World Breastfeeding Week Project Day 7
What an incredible story from my friend Heather. Breastfeeding can be a challenge with one baby. She managed to nurse 2 babies! Go Heather!
When you look at this photo, this second in time, it clearly captures all that is beautiful and deep and serene about breastfeeding. Maybe it’s even something someone would strive to accomplish. It’s grossly misleading. When I was pregnant with my son, I listened to people talk about their breastfeeding experience. It seemed so easy, so natural, a bit time consuming but totally doable. I listened to their stories and decided, sure, I’d breastfeed, that’s what was best for the baby so why not?! My son was born at 41+4, he was a big boy (9lbs 12oz) and I was a first time mom. The problems started in the hospital when, immediately after a very long labor, the nurse asked if I’d taken her breastfeeding class. When I said no, she rolled her eyes and made a snarky comment that I don’t remember now. What I do remember is feeling like I had just been damned, like by not attending the class I had clearly made a choice to not provide the best for my son. A bit later a different nurse, or maybe it was the same one, I don’t remember, told me that if he was on the breast more than 10 minutes he was just playing and I should give him a pacifier. I didn’t know better. For the days I was at the hospital, every staff member told me something different as I struggled to feed my baby. We were released and I was hoping it would get better at home. Once we settled in though, I would feed him and a bit later he’d be crying. Someone would say “Oh he must still be hungry!” so I’d try again. When he was crying an hour after that I’d hear a story about how this baby “was drinking 8oz from birth” or how another baby “always passed out milk-drunk after feedings”. I was clearly doing something wrong because when I pumped I’d only get a few ounces and milk-drunk was not a state I’d ever seen my son in. When people would comment “it’s ok if you want to supplement, you have to do what’s best for you” I felt like they were saying “you don’t have what it takes” and when they would say “maybe you need more sleep/food/water” I would hear “you’re not doing everything you can to be successful”. I was struggling, this wasn’t the fairy tale where the baby latches beautifully, you feel the tingle of letdown and your sweet bundle looks into your eyes and an unbreakable bond is formed. I wanted so badly to succeed, to live that fairytale but instead I felt like I was failing. I felt like he wasn’t getting enough. My husband and I were suffering the sleep deprivation that comes with a new baby and I took his grumpiness as further proof that I couldn’t do it. I gave up. I felt guilty. I cried and cried and, in the quiet of the night, I begged my sweet baby not to hate me because I couldn’t give him the best. I lived with the guilt of being a failure for a long time. In hindsight, I was tired, my husband was tired, my son was doing exactly what he should have been doing. He was cluster feeding and nursing to increase my supply. He was gaining weight and had plenty of wet diapers. People were trying to be supportive and offer whatever helpful stories they thought they could to a tired, emotional mom of a newborn. I had convinced myself I wasn’t doing it right because it should be easy, everyone made it seem so easy. In reality, the reason it was hard was because, for us, it was hard. But all you hear are the easy stories... Several years later we were expecting again, I was determined to learn from my mistakes and be one of the success stories this time. Then we found out that our blessings were double, we were having twins. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but wasn’t going to be deterred, I would make it work. I took the classes, I read the books cover to cover, I had all the supplies, and most important of all, I had a plan and my own past experience to draw from. I wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes. I wouldn’t give up when it got hard, I wouldn’t listen to any of the stories and doubt myself because we had to work a bit harder. My girls were born at 36+4 via c-section, they required no NICU time and went straight to the breast in recovery. I worked with every lactation consultant at the hospital. One of my girls had a weird (not bad) latch and I remember wanting to climb out of my own skin and up a wall to get away from the pain. I called the LC and we used a shield until her latch improved and my skin toughened. Both babies were losing weight. I wasn’t giving up, I knew now that it happens, and I just kept putting them to the breast. Baby A dropped below the acceptable loss threshold and the hospital insisted that we supplement, but worked with me to be able to do it via a tube at the breast. I would feed (and supplement) and then pump to help encourage my milk to come in. I wasn’t giving up. We went home and settled in. My nursing chair had Gatorade, granola bars, water, boppys, my pumping supplies and my well-read breast feeding book full of tips and tricks for a successful breastfeeding journey. I continued to feed and supplement and pump. When my milk came in I wasn’t getting much when I would pump. The girls were gaining but very slowly. Their doctor encouraged me but was cautious because of the rate of gain and the fact that my pumping sessions only yielded an ounce or so. I tried to ignore the doubts and insecurities. My support people (because I had talked to them early on to make sure they were on the same page as me, it was part of my success plan) tried to say the right things but I began to feel the familiar grip of failure and guilt and disappointment and I made a choice. I chose to feed my daughters in the way that felt right to me at any given moment. Often it was at the breast although we quickly gave up with the tubing because it was a nightmare for everyone involved. Sometimes it was a bottle only. Frequently it was a combo of the two. I pumped occasionally but was more likely to choose to spend that valuable time with my son and step-daughter because I missed my time with them. Regardless of how I was feeding them, I felt (mostly) at peace. I don’t remember now how many months we made it before my girls stopped wanting to latch on the breast. I don’t remember because it really doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that they will be one in a few short weeks and we all made it through the first year. I love this photo because I love everything that is beautiful, deep and serene about it but this is not what breastfeeding looks like. This is what that one second in time looked like, it doesn’t show the fact that I would only get two hours sleep that night or the fact that just before this my son had broken my heart by telling me that he missed me and wanted to cuddle. It doesn’t tell my breastfeeding story so don’t let it define yours.