Rochelle Howard overcame many obstacles as soon as her first child was born. Intubated and separated from her baby, her supply dwindled as she fought for her health. She eventually managed to relactate with our Breeze and with the support of our Lead IBCLC, Renee. She bravely shares her story with us here.
On August 13th, 2021, when I was 38 weeks pregnant, I tested positive for COVID. I was already experiencing exhaustion and loss of appetite, so I attributed the symptoms to pregnancy instead. At the time, I thought my COVID symptoms were mild, being just a sore throat, slight fever, and a bit of a cough. Nine days later, on August 22nd, the baby wasn’t moving as often as he normally did, and I was having difficulty breathing. We knew it was time to go to the hospital. When we arrived, I was too weak to walk inside. My husband checked me in but had to leave per hospital ER rules. He waited in the parking lot while they ran tests, did a chest x-ray, and ran a non-stress test on the baby.
After several hours they decided to induce because the baby wasn’t responding as they wanted. They moved me to labor and delivery while my husband waited in the parking lot. We were both fearful he’d miss our first child’s birth. After six hours, he was finally allowed to join me. Since I had COVID, neither of us was allowed to leave the hospital room. On August 22nd they started the induction process but by Monday the 23rd, my doctor decided on a C-section because of complications. Our son was born at 1:19 pm. I was able to hold him for a short time, but was still weak and very “out of it”. Sadly, I don’t remember a lot of his birth and days prior.
For the next few days my husband, son, and I remained in the hospital while I continued to decline. I saw a respiratory therapist, a pulmonologist, and several other doctors. I progressed from occasionally using an oxygen mask to being on high flow oxygen and my condition was worsening. I was taken by ambulance to St. Louis where I received the last dose of Actemra. My husband and I said our goodbyes before I was transferred. This was one of the hardest moments knowing they would be going home without me and I would be alone in the hospital with an uncertain future. I was heartbroken and scared.
I arrived at the hospital in St. Louis on Thursday, August 26th. I was transferred to ICU, intubated, and placed on a ventilator on Saturday, August 28th with only 10% lung function. I have no memory of the time. Amazingly, I was only on the ventilator for four days, which is a miracle! I had a long road ahead. I came off the ventilator on Tuesday, August 31st, and was put back on oxygen through a nasal cannula. By Friday I moved to a transitional room where my husband and mom were able to visit.
Going home was my motivation the whole time because I had already missed my baby’s first week and a half. I am sure the nurses got tired of hearing about how I “just want to go home and see my baby”. On Friday I told my mom and husband “I am going home tomorrow”. Both brushed it off a little and said there was a chance I would be there a few more days. I think I asked every nurse and doctor if they thought I would go home the next day. It was difficult, but I walked around the room to build up my strength because passing a walking test was mandatory before release.
My mom was with me on Saturday, September 4th. To our surprise, I was able to take my cannula off! The therapist came to do the walking test and I passed! I didn’t even need to be sent home with oxygen. I was finally released after 14 days of being in the hospital. I still had more recovery ahead, but I was so happy to be alive and home with my son and my husband.
COVID took so much from me. It took the labor experience I wanted from me. It took being there for my son’s first week and a half at home from me. It took the breastfeeding experience I had longed for from me as well. Although we did latch after my son was born, I was so sick it just didn’t end up working out. I had planned to pump to keep my supply until I was able to return home with my son. Well, of course when I was on a ventilator and sedated, I couldn’t do that. I was so sick a few days before and after that, it ended up being over a week without pumping or nursing.
There was a wonderful nurse (I wish I could remember her name!) who took the time to help me as she had breastfed and pumped for several of her own children. I remember being SO excited to learn that relactation was a thing and I was determined to try to build my supply back. I was getting less than 1/2 oz a day pumping my last few days in the hospital and the nursing staff kept that tiny amount on ice until my husband could drive the 1.5 hours to pick up the few “drops” of milk for our son. Everyone was so patient and caring with me, knowing it was important for me to give that to him no matter how small the amount.
My last few days in the hospital I started meeting with Renee Davis, a family friend and Rumble Tuff’s Lead IBCLC, through video. We already previously discussed that she would be my lactation consultant while I was pregnant, so I was happy I was finally able to speak with her. She gave lots of great information and tips to help. Once I returned home, I started pumping about half an ounce a day. In just two weeks I was up to 8oz/day. A week or so later, I switched from the pump I was currently using to the Rumble Tuff Breeze and by one month I was up to 20-24oz/day! The pump helped me increase my supply and cut my pumping time in half. I was so proud of myself! I was pumping just a little less than what my son was eating in a 24/hr period.
Before my COVID experience, my goal was to breastfeed for 12 months. Although I did not make it that far, we made it to 4 months! I felt disappointed in myself at first. My body had failed me and my son. However, I tried giving myself some grace in knowing that, after what I had been through, 4 months is AMAZING. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my lactation consultants as well as switching to the Breeze. That pump made my whole pumping experience so much easier.
Rochelle Howard, Breeze user and Rumble Tuff mom