A Tribute to Christa Herzog-Isler
Seven years ago I was expecting my second child. Miriam was diagnosed with a unilateral cleft lip and palate at our 16 week scan. I left the hospital in a great state of distress and confusion. The doctor had given us this cold shower of news, suggested we make an urgent appointment for genetic testing, mentioned something about possible termination, shook our hands and ushered us out. My world was shattered and had no idea how to pull it all back together again.
In a panic I called my midwife, and then I called an LLL Leader – actually I called several LLL Leaders – one mentioned Christa Herzog-Isler’s booklet on breastfeeding babies with a cleft lip and palate ‘Give them a little time’. Up until then, the only images of cleft affected, pre-surgery, babies that I had seen were those on various hospital websites – unsmiling, startled babies in a clinical setting. Christa’s booklet had photos of a beautiful little girl, with a cleft like the one my daughter had been diagnosed with – in the arms of her doting parents. That booklet somehow humanised the whole experience – I no longer had to guess how those fuzzy, eco-graphic images would interpret into reality. That was a great relief and a turning point in my acceptance of Miriam’s cleft.
Thanks to Christa’s book and its indispensable technical information, along with other references that I found through LLLGB books and the Australian Breastfeeding Association, I was able to create a feeding plan and buy all the equipment that I thought might be necessary. The night I went into labour I sterilised my breast pump and had syringes with silicone tips at the ready. I didn’t have any bottles as I desperately hoped that we could somehow manage without them.
The title of ‘Give them a little time’ would be a constant companion in my thoughts. I knew that feeding Miriam would take time and patience. It was a steep learning curve that lasted seven months. Seven months of expressing breast milk, syringe feeding, bottle feeding, partial breastfeeding – sometimes with an SNS, but not very successfully – two surgeries, three interstate trips (we chose a hospital over 300 kilometres from our house) until at last Miriam began to breastfeed unassisted and I was able to pack away all the equipment and return the breast pump to the rental company.
Not long after that, Christa Herzog-Isler was to be a speaker at LLL Italy’s annual conference. I was breastfeeding and my other daughter was still quite small, so we set off as a family. We were just getting settled in our room and enjoying the sight of a family of swallows flying back and forth to their nest in the eaves of the roof just outside the window, when I saw a red car with a Swiss number plate pull into the car park.
“Back in a minute!”I yelled, as I dashed out the door. It wasn’t difficult to spot Christa in the crowd -smartly dressed and with her trademark haircut. I sidled up to the publications counter where she was browsing. Luckily the thrill of meeting her overcame my shyness - “Ms. Herzog-Isler?” I hazarded, as if it weren’t obvious! She looked up and smiled warmly. “You can call me Christa,” she replied.
It was such a thrill to meet Christa in person and to hear her talk, and above all to have her confirm, in her presentation, that I really had done my best and all that I could have done to breastfeed Miriam. Many years later, we are still in contact and seeing Christa’s name pop up in my mailbox always brings a smile to my face. I love hearing about her projects and she always enquires about mine – which is so very inspiring because Christa is such a hero of mine. Christa has been talking about breastfeeding with a cleft lip and palate, almost single-handedly for 25 years. Thanks to Christa and her work there are other voices, like mine, that have joined in the chorus.
Without Christa and ‘Give them a little time’ I may never have found the patience and courage to persevere all through those difficult months and I may never have stood up to say that breastfeeding with a cleft really is possible, and this website may never have existed.
Thank you so much Christa,
Ganz herzlichen Dank für alles, liebe Christa!