Finally National Breastfeeding Week is over and the judgement-fest can end. It's a topic that I have not blogged about because frankly, it isn't any ones business and to be honest, I still have a lot of negative feelings about how things turned out for Hazel and I. I thought that breastfeeding would be the most natural thing in the world. I was so looking forward to having that experience, and I felt so much support from my friends and from Jamie. My plan was to nurse Hazel for at least a year, hopefully two. I had heard that nursing can be difficult, but in a very vague way, so I had prepared by buying a couple of books. I had my breastfeeding chair all set up with the pump and the Lasinoh and a big bottle of water. I was psyched.
After giving birth, I nursed Hazel in the delivery room, our cord still attached to one another. It didn't go well, but that is to be expected and I didn't let it get me down. In my 48 hours on the maternity floor, I met with the Lactation Consultant four times; Hazel wouldn't open her mouth wide enough, it was hurting me, I was getting a blister, it hurt it hurt it hurt. Hazel's latch was terrible, and she wasn't getting anything from me, falling asleep, not swallowing. The LC trained me in how to use the SNS (supplemental feeder), a terrible contraption that would allow Hazel to breastfeed, but would be getting formula. I also had to use a nipple shield because of the pain involved. I thought things would even out soon enough. I made a follow up appointment to come back and meet with the LC's two days after discharge.
By the time I came back in to see her, Hazel was very jaundiced and we had to push fluids. I would nurse Hazel with the SNS and shield for 40 minutes (20 each side), bottle feed her the rest to help her metabolize the bilirubin, pump for 20 minutes, wash out the SNS, ice my boobs with the gel packs, and start the whole cycle over again. The most I ever got pumping was some condensation in the shields. I never got engorged, never leaked, never had anything...my milk never came in. I ended up on a regimen of fenugreek, Mother's Milk tea, massage, acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic medicine, pumping like a mad woman, and relaxation. All while using the horrible SNS and meeting with the LC's. I kept this up for 17 days, sometimes without leaving the second floor of my house. Jamie brought me healthy meals and water. He took care of all of Hazel's other needs. I was getting depressed, crying all the time, sleep deprived, miserable, feeling like the worst failure. I knew things were getting really bad when I decided that I was never meant to be a mother; I was unable to get pregnant on my own and now I had to artificially feed my artificially conceived baby. When it was time for Jamie to go back to work, I knew that I couldn't keep it up all by myself. I had zero support from my family. No one came to help us when Hazel came home. I knew that after 17 days, the chances of my milk coming in were slim to none. I cried and cried. I didn't even own any bottles or formula. None of my books that I had bought for support told me what to do. They didn't even mention that this could even be a possibility. I was so angry. My OB offered me this drug called Reglan which can cause lactation, but a primary side effect was paralyzing depression. I think that was the last thing that I needed.
When I stopped nursing, and my breasts started to heal, I mourned. I was so sad, and I still am. I hate that I never had the chance to experience nursing Hazel, but part of me felt overwhelming relief. Trying to breastfeed was emotional torture for me, and I knew that I was about to enter a very dark place of shame and self-blame that is almost impossible to get out of. I was yanked back from that at the last possible second, but the feeling remains with me.
When Hazel was two weeks old, I started going to a mothers group at the hospital where she was born. Though the group was facilitated by a Lactation Consultant, and many women had breastfeeding questions, it was not a Breastfeeding Group. A couple of times, women new to the group would try to engage me in some trash talking about women who formula feed, but for the most part, I felt very comfortable. The women that I associate with from the group are amazing and supportive and non-judgemental. I would still feel a pang of shame mixing a bottle of formula in public though, and sometimes I did get "looks", especially when Hazel was very young. People would act shocked when they discovered that I was not breastfeeding, and I found myself explaining my situation a lot.
However, these are some of the gems that I have received from strangers: "You and all your formula feeding friends are ruining everything!" "I hope that your formula fed baby gets cancer and dies!" and my favorite, "Your formula fed baby is going to be serving fries to my breastfed baby!" Really? You're going to let your little genius eat fries? Methinks that they will be cancelling out some of those breast milk IQ points you're banking on.
Obviously I know that the people who say these things are horrible and nasty and stupid. I know that my brilliant, perfect daughter kicks a lot of ass just as she is. For centuries women have done whatever they needed to do to keep their babies alive. Parenting decisions are personal, and not for public comment. The loud and extreme minority feed off of this sort of self-righteous judgement that they feel is their right to broadcast without pause to the rest of us, who frankly just don't care what they have to say about our boobs. I and other mothers who have had a hard time breastfeeding due to a legion of possible variables gone wrong, are tired of defending our decision to keep our babies alive by whatever means necessary.
The promotion of breastfeeding, especially in certain socioeconomic and cultural centers is important. There is no question that Breast is Best when All Other Things Are Equal, but the promotion of breastfeeding over and above the support of other mothers in one of the most difficult parts of motherhood is not something that I support for a moment. If my daughter chooses to have children, I will do everything in my power to support her through that horrible first month postpartum, even if it means running out for a can of formula when her nipples are cracked, bleeding and burning from yeast and her baby is screaming bloody murder.
If you nurse your children, then way to go, mama. If you weren't able to nurse your children, then I feel you, girlfriend. And if you chose to not breastfeed for personal reasons, then I get it, sister. Either way, you're a warrior.
Queue the abusive comments........NOW.