This post is a part of the Adventures in Breastfeeding Project sharing mother’s unique experiences, successes and struggles with breastfeeding. This post is by my friend Morgan. Here’s what she had to share:
One month before my daughter’s birth, I had a vivid dream. In this dream I was a deity of sorts, who sat above a lotus flower in cloaks, and a fountain of colostrum came streaming from my breasts. In this dream women came from all over to catch this colostrum that holds special nutrition for infants, and I nursed many babies with my wealth of yellow first milk.
I remember when I awoke from this dream I was elated. I thought it was a sign. You see, I had just been told that due to Jude being breach I was going to have to have a cesarean, and I was feeling pretty discouraged about any chance at a natural parenting life style. My previously planned drug-free, all natural, immediate skinto-skin, breast feeding child birth was being slaughtered by the idea that I would be drugged, bound to a table, cut open, and my baby would never pass through my birthing canal. Thus, my milk would never come in, and we would be bottle-feeding forever. And as you know, this would lead my child to be sickly, dumb, and hating her mama.
But this dream! It restored in me a faith in a woman’s ability to care for her child. It renewed my sense of motherhood, and I was ready to take on this obstacle and make sure that we continued to breast feed even if the entire world was weighing down on us. I was ready.
So the day came, and they did, in fact, cut me open. But when Jude was placed in my arms it didn’t matter. All I could see was her face, and her little sucked in lip, and I kissed her and told her “Welcome to the world, little Jude. We’ve been waiting for you for so long.” It was beautiful. So beautiful that I forgot about everything else. So amazing that I didn’t even care that my pregnancy didn’t go as planned. I could stop worrying. Sort of.
So we were wheeled back into our birthing suite, and we were told to try to nurse. It was awkward, and I fumbled along, being coached by the lactation consultant who had come to help. But eventually, due to instinct, Jude started to nurse, and my dream came true! My colostrum cup literally runeth over. I was producing so much that the midwife suggested saving some in syringes to be donated for less fortunate moms. Jude was a happy little baby getting all the colostrum she could have ever dreamed of, and my faith in my own abilities was once again restored.
I was ready for my lotus flower and cloaks.
But then the days wore on. They decreased the medications that were keeping me sleepy and painless, and I started to realize that all this nursing was not as easy as it had been when the morphine was in abundance. This shit HURT. My nipples bled and scabbed. Multiple consultants came to help me fix the problems, but were stumped. Jude’s latch was obviously a little off, but they couldn’t tell me why.
Never once did they say, “Also, just so ya know, it hurts no matter what.” No one told me that! I had no idea. Even through all my birthing and breastfeeding classes, and all my sit-downs with lactation consultants, I was still ignorant enough about breast-feeding to believe that it should just happen naturally and pain free. I mean, seriously, how did every “teacher” I ever spoke with drop the ball on that one!? How did not a single mother tell me it was going to hurt like hell fire was raining on your boobs? I mean, come on!
So I was frustrated, and confused, and thought there was something wrong with us. We made it home, and I cried all night while Jude nursed. My nipples bled and were so tender that even the slight mist from stepping into the shower was painful. I tried lanolin, different holds, gritting my teeth to get through it, but I was exhausted. I was still recovering from that whole “cutting me in half” thing, and I was drugged up, and having my own serious complications to deal with. Couple that with no sleep and excruciating pain when nursing, and I was ready to castrate my husband for ever putting me into this position in the first place.
So after four weeks I threw my hands up, and I got out the pump. Up to this point, I had somehow been able to pump enough to have a small reserve in my freezer, and I thawed them out, and grabbed the bottle. It was amazing. Everything I needed in that moment. Suddenly, I didn’t hurt. There was no pain when I pumped, and Jude could happily eat however much she wanted to without mom having to remove her, take a breather, and cry as she latched again. Plus I could sleep while Matt took turns giving Jude a bottle! Oh, heavenly, blissful sleep. Even an extra thirty minutes at that point was saving my sanity, and helping me heal. I thought I had found our niche. We would be exclusive pumpers! Yes!
Well, no. You see, infants eat a LOT. A lot. Like every 2 hours, sometimes more. We all know this, and at that point my breasts were only producing about 2 oz at a time. Plenty for a newborn, but not enough to build up a reserve, and I quickly ran out of back ups. Cue the absolute HORROR of exclusively pumping. In the middle of the night Jude would wake up, and I would have one bag of breast milk in the fridge. I would warm it, give it to her, and rock her back to sleep. Then, I would get up, sit down at my kitchen table, and pump for 30 minutes. Next, I bagged and tagged the milk, put it in the fridge, and went to cleaning my pump out. By the time I finally fell back to sleep, Jude would be getting back up so we could start this horrible dance all over again. We did that everyday, non-stop.
I tried my best. I would power pump for hours at a time. I even tried to nurse many more times, but Jude began to reject anything that wasn’t a silicon nipple. I saw three more lactation consultants. I tried nipple shields, and even crazy made up shit that I was praying would help. It didn’t. If I wanted Jude to have breast milk, I was going to have to slave away at my pump for the next year.
I cried all day, everyday. Depression began to set it. Lack of sleep has never been good for me, and my inability to perform my “motherly duties” was also taking quite the toll. I was reaching out for help, but everyone just told me it would “get better” or “hang in there”. Which is great, but I felt like I was dying. I felt confused, and sad, and worried all the time. I considered going to see a therapist because I began having thoughts of giving up. Not just on the milk, but on this whole mothering thing in general. It was too much. I wasn’t good at it, and I couldn’t even feed my child. I was a failure. In all my years of life, this was truly the darkest I have ever felt. Maybe it was post-partum depression, or something else, but my breastfeeding struggle was harder for me than anything had ever been. I was completely defeated.
Sort of luckily for me, there was a day that I tried to pump and nothing came out. I pumped for hours, and was only able to produce one ounce of milk. It was inevitable. Unless you are using a hospital grade pump, it’s common for your breasts to think that they’re not needed anymore and begin to dry up. Pumping isn’t the same action as nursing, and your body somehow knows that. Freaked out by my lack of production I called my husband in tears. “I can’t feed her! What am I going to do?” When he suggested formula I wailed and wailed. “No, not me, not now, not formula, I couldn’t. It’s poison! It’ll make Jude dumb. She’ll get sick. It’s POISON!” but, in the end, my baby needed to eat, and I learned how to mix up a bottle, and she gulped it down and was happy once again.
We only made it six weeks. I was ashamed as my breasts dried up. I felt a deep sadness when I went on walks with other moms and they stopped to nurse while I shook up some powder into water. I mourned the idea of my perfect motherhood, my natural birth, and my extended breastfeeding. Jude never even wanted to cosleep. She preferred her space. It was all going wrong. There were many more tears.
Plus, formula isn’t an easy answer. We had to play a silly form of roulette to find which brand worked for her. This included a very gassy baby, diarrhea, constipation, excessive spit up, and countless amounts of money wasted on tubs of powder that didn’t work. Even once, we gave her a hospital recommended brand that kept her up all night. Upon checking the label, we found that the very first ingredient was corn syrup. Sugar. More sugar than milk. I was enraged. Angry at my boobs, Gerber, the doctors, formula, and everything else that had to do with breastfeeding in general.
When we finally found the formula that worked for Jude it was as if the heavens opened and angels sang my name. She started to poop normal. She was happy, napping regularly, and growing steadily. I never looked back. I couldn’t. This was what was finally, three terrible months later, working for us, and I was okay with that. I began to regain confidence. I took control of my life and my family again. I rejoiced in my accomplishments, and I began to feel like everyday I was moving mountains. Caring for my child, being active with my husband, and managing our daily life effortlessly. I stopped crying. I started to have fun again.
I came to a point of acceptance. I forgave myself, my boobs, Jude, everyone. I gave up on every single previous idea I had about mothering. I gave in to the fact that we cannot control this ride that we are on. Truly, our babies take the lead. It’s only our job to guide and provide. I can’t say that the sting of jealousy doesn’t still strike me at times when I see my friends nursing their toddlers. But it wasn’t my path. I fed my baby formula, and I’m proud of it. Without that formula we may not have succeeded. We may not be the happy, loving family we are today. Jude is smart as a whip, has a healthy immune system, and still has a bond with both of her parents unlike anything we have ever experienced in life before. That’s what matters.
I’m Morgan Riley. I’m a cesarean birthing, formula feeding, bed hog who baby wears when her toddler will let her, but uses a stroller too, eats organic when she can, but busts out the Kraft easy mac and chocolate chip ice cream from time to time as well. I vaccinate, I choose my battles, and am not always consistent. I work full time, my family is my priority, and I don’t always do this mothering thing the way I originally planned on doing it. But everyday, I am reminded, that I am a damn good mom because my whole family is healthy, happy, and we never stop laughing.
P.S. Thank you, Jill, for letting myself and many other moms tell their story. Your blog is turning into such an important piece of honesty within the mothering community, and I am honored to be a small part of it.