It’s national breastfeeding week… and I really want to get a few things off my breast, I mean chest. This blog is where I come to work out my issues, my hangups, my shortcomings, my fears and this subject is a sore one. It still hurts to think about it.
When I was pregnant with Lelan, I prepared for his birth like a warrior. I read up on natural birthing techniques, birth stories and attended hypnobabies classes until the very end. My partner and I practiced the scripts every night, even reciting cues on our way to the hospital. When it came to delivering my baby naturally, I was more than ready. If there had been a test, I would’ve aced it because I studied everything. But, I absolutely failed to educate myself on what came immediately after. In hypnobabies, you are actively discouraged from thinking about alternative options… after all, the premise of this practice is to use the power of your mind and deliver your baby naturally without any drugs or intervention. I was over confident in my body’s ability to deliver my baby naturally that I never even thought, for a second, that it would fail me. The idea of a c-section was nowhere near my orbit. The 200+ page course manual provided a 2 page summary on c-section and honestly, I didn’t even read it. So, after 50+ hours of labor and hearing my doctor say it’s time to get the baby out, a certain kind of panic set in. I had no idea what to expect from that point forward. You can read about my birthing story here.
You see, I had imagined a perfect scenario of the baby being born and placed on my breast only to have him latch on as if we had practiced this ritual for ages. I never thought I would be walking to the NICU merely hours after my gut was split open and stitched back together. I never expected to see my baby in a glass box with an IV running through his delicate arm, surrounded by nurses and other really sick babies. I had no idea that he would be fed through a feeding tube up his nose upon arriving into this world. It all seemed so surreal at that moment. Under those circumstances, beneath the bright lights of the NICU, breastfeeding was the furthest thing from my mind as I struggled to hold my son for the first time.
Later that day, one of the NICU nurses, a kind lady named Denise, paid me a visit and suggested that I start pumping immediately so that I could start feeding him. The sooner he’s eating on his own, the sooner he can go home, she said. So, I asked the hospital staff about seeing a lactation consultant. To my surprise, I was told that they didn’t have one available, but an experienced nurse would be by to help me shortly. An hour later, someone brought over a breast pump and my aunt who happened to be there helped me pump for the first time. A tiny amount of sticky substance came and I saved it for my son. No one told me that I should’ve been pumping every 2 hours. I didn’t bother to educate myself on this subject because again, I was naive about my natural abilities. The nurse who was supposed to stop by never did.
That first day, I pumped a measly 3 times and produced a small amount of colostrum. I was so distracted by everything that was happening around me that it didn’t occur to me to keep pumping every 3 hours. On the second day, I pumped a couple more times and tried to get my son to latch on, with little to no success. All together, I was able to produce 1 ounce of milk the entire day, which my son devoured in minutes. I was sore, swollen and physically and emotionally drained that I let the nurse talk me into feeding my baby formula. I was told that during the first feed, he drank almost an ounce, which considering the size of his stomach, is A LOT! Day three and four (yes, my doctor let me stay an extra day in the hospital so I could be close to my baby) went the same. At this point, I was maybe pumping 3 times a day up to an ounce or two and trying to get my son to latch during every visit. But, nothing was working and he was already up to 3 ounces of formula every 3 hours.
Feeling like a failure, I called my hypnobabies instructor asking for help. She put me in touch with a lactation consultant who assured me that she would help get things back on track once the baby was home. Don’t stress yourself out while your baby is in the NICU, she said to me. Once he’s home, I will get him latched on in no time. Those words were music to my ears. It sounded like great advice so, I began to relax. I don’t think I pumped once during the next few days. Between hospital visits and recovering from my c-section, I had no time or energy to pump. On the evening of the 7th day, we brought our son home and the very next day the lactation consultant came over to assess the situation.
She was a wiry lady with thick glasses and a booming voice. She came barreling into our little nest like a rooster, crowing orders at both my partner and I. Bewildered, we followed her lead. The entire experience was jarring and not at all what I had expected, for a hefty price tag of $150. At one point during her visit she jumped up on our bed on all fours and started hissing near my son’s ear trying to mimic the sound of the womb to get him to relax. When he wouldn’t latch properly, she examined him and pronounced that he was tongue tied and might need surgery later in life. Having just been through a harrowing NICU experience, this news was not at all comforting. She instructed me to power pump twice a day for as long as I could… and for those of you who are wondering what that is, it’s
hell pump for 20 minutes, rest 10, pump another 10; rest for another 10. This was in addition to my normal pumping every 3 hours. She had me order a serum which was supposed to increase my supply and when I tell you it was horrible, it is definitely an understatement of the century. Yet, I drank it twice a day diligently. I tried EVERYTHING.
I ate the cookies, drank Maltas, forced down bowls of oatmeal and drank so much water that I thought I was going to explode. Nothing worked. I was barely producing an ounce maybe two at each pump and my son was drinking up to 4 . This went on for weeks… I cried to my partner, who looked at me helplessly because NOTHING WORKED. My milk never came in. I never felt that engorged feeling that many people experience. My son never latched on. I was a slave to my breast pump and I hated every minute of it. After a month of this insanity, I finally threw in the towel and started feeding my son formula exclusively. It was the best decision for our family and one that we needed to accept.
To all those people who say breast is best, or brag about how easy or how enjoyable the breastfeeding experience was, let me just say you have no idea how hard it is for some of us or how insane it makes us feel when we can’t do the simple act of feeding our baby. I will never know the reasons why my body refused to produce milk or why something that is touted to be natural and easy was so darn difficult for me, but I will tell you that my baby was fed and nourished on schedule. Looking at him now you will never know that he wasn’t breastfed.
As I prepare for another baby’s arrival, I’m scared, yet determined to try again. I have no idea how everything will turn out this time around, but I will be better prepared. The hospital where I’ll be delivering does not have a lactation consultant, I’ve already asked, so I’m researching the ones in our area, preferably those who don’t hiss. I have been reading about what to do in the immediate aftermath of a c-section and talking to friends who have gone through this experience, as it relates to breastfeeding. I plan on pumping regularly from the start to maintain my supply and I’m going to ask for help every step along the way. But, if for whatever reason it doesn’t work out, I won’t beat myself up about it. I will accept whatever outcome and I won’t feel obligated to answer to anyone. Because, I know from experience that in the end fed is best for my baby and my family.