"Birth is a rite of passage of women. Their journey should be honored, their rights should be fiercely protected and their stories should be shared" - Marcie Macari
The Breastfeeding Chronicles: Nursing After Breast CancerPosted: 09/05/2013 9:31 am EDT
Karey was diagnosed with breast cancer when her first baby, a girl, was just 7 months old. In this installment of The Breastfeeding Chronicles, the 31-year-old stay-at-home mom talks about what it was like to be treated for breast cancer right after having a baby, and how she managed to nurse her second child, now 10-months-old, with one breast.
I had just finished pumping for my daughter when I discovered a lump. I'd had major supply issues -- at one point, I was seeing a lactation consultant every week -- but because there wasn't enough milk, my daughter basically refused to breastfeed. Neither of us enjoyed it -- she screamed every time I put her to the breast. So ultimately, I just pumped for her, and she nursed, maybe, once a night. We also supplemented with formula.
We just assumed the lump was a clogged milk duct, so I went in to have it drained, but they discovered it was actually solid. At that point, I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. I was never properly staged, but it was very large and fast-growing.
My first thought was basically, "My husband and I are not done having babies yet!" But there was basically a 50-50 chance that chemo would send me into menopause. So the first thing we did was fertility preservation. I went through IVF without the actual implementation -- they harvested my eggs and my husband and I created embryos. It all went very fast -- I was diagnosed February 23 and I started chemo on March 23. They managed to squeeze in fertility preservation within that one cycle. I was very lucky in that sense.
I did chemo every other week over about four months. My doctors and I had discussed the possibility of just a lumpectomy [in which only a part of the breast is removed], but I had an MRI done, and there was still some cancer left. At that point, it wasn't up for discussion. I was having a mastectomy.
Because of where the cancer was located, and because it was only in one breast (and had responded so well to chemo), I had a single mastectomy. It was skin- and nipple-sparing, so they basically just removed the internal breast tissue. They watched and tested everything, but at that point, I was declared cancer free. "No evidence of disease," they say.
A Miraculous 'Oops'
After I finished recovering from surgery, I had radiation, which was about a month long. It ended a week before I turned 30. At that point, I had just barely gotten my period back, but my cycle hadn't regulated itself. My doctors wanted me to wait two years to get pregnant again, but we failed to use contraception one night and discovered in February that lo and behold, I was pregnant! It was a big "oops." A miraculous one, but an "oops" all the same.
I felt scared, happy and a little bit guilty. I'm a good student [laughs] so to disobey doctor's orders ... I kind of thought, "They're going to be mad at me! I'm going to be in trouble!" But I also knew that there was no inherent health risk for me to be pregnant because of the type of cancer I had. We didn't actually know what my body was going to do, and if it was going to be able to carry a baby at that point -- it had just been through this huge trauma. I also thought, "Oh my gosh, I could still have radiation poisoning!" But I saw my oncologist, and my OB who immediately got on the phone with a specialist, and they said they weren't concerned at all -- the only concern they would have had was for chemo, and I'd done that so long ago.
There's also a lot of talk about mother's intuition, and somehow, I just knew the pregnancy was going to result in a healthy baby. It was a relatively easy pregnancy. I had a vaginal birth ... everything just went pretty great!
Throughout the whole pregnancy, I thought about breastfeeding. I wanted to know what I could do to prepare. I knew women have two breasts, and I personally knew a few women who -- although they had two functioning breasts -- had children who favored one side, so they exclusively breastfed on that one side. So, I knew it was possible.
What we didn't know going in was if I was going to have supply issues again. Ultimately, we guessed that the cancer was probably why I'd had such problems the first time -- my body probably couldn't try and fight the cancer, have the cancer growing and produce milk at the same time.
But I was very nervous. I took the fact that I couldn't breastfeed my daughter as a huge failure. All I'd been hearing everywhere was, "Breastfeeding's natural; your body's meant to do it!" And I just thought, "Well, my body failed me. And it failed my daughter."
On top of that, my body failed me again by giving me cancer. So it was almost like, if I could breastfeed my son, it'd mean I'd conquered cancer.
My son latched right away -- I had some pretty serious cracking and I got to the point, about two weeks in, where I was in toe-curling pain -- but because I was so determined, and I was just going to suck it up. He was Going. To. Breastfeed [laughs].
When I was going through chemo, radiation and surgery my philosophy was, "I'm not going to suffer. If there's a pill I can take that's going to help me feel better, and get through this, I'm going to take it." I had no problem taking pain meds. But with breastfeeding, obviously, you're very limited with what you can take or do to overcome the initial pains. So it was a lot more of a mental game for me.
It was hard and painful for about three weeks. But it really has been a breeze since then.
The breast that underwent the mastectomy does not produce milk. There was some residual breast tissue, so I did experience some breast changes throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. That was hard, and I definitely had some panicked moments of, "Oh my god, what's happening?! Do I need to go see my oncologist? Is this cancer?" But when I went in and saw the doctors, they said it was fine.
Because I got pregnant so fast after finishing treatment, I didn't actually finish reconstruction. So I only had what's called an "expander" on my mastectomy side, which basically is like a rock. It's not shaped well and it's not placed great, because its entire purpose is to stretch out skin and muscle. So from a vanity perspective, it's horrendous [laughs]. I have one big, breastfeeding, melon-sized breast, and a big huge rock on the other side.
I'm still breastfeeding my son -- he's 10 months. I'm aiming for a year. My doctors would like for me to have a scan again, and I haven't been able to have one since finishing treatment. They're not rushing me, but they are ready. Plus, in the course of chasing after a toddler and a 10-month-old, my expander popped, so now I'm really a mess [laughs]. I'd like to finish up the reconstruction.
But if it's really emotionally traumatic for either of us, I'm not going to push it either.
The connection of breastfeeding has been amazing. He wants me, he wants to be close to me, he wants to gaze into my eyes [laughs]. I didn't really get that with my daughter that much, so it's been really sweet to have that close relationship.
But while I think it's so important, I think society sometimes guilt-trips women about it, and the support's still not there. We all just do what we can do!
Secrets for Easing Labor PainBy Ginger Garner  on July 15, 2013
Studies have, for a long time, shown that deep breathing, mental imagery, deep massage or acupressure, and the presence of a constant companion or coach during labor can ease labor pains, making the miracle of birth more, well, enjoyable.
During the birth of all three of my sons, all three vastly different, I used all of these methods for pain management during labor. But my secret for pain management was... music.
Music has the power to take everyday moments in life and make them sacred. Music allows your mind to retrieve and feel with the same intensity experiences that happened two months or even two decades ago. Music harnesses tremendous power. But how can it help with labor pains?
The Magic Pain Soother
Perinatal Nursing supports that music can be an effective means for managing both pain and stress during labor. Using music during childbirth, in a 2000 study , shows the planned use of music by mothers during labor has a significant effect on their perception of pain (Browning 2000).
Another second study in 2000 revealed perinatal physicians, nurses, and caregivers became more relaxed, slowed their activities, and demonstrated increased respect for laboring mothers when music was used (Difranco 1998). Music was also found in a (Wiand 1997 ) study, when combined with progressive relaxation, to be more effective in inducing relaxation in laboring mothers.
In the months before each of my sons were born, I started creating my “Birth Soundtrack.” When the big day came, wafting from my labor room like a sweet breeze, were sounds of "designer music" from my birth playlist.
Sounds that both soothed and motivated me to work diligently and gracefully toward delivering my sons into this world. To make my playlists, I scoured my music library and uploaded artists sounding out from across centuries of music... from Mozart's Serenade for Winds to Sam Cooke's That's Where It's At.
What is Designer Music?
In the field of music therapy, "designer music" is defined as music that is selected to have a specific effect on the listener. It is proven more effective than listening to just any music. I use music and sound as therapy as an educator in integrative medicine and physical therapy. I craft and use designer music in private and group therapy sessions, and in community-based classes which integrate yoga and Pilates for therapeutic benefit. As a musician, sometimes I even use my voice as therapy, speaking and singing for therapeutic benefit during sessions.
But guess what? You don’t need special training. With a few tips listed below, you can design your own music, too.
Designing Your Birth Soundtrack
Here are a few guidelines for expectant mothers and other patients who want to use music for pain or stress relief:
Certain instruments and genres of music are better suited to promote relaxation and a sense of well being.
The ancient medical systems of Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine have identified instruments which are best suited to different emotional states and physical needs. However, experts in the field of music therapy agree that the most important aspect of using music as medicine is pleasing the ear of the listener.
Make a playlist
Make a playlist for your smart phone or mp3 player, or download music onto a USB memory stick that you can plug into your car.
Name Your Playlist(s).
You may choose to create different playlists. With each birth, I get increasingly more "complex" and detailed with my playlists. By the third birth I had 4 different playlists:
Buy the appropriate sound/stereo set up.
These days this can mean just carrying your smartphone to the birth facility. Relying on just your smartphone or iPad speakers may not be enough to fill the space of your labor room. Since we wanted the best sound, we bought a tiny set of speakers for $30 or so, to connect to (at the time) our iPod. Since I was "busy" during labor, my husband took care of music setup. In fact, it was the first thing he did when we got settled into our room. Of course, if you are home birther, no transport is necessary, just plug in and play!
I used music throughout the entire labor. When it came time to delivery, my husband made sure (we pre-planned this) that a continuous play of meditative, calm solo piano music flowed low and quiet so I could hear my baby’s first cries. I can attest that in my first birth the music helped to calm and attune everyone including the medical staff. During my last birth, my son was born to the soothing sounds of Native American music, part of my heritage.
If You Don't Prefer Music, No Worries
If you prefer silence during labor music and sound therapy can still help you manage pain. Nada Yoga, or the yoga of sound, teaches chanting and vocal toning as a way to ease pain and suffering.
Sighing the sound “mmm” with the mouth closed on your exhale, during contractions, has been found to be balancing, harmonizing, and integrating to the nervous system: lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and assisting in pain relief. In yoga, it is the most subtle and most powerful of toning sounds.
Music Brings Consciousness Forward
Anecdotally, music was just as important to me as having a companion at my side. Although I would not trade my incredible midwife, husband (who acted as coach/doula), and nursing staff for anything, music made my birth experiences more memorable, enjoyable, and now years later - music has created a permanent recall of those emotions I felt right after giving birth. It allows me to recapture that intense feeling of blissful joy that I felt right after giving birth - when I met each of my sons for the first time. That, perhaps, is the best reason of all to use music during labor.
But more than just for laboring women, everyone can benefit from using music prior to, during, or after medical care. Scientific sources supporting therapeutic benefit of music are numerous and have been proven in children, open heart surgery patients, cancer patients, pre-operative patients, women waiting on surgical procedures, or testing (such as a mammography), just to name a few.
Take advantage of the instant healing effects of music. Experiment with how different instruments and genres of music create different moods and physical states in your body. Music is not just something to listen to... but to heal and heighten your enjoyment of life.
*Photo of author singing to her firstborn son