Friday, December 2, 2011

My Experience With Breastfeeding, aka "I feel like such a failure! I'm a terrible mother!"

I was so thrilled to see another mom write that formula feeding is not an evil thing in this blog post yesterday: Breastfeeding Bullies.  It made me want to share my experience with both nursing and formula feeding, and why I feel that (1) mothers who breastfeed successfully are my heroes, and (2) that mothers who end up formula feeding are not evil.

Breastmilk is Best
First, I should say that I firmly agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics that breastmilk is best for babies.  That's why I chose to breastfeed Janie and, despite it not working out, why I decided to try giving breastfeeding another go around with Walt.  Hubby and pediatrician-in-training Philip is happy I'm on board with this philosophy!  I think a mother who is able to breastfeed her baby successfully for any period of time is doing a wonderful thing.

I loved nursing Janie and Walt.  Not only did I know that my babies were getting all of the awesome health benefits by breastfeeding, but we were bonding in a way that I couldn't replicate with a bottle.  Some of my fondest memories those first few weeks of their lives were rocking them in the nursery and having them doze in and out of sleep against my body as they gazed at me.

Passed out in the nursery with Walt our first day home from the hospital
This is not to say that a mother who does not nurse, an adoptive mother, a father, or any other relative bottle feeding cannot bond with the baby.  Using feeding times for skin to skin contact, singing, or just gazing into one another's eyes is a very powerful experience -- and thank goodness it is, because nursing didn't work out for me with Janie or Walt beyond three or four weeks!

"If it works out, great.  If not, it will be okay."
This was what I told myself my philosophy with breastfeeding would be before Janie arrived.  I should have revised it to, "If it works out, that will be awesome.  If it doesn't, I will remind myself every other minute that I am not a complete failure as a mother."

Tired, Hormonal Women in Pain Do Not Mix Well With Pushy, Hands-On Lactation Consultants or Snarky Nurses
Miracle of miracles, Janie and Walt both arrived perfectly healthy, and both got the hang of nursing right away.  With Janie, I let the lactation consultants in the hospital know that I was committed to nursing in the hopes that they would give me a little space and let me show them what I learned in the breastfeeding class I attended.  A girl can dream, can't she?  Unfortunately, in their excitement to get me nursing, they were so pushy and quite literally hands-on (without asking) that it stressed me out and made me feel like they were critiquing my every move.  I knew they were there to help, but I was a brand new mom, and I wanted that time to figure it out on my own and bond with my new baby.  If I had it to do all over again, I would have just asked them to please leave and that I would call if I needed help.  They said that we had all of the mechanics worked out and that we were doing great, so I didn't understand the need to show up in my hospital room every few hours to "check on things." 
Those of you who have had a baby know that needing sleep, sleeping in the same room as a newborn, and being in the hospital don't mix.  I've heard women say that they wish they could stay in the hospital longer after having a baby.  Not me!  I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible both times so that I could get some rest and be back in my own bed.  The constant interruptions made it impossible for me to get any rest, and I need rest to be able to function--let alone nurse.  I had no idea how many interruptions there would be in the hospital!  We only had immediate family come to visit both times, and of course I am thrilled that they all came to meet Janie and Walt.  What shocked me was the number of non-visitor interruptions -- nurses to check on me and the baby (every few hours), the pediatrician the next morning, my doctor the next morning, pushy lactation consultants, the in-hospital baby photographer, food delivery people, etc.  I know they were just doing their jobs, but I nearly reached my breaking point both times in the hospital from these non-visitor interruptions.

With Janie, I nearly reached my breaking point with a pushy lactation consultant.  I had a rough delivery, was in A LOT of pain after, and I was exhausted.  I feel the need to share the details of what happened leading up to meeting this woman so that you might sympathize with me:  I started having painful contractions that woke me up at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning, was in active labor for about 15 hours, had to push for three hours before Jane was born at 11:58 p.m. Thursday, and I didn't get to go to my post-partum room and sleep until about 2:30 a.m. Friday morning.  Yes, that's nearly three days between the start of painful contractions and when Janie was born.  Needless to say, I was exhausted before Janie even arrived and the real work began.  So, on our last day in the hospital, I had had enough of the pain, lack of sleep, and constant interruptions.  When I heard the lactation consultant coming down the hall, I asked Philip to block the door and tell her that we weren't needing her assistance, thank you.  If you were me, you would have asked your husband to tell a pushy broad who wanted to grab your boobs without your permission "no thanks" too, right? 

At least I learned the second time around with Walt to be my own best advocate while in the hospital so we had fewer interruptions and I got more rest.  With Walt, I nearly reached my breaking point with a snarky nurse I had on my last day in the hospital.  We were renting a pump from the hospital, but before we checked out of our room in the hospital, we had to make sure the pump worked.  We went through three different machines that didn't work before we discovered that it was the kit, not the machines, that wasn't working properly.  Having a screaming, hungry baby, being all packed up and ready to go, but having to wait for the lactation consultant to fetch the three different machines and a new kit from the lobby store during this two-hour exit from the hospital grated on my nerves.  So, when the nurse who was supposed to discharge us took her sweet time getting to our room because she was chit chatting in the hall and then made comments like, "He doesn't look comfortable in that carseat.  He looks really mad.  Are you sure he's going to be warm enough?" I thought I'd kill the woman.  Do you notice a trend here?  It's the last day people who received my wrath.  I wanted to say to her, "Of course he's unhappy in the carseat!  He had to wait for you to end your conversation so that we can leave!  Don't you know I'm already a crazy woman with raging hormones?!  I don't need your attitude right now!"  For the record, I think Walt was warm enough.  It was May 19, he had a blanket, it was sunny, and the temperature was in the 70's.   

Hungry and sick of waiting to leave.
This doesn't even look like Walt.  He looks like he was in a prize fight.
The Milk Never Arrived
Despite doing everything I was supposed to, my milk supply never got to where it needed to be.  When days four and five rolled around I was supposed to have the "real" milk, it just didn't come.  With both babies, it got to the point that the babies were eating every hour and would be ravenous an hour later.  Keeping up with that and pumping in between to try and stimulate things ran me ragged--especially the second time around when I was running after Janie and trying to take care of Walt.  No matter what I did and despite my attempts to follow the advice of friends, lactation consultants, and all of the books I read, my supply never increased.  Both Janie and Walt lost weight in the hospital and didn't gain enough back when we got home.  After our visit to the pediatrician,  I was told to supplement with formula.  

So, what did I do?  The level-headed and logical thing, of course.  I agreed with the pediatrician in the office, but as soon as I got in the car, I sobbed, went into hysterics, and told Philip, "I feel like such a failure!  I'm a terrible mother!"  I was a crazy person.

I'll pause here since this is already a long post.  Stay tuned to find out how Philip convinced me that I wasn't a failure or a terrible mother, and find out how I started to actually enjoy motherhood again.


  1. I'm sorry you had such a bad experience with the lactation consultants! I LOVE the ones at KU- they are some of the kindest and most knowledgeable nurses I know. Too bad they can't all be like that. I'm looking forward to seeing how this story resolves!

    P.S. Phil sounds like a keeper :-)

  2. Thanks for posting the article yesterday and this post. I have been struggling with feeding the whole time, not because I am unable, but because it is one of the hardest things I have ever done and it does not seem to end. I feel like a terrible mother at times for just wanting to stop. I love the feeling of snuggling with my daughter and her feeding, but in the beginning that is all day and night for a couple months, then it becomes most of the interaction with plastic stuck on my breasts making me feel like livestock. It is hard, I have been more emotional with this than anything else. We started supplementing with formula with Sarachaia when she was 4 months old and I think it was about 2 months too late for my sanity. I applaud the women who are what I refer to as "happy milkers" it amazes me. I was getting really depressed, overwhelmed and was unable to pump enough due to being stressed and overwhelmed (vicious cycle) but I kept hearing those same voices "you are a terrible mother if..." Once I shed lots of tears about it and got over my own insecurities, Chaia began to thrive with the supplementing. It was very much needed and now makes me never worry about what she will eat and when. I still sometimes struggle with the amount of time it takes and the amount of energy it wipes from me, but now know that my daughter is getting what she needs while not making me a useless mother being so depressed and frustrated as I was before the supplementing. Thanks again. I appreciate your honesty and your passion.