This is the first of I don’t know how many posts to tell my breastfeeding story. I don’t know if it’s that long or if it is going to take me that long to get it all out and emotionally relive it all again.
When my first was born, I had no idea of the learning curve that comes with breastfeeding. Babies can cry a lot when rooting and trying to latch. The latch. The frustrating, seemingly never ending, unbelievably rewarding latch. I thought he would swim to my boob and lay there happily. Um no. He was MOST irritated and he didn’t even have the chapped nipples to prove it. A friend of mine (who is also a doula) said to me “this is normal” after observing me giving two day old babe a breakfast meal. Or at least I thought I was giving two day old babe a breakfast meal. It was more like a 100 calorie snack. As far as everything looked, though, I was right on track to exclusively breastfeeding.
If I had a dozen babies I believe that every single one would be inflicted with jaundice. On day three we had to turn around and rush baby boy back to the NICU after a follow-up blood test proved his levels were elevated. Our new family bubble of bliss had been popped. Nothing and no one would get us back to that warm feeling we had felt just hours before.
A huge blessing for us was being allowed to room in for our son’s brief stay. Every 3 hours I was allowed to offer him my breast for 10 minutes followed by a long cycle at the breast pump. I was feeling really terrible with a cough and I hadn’t slept since I first went into labor. I initially attributed my low milk supply to lack of sleep, feeling under the weather, and our new “home.” Anything, but my broken breasts.
Lactation consultants would say to me “sometimes it just doesn’t happen…” with lingering looks toward the door. One “sweet” lady in particular said something that hit a nerve and has stuck with me since my first child, but only clicked with my second. “You don’t have the right breasts for breastfeeding,” she said. Immediately my loyal sister piped up “she has similar breasts as mine and I was able to breastfeed all three of my babies.” Her quip gave me a little bit of hope but I was also internally digesting this statement, comparing her breasts to mine, sixth grade thoughts all over again. Although our breasts are similar, they aren’t identical. And what I’ve learned is; even if our breasts appeared identical that wouldn’t necessarily mean we would both be able to exclusively breastfeed our babies. Some breasts just don’t produce (enough) milk but I didn’t learn this until years later.
After our return from the NICU I was supplementing with formula because otherwise he would have been a very hungry hippo.
(There is photographic evidence of this, that I was THIS CLOSE to posting, of me naked from the waist up, my head wrapped up in a towel with the supplemental feeding system clipped to it and the baby boy trying like heck to get a decent meal. My husband ran interference with this and rightfully so, by asking me if I was OK with the “POSSIBILITY OF BECOMING A MEME?”)
I was told by people and the internet that THIS (formula feeding) was the reason I wasn’t producing more milk, even though I was pumping after every feeding, sometimes for 30 minutes.
To make matters worse, when I was five weeks into life with our first I was diagnosed with pneumonia. The pneumonia would be my latest excuse for my low supply. The toll it took on me was devastating. I ended up spending a number of days in the hospital, all the while continuously pumping on a regular schedule. I was pumping around the clock and for such long times I’m surprised my nipples even survived. Because of very heavy drugs, I had to pump and dump.
I was a complete mess. A woman crying while pumping both breasts to the rhythmic beat of the Medela “Pump in Style” has got to be one of the saddest sights ever. My dear husband was there all the while with all the right things to say and even then I COULD NOT GET OVER THE SADNESS. I had a healthy baby boy (that I couldn’t breastfeed.) I had a beautiful baby boy (that I couldn’t breastfeed.) I had to give him formula?
During my pregnancy the idea of feeding my baby formula was so far from my mind. I would have turned up my nose if you told me it would become our lives. He needed that Enfamil to thrive and survive. HE COULDN’T get what he needed from me. This was a big, scratchy, debilitating pill to swallow.
To be continued…