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.


  1. Any amount is awesome and you are doing SUCH an incredible job. Making choices for your baby and sacrificing your own desires is the crux of motherhood... I am totally impressed. Keeping up nursing, eating tons of oats- flax seeds and brewers yeast are all awesome (and super tasty, have you had milk cookies? heaven.) way to keep building your milk up without adding huge stressors to your day to day. Way to go feeding you baby and feeding him well.

  2. Oh, Cherie!!

    I can relate on so many levels! I wish I had talked to you about it...Breastfeeding was so stressful. And I would get so anxious and frustrated while trying to breastfeed, that Micah would stand behind me and play with my hair in an attempt to get me to relax! It finally got to a point that Micah had to feed a screaming, hungry EJ from a spoon while I was on the floor on all fours, hanging my huge boobs into the hottest water I could manage because they were so hugely engorged that EJ couldn't even latch...
    I'm sorry that you had to go through that. But, thank you for your honesty in your blog. You're awesome, and already an incredible mom.

  3. Cherie! You just wrote out my EXACT experience when Parker was born. They sent us home from the hospital with the SNS and formula, it took two adults, an hour, and buckets of tears for every feeding. After a week I wanted to send him back. I felt like a milk cow attached to the pumper like a life-line, but it really does get better, eventually Parker became a great nurser, and my supply was enough (I wouldn't have minded a little extra, but it was always just enough). You're doing a great job, no matter what you end up doing to feed your little guy. -Julie