I wanted to call this post something else several times.
Before I had Z, I was so excited about some day writing my post about how important breastfeeding was to me and how great we were at it once he was born.
Today I almost called it several things..."Boob Noob," "The Great Breast Debacle..." you get the idea.
There are many in my family, including my own husband, who cluck at me with slight disapproval that I share so much on social media. It's not so much disapproval, really, as it is a protective mechanism...they know that, once you put something out there (in my case, a birth plan and goals for babywearing and breastfeeding and all other cool hippie mom/attachment parenting goals I had) for the social networks to see, you feel more than a little bit of an obligation to meet and achieve those things. If and when you don't, you feel (or, at least, I feel) as though you owe your "public" an explanation.
And that's why I almost didn't write this post at all. However, after a lot of thinking and praying (and lots and LOTS of crying) and finally getting to a point at which I can live with the decisions I've made in the past two weeks, I've decided that other moms/moms-to-be might actually benefit from reading about another person's struggle with something that is "supposed" to just work for us.
First I'll announce it publicly: Breastfeeding did not work for Z and me.
Now, I'll start at the beginning of our experience.
My thoughts on breastfeeding began before I even approached my third trimester. I went to the breastfeeding classes with my husband, I read books and researched all of the ways in which breast milk is perfect for your baby, and I -- admittedly, this makes me seem awful -- would side-eye anyone who immediately went to formula with their newborns. Why wouldn't they at least try? Didn't they KNOW how important breastfeeding and breast milk were to their relationships with their newborn babies?!
I know. Shame. On. Me. Who the hell was I to draw any sort of conclusion about another woman and her child? Believe me when I say that God has really worked on my heart in the past 3.5 weeks since Z's birth and during our own struggle with nursing.
It started in the hospital. I truly believed that, once Z was put on my chest, he would immediately latch on and there we would be: Madonna and Child, Earth Mother and Babe, in perfect pose while my husband lovingly looked on as I fed our child.
Instead, the nursery nurse helped me guide Z to my breast, where he just sort of stared at us both like, "What am I supposed to do with this?" I was assured that was perfectly okay and normal, and that we just wanted to introduce him to the breast.
Later that night...7 hours after his birth and me with approximately 2-3 hours of sleep in the previous 36+hours, the nursery nurse wheeled in my screaming and starving baby, threw on the overhead lights, and spent 5 minutes latching him on FOR me. Not showing me how, but doing it for me. Then she chirped, "Okay, I'll be back in 20 minutes!" Over that time period, Z "fell off" his latch and I was left alone to try and relatch him properly (come on, I'd seen the pictures and read the books! I had this!) on both sides while trying to keep him from being so upset and hungry. In the process, I proceeded to think I had done it properly, only to remove him from each breast to find giant bruises/hickeys all around my nipples. (I later joked that it looked like I'd been on a really bad date).
Clearly, I had no idea what the hell I was doing.
The Lactation Consultant (LC) didn't arrive until 9am and, before then, the morning nursery nurse helped to show me how to get Z latched on properly, and we had a decent feeding on each breast. It was very painful, due to the bruising that had occurred already, but we managed. When the LC arrived, she immediately noticed that Z has a small tongue tie and that I had fairly flat nipples (you always wanted to know that, I know!). She assured me that his tongue came far enough over his bottom gums that nursing should still be successful, and she praised my diligence and my determination.
The second night in the hospital was another disaster. I'd been warned about "2nd night cluster feedings" and Z was attached to me for no less than two consecutive hours. I was doing the best I could, but he kept falling asleep and, when he would come off the breast, things just didn't look or feel like they are supposed to with successful latching.
The LC came back the next morning and promptly noticed and made comments about the pacifier we'd requested from the nursery mere moments earlier. I mentioned that Z had completely stopped latching on the right overnight and she said, with more than a little disdain, "Well, how often did he get the pacifier overnight?" We had just gotten it, because sucking on our fingers was the only way to soothe him when he was crying.
We were at the hospital a good 3-4 hours longer than we wanted to be on that second day, simply because we were (or I was) desperate to get the hang of latching Z onto both sides before we were sent home to be left to our own devices. We even used the hospital grade pump to get enough colostrum from me to put into a syringe. Then we'd try to get him on the breast, and then insert the syringe between his lips and my breast, so that the taste of his food would get him to start sucking.
Meanwhile, Z was getting hungry and FURIOUS. So finally I asked if we could do that same process with some formula so that he'd at least get a little more full. She agreed, and I signed the form allowing the hospital to give me formula for my baby, and we tried that. There was a LOT of frustration and tears happening on that second day in the hospital.
For the next few feedings once we were discharged, Michael would help me by offering the syringe while we tried to get Z to latch on and start sucking. Each session ended up with both me and my son in frustrated tears. I had to give him an ounce and a half of formula from a bottle after a sobbing, hysterical call to the triage nurse after 3 hours of Z's screaming, just so he'd be full enough to calm down and sleep.
Fast forward to my milk coming in/engorgement. Remember all of the bruising I had from the hospital? And my own physical "deformity" that was keeping him from finding a good latch? That was exacerbated with the swelling and pain from engorgement. But we kept trying. There was something so beautiful and satisfying in the one or two times (out of DOZENS over the next week and a half) we succeeded and I would see his determined eyes and hear him swallowing.*
However, every nursing session was traumatic. Z would fight me because he was so hungry, even when I tried to start before his nursing cues went from rooting to full-out screaming, and I would literally sob with pain with every latch. I would think we'd have a good feeding session, and an hour later, he'd be hungry again. I felt like a prisoner.
I acquired a hand pump to help with the engorgement, and the first time I used it, I looked down and noticed bright, dark red milk coming out. Let me tell you, THAT will freak you right the hell out. It was like something out of a horror movie. I completely panicked that my son was drinking that milk when I was feeding him, and talked to an LC at the other hospital in town (thank goodness she answered, even though it was the 4th of July), who assured me this was "normal." I still wasn't convinced.
To sum up, I was in extreme pain with each latch, my breasts were getting completely destroyed due to Z's poor latch and my flat nipples (yes, I tried the shells. both kinds. and the shield), and both of us would be hot, sweaty, crying and unfulfilled at the end of every. single. nursing session. Also, there was no "bonding" happening. He and I were just getting frustrated with each other, and my poor husband barely got any time with our newborn son, because Z was constantly attached to me and getting angry and upset.
The worst it got was the night that I woke up to feed him (cue the tears from me, because I still hate remembering this feeling) and, when I looked at him, I dreaded feeding him. I didn't want to wake him up and I resented that I had to. Dread and resentment. Towards giving my son the nourishment he needed. That was my lowest point.
After struggling through another nursing session, I was singing to Z to try to calm him back to sleep. The only songs I could think of at 2am were usually praise and worship songs, so I was singing "Healer" to him. Finally I just lifted my head, tears streaming down my face and sobs in my throat, and I sang to Jesus instead of my son. I was literally crying out for peace and for comfort because...well...I hated breastfeeding. Hated every part of it. And I hated myself for hating it. How selfish could a mother be, right? This is what my breasts were made to do, and I was just being selfish because it hurt, right?
After some long conversations with my husband, my mom, some very trusted friends, and a LOT of tears and prayer, I made the decision to stop breastfeeding my son and to pump for as long as I was able so that he could get my breast milk somehow. We weren't bonding. He wasn't getting to bond at all with my husband. And everyone was unhappy.
This is and was the hardest decision I have ever made in my life. I still cry when I see or read about my friends successfully nursing. Waves of guilt wash over me when my son is hungry and he automatically turns toward my breast to try to eat (at least he does that to Michael, too...). Even typing this out, I have cried.
But I have to remind myself that I was miserable. And resentful. And in extreme pain (I'm only just now really starting to heal, and that's been happening slowly because of the daily pumping sessions). And even with the pumping, I've developed a blocked duct that has caused a large and painful lump that is possibly turning into mastitis, for which I'm now on antibiotics. THAT hurts (a lot) and I'm still up round the clock, pumping towards a pitifully low yield, just so that my son will have my breast milk for a little longer.
To be completely honest, I'll probably stop pumping soon, too. I feel anxious between his feedings if he doesn't fall asleep, because I know I need to pump. I've sat at the pump, crying, because he's crying, and I just need five more minutes or else it'll be a useless pumping session.
Part of having a happy baby, in my opinion, includes having happy parents. Mommy was not happy and, as a result of that, Daddy wasn't happy. I felt like a failure, and he hated that there was nothing he could do to help. NOW, we split up the feedings and we both get to look into Z's big blue eyes and talk to him while he gets a bottle, and he burps and smiles his gassy little smiles as he falls asleep. He's a happy and healthy baby, gaining weight like a champ, and still getting my breast milk when I have enough to give him.
I put an * next to statement earlier....the one about those precious couple of moments in which I was able to really make it work for Z and me. Those were beautiful. I was able to smile, hear him swallowing, and praise God for my ability to feed my son with my body. Though those moments were SO rare, I am clinging to them in my heart. They are so precious to me, and those memories will be filed in that special area of my heart (the same place in which hearing "It's a boy!" from my husband lives).
I know there are some who will read this and think "Well you gave up so quickly," or "You'd have had more of those moments if you'd just been more persistent and tried harder." Possibly. And I have to live with the fact that, just as I was judgmental before I really went through the wringer (seriously...bruising, destroyed nipples, blood, lumps and mastitis...what ELSE could have happened?), that there are those who will also judge me for "quitting" or "giving up."
I judge me. Every day. But then the peace that came to me on my couch that night while holding my son washes back over me as God reminds me that I am not defined wholly as a mother by this one element of motherhood. I will not be held hostage by those hateful thoughts (of others' or of my own) and I will find more and more peace every day as I watch my son grow and be happy.
(Read part 2 of my story HERE)