My little, middle sister just had her first baby. My first nephew. She turned 40 years old this year, 2020. She didn’t ask for my advice. She didn’t ask for anyone’s advice I imagine. I am not sure why. I finally told her it was irresponsible not to seek prenatal care. She cried. A friend once told me that she was the sister I should be worried about. I wasn’t. My mom scolded me for making her cry. That I was being too judgmental. I sent her insurance information via email as she wasn’t working. Maybe COVID swayed her decisions. Maybe not.
Her first doctor’s appointment was probably around 34-36 weeks gestation. She had high blood pressure and was admitted to Harper Hospital in Detroit. She texted me, “you were right, I have high blood pressure they are going to induce me.” After labor started and I called her, she starting asking for my advice. She was 5 hours away from delivery. She was finally a captive audience. Alone in a hospital about to have a preterm baby during the COVID pandemic. I taught an impromptu class on labor. I asked her how she planned to feed the baby. She told me she’d try breastfeeding. I told her that she needed to decide. Either she is going to breastfeed or not. She is gifted at being tough and stubborn, that is really all you need to get through labor (and breastfeeding). That night, she delivered a 5lb3oz baby boy. He was healthy. Her blood pressure returned to normal. I warned her about how she would be treated by the hospital staff. She knows. Maybe that is why she didn’t seek help earlier. Mom and baby were discharged 3 days later. Thomas she calls him. She did finally ask for my vote on a name. She texted “Thomas or Spencer?”. Thomas!!! was my response. Thomas, the tax collector who became a disciple of Jesus. Thomas, was also our great-grandfather. He came to Detroit as a Polish immigrant. He died when my grandmother was a child from TB and silicosis due to poor working conditions. His children went by the name Roble, instead of Wrobleski.
I don’t think my sister or anyone in my family really knew what I did for a living or why. She met an re-known, professionally recognized African American IBCLC, RN at Harper Hospital. My sister said, “She is great. She is helping me. Thomas is learning to breastfeed. She is just like you.” My sister never asked my advice, but she did see me struggle through the past 11 years of parenthood now with me well into my 40s. The loss of income and career has been the biggest struggle for me. I cried after hearing that I was great like this “GREAT” IBCLC. Going from having a financial security of my own making to one at which I was completely dependent on another. Going from being a health “professional” to just a parent. I am ashamed to say that tears run down my face every time I admit to this. I went from having a full-time job I was passionate about to being a stay-at-home mom dabbling here and there in the working world for encouragement. I did choose this. I asked my 2 week old son’s successful, business owning physical therapist if children benefit from a stay-at-home parent. I was working full-time still and would come home on my lunch break to breastfeed. Family helped me keep my job because we needed the great “government job” health insurance. The family help didn’t last, once I had a second, “healthy” child. I was pressured to stay home. My job wasn’t important. My husband worked. I am one of a privileged generation of women who did have a choice. My grandmothers and great-grandmothers didn’t have a choice. Pam, the therapist, answered somewhat defensively, he’ll do fine in daycare. I asked this same question to many of my mom’s generation of mothers, “working mothers”. I decided that I could always “work”. I could never get back this time with my small children. I choose to be a homemaker and full-time mom.
My sister never asked my advice. She did watch me. She watched me struggle feeding my first born. He spent the first 2 weeks of his life with a feeding tube. Due to a heart condition and/or cognitive impairment he didn’t show vigorous, instinctive feeding behaviors. She watched me pump and pump and pump. The rest of the day was skin to skin and attempting feeds through lots of tears. Those tears were both his and mine. I lived and worked in Ypsilanti, Michigan for public health encouraging working class parents to raise healthy and thriving kids. I remember a mother so mad at me. I told her breastfeeding was best. I wasn’t breastfed. Maybe I was being judgemental. It was just too emotional for me at that time. I spoke without being careful. I had to believe that, because I was putting so much energy at that moment into being successful. I didn’t know how to raise healthy or thriving kids. I did believe in what my colleagues said about breastfeeding and preventative health. I did believe what I saw when interacting with thousands of families on what to do and what NOT to do. I never met a family who didn’t love and strive to provide the best care for their children.
My kids are all in elementary school today. My youngest in kindergarten. I dropped them off this morning with masks and healthy lunches. I read to them 30 minutes last night. My eldest, read to me. I still don’t know if I know how to raise healthy, thriving children. I am still learning. My sister watched me. She watched me successfully breastfeed my firstborn (and second and third). She watched me quit my job so I could take him to every medical appointment, therapy session, attend every IEP meeting and constantly advocate for him. And really he is not my high-need child. I was there when he got on the bus in the morning to when he arrived home. It is 2020. Our life didn’t change at home much since the pandemic started. Although we were stressed as my husband lost his job and spent 2 months full-time trying to find a comparable one. A job a one-income family could live on. I made the choice to stay home. I think a lot about the money I am not being paid, the insurance and benefits I don’t have. The retirement pension I would’ve been eligible for next year. Yet, I think also about the trials I would be going through if I had continued working full-time. My kids didn’t return to school last week behind. My eldest can talk, read, and ride a 2 wheeled bicycle. We live in rural Michigan now, working from home and remote, online learning isn’t even an option here. I am lucky to make a successful phone call. They won’t install a land-line and we live in a wireless desert. I received paper work packets once a week from their teachers. We worked through them together. I miss their presence. So, I called my sister today. I told her that I will check in on her daily regarding breastfeeding because that is what I do with my clients. We can take one day at a time together. Thomas and her are doing great. She is so happy being a mom. She told the hospital IBCLC that I would be her breastfeeding “coach”. That is quite a privilege, to be sure.