One of the things that keeps me in this space are the parents I meet, either in person or online. When I saw the post by the Facebook page Native Breastfeeding week1 (which is intended to raise the profile of breastfeeding by Aboriginal and Indigenous families), I was enthralled. Michelle Kakegamic, a mom of triplet girls was kneeling with all her three babes cozily nested in their tikinagans (also known as cradleboards).2 Michelle’s family is Oji-Cree from Muskrat Dam First Nation in Northern Ontario, they are a small reserve of roughly 300 which is part of James Bay Treaty of 1905, Treaty 9 territory.3 Though I am a huge breastfeeding supporter, I was entranced at the beauty of the carriers and so I reached out to Michelle through a friend on Facebook to learn more. She has three daughters, Hilary, Heather and Haddison, and an older son Carter.
What was it like to learn that you were expecting triplets?
I was really surprised! I have an older son and wasn’t expecting this at all. I didn’t know anyone with triplets, though we do have twins in the family. Even now, I don’t know anyone in person, just on a triplets Facebook group and most of them are in the States or the U.K.
What was it like after the birth?
The girls were born early at 32.5 weeks and spent five weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). I was in the hospital for a short time, I remember barely able to walk, in a wheelchair going to the NICU just so that I could see them. I had a cesarian birth, my legs and feet were really swollen and I couldn’t walk really well. Hilary was the biggest one at birth, and Heather and Haddison were smaller.
Did you do skin to skin in the hospital or do kangaroo care.
Yes! I was able to do it almost right from the beginning after the girls stabilized. The nurses in the NICU were amazing and on board with the breastfeeding. I did it the entire time I was there, and even continued it when I came home. It really helped them stabilise a lot faster and allowed me to connect with them. First I started by holding them on my one at a time, then as I got more confident I would hold more than one. It was peaceful.
Were other family members allowed to do skin to skin too?
Only their dad, and grandparents were allowed to visit. And they did! There is a risk of infection with any young babies and it is important to limit the number of visitors. My son Carter holds them all the time now, he just loves his baby sisters.
The moss bags are absolutely gorgeous. When did you start using the moss bags and the cradle board?
The tikinagans (in the picture at the top of the page) were given by several people, relatives and friends like the girls godmother. The one that is blue and red floral beadwork was made by my cousin to hold her own baby. But she died young of cancer and never got to see that happen.
I really started using the moss bags after the girls came home. We were doing both for awhile, the kangaroo care and the moss bags. They were made by a friend of mine, Amanda Mekanak and she also sells them locally on the Facebook Group Mikinak Tukobizinan4. They’re called moss bags because originally they were stuffed with mosses and other plants that help to absorb the pee and other stuff. Maybe one day I will do it, try it with the moss. I started using the tikinagans as soon as was possible too.
The girls have been using the same moss bags since birth. They’ve almost grown out of them. I already have their next set.
I didn’t know there would be more than one set of moss bags, how long do you plan on using them?
Nine to twelve months, or as long as possible. They really love the feeling of being in them, it helps them settle down right away, it really grounds and calms them.
Tell me a bit about your nursing journey? Did you plan on nursing them from the very start?
Oh yes! I had breastfed my oldest son and had experience, and I felt I would be connected to them a bit more if I breastfeed them. I needed a connection with them because there were 3 of them, and I felt it was a great way to get to know them. The babies spent a total of 6 weeks in the NICU because they were preemies and only 3-4 lbs each at birth. I had to wait a couple weeks but I pumped for them and they’ve only had breastmilk since they’ve been born. I pumped every 3 hours while they were in the NICU and also started breastfeeding while they were in the NICU. After I left the hospital, I would pump everyday at home and drive to drop off my milk directly to their floor, I didn’t want them to have any formula at all. This was something only I could do for them and I did it.
Hilary was the largest at birth, but she had the hardest time breastfeeding. She had trouble with her latch and lost more weight than the others, I consider her the baby. We would bring her into our bed more often than the others, it really helped settle her at night. Haddison and Heather picked up breastfeeding really well.
I started by breastfeeding one at a time, and then learn to tandem. Tandem nursing was tough but manageable after a week or so. Nursing is awesome now! I’m so glad I am able to breastfeed all 3. I wouldn’t have the time to prepare formula and sterilize bottles!
This article has been compressed from the Facebook live interview, and was supplemented by information from our chats. I would like to thank Michelle for telling us her story. You can also follow her on Instagram
1. Original post on Facebook.↩
2. To learn more about the tikinagan read this article on the Arrow Newsletter, CanadaHistory.ca and Globe and Mail. ↩
3. Information about Muskrat Dam Lake Reserve.↩
4. You can contact Amanda Mekanak through the group Mikinak Tukobizinan for moss bags. They are also called baby bundles. Amanda has made two sets for Michelle, both the pink set we see above, and the larger ones the girls will be using next. ↩