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Just One More Phone Call

June 17, 2024

Maribeth Barber Albritton

With my too-tiny baby cradled in one arm, I anxiously typed and clicked away with my free hand at the names of every lactation consultant in the area. There weren’t many between Jackson, Mississippi, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but I was desperate and willing to drive an hour and a half if that was what it would take to get some answers. 

My daughter was born unable to breastfeed. No one at the hospital seemed too concerned except my husband, Casey, and me. I cried in frustration because she wouldn’t—or couldn’t—latch, and the nurses simply shoved her face into my skin as if that would help. Not till the soft spot at the top of her head began to sink with dehydration did they bring me a breast pump, formula, and bottles. 

Now Molly was almost a month old and could barely manage a bottle. The milk I painstakingly pumped eight times a day dribbled down her chin and clothes. She was so sweet and her smile so beautiful, yet she was suffering and hungry and it broke my heart in a million pieces. 

I knew we needed help. While sleep-deprived Casey carried out his work as a pastor one afternoon, I settled down on the couch with Molly to make some calls of my own. 

First I called a lactation consultant hotline. The lady on the other end was kind, but because I was a self-pay patient, they couldn’t take me on. 

“All right, thank you,” I said, trying not to sound too disappointed. I dialed the next number on my list, a consultant who did telehealth calls. She didn’t pick up. Somewhere in the middle of the research and calling, I made another valiant attempt to nurse Molly, but she only screamed as if I’d just pulled her fine newborn hair. 

With the baby sucking frantically at a bottle instead, I called the hospital in Baton Rouge where I was born.

Surely they’ll be able to take us . . . Surely they’ll know what to do. 

“Hello, my name is Maribeth Albritton . . . My daughter is four weeks old . . . She can’t breastfeed, no matter what I do . . . She can’t get back up to her birth weight . . . I’m worried . . .”

“Was she born here?” asked the man on the other end.

My stomach sank. “No —”

“I’m sorry. Because of the current demand for lactation consultants, we’re only seeing babies who were born here.”

An image flashed before my exhausted mind’s eye: I stood in the cold in front of an open door with my crying baby in my arms, begging for help, but the man standing over me merely shook his head and slammed the door in my face. 

“Okay, thank you for your help,” I said, my voice wobbling. And then I hung up and burst into tears.

“God, please help us,” I sobbed over Molly’s head. “Please, please help us.”

What happened next I can only attribute to His power: I wiped my eyes, blew my nose, and suddenly became furious. No one had advocated for Molly in the hospital; no one, it seemed, would take her case now. Fine. I’d just keep calling. I’d call until darkness fell, and if no one returned my calls today, I’d call them all again tomorrow. 

I called another hospital, praying and praying. When a woman picked up — Praise God, a woman! Maybe she’ll understand! — I told her what was happening. 

The immediate alarm in her voice welcomed me in out of the cold: “You’ve got a serious problem . . . I want you to switch from the bottle you’re using to this other bottle . . . We can see you on Monday . . . Until then, try these methods . . . She’s going to be okay, Mama, you’re doing great . . .”

Sometimes courage looks like Queen Esther, defying all the rules of a pagan king’s court to protect her people from an egomaniac.

Sometimes it looks like Corrie ten Boom, hiding innocents from the tyrants who’d invaded her beloved Holland.

And sometimes, it looks like making one more phone call. 

For a couple of weeks, Casey and I thought we would finally get the help we needed. But sometimes hospitals are so overloaded with bureaucracy, little babies fall through the cracks. 

By our third visit with the lactation consultants, Molly still wouldn’t breastfeed. My persistent questions of “Does she have a tongue tie?” were met with befuddled shrugs. I knew plenty of babies who’d had the tight connective tissue rooting their tongues to the floors of their mouths; they’d all struggled to nurse and some even had difficulties later on with their speech. Yet no one seemed to take my question seriously. They probed her mouth briefly with gloved fingers, admitted she might have a minor one, and said nothing more about it. 

Finally, Casey and I decided to stop going to that office. Multiple appointments with nary an ounce of progress are hard on the bank account. Besides, I was figuring out my daughter myself, flipping her upper lip so it could curve properly over the bottle nipple and squeezing her cheeks so she’d curl her tongue around it, as well.

And then one day, her struggles worsened. When I weighed her, I found she’d lost the few precious ounces she’d gained. Anger came flooding back.

Time to take matters into your own hands again, Mama Bear.

I texted my sister: “Who do I call about finding out if Molly has a tongue tie?”

She immediately texted back: “Here’s the name of a pediatric dentist. Call her now.”

I made the earliest appointment the dentist’s receptionist could manage. When we arrived, we were given a questionnaire with a list of fifteen different symptoms: Check off all that apply to your baby

I checked off thirteen. 

The dentist — a brilliant, no-nonsense New Englander — took one look at that list and stared at me and Casey in disbelief. “And no one’s given you any help?! This is unacceptable — let me see that baby!” 

I laid Molly on my lap, her head on my knees. The dentist turned on her light and lifted Molly’s upper lip.

“Does she have a tongue tie?” I asked.

“Mama, this baby has got a Class 4 upper lip tie — the very worst you can have — a Class 2 tongue tie, and buccal ties — those are in the cheeks.” She turned off her light and looked again at me and my husband, flabbergasted. “No wonder she can’t breastfeed. It’s literally impossible for her.”

Sometimes courage looks like Elizabeth Tudor, enduring imprisonment in the Tower of London until she became England’s first great queen. 

Sometimes courage looks like her far-off successor who bore her name, accepting a crown she never wanted when she was only 25 and wearing it till she was nearly 100. 

And sometimes, it looks like trusting your instincts and making just one more phone call. 

Molly never did breastfeed. By the time her ties were surgically released, she was nine weeks old. That’s more than enough time for even a baby to make certain associations: “bottle” means “fed,” and “breast” means “pain” and “hunger.” 

I didn’t (and don’t) blame her. But I had to let go of so much guilt funneled into my mind by social media, crunchy mom culture, and comparison with other, more “successful” mothers. 

Here’s something else I’ve learned: sometimes courage means letting go of your expectations, your own desires, and your fear of others’ very outspoken opinions about motherhood. Nothing about my first three months as Molly’s mama went the way I’d hoped. Yet the seeds planted in those difficult first weeks are now blooming into both a bold new independence as a woman and a deeper reliance on the Lord.

Yes, sometimes courage looks like the heroine of the novel I wrote a few years ago, marching into a war-torn city to take on a despot. But more often than not, it looks like making phone calls and laying down your life for your baby . . . even if it means you’re doing it scared. 

The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and is used with her kind permission for Cultivating.


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  1. Sam Keyes says:

    So great Maribeth. Our Mabel was tongue-tied and we had to advocate so hard to get her the help she needed… while desperately sleep-deprived and physically at our limits. I love the way you wove in the stories of others’ courage into your piece – we are going through Esther at church at the moment, and wow what a picture of courage!

  2. Oh, thank you so much for this comment, Sam! I completely relate to that part about being “desperately sleep-deprived and physically at our limits.” And yet I’d do it all over again for my sweet Molly if I had to, and I know you’d do the same for Mabel. Never underestimate the fierce and courageous love of an embattled parent!

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