The Personal Side of Breastfeeding
I didn't realize how personal breastfeeding can be until my daughters were born
When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, I was set on breastfeeding her. Not only are there huge health benefits for her to have breast milk, but also it would save us a lot of money if we didn’t have to purchase formula. But if it didn’t work out, I told myself that I’d be OK to not nurse her. Yet, when she had medical problems at birth and I had low milk supply, I took breastfeeding very personally. I felt like a big fat failure.
When Abby was born, she had vocal cord paralysis. She wasn’t getting enough oxygen. Though I was encouraged to try to breastfeed her in the NICU, Abby aspirated, and I was no longer given the green light to try. The nurses set me up with a medical grade pump and instructed me to pump every three hours. Fifteen hours after Abby’s birth, she was whisked away via ambulance to a children’s hospital. My only night in the hospital after giving birth was a big bag of emotions and stress. My OB told the nurses to try to give me a sleeping aid. I didn’t balk at this request. My brain was a mess, and I knew I needed sleep. What this meant, though, was that I didn’t wake up every three hours to pump.
I arrived at the children’s hospital the next day. The nurses again got me a hospital grade pump, and a lactation consultant visited me within an hour and got me settled with the right pumping parts. I thought for sure this would help me get my milk supply going. At this point, Abby wasn’t being given any milk, but that was OK. Later the next day, though, since I was still unable to feed her and we couldn’t give her a bottle, she was set up with an NG tube.
Abby was in the hospital for 11 days, and for those 11 days I pumped around the clock, even setting an alarm to wake me up. The nurses kept making sure I was drinking tons of water and that I was taking breaks to go to the cafeteria to eat. They took as much care of me as they did my daughter.
Since it was my first time breastfeeding or pumping, I didn’t know what was normal production, but I did know that the look on one nurse’s face, as she tried so hard to encourage me, meant I wasn’t producing as much as she had seen other moms make. For the entire 11 days, it seemed like I was barely producing enough to maintain the feeding schedule they had Abby on.
Once we were home, I still struggled, both mentally and physically. Stress enveloped my brain. At three weeks, we were given the go ahead to remove the feeding tube since Abby was tolerating a bottle, albeit it was breast milk mixed with a thickening agent. I tried to breastfeed her. Over and over. Yet she wasn’t latching on. I was in tears and was about to give up. My husband, though, encouraged me to give it one more shot. I did, and Abby latched on when she was 6 weeks old. Instead of tears of dread, I had tears of joy as I successfully breastfed her for the first time.
Quickly, though, I realized she wasn’t getting enough milk. Nothing I did helped. Those tricks to boost your supply? Well, they weren’t working for me. I blamed it on not being able to feed her right after birth. And I subsequently blamed my body for causing her to have the vocal cord paralysis. And finally, I blamed my body for not being able to produce enough milk. MY body, which I was responsible for taking care of, was failing me. MY body was failing my daughter. And when her pediatrician said we needed to begin supplementing with formula after I breastfed her, more tears rolled down my face.
Of course I did what I had to do. It was hard, but I knew it was best for my daughter and I had to put my emotions aside.
I returned to work when Abby was 4 months old. My miniscule stash of breast milk quickly dwindled, and I wasn’t able to pump enough while at work. When Abby was 7 months old, I came to the hard decision to stop breastfeeding and pumping. Abby was receiving more formula than breast milk at that time. I cried the last time I breastfed her. I knew I had tried so hard to be a successful breastfeeding mother, yet I failed. It wasn’t about doing it for others and all those stigmas that are unfortunately present in the breastfeeding/formula debate. I wanted to do it for me and the miracle I believe my body is capable of doing–that is, growing and providing sustenance for my daughter. It’s hard to not take your body failing you personally.
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