Friday, January 27, 2012

The Let Down

So--one month into motherhood and I'm feeling pretty awesome! I love my baby and my husband and I don't mind being stuck at home all that much either.
Our first month wasn't all that rosy though. I was exhausted at first and scared to death that I was going to fail miserably at this. In fact, the first couple of weeks I really thought I had. I realize that there were/are a lot of hormones involved as well as a serious lack of sleep, but I was convinced that I was a horrible mother who couldn't provide for my son. The reason?? Breastfeeding. Now I had been warned that this might not come easy despite it's being the natural way of things--but it wasn't just not easy, it was really freakin hard.
Today Jack is being breastfed just about every 2 hours. But, to my earlier dismay, he is also taking a bottle of formula in the same increments. This is not how I imagined this would go. I was so sure and so dedicated to nursing that I didn't do a bit of research on formula. What was the point? And then I ran into obstacle after obstacle from the day my sweet boy was born.

Obstacle number one: it hurt! I heard that it would hurt and that you just needed to push through that pain. My lactation consultant at the hospital said she'd never seen anyone react in the way that I did, though. And I didn't react in the way I thought I would either. I mean I figured it would be uncomfortable, but I didn't know it would be frighteningly painful. By the end of the first 3 days I was experiencing dread every time I had to feed him. I pushed through though, the way everyone told me to. I figured what I was experiencing was normal. But when the second lactation consultant I saw was then shocked at the state of my nipples, I felt pretty much hopeless. Jack likes to chew. He chewed and chewed until I had scabs covering both sides. She gave me permission to take a break from breastfeeding and to start pumping to increase my production. This was a huge relief, but at the same time it was terrifying--if I stop breastfeeding, will he ever want to try again? Will we lose this special connection forever? But I stopped, because every feeding was getting worse, not better, and I didn't want to resent or fear my son.
Obstacle number two: Jack's tongue tie. This is directly related to obstacle one as it was the reason Jack accidentally wreaked havoc on my poor nipples. He couldn't feed correctly. By the time he was properly diagnosed he had been bottle feeding for about a week and when the suggestion came to have his frenulum clipped I was wary. We didn't even have our son circumcised to protect him from what we deemed to be unnecessary pain. But, man, I was desperate to get back to feeding my son. I was ashamed and guilt-ridden. So we went ahead with the procedure. It was quick and easy. Jack didn't seem to care that much except for a quick moment of crying. This was looking to be the answer to everything. But my journey was not over.
Obstacle number three: Jack's weight and Jaundice. These factors are related to the two above. Jack couldn't eat properly because of his tongue-tie and because of this he dropped 11% of his body weight in three days. Newborns are only allowed to lose 10% so his pediatrician said we had to start supplementing with formula. Later that night we found out that his problem eating had affected not only his weight but his bilirubin levels--meaning he was pretty severely jaundiced. I don't know really what's bad-bad is for jaundice but I know that the level that causes brain damage is 24 and Jack was at 19. This number had raised from 9 in only two days. We were sent directly to Children's Hospital do not pass go. This was where we saw the lactation consultant who gave me permission to start pumping only. This is also where I experienced the height of my mommy guilt. I wasn't able feed him and now he was sick. What kind of a mother was I? Why couldn't I just do this thing that is supposed to be so easy and natural? I pretty much cried the entire time we were at Children's. Jaundice, by the way, is essentially the least serious diagnosis they encounter at Children's Hospital, so my weepiness was probably driving Jack's nurses crazy. But what can you do? He'd kept us up the previous nights crying (because he was hungry), and I couldn't sleep with my baby under bright phototherapy lights with an IV in his arm. So I was insanely tired and overwhelmed with self-pity. I really should send those ladies some Starbucks cards or something, though, cause I was a mess.
Obstacle number five: My milk-production (or lack thereof). So when the lactation consultant gave me the go-ahead to pump only, I was feeling pretty encouraged. I could just pump and put that in a bottle and say bye-bye to the formula. Smash cut to a week later--Jack is taking in 1-2oz of milk every 2 hours and mommy is producing a steady 1/4-1/2oz of milk via pump in the same time frame. I could give him a full feeding's worth about twice a day. This is how it was when I started pumping and it never got better. I got the best pump. I rented a hospital-grade machine at the consultant's instruction. But my production, which she had said signaled that I hadn't yet had a true let down of milk, had never increased. Everyone kept saying I had to stop stressing about it. Johnny even ran a bath for me, and turned the lights down, lit candles and put on some Fleet Foxes so I could rest in the tub (wonderful, wonderful man). But really--how can I not stress about something that comes up every two hours all day ever day (and even into the night)? I grew more and more discouraged every time I went to the pump. Since Jack wasn't able to feed well my body never got the signals it needed in the first days to make an adequate amount of milk. Now the pump was failing at the same task--and I felt I was failing.
Obstacle number 6 (or the straw that broke the camel's back): The SNS-supplemental nursing system. I went to a third lactation consultant back at Swedish Edmonds. We discussed the challenges I'd had with the tongue-tie and the pumping and all of it. So she suggested I try an SNS. This is a large syringe filled with formula with a little tube attached to it that runs to your nipple so the baby can breastfeed and still get the supplemental formula without having to bother with a bottle. Great idea! Or was it? Jack was supposed to be latching a lot better since his tongue-tie was released, and he latched pretty well for the consultant while we were at the hospital. But when I got home I tried to use this very tricky system on my own. Our first feeding took an hour (Jack was taking in 2oz of formula at this point). The second feeding Jack was so frustrated by this process that it took us four hours with both of us crying for most of it. The thing is that it's really hard to juggle the tube and the boob and the baby all at once, especially when you're still not feeling very confident with latching. We tried again the next morning, and Jack started bawling the moment I put him on my chest. He wasn't having it. I was devastated. Now he didn't want anything to do with me. My baby hated me (or at least that's how it felt).
That was the end. I had tried everything I could think of, and all solutions had failed miserably. John asked me if I wanted to quit (but I think in a way he was asking me to quit because he was tired of everyone in the house crying all the time). I asked him if it was alright with him if I did and he said ok (please do!). At this point I felt it wasn't worth pushing my son to do something he didn't want to do, and sacrificing the wonderful closeness we had in other aspects of our relationship. By this time you could send me to tears if you just said breastfeeding. To me the word was synonymous with failure, guilt, embarrassment, frustration, and rejection. I was done.

The silver lining around this series of stormy clouds is that once I gave myself permission to stop breastfeeding it got really easy. I didn't do it for a couple of days, and then one afternoon I just thought, what could it hurt? Let's just see what happens. I had already quit so there was no pressure. We did great! So I kept up with the random feedings here and there. In the last week I've finally increased it to just about every feeding. I'm taking fenugreek to try to increase my milk production and we're just playing it by ear. I don't hold out much hope that we'll ever be able breastfeed exclusively as we had originally planned, but I am so enjoying what we do have. I figure even a little bit of breast milk is better than none at all. It still hurts, but now it hurts at a level that I expect is what people meant when they warned me that it would--it doesn't hold a candle the torture that was my first few days of feeding.

So in the end, what I would like to say about breastfeeding, is that in many ways it has been a let down (pun intended). But I want to let other new mommies out there know that it can be wonderful and life changing, but if it doesn't work it doesn't work and it's ok. Formula may not be ideal, but it does the job and you shouldn't feel guilty if that's what you have to do. It took me several weeks of failures to finally give up and give myself permission to use this alternative. Don't sabotage precious time with your baby beating yourself up about something you can't change. And for those for whom breastfeeding was the most natural thing in the world, you really have been given a precious gift. If you see me at Starbucks blogging and feeding my newborn formula from a bottle, cut me some slack. This wasn't the way I planned it, but I desperately love my baby and I'm doing my best.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

It's a Christmas Miracle!

I haven't looked forward to Christmas since I was a kid--really not since my mom passed away in 2003. She loved to give extravagant gifts, and Christmas was the perfect forum for that passion. She didn't know how many Christmas' she had left, so she always made it the most special holiday.

So I found out baby Jack had grown to 8lbs 9oz the week before this Christmas. I started to experience signs of labor that week as well, but I couldn't really say for sure that that's what I was experiencing. My doctor did not seem concerned about him coming early. In fact, he had me all stressed out about whether or not I should have an elective c-section since Jack was already so big at 37 weeks. the average newborn is 7-1/2 lbs and my baby had 3 more weeks of cooking to do! I won't go in to all of the conversation about why I might have needed a c-section, since it is now a moot point.

We went to John's dad's house in Bellingham for breakfast Christmas morning and drove back down to Edmonds to John's mom's for a very casual evening. I had Braxton Hicks contractions all day but thought nothing of it. We returned home around 10 that night and I was exhausted (as usual) so I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. John said I was asleep for about 15 minutes before I was awakened by my water breaking. This was a shock because our birth class teacher told us that your bag of waters breaking doesn't usually happen first like it does in the movies and on tv. I was stressing out for weeks about whether I'd be able to tell when my contractions were close enough to go to the hospital, and I never even had to count. I had about an hour and half after my water broke where I had no pain to speak of.
We finished packing our hospital bag, lined the passenger seat of John's car with towels ( you would not believe how much amniotic fluid there was), and headed off to Swedish Edmonds.
We got to the hospital around midnight and once they confirmed that my water had broken I was moved into my room and able to start laboring in the nice deep tub they had in the bathroom.
My wonderful saint of a friend, Caroline, came at 2am to help me cope with labor. I sent her home around 6 or 7 when I had hit 8cm and also my mental limit. I couldn't concentrate to breathe anymore and I didn't feel able to continue with the pain being what it was so I got the epidural. This wasn't totally devastating because my plan had always been to do what I could, see what I could do, and utilize my resources if I didn't feel able. Unfortunately, what I knew about epidurals turned out to be true in my case and I stayed at 8cm for the next two hours. So out came the pitocin which stressed me out because I did not want to get on the epidural-pitocin roller coaster that eventually leads to c-section. My epidural, however, was controlled by a button that I wasn't sure if I was allowed to push-so I didn't push it. I also had a window on my right side that wasn't effected by the epidural. I was grateful for this because I was still connected to what was going on in my body, but the pain wasn't completely overwhelming. It felt like a really great compromise.
The clock was ticking away, and one troublesome thing about your water breaking at the beginning of labor instead of in the middle of it, is that you and the baby are increasingly susceptible to infection as time goes on. My doctor wanted Jack to be delivered within 12 hours so I was constantly aware that I had a time limit. I was able to start pushing at about 12 hours and they had to keep an eye on my temperature to be sure that I wasn't getting sick and that Jack wasn't either. My sister had left work after an hour, taken the bus and then walked several miles to the hospital to be with me for the birth. She and John held my legs and counted for me while I pushed for 2 and a half hours. I was very frustrated and intentionally did not utilize my epidural button because I was having so much trouble effectively pushing him out. I couldn't feel enough initially to focus my pushing where it needed to go. Finally with the help of Dr. Rogers I successfully pushed baby Jack out and I cried and John cried (even though he swore he wasn't going to). It was a beautiful experience. It was the fastest 14-1/2 hours of my life. I ended up with an absolutely adorable 8lb 9oz baby boy.
Now the work has begun. John and I have been overwhelmed both by the amount of love we have for our child, as well as the amount of work that goes into caring for him. This was especially true in the first week when we barely slept. Now that we've got a rhythm going things are a bit easier.

All in all the birth of my child has been a day anticipated with the same fervor I once had approaching Christmas day. Baby Jack is the most extravagant Christmas gift I've received in my life. It reminds me of Matthew 7:11 Just as my mother was able to give good gifts when I was a child, how much more has my Father in heaven been able to give good gifts?