Friday, June 20, 2008

Breastfeeding sucks. Pun intended.

(pardon the small font -- this got really, really long.)

I've been creating this post in my head for a while now ... I'm hoping that typing it out might be therapeutic somehow, though I think I may need some heavy therapy in order for me to ever feel ok about the whole situation.

If you read my birth story, I mentioned that breastfeeding wasn't going well. Olivia latched on in the hospital, but a nurse told me she wasn't doing it right and threw a nipple shield at us. She didn't really like that at all, and so she was having issues getting latched back on. It was after 5 p.m. when we got to our room the day she was born, which meant no lactation consultants were on duty. We'd have to wait until morning. But in the meantime, the nurse said, we needed to make sure that she ate. They were going to take her to the nursery for a while (she was having problems keeping her body temperature up) and they'd give her some formula there. Just a little bit, they said, in a special bottle (I later learned it was called a Haberman) that wouldn't interfere with breastfeeding. I cried as they took her off to the nursery -- just one of many, many times I'd feel like a failure in the coming weeks and months. I'd heard about how the nurses would try to push formula on us in the hospital, but I didn't think it would happen to us. I didn't think we'd have problems. I was so confident that things would work that I hadn't bought any bottles and had even purchased a pump and all the essentials.

Little did I know that after the flurry of attention you get during labor and delivery, they basically stick you in a room with your baby on the post-partum recovery floor and leave you alone. For hours, it seemed. I didn't know what I was doing. The nurses kept taking Olivia to the nursery to warm her up and would bring her back to eat. In my bleary-eyed-ness, I gave her bottles that first night because I was just so exhausted and had no idea what I was doing, and there was no one there to show me.

Lactation came in the next morning. Groggy and completely out of it from not getting much sleep that night -- I was hallucinating that there were things scampering across the floor of the hospital room -- I had a hard time taking in everything they told me. I do recall the lactation consultant (LC) telling me to pump three times a day. Little did I know that when the baby isn't latching at all, you need to be pumping EIGHT to TEN times a day. I didn't end up learning that little fact until a week or so after she was born, which no doubt affected my supply.

I kept trying to latch her on, but every time I did, she would scream and cry hysterically. It was heartbreaking. Irrationally, I felt like she hated me.

I went to see an LC at the hospital where she was delivered -- twice. The first time I went to see her, I described our problems in detail, tears in my eyes, asking if it was too late. The LC helped me get her latched on, she ate happily, fell asleep, and it was like nothing was wrong. It felt a lot like when you take your car to the mechanic because it's making a noise, but then doesn't do it when the mechanic drives it around. I was so happy on my way home that day, and actually had an appetite (a rarity in those early days). When it was time for Olivia to eat again, I took her upstairs to her room, anxious to repeat the positive experience we'd had earlier that day. Much to my dismay, she once again worked herself into a hysterical frenzy. I had been so overjoyed only minutes before, and then I was experiencing yet another setback and more heartbreak.

I trekked to breastfeeding support groups at that same hospital as well as another one across town twice a week. I broke down crying at one meeting as I tried to get Olivia to latch on and watched her thrash and scream as the LC just stared at us and shrugged her shoulders. All the other mothers looked at me pityingly as they breastfed their babies without incident while I sat there giving her a bottle of evil formula that she sucked down happily.

I tried several times to contact the La Leche League; their local phone number was disconnected. On my first visit to the support group at the second hospital, I was told the wrong location for the meeting and ended up going to three different buildings, lugging poor tiny Olivia in her carrier in the freezing rain, before I found it mere minutes before the meeting ended. It was like a comedy of errors at times.

I hired an LC to come to my home. I kept using the dreaded nipple shield along with a feeding tube and a syringe ... it was quite a sight to behold, and required two people to make it work. Then we were on to an extremely annoying device called an SNS that I hated with every ounce of my being. I rented a hospital-grade pump and I pumped. And pumped. And pumped. Sometimes eight times a day or more. I created checklists to make sure I was drinking enough water each day and to track my pumping sessions and output. I downed herbal supplements like fenugreek, blessed thistle, More Milk Plus, and the super hideous tasting goat's rue. Sometimes I was taking 14 or more pills a day -- quite a challenge for someone who can't stand gulping down a daily multivitamin.

I spent my precious free time (of which there wasn't much, due to Olivia's need to be held nearly nonstop and her inability to nap unless in my arms) online, scouring breastfeeding information resources like, trying to figure out how to increase my supply in the hopes of weaning her off the formula, of which she was getting more with each passing day. In desperation, I even ordered domperidone (a drug not approved in the U.S.) from an online pharmacy in another country to try to boost my supply.

I thankfully didn't experience post-partum depression, but I absolutely experienced breastfeeding-related depression. The same websites I used for information also scared me senseless and would send me into sobbing fits frequently (my mom sadly had to witness most of them). Formula-fed babies, they said, have lower IQs, are more at risk of getting childhood leukemia, diarrhea, ear infections, juvenile diabetes, and any other number of bad things you don't want to happen to your baby. I didn't want anyone to come over and visit. I often sobbed in the shower, wondering aloud why my body wasn't working properly; why I couldn't feed my baby like everyone else did; whether my poor, innocent, helpless baby was going to be stricken with some terrible illness because of me and my inability to breastfeed.

I would cry in the car on the way home after purchasing formula, certain that everyone was staring at me, judging me: she's lazy. Defective. Unwilling to do what it takes to make it work. Other mothers in the waiting room at the pediatrician's office would glare (or so it felt) at me as they smugly (or so I thought) breastfed their babies. Reading other people's birth stories on a message board I'm on made me cringe, because no matter how different the story, they all had a common thread: "He/she's breastfeeding like a champ!" Ugh.

When Olivia was 16 weeks old, I started thinking that maybe I should allow myself to stop. Give up. Throw in the towel. She still wouldn't latch, or when she would she'd cry. All my pumping was only yielding maybe 6-8 ounces/day; she was eating 2-3 ounces at a time every couple of hours. I figured that I tried my best, and it was ok to resign myself to the fact that it wasn't working out and was never going to. That doesn't mean that I was ok with stopping/giving up, or that I probably ever will be. The subject still reduces me to tears on a near-daily basis. I've cried a few times while typing this out.

If you've found this post because you're having breastfeeding difficulties, I feel your pain and then some. If you're supplementing with formula, check out Formula Isn't Poison. It might not make you feel completely better, but I hope it helps some. Thanks to my sister for finding it and sending it my way. Olivia is growing just fine, according to her pediatrician. She's only had one cold so far, seems to be a very fun, active and alert baby, and is ahead on all her milestones. So I guess I have formula to thank for that. And if I'm being honest with myself, I'm really enjoying not pumping. I can hold Olivia more. I have more free time. I can booze it up all I want (though I've learned that alcohol = fatigue, and who needs more of that right now?).

I guess there's really no point to all of this, except perhaps to release some of my sadness and guilt out into the ether. And to prove -- to myself? Others? I'm not sure -- that I tried. I really, really tried.


Molly said...

Oh Katie, there are so, so many parts of your post that I could have written myself. It's so hard to *not* feel like a failure when our bodies let us down. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that breastfeeding didn't work for us, and when I read stories like yours and tear up, I realize that I'm not really over it at all.

I will say this - I think that it does get easier, and Miss Olivia will thrive regardless, because you and Dan love her so much and will not let her go without anything she needs. I like the article you linked to - I wish I'd read it when I was getting ready to have Reed and go through the same struggles.

Thanks for putting into words what I have often tried to write, but couldn't.

gaildahl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gaildahl said...

This is a common and heartbreaking situation for young moms today because of the quick release policy now in place at our hospitals. I am so sorry it was so difficult for you both. A big part of this was caused by continually taking your baby away from you. The best baby warmer is skin to skin contact with mom, nice and close to the breast for short and frequent snacks, with a cosy blanket on top of you both. I would like to see baby nurseries dismantled. Nothing interrupts the mother/baby bonding, breastfeeding and attaching like taking a newborn away from the mother. Nurses do not like to work in baby nurseries because they babies instinctually cry for their moms. Immediate breastfeeding, within moments of birth as well as frequent breastfeed the first three days when the baby's urge to suck is the strongest. It is critically important to have at home breastfeeding assistance. It is unfortunate that the La Leche League did not have anyone in your area to assist you. They now have an excellent website with 24 hour free support for new moms on their site. You could fax a copy of your blog to the hospital labor and delivery admitting department and ask them to have their breastfeeding consults on 24/7 from now on, when babies are hungry and new moms need help right away. This could help the women who come after you.

It is obvious you are a loving and caring mother, wanting only the very best for your baby. This is equal to all the breastmilk in the world! You are doing a fine job and working with what you have, as we all do. Relax and enjoy your bundle of love now, you are a good mom! Best wishes to you and your family, Gail J. Dahl,

Chris said...

Katie - I'm so sorry you're still hurting over this. It's incredibly frustrating when our bodies don't behave how they're supposed to. I hope this post helped release some of the guilt!

Anonymous said...

Hey sweetie - obviously I have no been-there-done-that experience for you, but my sister went through a lot of struggles breastfeeding similar to this and I remember feeling just as helpless. I wish I could say something that would instantly make you realize what a great mom you are, what a great baby you're raising, and that it's OK. It will all be OK. I know it's easier said than done, but I hope this entry helped you come to terms with things a bit and that you are on the road to getting past this frustrating portion of motherhood. HUGS! xoxo

Ahuva Batya said...

Katie, this post just brought tears to my eyes. You tried so hard, and it seems like there were so many roadblocks thrown in your way. Olivia is going to be a perfect, wonderful child and know what a loving mother she has, and won't even know this has happened. YOu are so loving, and I feel so sad that you have this sense of failure and pain associated with this first experience.

Betseeee said...

I have been trying for days to get time to write a thoughtful reply to you here. I've probably said everything to you via email already, but my heart is so with you on this issue. You put up an amazing fight with so many things going against you, and I hope that when time passes and you look back, you will realize just how wonderful it was that you tried so hard, and that Olivia DID get the benefit of your breastmilk for as much as you were able to make and long as you were able to produce it.

I am still ridiculously angry at the first LC who basically sabotaged the process with her assvice. I hope you do write to the hospital to explain to them just how much her lack of knowledge ended up hurting you. I'd be happy to hold your hand if you need it.

Many hugs to you, my friend.