Thursday, June 19, 2014

Breastfeeding, and How I Learned To Be Ok With Not Doing It

I am going to come clean. I used to be one of those super judgey young childless folk who think they would do things so much better. It is not something I am proud of, and am glad I grew out of it fairly quickly with only a little bit of "why do they get a baby and I don't?" whining through the infertility dance. Since I had my own baby there has been a lot of rolling eyes and wondering how I could be so awful and stupid, but I was young and there it is. So not proud of my younger self. One of the biggest judgies for me was the big ole breastfeeding debate. In my early 20s I jumped on the pro-breastfeeding bandwagon to the extreme. I used to read parenting communities on livejournal in its heyday (if you were there, you know what I'm talking about) and bought into all the natural parenting, formula is evil, bottles are horrible, and the but I can't breastfeed claims were crap because only 2% of women really couldn't, the rest just didn't try hard enough, bullshit. Thankfully I never actually spoke up and embarrassed myself, or worse - hurt someone who was doing their best and didn't need judgement from anyone, let alone 21 year old me. I still do think breastfeeding is great and the best option if you can do it. I do think we need more, and better breastfeeding consultants. I think it's important to support breastfeeding so information, help, and the ability to feed your child where ever you please is available, but I now understand reality and choices, and that there are bigger things in this world than whether someone decides to breastfeed or use formula. Most of all, I understand that it's none of my business what someone else decides to do. A side effect of all of this judgey history is that when I found myself in a situation where breastfeeding was not working, I turned on myself, was afraid of what my friends would think of me, and I felt like the worst mother ever. Payback is certainly a bitch, after all.

It never actually occurred to me that I could have issues breastfeeding. I had all sorts of problems getting pregnant, I had issues giving birth (tilted head, forceps that destroyed my nether regions, not cool), but breastfeeding was going to be the one thing I'd have no trouble with. I knew I could produce milk because during a bout of hormonal issues several years before where my prolactin levels soared, I actually did start lactating. I had heard horror stories, but that wasn't going to be me. Nope! Then I tried to feed my baby. After a little practice, I thought we were on our way. He was latching, I was producing colostrum, and I could feel him sucking. We left the hospital thinking all was well (nobody actually checked to see if he was eating okay), but he started dropping weight. He was falling asleep at feedings. Even though he was latching and sucking, he was not getting enough milk. After many lactation consultants with conflicting advice, running around to appointments and specialists, and countless feeding devices, we learned that he had both a tongue and lip tie that were missed by everyone until our midwife friend pointed it out. This prevented a deep latch so he was not able to get milk out successfully. I think I cried when I fed him his first bottle of formula. It felt like a big bottle of failure (I know you're probably rolling your eyes right now, I get it, but this is where I was at the time, in my brand new first time mama state of mind). We had the tongue and lip ties corrected and I continued to try to breastfeed before each feeding, but he would scream and cry and refused to latch. I pumped every three hours around the clock. We used a finger feeder to avoid nipple confusion, we tried a tube feeder taped to my breast to supplement and make it easier for him to eat, we paid $75 several times a week for appointments at the top breastfeeding specialist in the country, and I held out so much hope when the specialists and even our pediatrician told us it could take 6-8 weeks for it to click. When that didn't happen, the specialist started to shame me for not trying hard enough, the feedings had taken over our entire lives, and things were not getting any better. We finally gave up, switched to bottles, and I pumped milk.

One thing you quickly learn when you're pregnant is that your bodily functions become the business of everyone around you (or at least most people seem to think they are). It does not stop once the baby is on the outside. Everyone who visited, even strangers who started up a conversation with me, would ask if I was breastfeeding. Since I already felt badly about it, it made me feel worse to say no. Once I was feeding my son in a local mall and an older lady walked by, clicked her tongue, and said "it's too bad such a little baby is drinking from a bottle". I felt like I couldn't get away from the judgement (more payback for my former judgey tendencies? Reading too much into the situation because of where my head was at that point in time? What happened to all the judgement FOR breastfeeding mothers that I'd heard so much about? Who knows?). Luckily, I had some understanding friends who shared their own stories with me, one who explained that it took eight months for her daughter to breastfeed successfully, and that same Midwife friend who told me I was doing exactly what my son needed. He was healthy and thriving. That became my mantra when I felt down on myself.

Over the next several months I would still try to have Josh latch on before feedings, sometimes taking breaks and trying again a week or two later, but it never did work out. I gave up for good a couple months ago. I told myself I would pump until he was six months old and then see how I felt. Sometimes we had to supplement with formula or our measly freezer stash. I originally kept pumping because I felt guilty that he wasn't breastfed and at least by pumping he'd be getting my milk, but I let that guilt go. I stopped trying to explain or justify our situation. I still pump for him, but no longer every three hours. I stopped the middle of the night pumps, and I'm not going to feel badly when I decide I want to stop completely.

Feeling guilty was not helpful. Being shamed by specialists or breastfeeding activists did not help us magically learn to breastfeed, and truth be told I no longer took them seriously after all the judgement and terrible advice I was given (there are some great specialists and activists out there, don't get me wrong, but I met some real whack jobs along the way). We were/are doing what works for us and I have finally learned that that is okay. Not only is it okay, but it is great! My son is amazing, I am happy, and I no longer care about what anyone else thinks I should be doing with my boobs. Washing/sterilizing bottles sucks, and I still do get the sads when I see beautiful photos of a baby breastfeeding, or hear about how wonderful it is, but that feeling doesn't last long. I wish I would have let go of the guilt right away because I wasted so much time on it. We are all just trying our best, and that's good enough.


famousthecat said...

I had NO idea how difficult breastfeeding would be. NO idea. I think people do a serious disservice to future mothers re: breastfeeding in so many different ways. I was told over and over again that if it hurts, you're doing it wrong. Well, it hurt like a bitch - toe curler, bloody nipple HURT. So I went in tears to multiple lactation consultants, only to be told our latch looked pretty good and we just needed to finetune. Excuse me? I wish people were real with new mothers about it.

Also, you KNOW I think you're a rockstar for pumping as long as you have! You're awesome.

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