said...

AH! What else could be said..... Love the story and the illo..... :) Nurses from Quebec? And New-Zealand? How cool is that! Hhehehehe :)