The Breast Pump Lady
by Carole Arndt
It's funny how life turns out sometimes. We can plan things, but the universe seems to have another idea, especially when it comes to having children. I remember when I was pregnant with my daughter Miranda in 1986, I went to a "Babies in the '80s" baby fair in Vancouver. I saw the breast pump booth and remarked, "Who would ever use a breast pump? You should just breastfeed normally, much less work!" Mrs. Know-It-All, I was!
Fate intervened. I caught chicken pox from a co-worker when I was about 12 weeks along. I was assured it would cause no harm; I was lied to. Miranda was born full-term on November 2, 1986 and was gravely ill. She was mute, appeared to have a severe swallowing disorder, and had pneumonia. I would later learn that these symptoms, among other things, were caused by nervous system damage from congenital varicella syndrome. In the meantime, she was taken to the Special Care Nursery (now the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or "NICU") to be cared for. On the third day there, she had surgery to install a gastrostomy tube. After this, we were told that not only would she never eat orally, she might not even live.
I was determined to "breastfeed" despite the g-tube, but was told it would be impossible. I immediately thought of that breast pump display and searched for their card, but they wouldn't rent to someone on the Island. Instead I rented from Shoppers Drug Mart. I asked the pharmacist how to use it and he said, blushing, "Ask your doctor." I asked my doctor and she said, "Ask your midwife." I asked my midwife and she said, "Ask the La Leche League." I asked the lady on call and she said, sternly and to the point, "Use a hospital breast pump. Use it every two hours during the day and once at night for as long as you can." She didn't know of anyone who succeeded; not what I wanted to hear! I wanted a lady to come and tell me, "You can do this. Others have, so this what you do."
Well, I did do it—for two years! I used the pump like a real newborn would nurse and fed my daughter on a "breastfeeding" schedule, not a formula one. (This will be explained in the next column.)
When Miranda was three months old, her immune system was checked out by an immunologist in Vancouver. When her blood work came back, the immunologist said they had to test her again because her blood profile was all wrong. She said the tests revealed "off the scale" amounts of antibodies to varicella (chicken pox) in the blood, so it couldn't be my daughter's!
I immediately understood what was going on; I had just had chicken pox six months ago. I said, "You do know she breast milk-fed, don't you?" She asked how I did that. "Well," I answered, "I pump it out, and while it's still warm I put it down her tube." Then understanding, she explained that since Miranda was infected by varicella in utero, before she had an immune system, she wouldn't have any antibodies of her own. The only way she could've got them was through me by my breast milk. She then said, "Your blood will prove it because we can tell your antibodies from hers. You know you've probably saved her life!" Stunned, I asked, "So you can tell a breastfed baby from a formula-fed one by looking at their blood?" The immunologist said yes, one will have all the antibodies the mother has, the other won't. Formula babies have to make their own as they get exposed to things. It was at that moment I decided I must tell others about this, and that they too can "breastfeed" even if they can't nurse… The rest is history!
Carole Arndt is known as "The Breast Pump Lady". She is a mother of two living in Victoria and sells, rents Breast Pumps as well as advises new parents in need of this service. She can be reached at 250-812-7370.