Cheryl Donahue LCCE, IBCLC, MEd, HBB always knew she wanted ten children.
“Ten is a just a number I had in my head; a nice even number, a good manageable number,” she says.
Despite her doctor’s skepticism, Donahue became pregnant with her tenth child in her mid 40s.
An 18 year span separates her oldest and youngest children each with unique interests and personalities. Donahue’s eldest daughter is a maternity pediatric nurse; her eldest son a music teacher. She has a daughter who is an editor at a publishing company, a daughter working in psychology with autistic children, a son scheduled to graduate in May with multiple degrees, a college junior majoring in English, a sophomore at Dartmouth, a senior in high school deciding which college to attend, a sophomore in high school and a seventh grader.
Each of Donahue’s birth experiences are memorable and special, but laboring with her fifth left a lasting impression.
While she labored, Donahue remembers her doctor and husband chatting on the other side of the hospital room. The perceived distance empowered her with a sense of solitude.
“It gave me a feeling of true safety having been able to really internalize the experience,” she says. “I remember with the contractions that I was really able to go within myself and float over the contraction. I totally let my body relax moving along with the contractions. I was in perfect rhythm with them.”
In that aspect, it was a marvelous birth experience, she adds.
Donahue uses this visualization technique with her students now, similar to what Penny Simkin suggests in The Birth Partner: A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions.
Just as Donahue knew she would have ten children, she always knew she would breastfeed her babies.
Her mother had breastfed her back in the 50s even after the labor and delivery nurses called her “barbaric” for doing so.
A pleasant experience nursing her firstborn set precedent for Donahue’s subsequent breastfeeding journeys.
“I never really had any qualms going into it,” she says of breastfeeding her oldest daughter. “I just put her to breast and she took to it.”
Over and over though, Donahue endured mastitis.
“After the first time, I could sense it and it didn’t frighten me because I knew what it was.”
Donahue’s nursing relationships typically lasted about 18 months, until she became pregnant with the next child.
“The only reason I stopped was because of what the doctors said,” she says.
At the time, it was thought that breastfeeding could be detrimental to the developing fetus, however we now know that breastfeeding through pregnancy is safe unless a mother is at risk for premature labor.
Nursing her youngest child proved to be a bit different than the previous nine though.
“One day my husband said, are you going to stop any time? I gave him a look and he never asked again,” Donahue laughs, remembering the three years she breastfed this daughter.
“No one should influence how long you choose to breastfeed,” she comments.
Looking back on this part of her life, Donahue makes an interesting connection. Extreme sadness over her first-born’s departure to college mixed with the heavy postpartum emotions, often left her weeping while she nursed her youngest. This daughter now endures an anxiety disorder.
“They say depression hurts babies,” Donahue explains. “The pediatrician reassured it was nothing I had done, but I strongly feel that [my depression] had something to do with her anxiety disorder.”
Donahue is thankful for the surge in access to breastfeeding support today. The “overload of information” has brought light to the seriousness of postpartum depression (PPD).
“In America we don’t respect mothering the way we should,” she says. “Allow yourself to recognize if you’re feeling [depressed].”
As a preventative measure, Donahue’s volunteer work allows her to speak with mothers weekly on the phone for the first 12 weeks postpartum as part of Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital’s Parent Connection program.
“I still get Christmas cards from families I spoke with 13 years ago,” she says.
After the birth of her second child, Donahue began working with the WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program.
“It was something I could do to give back,” Donahue says.
“I love to teach and I love to teach this kind of thing,” she says. “It’s very joyful and very, very important.”
Meeting the needs of all of her children and balancing her professional work comes down to “pretty simple, basic stuff.”
“What I always said to each of my children every day is, ‘I love you no matter what you do. I will always love you. You can tell me anything and that’s not going to change that,’” Donahue says.
She equates what her children have become today, “kind, responsible adults”, to their early breastfeeding relationships.
“That closeness, the bond you establish right from the get-go is huge,” she says. “All of my children are very close to me and talk to me. [Breastfeeding is] where it starts, when they are so young and impressionable.”
Parenting ten children offers Donahue special wisdom to share with others.
“Be confident,” she advises. “Parents are their own experts of their own children. Let go of any sense of being judged and become confident in your instincts.”
The wealth of information available to parents today can make following instincts a difficult task, Donahue admits.
“Parents become unsure and are always questioning themselves,” she says. “It’s important to shut off all of the other stuff coming at you.”
Hoping to offer expecting parents a pleasant, joyful and less stressful transition into parenthood, Donahue and her colleagues created New Arrival Educators where they offer childbirth, breastfeeding, newborn care and infant CPR and safety classes to families in the Greater Boston Area.
To learn more, please visit http://newarrivaleducators.com/home.html.