Thursday, August 5, 2010

Perspectives: When "Natural" =/= "Easy"

I'm honored to be a part of the Breastfeeding Blog Carnival hosted by The Leaky B@@b. It's World Breastfeeding Week and the carnival theme is "Perspectives: Breastfeeding from Every Angle." Visit The Leaky B@@b for more perspectives on breastfeeding.

Hi, my name is Star, and I used to think breastfeeding was disgusting.

I like to think of myself as a breastfeeding success story.

My mom nursed me, but, obviously, I don't remember that far back. Growing up, no one ever nursed around me. The few babies I saw were fed by bottle. I thought that that was just, you know, how it was done.

When I was sixteen, my sister had her first baby. I went to the hospital to see my new nephew, and there he was – attached to her breast?!? Ewwwwwww, sister boob! My teenage self was so horrified. I spent the visit doing everything I could to not look at her while she nursed.

Fast forward seven years.

I'm married now, and, after trying for a veryveryveryvery long time, expecting. I'm so enamored by my tiny little ultrasound pictures, and the small bump I'm pretending I already have. I'm buying up all sorts of baby stuff and maternity clothes, and I'm loving every second of this experience so much.

I'm really concerned about her car seat. I want to get a really good one. While researching that, I find, inexplicably, a bunch of stuff about breastfeeding. The more I read, the more it intrigues me. The health benefits for my baby and me, the amazing components of breastfeeding...I decide, right away, to give this a go. The websites all seem to talk about how natural and beautiful it is, and I'm so excited.

In my mind, “natural and beautiful” becomes “easy” and I'm shocked when, in the hospital, my baby won't latch on. After three consultations with the lactation consultant and a begrudgingly given nipple shield (that “you'll want to wean her off of as soon as you can, dear”) we're on our way. Yay! It's time for the natural, beautiful, EASY part!

Except it's day 4 and I have no milk. And my beautiful baby has dropped 12% of her body weight. And now the nurses are pushing formula. A lot.

So I tearfully feed her it. And she responds happily, and gains back some weight, and we can leave. When we get home, and my milk comes in, I will get back to breastfeeding, and all will be fantastic.

Day 5. At home. No milk. I cry to my husband that I'm somehow faulty, that this isn't right, and how the hell can I ever get milk when the baby's not nursing anymore? I dissolve into a flood of tears, while he looks on helplessly.


But...I'm horribly engorged, and she can't latch on, and I don't know what to do. So I go to her pediatrician, who is (luckily) very pro-breastfeeding. And he helps me out a little, and also refers me to a lactation consultant.

Except now the baby has nipple confusion. But slowly, steadily, we work through that. And the next few months pass in a beautiful blur.

At 5 months, we go in for a pediatrician appointment. And my daughter has fallen off the growth chart. Even the one for breastfed babies. Her doctor asks me questions about her eating, orders a couple of tests, and says he wants to see us in a month.

A month later, she's even further off the chart, and none of the tests showed anything wrong. So more tests are ordered. And then a five day stay in the hospital for us two, where she will be weighed before and after every nursing to see how much she's getting.

About an ounce – maybe two - on each side, as it turns out. My pediatrician orders a daily LC consultation in the hospital, and, until we can make what he is pretty sure is my supply issue better, he wants to supplement formula. She refuses a bottle, so we try sippies. This seems acceptable to her. But I can't help feeling like a big huge failure. Why is this so hard for me? I just want to nurse my child, damn it!

On top of all this, the reason we were admitted to the hospital is classified as failure to thrive. Fun fact: in my state, this means an automatic DFS case is opened on you. So, in the hospital, we get the first visit from DFS. I am lucky; this woman is the sweetest person ever. She asks a bunch of questions, I answer truthfully, and she makes notes. I'm very upset, so I'm stuttering and sounding ridiculous. Eventually, she leaves, promising to come back later. She doesn't, though. I find out after the fact that they questioned our parents as teachers person, the people at WIC, and someone from a state program for stay at home moms that I participated in, all of whom reported that I was, in fact, a decent mother. The case was dropped. Not that I knew that while I was utterly stressed in the hospital.

A month later, after eleven hundred pounds of Mother's Milk tea and fenugreek and pumping up a storm, I'm producing milk well again. Enough milk to cut out formula entirely. I feel more accomplished than if I'd won a gold medal. My daughter nurses until she's a little over a year, at which point she self weans.

My breastfeeding experience was fraught with all sorts of issues. It was hard work, and stressful, and one of the most time consuming things I've ever done in my life.

I have no regrets about it.

I'm not going to lie – parts of my experience were dreadful. But the benefits far outweighed the stress. My daughter and I not only got the health benefits of nursing, but the time we spent, and the act of nursing, bonded us so strongly. We still have a strong, I believe unseverable, bond. And some of my favorite memories involve us nursing – the delighted smiles at my breast, the nighttime feedings where we curled up together and took comfort in each other's presence, the ability to make everything better so easily for my daughter. The beauty of that experience – likely already forgotten by her – will be something I cherish forever.

I'm now nursing, and creating those memories, with my second. Even though this nursing experience has gone much smoother, I'm not worried about issues that might pop up. I know I can fight like a tiger to have this with my child, and I know how worth it it is. So I'm just enjoying the ride.

Who'd have known that someone who once found nursing disgusting would have such a turn around?

(And, on a side note, I've nursed both of my daughters in front of my younger brother. The first time around, he was 12. This time, he's 16. And he's never had an “OMG, gross, sister boobs!” moment. This gives me incredible hope that by openly nursing around him, I've helped create someone who will be respectful of lactating mothers everywhere.)


Sara said...

Great success story! Pretty much my entire family is pro-breastfeeding. It makes me smile. Kiss those babies!

Making It Work Mom said...

What a great story! So happy you were able to stick it out.
My husband was not excited about my decision to breast feed with my first. With our third now 4 though he is one of the biggest proponents of breast feeding.

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Summer said...

Man, I feel you with the dramatic beginnings. People don't realize how deep down to your very core freaking rockstar you feel after sticking it out when most people would have thrown in the towel WAAAAAAAY before things went as far as they did.

I feel like we belong to a special club, lol. We should get jackets made.

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