A Formula Rep turned my Maternity Leave Injury into a new career as an IBCLC? Really?
My contribution to this fabulous Carnival of Maternity Leave , is a story of how during my maternity leave, an injury occurred leading to a career change specializing in Lactation… ! It starts with the birth of my third and last baby…… A girl….. (after 2 boys) was also born by C-Section.. a first for me.
Well– first, let me back up a few years… I’ve had a potpourri of maternity leaves. I have been a Maternity/L&D/Nursery since the mid 70’s. I always worked full time and had never entertained thoughts of staying home with my children once they were born because the USA didn’t assist in providing any type of viable option for families who rely on two incomes or single moms with one income. Prior to FMLA, maternity leave was pretty much up to the employer as far as I understand it. The USA doesn’t offer any paid leave (unless offered by individual employer). For my first baby in 1979- I took 7 .5 weeks and went to a weekend 12 hr shift job which at least allowed me 5 days each week with him.
When my next baby was born in 1985, I worked at the same facility I am now. We were allowed to save up ALL Vacation, Holiday, and Sick time to be used collectively with your hospital allowed 12 weeks off. I was able to have 5 1/2 months total, partially paid time to be with my new baby. Since he had to have surgery at 3 months, I needed that time and could have used more.. My leave was actually supposed to end on Christmas day (YUK).. however, they graciously allowed me to come back on the 26th… also his first day in Day Care. 😦
So back to my third baby in 1988~I had had a C/S — (that’s another story). I had to be hospitalized for 10 days after the surgery with a whopping infection. A fresh incision and chills with a temp of 103.8 do not go well together! [Nurse Curse] Anyway, I made it thru–> healed and returned to life as a mother of three. The same type of collective accumulated paid hours were allowed withthe hospital’s offered 12 weeks. I didn’t have as many hours saved up as last time but was hoping for the best length of time. One day in church, I held my little 2 month old baby girl on my shoulder with one hand, while using the other to hold the hand of my active 3 yr old boy as we made our way down the aisle. Suddenly, my boy squealed with delight and whipped over in a different direction. I held my daughter and did a sudden twist and reach for my son as he squirmed away. I immediately felt something “give” in my back.
It took a few days for me to feel the true extent of the injury. I thought it was just a little pulled muscle. After a 5 hour drive to my sister’s for a family visit, I ended up writhing on the floor with the unstoppable intractable “fire hot poker” pain of full blown sciatica…. all down my right side. I had to go to the hospital ER away from home, unfamiliar doctors, for help and drugs! Boy, I needed relief. As explained to me by the doctors… this was not the same as sciatica from many other causes. This was a swollen inflamed sciatic nerve… we didn’t know why yet. The only thing helping at that point was medication and ice.. a lot of ice. I still insisted they give me meds I could take while breastfeeding, so they weren’t too strong.
I got home, went thru an MRI and diagnostic process, different doc’s, different opinions. I had a disc “blow-out” with”free extruded disc fragments” at L5-S1. Some felt surgery was needed immediately, others said to wait. After careful consideration, we decided to wait and do some conservative type treatments with oral and epidural steroids. I still had to heal well enough to work, though. I spent many nights crying and wondering HOW I could work ??? How could I go and be on duty…running all over to keep up with the pace, helping people thrulabor and delivery…respond to emergencies…how?? I could barely care for my family! I called many friends while I was on periods of bed-rest and had various treatments during the time I had left of maternity leave. (I eventually did have to extend the leave a couple weeks for more recovery. I ended up witha 5 month leave altogether). I was searching for ideas.. visions of something less physically taxing which could combine my knowledge of labor/delivery/postpartum and neonatal care….. and allow me to continue working. I was, after all, the major bread-winner in our family!
Finally, a friend came up with an idea. He was actually a formula and drug rep for Ross labs.. TRUE!! But he was a friend, had heard I was hurt and stopped by the house to see how I was. He was a rep to many hospitals in the NorthEast and had exposure to what else was going on– what other hospitals were doing. This was 1988, only a few years after the emergence of the Lactation Consultant profession. I had never heard of it. Sometimes word traveled slowly (by pony express) and things changed slowly in my little neck of the woods. He encouraged me to check it out and gave me phone numbers of LC’s at some of his other hospitals. I was really excited! I called a few and found out more about the lactation profession and the relatively new Board exam given every year in July to gain the credential of IBCLC. I was actually naiveenough to think I could take the exam with my current knowledge base! HA! (Unfortunately, this is what many nurses with a little experience think…we think we already know it all! Ha!)
I called one of the LC’s at a hospital not too far from me. We talked a while and I had my eyes opened as to the extensive and vast knowledge base needed to become a lactation professional. I launched a quest for the best way to gain this knowledge. I joined LLL and went to meetings. I made home visits with the local LLL leader. I wrote many letters, made many phone calls searching for some type of education program. (remember– no Internet back then!)
Finally I found the perfect program for me. There was a correspondence course offered to be done all through the mail and phone calls designed to be an 18 month course. It was a Lactation Consultant Course offered by BSC Breastfeeding Support Consultants! (the link shown is for their current course) Back then, you could be called a Certified Lactation Consultant after completing the clinical practicum and final exam. Because of continued back problems, I started this course in early 1989, had to take a few months leave from the course and completed it in early 1991. I then went on to continue studying and sat for the IBLCE exam in 1993 earning my IBCLC status!
I have always continued to work as a staff nurse. I found a corset style back brace and found the best balance possible between family, back pain, work and more pain. I was able to get the pain subdued with steroids to carry on with life. In 1992, during a particularly gruesome relapse, I eventually consented to a myleogram… something I had previously NOT wanted. They also did a CT scan while the dye was in place. These tests showed my right Sciatic nerve had been pushed way up out of place by the disc material. I consented to surgery by a fabulous neurosurgeon the very next day. It turns out, the disc was actually adhered to my sciatic nerve!! He had to meticulously excise it off the nerve!! My post-op pain was minimal compared to the pain I had before surgery. I was able to go back to full duty in 8 weeks!
Over 20 years later, I am still working as a staff nurse and am now a CLC… Certified Lactation Counselor. Becoming a breastfeeding professional has enhanced and fortified my life! I am immensely happy I have gone down this road. To think it all came about as a suggestion from a Formula Rep!?!?!