The first hours and days following the birth of a child are some of the greatest, yet most stressful moments in a new parent's life. There is a rotating cast of nurses and doctors coming in at all hours of the day (and night) checking up on the mom and newborn. There are random tests conducted at odd hours of the day. There's a lot of confusion and not a lot of sleep.
But what if there's another variable in the equation of those first few days? What if something that seems so natural to mothers, something that is often taken for granted by most mothers, nurses, and lactation specialists? What if the mother can't produce breastmilk for her newborn and has to rely on formula and bottle feedings in a time when she just wants to connect with her infant daughter or son?
That's a question Meghan Koziel (a cancer survivor and new mother) was prepared to answer. And prepared, she was.
Three years before Meghan and her husband, John gave birth to their daughter Kendra Jane Koziel in September 2018, Meghan was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer and was forced to undergo chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, and breast reconstruction. Over the course of the next few years, Meghan triumphed over cancer but was left with the knowledge that she would never be able to breastfeed her daughter upon her birth.
Over the course of her recovery and pregnancy, Meghan frequently shared her journey on her blog, SheSparklesOn and Instagram, where she quickly learned that "formula shaming" after reading comments on her many posts and photos. Surprised and shocked by the number of women who have been subjected to public shaming from hospital staff for not breastfeeding, even though they weren't able to physically nurse their young, Meghan set out on a mission to spread awareness and prevent herself from going through that pain when her daughter was born.
What did she do? She did want any mom-to-be would do - make a banner to hang at the hospital to prevent similar treatment.
After finally deciding on the right words to say, Meghan settled on: "No Breastfeeding Zone. Though breastfeeding is a very special task, please be aware before you ask. Our miracle baby will be formula fed, and it will not affect her future ahead. This mommy is a survivor."
"It took me a while to come up with the perfect poem that wasn't too aggressive but was also direct enough to get the point across," Meghan told TODAY Parents. "I simply made the banner as a subtle visual for the hospital staff who may not be entirely aware of my complex medical history."
And the plan worked. Following the birth of her daughter, Meghan was not bombarded by nurses and lactation specialists asking her if she was ready to breastfeed or why she wasn't breastfeeding.
"Whenever someone would come in, their eyes would go up to read the banner first, then they were aware of my history and continued what they had to say," said Koziel. "I experienced no surprise visits from lactation counselors, and I had no staff members try to push their views on formula feeding onto me. It was received in a positive fashion and I didn't have to repeat my story a kazillion times."
Although the hospital staff was receptive to Meghan's banner and simple request, the new mother said she wasn't prepared for the comments she received online after her Instagram post went viral. But while she wasn't prepared for anonymous trolls to question her rationale behind the banner or her story of survival in the face of death, Meghan WAS prepared to turn her cheek and carry on.
"I didn't make the banner to be shared a bunch of times on the internet as some trolls like to think," said Koziel. "I am a breast cancer advocate --- I love sharing my journey. When I was first diagnosed, I made it my goal to share my story and encourage other girls like me."
One of the unintended consequences of Meghan's banner has been the replies from women across the world who now see her as a role model, an inspiration to get through difficult times.
"I seriously cannot like this enough. I am 30 years old and was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in July 2018. I found the cancer when I was 7 months pregnant with my baby boy but unfortunately when I went to my doctor and lactation nurse I was told it was a blocked milk duct. Well, here we are I'm 7 lots of chemo down and due for my double mastectomy in January 2019. One day I hope to try for another baby and I will definitely have to get me a sign like this," wrote one Instagram user.
Another user, on the same photo, wrote: "Hi! I randomly found your story and I just wanted to let you know that I think your story is very courageous and I am soooo proud of you. You are an inspiration to all. Congratulations to you and your husband on your beautiful little bundle!"