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By Dawna Mangrum, IBCLC, RLC
I was recently asked “what’s your favorite thing about being an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant ”. I have to admit, I was initially thrown off by the question.
My immediate thought...
All of it, duh!
But...a singular favorite thing? Hmmm….well…..
I do talk about tongue ties and oral restrictions a lot due to personal experiences. In fact, those experiences are largely what inspired me to become an #IBCLC.
I’m also passionate about the disparities in care and ways to increase access to comprehensive lactation support.
And there's the fact that I fiercely believe there needs to be better education and support starting way before the baby is even born so families can make well-informed decisions.
But I can’t say any of those are my favorite things about being an IBCLC-and just as I was musing this over, I glanced down at my forearm and saw the tattoo that I got to represent my own breastfeeding journey:
Moonflowers done in rainbow watercolors.
And that’s when it hit me! My favorite thing about being an IBCLC is something that doesn't quite have a name.
It's that amazing moment when a breastfeeding/chestfeeding parent hits the empowered realization that “I can do this!”
And this is that moment:.
You see, when my own milky baby, Charley, was born, breastfeeding was extremely challenging….and painful! In addition to recovering from a traumatic birth experience, I had to deal with cracked and bleeding nipples. Turns out my daughter had extreme oral restrictions and I had very little access to the comprehensive care and clinical breastfeeding support that only an IBCLC can offer. This meant I was left to my own devices as a single mom struggling with baby blues (and later PPD/PPA). My own intuition had to drive me through excruciating nursing with a baby that seemed to want the boob 23/7. I truly thought everyone had lied to me when they said breastfeeding wasn't painful. I told myself I would suffer through the pain of exclusive breastfeeding for 6 weeks before I threw in the towel.
I researched extensively.
I tried different latch techniques (#flipple latch ftw).
I nursed in modified positions.
And I celebrated each "milestone", like the time my nipple came out shaped like a tube of lipstick instead of flattened like a pancake.
I saw what few providers were available to me, with no improvement, and lamented my lack of options.
But.....at 5 weeks postpartum, I finally found someone who listened. I went to a #facebookmommytribe and trusted my gut to get to the root of our problems: her lip and tongue tie were truly problematic. After lots of self-advocating, I found a pediatric dentist who helped us change the course of our breastfeeding. My daughter's #frenectomy was the turning point and by my 6 weeks deadline we were latching pain free.
We would have never gotten there if it weren't for my persistence and intuition. For me, my breastfeeding relationship and how I navigated the issues to be successful defined who I was to be as a mother.
I felt empowered!
I didn't give in when the pediatrician dismissed my concerns.
I managed to hold off when I remembered the formula in the cabinet I had received as marketing (a different topic for another time).
I was able to stay the course when my own self doubts infiltrated my thoughts.
This isn't the reality for everyone though!
Truthfully, much of my resilience was not motivated by what was best for my baby. It was obviously a factor, but not my driving force. My motivation came from a sense of self-protection and a need to prove myself. Because I was already feeling a sense of loss from not having my perfect birth experience, I couldn't "fail" at breastfeeding too. My own internal pressure to breastfeed pushed me to succeed and gave me the wisdom to listen to my inner voice.
Now, I would never recommend that anyone navigate breastfeeding landmines the way I did, without a great IBCLC to support them. My path was unique and was leading me to a calling. The reality is, I would still have found this path to becoming an IBCLC had I had professional breastfeeding support...only without those 5 weeks of trauma. That "AHA!" moment of our first pain-free latch opened a whole new world for me. But I was succinctly aware that many families never reach that moment of empowerment, often leading to resentment and regret. This is where comprehensive lactation support comes into play. For many, the clinical support offered by an IBCLC can make all the difference in troubleshooting breastfeeding issues.
As IBCLCs, we're not superheroes. The parents are the superheroes with their babies as their sidekick. We're more like Batman's Lucius Fox: we can provide some of the tools to unlock their superpowers! This puts us in an amazing position where we can be present, and impactful, when families first realize they are empowered. And that moment of empowerment is amazing to witness. The relief that comes over a breastfeeding parent’s face when they ease the grimace they were preparing for, watching a baby’s shoulders relax into milk-drunkness after their first effective latch, these are the moments I love about my work.
I wish breastfeeding was this magical, natural moment for everyone right off the bat. That would be an ideal world and go a long way to helping prevent postpartum mood disorders. But secretly, I am thankful that families get to experience the sense of accomplishment that comes from weathering this storm. I believe most new parents have a defining moment where they go from feeling overwhelmed to empowered. This new confidence allows them to believe they are enough for their tiny human.
That moment was, quite literally, life changing for me. I clearly remember the latch that changed the course of my parenting. In fact, I remember that more clearly than our first latch after she was born. There are so many lessons to be learned from the journey to get to that point. For some, it's simply learning how to ask for help. For me, it was learning to trust my instincts and advocate for myself and my daughter. But it also taught me how to turn my trauma into something beneficial, leading me to a path where I attempt to help families find that same empowerment -- that AHA! moment.
When Charley was four months old, I memorialized our journey in a tattoo to serve as a daily reminder of the lessons we had learned. The moonflower is a night flower, requiring darkness to bloom. It is a symbol of growth after going through a challenging period in life. Little did I know, my favorite thing about working in lactation would be watching families bloom after their own breastfeeding challenges.
After YEARS of hustle as a single mom of a human and small business, I finally decided that parenting both babies alone was not in their respective best interest. If you know me you know I’m never getting personally-partnered again so that mostly rules out a coparent for the human child. While it’s a realization that has been years in the making, and one that I’ve tested via ruled-out approaches, I came to the conclusion that, the business-baby, Breastfeeding Housecalls needs a co-owner.
Yep. A CO-OWNER...
...but instead of casting a net, or bumbling around on business-matchmaking-sites, I put out a request that the same #BreastfeedingProvidence that helped me create this neat resource, would also make it exceptionally clear when my prayers were answered.
And these were my prayers:
First, that I would be given complete peace about co-parenting my business-baby.
And the next prayer had to do with who they would be (I mean, maybe a little like me?):
In order to keep the same “essence” of urgency that BH was founded on, whoever was brought to me needed to be intensely driven.
Overcoming adversity would need to be in their code.
Changing our community would need to be their ultimate determination.
And strangely, it would be nice if they felt the same stings I did—the type that stung enough for me to want to do something.
And...my dream business partner would have had to navigate past the unique mirages found in today’s professional lactation world, having come out thirsty-and grateful.
I very specifically asked that this person be of a lactation lineage like mine...of honed outpatient counseling skills gathered from #thebestprogramever (shout out to TexasWIC) as a breastfeeding peer counselor, and that they learn the hospital-setting just for a long-enough season to give them the feels, but not long enough to feel impotent.
I wanted a humble lineage...yet a lineage that was able to see opportunities for healing communities, instead of seeing themselves as the cure.
And somewhere into the second year of praying for this, someone like her made herself seen.
While I was worried about running out of emotional fuel for all of my babies, #BreastfeedingProvidence was lighting a fire under someone pretty amazing.
This chica knew her strengths. She positioned herself vulnerably in the same places I did. She saw (and felt) the cracks and peered through them to learn, with the resolve to heal and to fill them. She was driven, assertive, oblivious and wise. She was a walking #breastfeedinglifehack...a question-asker, an observer of moves and a taker of lessons...all with the end of supporting families in the same love and the same tone the I had been praying for...
As I got to know her, I saw that supporting parents in their journey wasn’t an impulse for her. It was a lifestyle- like it was for me.
I see in her who I was 10 years ago, and I see in me who she will be 10 years from now (the wisdom, not the grey-hair).
After having her on my radar for some time, I made my approach exactly one a year ago this week...
...it wasn’t the right time.
I mean, it was a kinda flimsy approach-I just planted a seed during a time she was leaving in to “go see the world” (aka, move permanently to Laredo to become a hospital-lactation consultant). I could’ve done more to keep her here, but she had growing to do...and I still had life to sort out.
If she was “mine”, she’d come back. If not-it wasn’t meant to be.
Plus, I mean, we needed a friendship. Her growing, my sorting and trust would need to somehow fall into gear—and I learned never to rush #BreastfeedingProvidence...especially because I depended on it to get her back here without me being who influenced her choice to return...
But, its interesting...how when you ask for things to happen in Perfect time the details just kinda just fall into place. 🧐🤔
Like during that one time we talked this last November. I vented to her about how busy things were in work and life, and she vented to me about a frustration I knew all too well: “I just don’t feel as impactful as I know I could be in the hospital setting.” she said.
And that’s when it dawned on me.
She had reached the last thing on my wish list:
that exact level of “hospital-wisdom“ that I wanted in a BH co-parent.
It was a realization that took me personally about 6 mo to arrive at; a humbling of sorts from feeling that you can change the whole world in numbers a little, but that you can changed the whole world for a family a lot when you can build a relationship with them.
And preserving breastfeeding relationships is what Breastfeeding Housecalls does best.
Maybe my sage-advice should’ve been “Hang in there and suck it up.” but instead it was a silent and possibly inviting “You know, Dawna...?” (💡)
And that, folks, is how #BreastfeedingProvidence plays itself out.
Both of us just had to be ready...
Beginning in February 2020, Dawna Mangrum, IBCLC, RLC, will begin investing her time and talents in the growth and eventual co-ownership of Breastfeeding Housecalls, LLC.
Please join me in welcoming her via hug, hand-shake, fist-bump or smile into San Antonio’s professional breastfeeding support community as a private-practice IBCLC and co-owner-in-training of
Breastfeeding Housecalls, LLC.
Thank you for having faith in this work, and for using your story to support other families.
Alex and I are blessed beyond measure to be able to call you and Charley our friends.