Sunday, March 4, 2012
a breastfeeding mishap...turned pumping miracle!
Not latching on
This is one topic that is pretty upsetting to me, but also one that when I started this blog I really wanted to write about. After reading the book, Mother Shock by Andrea J. Buchanan, and reading her essay in there, "Confessions of a Bottle-Feeder," I feel ready to shed the light on the whole breastfeeding process, at least what I experienced.
The cold truth of it is that breastfeeding did not work for me or for my son. He would not latch on. I tried for four days in the hospital, with him screaming and sobbing louder than he has still ever screamed in his two years of life. I hurt like hell. He and my husband were miserable.
I remember one night we had visitors who'd traveled a long ways to see us, but it was time for me to nurse. I had a hard time nursing and physically moving the baby where I needed him due to my C-section and literally not being able to turn or move in bed those first few days, so I always needed help to get him onto me at first. This one night a lactation person kicked everyone out of our room, undressed me and my son, saying the skin-to-skin would help better with nursing. She left me that way, with my husband out of the room entertaining the guests. The baby moved and wasn't latched right and I was having a really hard time getting him back on correctly, because again I could not move. I started sobbing. I looked up and realized that the window was completely open, it was night time, and you could see directly across into other patients' rooms, which told me they could see into mine... which further upset me. I tried reaching toward the table for my cell phone to call my husband, but could not move to reach it. It was an awful moment.
Essentially, we were told by the doctor we had to stay an extra night in the hospital because my son did not weigh enough to go home. Actually, we were told I was discharged from my C-section stay, but that our son needed to stay an extra night because he had lost too much weight. Luckily they allowed us to stay in the room with him that night, but it was devastating.
On the last day in the hospital the lactation consultant said she thought Owen was tongue tied, meaning the part under his tongue was literally tied too much to his mouth making it difficult for him to latch appropriately. She told us if we did not have it taken care of he would not nurse at all. Nursing being my priority, we agreed to have the tongue specialist check out our newborn's mouth. The doctor came into the room with a briefcase, looked at Owen's mouth, talked to us for a minute about what we'd been through with trying to nurse, and determined, yes, Owen had tongue tied. We asked what he would do about that. He said he would take care of it right here and now if we wanted in a "surgical procedure" of cutting the part under his tongue with scissors. No medication would be used to numb it. The doctor moved toward his brief case to start. I glared at my husband and gripped his hand, as if telepathically saying "Get him out of here NOW!" My husband said, "Thanks very much, doctor, but we are not prepared to do that right now and will let you all know if we need to."
Right then and there I made the decision to stop nursing and to get formula for my son who was starving. I was 100 percent opposed to this tongue tied procedure. Several lactation people tried telling me our son would have speech problems forever if we did not take care of this situation right away, and of course they reminded me I could forget my dreams of ever nursing if we didn't do the procedure. My sister-in-law is a speech therapist whom I trust very much. She disagreed, said she has never in all of her career heard of a child needing speech therapy due to having tongue tied as a newborn.
I know many close friends and family members who have indeed had this procedure done on their children in an effort to nurse their babies. I respect their opinions, truly I do. Doctors will even say that the procedure does not hurt the baby and is OK to do, so it's not like it's inhumane or anything. However, for my husband and I, it was a ludicrous request at something that was already not working to begin with. It was the end of the line, the last straw for us. In my opinion, it was just too much to put into something that was not the end result in life.
I am grateful now that my son had tongue tied. It gave me the power I needed to reassess the situation and to realize that I did not need to nurse, it was not the end of the world. It helped me take control back from the lactation people and nurses and family and friends who were pressuring us to "keep with it, don't quit now, he'll get the hang of it, you'll see."
I am still shocked how completely clear I became in that one second when the doctor said "surgical procedure to help your son nurse." My husband had been trying to convince me for days that we could supplement with bottles while the nursing took some time to get working, but I wouldn't listen. I couldn't. The pressure I felt from everyone else - and even myself - was way too much to think clearly at that time (in the midst of hormones, lack of sleep and a C-section recovery process).
To supplement and pump we go!
After lots of tears and discussions with my husband (including the biggest fight to date after 12 years of being together where we were both at our wits ends over what on earth to do to help our poor hungry baby), nurses, doctors, family members, lactation consultants, etc. we decided we needed to feed this baby, he was starving. We gave him formula from a dropper, then from a tube. We finally gave him a bottle 5 days later. He stopped crying immediately. My husband looked relieved.
I felt guilty, embarrassed, depressed, defeated, and furious with the system. I felt like a terrible mother. I felt like I'd failed at something that was "supposed" to have worked easily for us.
Help is on the way!
The same day we gave my son formula a wonderful, sweet, young nurse came to check me in the middle of the night. I was still crying over feeding my son formula. She suggested I pump. I had no idea what that even meant, nobody had mentioned it to me - not friends, not doctors or nurses or lactation people. She helped me at 3 a.m. and I produced maybe one ounce of breastmilk from both sides. I was so incredibly proud of myself. From that moment on I started pumping every hour to two hours and gave that milk to my son first, then offered the formula. Voila! We'd found OUR system that would work to make all 3 of us - me, baby and husband - happy. I will forever remember this nurse. I swear I see her as some angel. She was young, blonde, soft spoken and just was the answer to my prayers at that moment.
My doctor came to see me the last day when we were being discharged and I was still sad about nursing not working (despite that I kept trying nursing for a week after the hospital too). She bent down near me where I sat in a chair and said, "Angela, listen, I'm your doctor so you trust me, right?" I said yes. She proceeded to tell me that even she did not nurse past 4 weeks. She said it was too hard, too much effort, made her a worse mom, and that her baby was on formula and did great and is still thriving. It's not the end of the world. "You are not a bad mother," she said. The pediatrician was in the room at the time checking out our son, too, and she said the same thing. "Oh yeah, I used formula, too. It's not the worst thing." I stared at my doctor in disbelief and laughed out loud saying, "Well, I wish you'd told me that 5 days ago!"
We went home with about an ounce of pumped breastmilk, a rented breast pump, and rules about how long to put milk on the counter for, how to manage supplementing formula and breastmilk together until my milk came in steady to just strictly use my milk. I no longer felt pressure to breastfeed. In my opinion, it was the milk that counted. I let go of the pressure, feelings of defeat, and just accepted this was what would work for us. I did try nursing off and on that first week home from the hospital, but eventually was OK letting it go completely because the pumping was going so well.
Being home with my new family, away from pressures of lactation specialists and nurses and visitors made me gain confidence that I was a good mom and doing just fine. When a visiting nurse came to weigh him and he'd gained almost a pound in a week she said, "Wow, congratulations, you guys are doing something right!" My husband smiled at me and said, "My wife is doing something right." We told her I was pumping and supplementing with formula. She said, "That's great, just keep feeding this little guy!"
The silver lining
In the end, I am happy this was our story and that I was not a nursing mom. I strongly believe my son slept better because he was given bottles. I believe I recovered faster from a horrible ordeal in the hospital and a C-section because I was not up nursing him for hours every night. I feel like my husband has a special bond with our son since he was able to help right away with feedings. I know we had an easier time when I had to go to work after 11 weeks and did not need to transition him to bottles because it was all he'd known. I don't think I would have been very comfortable nursing in front of people as I've seen many friends do, so even that was a blessing in disguise that I could excuse myself to another room for 10 minutes instead of the 45-60 I've seen nursing moms have to do so frequently.
It was nice also to share our baby with others who had been so patiently awaiting this first grandchild on my side and second on my husband's side. At first I had a rule that all breastmilk bottles I strictly fed to my son, to keep the feeling that I was feeding him myself and bonding with him. Then formula bottles his dad would feed him or sometimes others would feed him. Within 4 weeks we did not need anymore formula and he was strictly on my milk for 10 months, until we supplemented one formula bottle a day until a year old.
We did it! It was not at all how I'd predicted it would be when I read all the nursing how-to books, and it was not at all what the Breastfeeding 101 teacher said it would be. But it was what it was, and now I can look back and be grateful it turned out how it did. Pumping was just my thing. And now I know that was OK.
It has since become my mission to help new moms or moms-to-be understand that nursing is not the only way to feed your child. Yes, I agree wholeheartedly that nursing is the best thing in the world. However, it's breastmilk that is BEST, not nursing in my opinion. Formula is not evil either. Many of us in this generation were raised on formula. Back in the day breastmilk was considered bad just like formula is considered today.
I support moms in whatever they choose to do. I just hope moms who want to breastfeed stop and think to themselves, why do I really want to do this? Is it because I believe this is best or is it because I've been told by everyone and their mother's lactation consultant that it's the ONLY way?
I have heard stories of moms nursing and blood coming out into the baby's mouth in the milk because her nipples were so sore. A lactation consultant told her that was normal. I have heard of moms who struggle for two months with cracked nipples and are up nursing every hour for 45 minutes to an hour straight - without eating, using the restroom, sleeping or seeing visitors to cheer her up. I have heard of moms being told bottles should never ever be used until 6 weeks old OR ELSE. I have heard of fathers who wished they could be part of this thing that mom was in charge of for 9/10 months, but can't be part of it because the baby eats from mom. I have heard hands down that most breastfed babies do not sleep so their parents have a harder time. I have heard of lactation people saying "oh that's just normal" to things that moms themselves question, "Do I really need to put myself and my body through this?"
It frustrates me that this is such a hot topic - nursing or bottles. I never feel guilty when I'm around moms who use cloth diapers and I use disposable diapers. I don't feel pressure to use cloth diapers. I don't feel like I'm a terrible person or bad mom because I use disposable diapers. However, even when I was pumping breastmilk and feeding my son a bottle in front of other moms I'd have to make a comment like, "Oh you like mom's milk in a bottle, huh?" just so the moms would know I was a "good mom" for still providing breastmilk. I did that a couple of times until I realized how stupid that was considering I also used formula and thought there was NOTHING wrong with formula. Why the pressure over what and how we feed our children, yet no pressure about how we dress them or diaper them or what age we potty train or if they stay at home without peers or are socialized early on in a daycare? It does not make sense to me. But I digress...
I'll say it here- lactation consultants are wonderful and you should certainly ask for their assistance in the hospital. I have nothing against them. My personal experience with them was terrible, but it was in conjunction with a myriad of symptoms. I support nursing and breastfeeding parents. I just want some of that support reciprocated for those who choose another way... pumping or formula or supplementing or bottles.
I hope we all can realize this is HARD WORK. Way harder than anyone imagines it will be, even those who latch correctly right off say it's hard work. I hope we can all support one another in the process of feeding our children, and realize that a year from now we won't care how they were fed just that they are growing toddlers at that point and we did our best to be good mothers.