When Dakora Robinson began caring for her dangerously ill husband, she had no idea she was pregnant with her first child.
July 5, 2011, Dakora’s husband, Ricky Green, went into the hospital for an “in-and-out procedure” but reacted badly to the medication. He suffered respiratory arrest–he stopped breathing–and slipped into a coma. The doctors and nurses performed a tracheotomy, enabling him to breath, and placed a feeding tube down his throat.
Understandably Dakora felt terribly stressed. Now, looking back at her experience, she says, ” It was crazy!”
Dakora stayed by Ricky’s side throughout his coma. When Ricky awoke a few days later, he couldn’t speak, walk or feed himself. But Dakora was there for him. Lovingly and patiently, she became his teacher, his nurse, his cheerleader–until gradually he was able to walk and talk again.
Ricky was in his 50s, Dakora in her early 30s.
Not long after Ricky had recovered, they learned that Dakora was pregnant. What a joyous moment! “Ricky grabbed me and hugged me!”
Dakora’s pregnancy went smoothly. But little did they know how difficult giving birth to Isaac and breastfeeding him would be.
Dakora and Ricky did everything they could to ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy birth. Dakora made sure she ate nutritious foods and enrolled in WIC at the Lynwood WIC Center in August 2011, when she was two months pregnant.
A few months later, Dakora became a Loving Support participant.
At several of our WIC centers, we enroll into the Loving Support program all African American pregnant women and first-time Latina pregnant women. They are encouraged to breastfeed and supported at every step along the way both before and after the baby is born. Loving Support supplements the breastfeeding peer counselor program at our WIC centers by providing each woman a personal breastfeeding peer counselor. The Loving Support breastfeeding peer counselors supply their participants extensive breastfeeding support by phone and in person.
Dakora was assigned to Andea Barnes. The first thing Andea did was to phone Dakora, and Ricky got on the line too. She learned that both were very interested in breastfeeding; they knew how valuable breastfeeding is. “It’s wonderful that Ricky is supportive,” Andea says. Later Dakora phoned Andea a number of times and so did Ricky.
Andea contacted Dakora numerous times prior to her delivery to see how she was doing and answer her breastfeeding questions. During that last month, Andea phoned her weekly, just as she does all her Loving Support participants.
Dakora and Ricky also attended breastfeeding classes at their WIC center.
Dakora never did go into labor. By early April 2012, the doctor became concerned: the baby was full-term, but Dakora wasn’t dilating. An unexpected C-Section was performed at St. Francis Medical Center.
Dakora gave birth to an 8 lb. 10 oz. baby boy, Isaac Green. He was everything Dakora and Ricky had hoped for– healthy and adorable.
But Dakora and Ricky were operating on “Plan A.” They had assumed the birth and the breastfeeding would go smoothly. “We didn’t have a ‘Plan B’,” says Dakora.
Dakora’s C-Section made her uncomfortable. From day one she had told her doctor she wanted skin-to-skin contact with her baby. But after the C-Section, this was difficult. Most importantly, breastfeeding was proving painful.
Things were not going well. Dakora was in tremendous pain, primarily because Isaac wasn’t latching on properly. Her large breasts made nursing more challenging, and the new baby wasn’t managing to nurse as well as she’d hoped. Breastfeeding often needs to be learned–by mom and by baby.
She thought that with larger breasts she should hold the baby in the “football position.” “But that wasn’t working,” Dakora says, “and I was in such pain.
“In the hospital–I guess my hormones were raging. The breastfeeding lady had her hand on my breast, my husband had his hand on my breast. Everybody was touching me. Everything was new to me. They were grabbing my baby. I thought ‘Please everybody,’ just leave me alone!'”
That first day, Ricky called Andea to tell her about Isaac’s birth. Two days later, worried, he called Andea again to tell her about the difficulties Dakora was experiencing.
Andea spoke to Dakora, encouraging her. She explained that the hospital’s lactation consultant was doing what was best for Dakora–trying to teach her about positioning the infant . “I told her it was better for the lactation consultant to help her, rather than me, because she was there in person. I also told Dakora I would always ‘be there for her,’ to support her through the process. Dakora’s breasts were hurting a lot, and she was afraid. I explained that the lactation consultant could help her to alleviate the pain. This calmed her.”
None the less, formula was prescribed because the baby had low blood sugar and because Dakora’s nipples were cracked and painfully sore. “When they started giving him Similac, I started crying,” Dakora says.
After a few days, her breasts became engorged, presenting another set of challenges. To relieve the engorgement, she used a manual breast pump. But this contributed to the sore, bleeding nipples. Andea encouraged her to use hand expression, which worked better. Andea told her to rub breastmilk on her nipples to help them heal faster, and told her about nipple cream and warm compresses.
To any new mother, the weekend can seem to last forever. And Andea and the other personal Loving Support peer counselors can’t be available all the time. Over the weekend, while Dakora was still in the hospital, another Loving Support breastfeeding peer counselor staffing our Breastfeeding Helpline phoned her to follow up. The helpline, staffed by breastfeeding peer counselors with advanced training, is available to all mothers with questions and concerns–during normal business hours, most evenings and some weekend hours.
Despite the pain, Dakora continued trying to breastfeed. When she, Ricky and Baby Isaac left the hospital several days later, Dakora was “combo feeding:” alternating bottle feeding with breastfeeding.
Back at home, Isaac was primarily bottle-fed the first week. But Dakora’s nipples were healing , and by the second week, she noticed some improvement. Ricky was very supportive. “Let’s try; let’s try,” he’d say. She’d try again every other day, her nipples starting to heal in between times.
“At home I was giving him a bottle, but it didn’t feel right. He didn’t like the Similac, and I couldn’t stand the smell!”
After they’d been home for two weeks, the family headed to the Lynwood WIC Center. Luckily for all of them, a breastfeeding class was about to start just as they arrived.
During the class, two breastfeeding peer counselors placed a pillow on Dakora’s lap and laid Isaac on top of it. When he latched on, Dakora’s breast didn’t hurt at all. “Where have you been all my life?” Dakora asked that day. They also showed her how to relax her entire body. “I came home, and I’ve been using that position ever since. It’s so easy now.”
Breastfeeding may be easy now. But even after she’d learned the new position, Dakora didn’t feel secure enough to drop the bottle feeding “cold turkey.” Andea reassured her that eventually she’d be able to breastfeed exclusively. She encouraged Dakora to omit one bottle at a time from the daily schedule. And by the time Isaac was one month old, he and Dakora were exclusively breastfeeding.
Throughout the six months of the Loving Support program, Dakora and Ricky welcomed Andea’s calls and reached out to her when they had questions.
January 4, 2013, Isaac turned nine months old. “It’s a joy watching him develop. Watching him try to walk. Holding onto the coffee table, the sofa. Watching him learn to do things. He calls Ricky ‘Da Da’ and me ‘Na Na.’ It’s a blessing I’ve been able to stay home with him.”
Dakora continues to breastfeed Isaac. Some women are comfortable nursing discretely in public, but she isn’t. Instead she plans ahead and nurses Isaac before taking him out in public . And they’ve noticed that breastfeeding affects Isaac’s mood. “It seems like the breastmilk is an ‘attitude fixer’. Once he gets his ‘mommy milk,’ he’ll start smiling and playing again like nothing happened.”
Dakora praises her husband: “He’s a big help. I’ll have Isaac for about two hours, then he’ll keep Isaac for about two hours. We have to switch duties so I can get things done! I don’t know what I would have done if Ricky had passed away at that hospital.”
And Dakora has praise for WIC: “I love everything. I utilize everything I need at WIC.” Besides taking advantage of Loving Support and the Breastfeeding Helpline, Dakora and Ricky have spoken with the breastfeeding peer counselor at their WIC center and attended breastfeeding classes there.
“They are a joy to work with,” says Andea. “Everyone at the Lynwood WIC Center says they’re wonderful. Ricky and Dakora are part of what makes their job a joy. They are receptive to information. They welcomed learning about nutrition and breastfeeding–even prenatally. They utilize all the WIC services.”
Even though Dakora considers the Lynwood WIC Center hers, she also attends occasional breastfeeding support group meetings at the Figueroa WIC Center when she knows Andea will be there.
Dakora’s Loving Support services were technically over when Isaac turned six months old. But Dakora continues to call Andea with questions of all kinds: questions about teething, mood changes, table foods. And Andea welcomes her calls. After all, they share an important bond.