Around the beginning of July, Mila had her two-month doctor appointment. I knew she had to get shots, which I was dreading as, I think, many parents do. I decided to read up on the vaccines she was supposed to receive and how to comfort her, and I came across several NIH studies explaining that breastfeeding during vaccinations is basically the best way to soothe a baby:
- Reducing the pain of childhood vaccination: an evidence-based clinical practice guideline
- Comparison of vaccination-related pain in infants who receive vapocoolant spray and breastfeeding during injection
- A comparative study on vaccination pain in the methods of massage therapy and mothers' breast feeding during injection of infants referring Navabsafavi Health Center in Isfahan
In an effort to comfort her, distract her, and ultimately ease her pain, I wanted to do this. So that morning, we went to the doctor’s office and, once we were in the room with the nurse, I asked her if I could feed Mila while she gets her shots. She said, “No, absolutely not. She can choke. You’ll be able to pick her up and comfort here in here as you need as soon as I give the shots.” Since I knew their policy was to allow parents to have the room briefly after shots for that purpose, I decided to accept her answer.
Her refusal to allow this should have been my first red flag. I should have listened to my intuition. I am not a medical professional, and I have no doubt that, sure, choking is possible. But I also think that NIH is a pretty reputable medical research organization, and if they have multiple studies saying that breastfeeding is basically the best way to comfort your child during their vaccinations, it seems to me that maybe they’re right. (And no where in these studies did it say “However, breastfeeding infants did choke.”)
But I let it slide. Something inside of me, probably a mixture of my lack of confidence and the nurse’s condescendingly bitchy tone, prevented me from rebutting. Who was I to disagree with a medical professional? Who was I to mention some studies I’d read? Surely I must be misguided. That thinking was my first mistake.
We held Mila’s hands while she gave her shots and she screamed in agonizing pain, as predicted. It was terrible. I think every parent knows that feeling. Ultimately you’re doing something to help them, but it’s terrible to see them cry. As soon as the nurse was finished, I sat down and proceeded to lift my shirt and unhook my bra to nurse Mila. My husband picked her up and was bringing her to me when the nurse says, “Oh, but you can’t do that in here. We only have two rooms open now and we need to get the next person in this room. You can nurse her in the lobby. People do it all the time."
In the midst of my daughter’s crying, my husband holding her and trying to pack up our diaper bag, my confusion…I just wanted to get out as quickly as possible. It didn’t occur to me until we got to the car and as I was nursing her there, that the whole situation was honestly really fucked up. She had originally told us we could use the room to comfort our child. She not only kicked us out of the room, but did so with no warning. So we had no time beforehand to at least prepare to leave; we had to pack up her belongings as she screamed, dressed in only her diaper.
It was also wrong of her to assume I would be comfortable nursing in the lobby. I have no problem doing that especially now, but it would have been my first time nursing in public, and I wasn't really anticipating having to do it then. As much as I advocate for normalizing public breastfeeding, doing it the first time publicly can feel a little bit like simultaneously feeding your child and putting a lifetime of bodily shame and embarrassment behind you.
I woke up a few nights later feeling really terrible about the whole situation, feeling like I had really let Mila down. I called the office shortly after and requested that a different nurse administer her shots for her next appointment, and they obliged.
I have always had a little bit of trouble standing up for myself; I have never wanted to create conflict or be viewed as difficult. That whole experience was a big moment for me, reminding me to always listen to my intuition, to speak up when I feel I have something to say, especially on behalf of my child. No one knows Mila better than me and I must always be her greatest advocate.