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#DMVMomTribe Guest Post: How Kassandra Managed Breastfeeding While Recovering From a Post Birth Stroke

In honor of Breastfeeding Month and Black Breastfeeding Week at the end of the month, we’re sharing breastfeeding stories from our DMV Mom Tribe. Our first guest post comes from Kassandra P. Johnson, a mom of two, D.C. resident and D.C. public school teacher. Just 10 days after giving birth to her daughter, she faced a life altering medical emergency, which could’ve ended her breastfeeding journey before it even began. Read on for Kassandra’s birth and nursing story. With persistence and donated breastmilk from sister friends, Kassandra was able to successfully breastfeed for over a year, while recovering from a stroke.

“Whew, my baby girl is 18 months old now. Time flew! Aminah’s birth was surprising to say the least. I guess I slept through all my early labor. By the time I started timing my contractions at around 6:30 am, they were already consistently anywhere between two and three minutes apart. My husband was dropping our son off at daycare, and by the time he got back to me, we needed to go to the hospital. It was raining and it was morning rush hour. I really thought we we were not going to make it and she would be born in the car. We got to the hospital around 8:45 am. I thought, “Yes Lord, pain relief is on the way!” They asked me if I had  planned on a form of pain management. I said, “Epidural, epidural, epidural!” When they checked to see how dilated I was, the not so nice midwife said, “Well honey, you’re not gonna get it!” I was 10 cm and she could see my daughter’s hair . They broke my water and said it was time to push. I pushed 3 or 4 times, during which I said, “Why is it burning?! My vagina is on fire!” ? (I didn’t feel that with my son because I was medicated)! At 9:11 am, I brought my girl into the world!

Ten days later, I had a stroke due a brain tumor that I no idea was there. The morning after, I underwent brain surgery to remove to tumor, and thankfully, it was successful. Amazing nurses at GW Hospital made sure I was on a pumping schedule in the ICU. I am forever grateful to them. My family, sister friends, and husband all helped me pump in the hospital. I was on a lot of different medications, so I couldn’t actually give my pumped milk to my daughter or nurse her. During this time, my friend (and housemate at the time) Candace Essel gave her pumped milk to Aminah. Then my friend Alicia Leggett pumped and dropped off milk bags by the dozens to keep my daughter fed. During my 24 days at the hospital I had to pump and dump. Even when I went home, I had to wait until I was off certain meds and they were completely out of my system before I could nurse her safely. The first time I was able to that was one of the happiest moments in my life. I think it was the same day I was interviewed by The Washington Post. I still wasn’t producing enough to feed her on my own, so I was still heavily relying on Alicia’s milk. Eventually, I was able to build my supply up by pumping every 3 or so hours when I was not nursing. 

It never crossed my mind to not breastfeed my daughter. Even though I had a major traumatic medical event, I was still in FULL blown newborn mommy mode. Maybe it was hormones—I don’t know?! But, I remember one of my biggest concerns was how fast I could get off the medications that were preventing me from giving her my milk. I was just super committed and consistent, which I couldn’t have done without the help of the nurses and my ride or die community! They held me down. 

I never lost sight of breastfeeding my daughter for a year. That was just my goal from the beginning. For a split second, I thought, “Kass, if you make it til at least 6 months, you’ve done enough” (considering all the PT, OT, Speech therapy and more) during my recovery. But, I just kept pushing. I was so grateful that I didn’t lose the ability or give up on something that was really important to me. I weaned when she was a year and 2 weeks, same as my son. I wanted to go longer. I only stopped in order to receive Botox injections to help with the recovery of my hand and that was hard for me. I wanted to hold on to that special bond with her. 

My advice on anything mothering related is support, support, support. Sis, we were not meant to do any of this alone! You are a Queen, Goddess, a Bringer of Life! You are divine and that doesn’t get taken away because you need help—whether you breastfeed, exclusively pump, supplement or whatever.  Call on your sisters (blood, spiritual, or otherwise), your mama, your doula, your lactation consultant—whoever can help you, whether you time to rest, shower, eat, pump, etc. Yes, husbands, baby ‘fauvas,’ and partners too, but there’s something so comforting about  fellowshipping with another mama who has been or is going through these parts of the mothering journey too. Accept the help, and if it’s not offered, ask for it.  Sometimes you have to advocate for yourself. “

Follow Kassandra’s motherhued journey at @kassieklee.