Sunday, December 4, 2011

Breastfeeding Bedlam

So, let's resume my breastfeeding saga starting after I got home from the hospital...I've decided to split up my experiences with Janie and Walt because I don't want them to melt together.  Who knew I'd have so much to say about this?  I'm warning you that this is a really long post, but I didn't want this to become a 3-part series.  Apparently I had some issues to work through!

I kept up with the nursing routine with Janie that we established in the hospital.  Janie ate like a champ, but it became obvious after two weeks that the milk wasn't there, and she was not happy about it!  It got to the point where I had to feed her every hour and she'd be hungry the next.  With Janie, I had the stress of knowing that maternity leave would end quickly and that I had to establish a milk supply before she returned to daycare.  With Walt, I had the stress of feeling like I had to get my feeding routine figured out pronto so that I could take care of him and fifteen-month-old Janie in the best way possible.  Having to feed a baby every hour wasn't really working out well for anyone! 

Between the visit when I was told I might have to supplement with formula and my decision to stop breastfeeding around 3 weeks, I was in such emotional agony.  I'm really good at guilt.  Here's why I felt guilt with Janie:
  1. The financial investment we made in a great pump in the hopes that it would help me to produce more milk and return to work with a stockpile ready for Janie.  Unfortunately, my record was 2 oz. per breast.  
  2. I wasn't able to produce enough food for her.     
  3. I was so tired and in pain that I wasn't keeping up with the housework or cooking.   
  4. I wasn't bonding as well with Janie because I was so unhappy.  
  5. I was so consumed with my physical recovery and emotions that I wasn't as available as I should have been for Philip.
  6. The pediatrician was anti-formula and condescending about my lack of success with breastfeeding.  He basically told me that I needed to figure it out because breastmilk is best.  You can imagine what it was like for me to go to Janie's next appointment after I stopped breastfeeding and have to give her a formula bottle in front of him with his disapproving look.  Lesson learned:  You're not married to your pediatrician.  If you feel like your child's doctor is not helping you to be a better parent or support you in your role, it's time to find a new pediatrician.  (Note:  That visit, combined with him being a too aggressive with antibiotics, led us to switch to our fabulous new pediatrician.) 
I'll never forget how sweet Philip was throughout the whole process.  He even got up with me for most nighttime feedings.  He sat on the nursery floor and kept us company, telling me that he didn't feel right sleeping while I had to be up.  He kept telling me how proud of me he was and that I was doing a great job.  He asked how I thought things were going several times a day, but he knew that something had to change.  When Janie was nearly three weeks old, I reached my breaking point, and Philip knew it. 

Philip sat down on the couch next to me while Janie was taking a nap.  I started crying and telling him all of the reasons why I was feeling guilty about things.  I told him I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders and that I was failing in every area of my life.  I imagine I looked a lot like this:

Philip gave me a big hug and told me that I was a great wife and mother.  Bring on the tears!  He said that I should be proud of myself for even trying to breastfeed.  He told me that if I wanted to stop breastfeeding that he would support me and that I shouldn't feel guilty because I had done the best that I could.  I told him that I did but I didn't want to stop.  I didn't want to stop giving Janie the best possible food.  I didn't want to stop having that close connection.  I did want to stop the hourly feedings and constant exhaustion that was preventing me from recovering and being a happy person.

That's when Philip took my hand and said it:  "Why don't we stop?"  Oh, the tears.  I was such a hot mess.  Philip kept talking while I sobbed.  He said that it was obvious I was miserable.  He said forcing breastfeeding to work but being miserable wouldn't be doing Janie any favors.  Despite the great health benefits, she'd be a much happier baby if she had a happy mom.  I couldn't disagree with that.  I told Philip that the thought of giving Janie a formula bottle didn't terrify me nearly as much as it used to and that it actually made me feel relief.

Janie had her first formula bottle from Philip that day.  She finished it in record time and slept a solid four hours before she woke, ready for another feeding.  A new calm settled over the house.  I began to get some rest, and so did Janie.  Philip was able to return the pump, freeing me from that guilt.  Janie started sleeping through the nights just weeks later.  I had the energy to be a wife and mother again.  Philip was glad to have his smiling and happy wife again.  Looking back, I don't think I had post-partum depression with either baby.  I think I had a bad case of the baby blues combined with the terrible guilt.  I hate thinking of the sad, detached zombie mom I was to Janie those first few weeks.

After switching to formula and seeing how much happier all of us were, we kept asking each other, "Why didn't we do this sooner?!"

I finally forgave myself and was able to move on--until six months later when we got the exciting news that we were expecting another baby.

I'm always thinking about things, trying to plan the future, making lists, and fretting away.  So, as you can imagine, one of my first thoughts after finding out that we were expecting was, "Do I dare try breastfeeding again?"  

Philip and I talked it over, and we decided before Walt arrived that we would give it another try.  Here were our reasons:
  1. Obvious health benefits.
  2. Mother/baby bonding.
  3. A second delivery should be an easier recovery.
  4. I'm staying at home and don't have to worry about creating a milk supply for daycare.
  5. Breastfeeding is less expensive than formula feeding.
  6. Maybe it would be easier since we knew what to expect from having Janie.
So, I got really dedicated to the whole thing.  I asked friends who had nursed successfully for all of their tips and took copious notes.  I read at least three books cover to cover, underlining and inserting Post-It notes.  I wanted to get to the bottom of what I did wrong the first time around so that I could make breastfeeding work with "Baby Boucher 2.0."  Although I had forgiven myself for not being able to breastfeed successfully with Janie, I was still bummed about the whole thing.  We decided we would rent a pump this time around to see if it worked out.  We also invested in a nursing pillow called "My Brest Friend" (who comes up with these names???) to help me get situated during feedings.

We bought a cute nursing cover, but I can't remember if we ended up with a "Hooter Hider" or an "Udder Cover" (more weird names).

We bought some sleep nursing bras and one everyday nursing bra.  We had to special order them because nobody, not even the special lactation consultant who carries "special sizes," had my size!  I should have known that the investment in these items would only add to the guilt if things didn't work out.       

Walt arrived, my perfectly healthy budding linebacker baby, weighing in at 8 lbs. 13 oz.  Like Janie, he ate like a champ and we did everything right according to the lactation consultants and nurses.  I was so optimistic about nursing the second time around.  The delivery (and therefore the recovery) was so much easier, I had more confidence, and I was feeling like I could take on the challenge.  I told Philip how happy I was that we were trying it again.  I tried to make every feeding session be a time of bonding for me and Walt.

My good feelings went away a few weeks later when Walt failed to gain enough weight between pediatrician visits.  Our sweet pediatrician is a mother herself, and her nurse (also a mother) is a certified lactation consultant.  They were both so supportive.  They asked if I would be comfortable having the nurse take a look at me nursing Walt to see if they could troubleshoot.  After taking a look, the nurse said that things looked great.  She gave me all of the advice I heard from my friends and the books:  eat steel-cut oatmeal, put Walt to my breast as often as possible, drink plenty of water, and get plenty of rest (ha!).  We had already reached the point where we were doing hourly feedings, so I was hoping for some kind of magical solution I hadn't heard.

It was in between that pediatrician visit at 2 weeks and the next at 4 weeks that I decided to stop breastfeeding Walt.  I wasn't able to pump more than a one-time record 3.5 oz. from one breast, and Walt wasn't going for more than an hour between feedings.  I was a walking zombie again, but this time I also had Janie to take care of.  I wasn't as good at multi-tasking as this mom or have her handy dandy hands-free bustier:

Miracle of miracles, we timed Walt being born when Philip had some time off between finishing up medical school and beginning his residency, so he was able to be at home and help out for awhile.  Walt was born May 19th, and Philip didn't start resident orientation until the end of June.

Poor Philip received mixed messages from me about how to support me.  I told him before Walt was born that to be the best support, he needed to not let me quit "cold turkey" (or "cold cabbage" as he says!) and move on to the formula.  I told him if it got tough that I'd like to try supplementing first.

Things got tough.  Philip and I had to have another chat on the couch about the status of things.  I, of course, sobbed like I did the first time around.  I told Philip I was miserable.  Philip asked if I wanted to try giving Walt a bottle of formula.  I resisted and told him I wanted to keep trying a combination of pumping and nursing to see if I could get my supply to increase.  I was drinking tons of water, eating the oatmeal, and getting as much rest as possible.  I saw no increase to my supply, and Walt was very hungry.  Philip suggested I take a night off from feeding so that I could recover and get some rest.  He said he'd do the nighttime feedings and give Walt everything I had pumped and supplement with formula if he needed to.  Can I tell you how glorious that night of sleep was?  It was like manna from heaven.  I woke up like this, and I never wake up like this:

Hearing Philip's glowing morning report about how quickly Walt finished off the bottles and how great he slept should have made me happy.  Instead, it made me upset.  Here I was, running myself ragged, trying to supply my baby with as much milk as possible, but he didn't miss me at all overnight!  He finished the bottles in record time and moved on to the formula without batting an eye!  Didn't he need me?!  I held onto that feeling for a day or two before the exhaustion set in again from the hourly feedings.  The crazy, sad, zombie mom returned.

I was doing everything right, but my body wasn't cooperating and I felt like a failure.  On top of that, I was feeling tremendous guilt for not being able to give sweet Janie the attention she needed.  I was feeling so completely tethered.  Walt was eating every hour so I didn't feel like I could leave the house.  Janie was only sixteen months old so she had to be restrained in a stroller if we went anywhere, but she's never been interested in being restrained for any long amount of time.  Besides, I stink at nursing without my awesome pillow and don't have the guts to nurse in public unless it's an emergency and I have to.  Not only do I hate the strangers staring and grossed out looks, but I'm modest and it's really hard to hide my "special size" chest under a cover with (1) a really active baby and (2) a curious toddler who likes to play peek-a-boo with the baby.  I didn't feel like inviting friends over because I didn't have any milk pumped most of the time.  I knew I'd probably have to nurse while they were over, and I didn't think either of us would be comfortable with me nursing in front of them.  Feeling so exhausted, tethered, isolated, and like a failure was rough.

This is how it feels to nurse in public.  Here's a campaign dedicated to raising breastfeeding awareness.
Philip saw me reach my breaking point again and suggested that we stop.  He said to stop feeling any guilt because I had done my best and had gotten a few weeks further with Walt than I did with Janie.  We talked about what a relief formula had been with Janie and how much easier it was and that we needed to change something because Walt wasn't gaining enough weight.  I was wary of trying to supplement too much with formula because it was making my already limited milk supply dwindle.  Ultimately, we decided to end the breastfeeding and start exclusively formula feeding.  Like the first time, it was a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders.  Walt started sleeping through the night almost instantly, and everyone returned to their usual happy selves.  I was thrilled to be a happy mom again and had the energy to be a mother of two--and so were they.  I harbored guilt for that first week and tried to nurse again, but my milk was gone.  I hate to admit it now, but I think part of me was glad that my body decided for me to end breastfeeding. 

I'm still so happy I tried breastfeeding with both babies.  It was hard for me, but it was so rewarding when I had successful feedings and I could tell that the babies were full.  Breastfeeding is worth fighting for, but I don't think it's worth fighting for if it's making you miserable.  It's not supposed to be miserable or a daily struggle.  Yes, it's hard work and it takes awhile to get the hang of things, but I don't think what I experienced is how it's supposed to go.  I don't know if I'll ever be able to successfully breastfeed my babies.  For now, I plan to breastfeed Baby #3 whenever that time comes.  I'd be thrilled to figure it all out.  I can only imagine the sense of accomplishment I'd have after all of my failings with breastfeeding!  I'm dedicated to trying to make it work with our future babies, but I'm learning that there's much more to being a good mom than whether or not you breastfeed.  

So, after all of my struggles, I want every mom out there to know that she can be a great mom even if she ends up having to formula feed her baby.  If you've figured out a way to make breastfeeding work for you and your baby, you're incredible to me!  What a blessing that you're able to do exactly what God intended for your body and for your baby.  Please, show me the way!  If breastfeeding didn't work for you or if you never tried for whatever reason, it's none of my business, but I think it would be great if every mother at least tried.  That being said, enough with the mean looks for mothers who do have to formula feed for one reason or another.  Maybe they have a health condition, are an adoptive mother, or are babysitting and what you see in that bottle is breast milk.  If I see a mother who is breastfeeding in public, I make it a point to give her an encouraging smile.  I'm all about modesty, and I'm not hoping to see a stranger's breasts, but I think it's a beautiful thing when a mother is able to feed her baby without shame.  More power to her if she's one of those talented moms who can pull it off discretely without a cover!  (How do you do that, anyway?  Is that only possible if you're not "special size"?)   If we'd stop objectifying women so much in this country and viewing their breasts as sex toys, we'd probably be more comfortable with seeing women breastfeed in public and actually think it is beautiful--because it is.     
Hopefully by the time Baby #3 comes on the scene I'll be less neurotic, more confident, and the queen of milk production.  If not, Janie and Walt seem to be doing just fine, so I'll try not to beat myself up for the third time if it doesn't work out.  If that's the case, there will inevitably be tears, and I'll probably have to re-read this blog post between tissues, but at least I will be able tell myself that I did the best I could and get on with the business of being a mom.

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