I have decided to write out my breastfeeding journey in three parts. That may seem like overkill but really I’m just separating my experiences by my three children. If I wrote about all three experiences it would be novel-length. I really don’t think I would be doing anyone any favors by pretending that breastfeeding has been this amazing, beautiful experience for me. Yes, there have been parts of it that have been amazing and beautiful. But it has taken quite a bit of trial and suffering in order to get there.
I also feel it is important to put a BIG FAT DISCLAIMER at the top of this post. In no way is anything I’m about to say a judgement on you and your choices as a mother. We all have our own journeys. This is mine. These are my thoughts and experiences. Maybe they seem stupid to you. Maybe you’ll read this and be like, who the hell cares? That was so long ago! What’s the big deal? Maybe you’ll read this and think, she is bragging or she is judging me for feeding my baby in XYZ manner. I’m here to tell you that I have absolutely NO judgement for the way you feed your babies. None whatsoever. My journey has taken me from knowing absolutely nothing about breastfeeding to probably knowing way too much! But here’s the thing – I don’t know you. I don’t know your story. I don’t know why you chose to breastfeed or formula feed or exclusively pump or exclusively nurse until two or three or four. Or feed goat’s milk or whatever it was you chose. I honestly don’t care. If you are happy and your baby is happy then rock on with your bad self. Seriously.
If there is one thing breastfeeding has done for me – it is to humble me. Breastfeeding put me in my place. Knocked me off my “I’m going to be the perfect mother” pedestal. And that’s just what I had in mind in 2008 when I was pregnant with Landon, my first baby. I was going to be the perfect mother. Of course I was. Was there any other option? I don’t know why I so suddenly and fervently decided I would breastfeed Landon. But I did. I found out I was pregnant and immediately told everyone I was going to exclusively breastfeed for the first year. I mean, it was the natural thing to do. Clearly the only choice. The right choice. Hahahaha. Ha. Ha.
I signed up for a breastfeeding class at our hospital but pregnancy brain got the best of me and I ended up forgetting about it. I never rescheduled because seriously? How hard can it be? Hahahaha. Ha. Ha. I love thinking back to how naive I was. Dear Lord. Poor little pregnant know-it-all me.
His birth day finally came and my plan was to have them put him on my chest and instantly breastfeed. Nope. Didn’t happen. As I’ve written about before he had a very traumatic birth and we were seperated from him for the first hour, which is critical to establishing that first breastfeeding bond. Once he was back we tried to get him to latch but it never worked. His bilirubin levels skyrocketed and he turned orange pretty quickly. The nurses kept telling me I had to nurse every two hours but he would not latch no matter what we tried. The jaundice caused him to be super sleepy and it was challenging to wake him. The lactation consultants only confused me. One would come in and tell me to hold him this way and do it that way. Then a different one would come in the next day and tell me the opposite! I was completely confused.
Not to mention that I felt the hospital nearly overdosed me on pain meds. I was so sleepy from the narcotics they insisted on giving me even though I had a vaginal birth and had a small tear. I think I would have been fine with regular tylenol. But they gave me heavy duty pain meds the entire hospital stay. Granted, I should have spoken up and told them no. But I didn’t know much about what I needed. So I just took what they gave me. So I spent the majority of my hospital stay totally drugged up and I honestly don’t remember much. I don’t even remember when people came to visit me!
I do remember the second night we were there. A nurse came in to take him to the nursery in the early morning. Naaman was asleep and she just sort of came in and announced she would be taking him to the nursery and feeding him formula. I was half asleep but said something like, “Oh well, no. I want to breastfeed. I don’t want him to have formula.” She stopped, sighed very loudly as if she was really annoyed with me and said, “That’s fine. If you don’t want him to be discharged tomorrow and want him to go to the NICU you can try to keep breastfeeding him.” I immediately burst into tears. I’m crying just thinking of that moment. Because I think it was the beginning of the end for my shortlived breastfeeding journey with my first son. I could barely speak I was crying so hard but I said, “Okay, you can take him.” That was my first real bout with mom guilt. I can’t believe how easily I gave in! But I was so new to motherhood and I had no clue how to stick up for myself. If I could go back now I would give that nurse a piece of my mind 🙂
They did end up discharging us but told us we needed to head to the pediatrician first thing the next day. I tried to nurse him all night but again, he never properly latched so I was doubtful he got any milk at all. I don’t think my milk had come in yet anyway but I was waiting for that “full” feeling the lactation consultants talked about.
We went to the pediatrician’s office the next day. They weighed him and he had lost even more weight than in the hospital. He was born at 6 lb, 14 oz and was now down to 5 lb, 9 oz. The doctor seemed worried and I immediately started bawling in the office. I gave him the sob story of how I wanted so badly to breastfeed him and I didn’t understand why this was happening. He told me if I want to breastfeed just breastfeed. Um, okay. Is that sound advice? Not really when your baby won’t freaking latch.
I decided to call the lactation consultants again at the hospital and set up an appointment. I was still hopeful that first week. We went to the appointment and she just wasn’t that much help. She weighed him before and after the nursing session and he didn’t get any milk. He was obviously not latching at all. I would put him to my breast and assume something was happening. But I didn’t know much about proper latch and what sucking and swallowing was supposed to look like. I hadn’t taken a class or read any books so I was pretty lost.
Here is what the lactation consultant advised me to do. She told me to put him to each breast for at least 15 minutes each. Then after that give him a bottle of formula to supplement since his bilirubin levels were still very high. Then she told me to pump for at least 15-20 minutes. Oh, and please do all of this every two hours. Alright, so let’s do the math.
I wake him up at midnight (had to set my alarm because he would never wake up)
“Nurse”on right breast until 12:15 a.m. (he never really latched hence the quotations)
“Nurse” on left breast until 12:30 a.m.
Give him a bottle until 12:45 a.m.
Pump until 1:00 a.m.
Start it all again at 2:00 a.m.
After a full week of this I was a zombie. I could not even function I was so tired. I remember my sisters came over to see the baby and I finally collapsed in a pile of tears and sweat and funk and bawled myself to sleep. This was so not what I envisioned. I cried every single time I tried to nurse him. Naaman would come into the nursery to see how things were going. I would look up at him with tears streaming down my face. I so badly wanted it to work. I wanted to give my son my milk. But it just wouldn’t work. I felt like we tried everything. I asked Naaman what to do a lot. He said as long as we were feeding him it didn’t matter to him whether it was formula or breastmilk. He has always been supportive no matter how I choose to feed our children. I think he understood from the get-go that feeding a baby is more than just about the baby. It has a lot to do with the mother’s well-being too.
There were a few things that made me feel like something was wrong. I barely got any milk at all when I pumped. I also never really felt that full and I was never engorged. I never saw him swallow anything when he was at the breast.
When he was a month old he was still orange. Looking back I’m really confused as to why they didn’t admit him and put him under the bili lights. He needed it. It was so clear to me that he needed it! His eyes were yellow and he looked like an oompa loompa he was so orange! My poor baby!
I just don’t understand why the lights were not considered by the doctor. It would take me awhile to learn that as a mom I need to be strong and advocate for my children. But at that point I was having a really tough time even functioning from the lack of sleep.
Looking back I think I was dealing with severe anxiety and post traumatic stress. There were many times that first month I had to hide in the bathroom while having panic attacks. The way that Landon came into this world scared the crap out of me. I mean, right after he was born I thought he had died! That would cause trauma for any mother! I wish I would have been more open about how I was feeling at that time. But I thought it was supposed to be perfect and special and magical. Although I was so in love with Landon – I need to admit that that first month was anything but magical. I was terrified much of the time. And I also felt intense guilt every time we gave him a bottle of formula. We had some of those medela bottles and they said “breast is best” on them. Here I was giving him a bottle that said, “breast is best.” I was so angry with myself.
At just about five weeks I finally threw in the towel. It wasn’t working. I was barely making any milk because he had never really latched and emptied my breasts so, of course, that signaled my body to stop making milk altogether. I didn’t understand supply and demand at that time. I don’t even remember the last time I tried to nurse him. And truthfully I don’t want to remember. It was an emotionally painful journey from beginning to end, unfortunately.
I was extremely defensive about using formula. Whenever anyone would ask me if I was nursing or mention breastfeeding I would go off on a 2o-minute tangent as to why it didn’t work. I was hoping they wouldn’t judge me for – GASP – feeding my son formula. I also remember commenting on quite a few blog posts of moms who were expecting their first child. They would say that they planned on breastfeeding and I would comment how they “better not get their hopes up.” Blech. That is not supportive at all but I was not in a good place at that time, obviously.
Too bad the guilt didn’t stop when I stopped nursing. I spent his entire first year feeling guilty. Every time I saw a mother breastfeeding I had to bite my lip so I didn’t start crying. Every time I made him a bottle I wanted to cry. You may think that is ridiculous. But it’s the truth. I can still remember being at his first birthday party. There were three moms at the party who were nursing and it killed me to see them nursing their little ones. I thought it was so unfair. Why couldn’t that have been us? They had what I wanted! Honestly, I was jealous and bitter. I felt like they were part of a club I could never join.
This is where my journey took a surprising turn. Right after Landon’s first birthday I found out I was pregnant. One of my first thoughts was – oh God, I have to try breastfeeding again. Looking back, it makes me laugh. I wasn’t scared about going through labor again. I was nervous to breastfeed again! But something told me that God had given us this beautiful surprise and it could possibly be a second chance to get things right.
Part II coming soon