I've been meaning to write about this for a while, but let's face it - I haven't blogged in months. I don't do much writing at all nowadays (besides my daily note to Tyler, part of our 365 project) but I think as if I am writing all the time.
I am not sure if that makes me crazy, but yes, I do it!
SO here goes.
While I am well aware that many women successfully formula feed their babies, it never crossed my mind as a choice. Even before I knew so much about breastfeeding, it just seemed right to me. Hey, that's what these things were made for, right? I longed to be one of those mothers who held their babies close while they nursed at the park, and I loved the idea that I could just grab a diaper and run out of the door (no bottles!)
My biggest misconception about breastfeeding was that it would come naturally. It's such a natural thing, right? I would just open my hospital gown right after birth, pop that sucker in his mouth and he would eat until he drifted off to sleep. Why did I need a class, or to go to a La Leche League meeting? I tried to read a book, but it just didn't seem right because there was no baby to practice on and borrowing someone's baby for the task just didn't seem right. My preparation didn't exceed buying a few nursing bras, tanks, and a good pump. I already had the other equipment, right?
So it goes something like this. Tyler was born. What a big boy!! He was so big, in fact, they did this sneaky test to check his glucose. I don't remember consenting for this blood prick, but I'm also not sure I was really given a choice. Regardless, his numbers were off, and he had to eat - IMMEDIATELY. BUT I AM BREASTFEEDING! I exclaimed. I'd heard of Lactation Consultants (commonly referred as LCs - those specialized in infant nutrition and helping moms like myself learn to nurse their babies) and I wanted one in my room now!
But it was 12:24am. And even though I was delivering at WOMAN'S HOSPITAL, THE BIRTHPLACE OF BATON ROUGE who swears on every commercial and billboard that they are woman and baby centered, there was no LC available. It was past midnight. These people needed some sleep, y'all, and my baby had to eat.
"If you don't breastfeed him right now, we have to give him formula" the nurses informed me. No problem. Here goes. Boob - check. Baby - check. I opened my gown and tried. Baby was SCREAMING! Isn't he supposed to know what to do?? (I had no idea what to do). And there she appeared - the pediatric nurse. She will know what to do! "You have to hold yourself this way" she said, as she smashed my breast painfully between her hand, "and just DUNK him on like THIS" Well, the dunking wasn't successful the first two times so we tried it another hundred. The result was an incredibly bloody nipple (just one hour post-birth, mind you!) and her response, "Well, it doesn't look like you'll be able to breastfeed him. Your anatomy isn't right for it."
OOOOOHHHH good. That makes sense, right? I mean, I had the boobs, but my anatomy wasn't right. Whatever the hell that meant. I decide I'll try again when I get to my room and am away from this boob smashing nurse. So I get to my post-partum (mother/baby) room and get the full, 30 minute long orientation. At some point, I said, "I really don't need to learn how to use the remote right now. Could you just turn off the light?" It was 2:30am, Tyler was two hours old, and had been crying for close to an hour because he was hungry and I'd been unable to feed him successfully. When I was finally alone, I did that thing I saw all of the other women do - I put my boob in his mouth (right?) and I think he kind of latched (albeit incorrectly) for a moment or two.
Until Nurse Bitch walked in, waving his chart. His whatever glucose issue was important. We are testing him again. If it's whatever wrong, he needs this crap we have ready mixed in a 2oz tube. (Obviously this was not what was said, but all I heard was that my baby would eat first from a rubber nipple instead of my own, that those precious first drips of colostrum would not line his tummy, but it would be stinky Similac or Enfamil or whoever the hospital signed a contract with.)
But he was still crying. He was hungry. I failed at feeding him and I had no support. It's not like my husband knew how - and obviously none of the nurses knew anything but how to screw that rubber nipple on the top of that liquid ready-to-feed human milk substitute.
That was not our first challenge. Tyler's glucose levels "required" (I write in quotes, because I am not positive this was an actual requirement and will request physical documentation of this policy/procedure before it happens again) another formula feeding. In the morning I attempted to nurse him, and it must have been enough to keep him from screaming for a little bit. And finally, when the morning nurse came, I asked, through tears, "PLEASE HELP ME BREASTFEED MY BABY!" and she responded by immediately paging the LC. Who promptly came.
And told me I had flat nipples. Wouldn't be able to breastfeed without a nipple shield and shells. She even told me that because Tyler was a big baby (8 pounds, 8.5oz at birth) that he would need more than I could provide. Showed me how to syringe feed formula through the nipple shield. Brought in a hospital grade Ameda pump and showed me how to use it. "Oh! You have a lot of colostrum" I remember her saying. But never took back the comment about Tyler needing formula because I would not make enough.
I cried. A lot. This was not how I pictured it at all. Where was my peaceful, easy, convenient set of boobs I could use to feed my baby? Now I have to wear these hard plastic things in my bra that cut into my bleeding nipple (still sore from pediatric nurse) and pull out this silicone thing to place over my nipple before I feed my baby. It didn't make sense - Surely other women had the same issue I was having and didn't use all of this crap to nurse their baby. Why was I being told this was what I needed?
That night was a long one. Tyler barely slept and spent most of his time screaming. I tried to nurse him over and over, and eventually ended up supplementing with the syringe and the nipple shield the way the LC showed me. When that didn't work, I called the nurses in to check him out. SURELY something was wrong with this baby. Newborns were supposed to be sleepy, right?? After checking him out and finding nothing wrong, they concluded that I was starving him. He NEEDS formula, you know. They offered to let me feed him. I refused. I didn't want to feed my baby formula. I cried as he was fed an entire two ounces of formula, and I cried again when he projectile vomited all of it all over himself and his bassinet thirty minutes later. Obviously, no one told these nurses that the size of a one day-old's belly is only the size of a marble. No one told me, either.
The next morning, a nurse came in to bring Tyler for his circumcision. Tyler had just woken and I was struggling to nurse him while Scott ran home to check on the house, clean up, and grab some non-hospital food to eat. The nurse saw me nursing and said, "Oh no! He can't eat right now. The doctor can't wait." So I listened. What else was I to do?
When she brought him back in, she said, "Don't feed him now - the pediatrician is coming and will want to see him." My wonderful OB came in to tell me about the circumcision procedure. He asked how I was doing and I broke down into tears, telling him of the problems nursing. He told me he could have waited, and that the pediatrician could wait. We talked about supplementing with formula, and he told me to make sure to bring the baby to my breast first. He was so supportive, and I cried the whole time. I was alone and incredibly overwhelmed. I immediately started nursing, and was able to get Tyler to latch. Less than five minutes later, I was interrupted by the pediatrician who, as it turned out, would not wait. "Take him off. If he's been nursing longer than five minutes, he's gotten everything he needs anyway." Really? If that was true, why had the LC told me to let him nurse until he stopped sucking? I wanted to believe that five minutes would work instead of an hour, but it seemed too good to be true. I didn't react, so he grabbed Tyler from my arms. Off of my breast. I wish I was exaggerating. After the exam, he left and I attempted to nurse again.
I called the lactation line. A new LC came this time - Mona. She asked me about the night before and I broke down into tears and told her about the other LC, the formula, the nurses, the vomiting. Mona tossed the shells and nipple shield to the side and showed me how to get Tyler to latch without all of that garbage. I felt like I could do it for the first time since giving birth.
The hospital social worker also came to check on me because I'd spent the whole day crying every time someone asked me how I was doing. We talked for about thirty minutes about my difficulties, my level of stress, how I was being interrupted when trying to meet my baby's most basic need, and how I thought I'd be okay if I would JUST LEAVE THE HOSPITAL.
Mona came a few times that day to check on me, and the next day, too, before discharge. After meeting with Mona that initial time, we tossed the formula from the room. I felt confident in my ability to feed my son without the artificial milk. (As a side note, the hospital did not, and they packed along 70oz ready-to-feed formula with the bag of diapers they sent home. The sad thing is, the nurse really believed she was doing me a favor hooking me up with freebies. I took pleasure in donating it to the local food bank as soon as I was able.)
It didn't get easier. As soon as my milk came in, my nipples were flat again and I was unable to get Tyler to latch. But wait! I had this silicone thing that helped - the nipple shield! I used that thinking I would toss it after the first few feedings, and ended up using it exclusively (with resentment) for over five months. Not only did I receive that thing at the hospital, it came with no information about nipple confusion or how to wean, and I would cry as my own baby would not recognize my nipple without it.
We had other problems, too. Tyler was a refluxy baby and when I brought him in for a doctor visit, my pediatrician told me he was gaining weight too rapidly and that he was overeating. He was, after all, eating for an hour every other hour. It certainly felt like too much for me, but I believed it was what he needed so I did it. When I asked, "But I thought breastfed babies regulated on their own?" the pediatrician said, "Yeah, well, no." She recommended nursing for five minutes and finding another way to pacify Tyler without feeding for at least an hour. We tried it once and it all Tyler did was cry. Then, we decided that the problem wasn't Tyler's weight gain, rather, it was the pediatrician. We chose a new one immediately. (And, for the record, he has stayed on the same curve since his 20 week anatomy scan - he is just a big kid.)
Breastfeeding Tyler was HARD. As in, cry-every-time-he-showed-a-hunger-sign-because-I-know-it-will-be-horrible hard. I wanted to quit nearly every day for most of the first three months of his life. On top of nursing being tough, he was just a generally tough baby (still is, as an older infant) and I resented my decision to breastfeed. I thought every day about feeding him with pumped milk, or human milk substitute, but really? I was too stubborn to give up. That didn't mean I didn't want to, that I didn't cry when someone asked me about it, that I didn't consider the possibility that I was having a breakdown because I felt I wasn't able to meet the needs of my child.
But one day - and I don't even know when because I was so mentally and physically exhausted - it didn't feel impossible. Then, after that, I found some support. Even though I'd called the LC line (and talked to LC #1, the giver of nipple shields) and was told I wouldn't be able to nurse without the shield, I tried it. It took some time but we eventually stopped using it completely and haven't looked back. Feedings dropped from 12 times a day to six or seven. (Remember, this is the baby that slept attached to the breast for the first six months of his life - literally. If I had given up, I wondered, how would he sleep??) I educated myself about the needs of a newborn when feeding and became angry about my experience. I vowed to spread the word about basic breastfeeding education to my pregnant friends so they wouldn't feel booby-trapped the way I did.
And somewhere along the line, I fell in love with nursing my baby. It became easy, convenient, healthy for both of us, relaxing for both of us, and we bonded. Tyler found my eyelashes one day last month while nursing. He learned to "Give me 5" while getting his morning milk. We talk, laugh, and share smiles while he nurses. Sometimes I sing. I finally got it.
I don't know how long I'll breastfeed Tyler or any of my other, not-yet-conceived babies, but I do know that when I look back years from now, I'll cherish those moments. Maybe even more so because of our struggles.
What is it they say? The challenges for the joys?
Tyler is 10 months and 3 days old.