Harry Harlow conducted a classic psychological experiment involving nature and loving. A monkey was given the choice between a mechanical device that would feed it the milk it needed, or a soft plush toy that resembled it's mother, contained no food, but provided a sense of security and love. The monkeys chose the doll...... and starved........
When I was pregnant, I had fun selecting nursing gear. I got a special nursing pillow, bought the Medella advanced pump and all the fancy accessories. I dreamed of nursing my baby and spending time building up a huge supply in the deep freeze for when I returned to work. I wanted to be one of those moms you see in the ads for breastfeeding supplies, blissfully nursing their baby, and smiling. I was told it would be natural, easy, and what's best for my child. So obviously that's what I intended on doing. I planned on nursing. I planned on having that relationship. I planned on bonding with my baby multiple times a day during my maternity leave. Instead, I have been both the feeding machine, and the nurturing monkey doll, but never once at the same time.
On June 18th at 4:34pm after 23 long hours of labor, my son Connor was born. I was one week overdue, and was induced. At the time, we did not know that we had cephalopelvic disproportion (or, in lay terms, his head would never fit through my pelvis- too big head, too small pelvis). The entire process of the c-section was traumatic.It was not what I had planned, and left me feeling like a failure. I felt like less of a woman because I could not, not matter how hard I tried and how much pain I was in, birth my child the "natural" way.
Our recovery went smoothly. The lactation consultant popped by and checked how things were going in the hospital, and said everything looked great. I was elated. Finally, we have a win. We so desperately needed to "win" at something, and we thought it was breastfeeding. Finally, I could be one of those women that things came 'naturally' with. Then we came home. My family said that nursing is painful the first few weeks but then gets better. I knew I was in for cracked and sore nipples, so I sucked it up. I shoved a towel in my mouth to keep from screaming every time he latched on, and went about my business 8-12 times a day for 2 weeks like this. When we went for our 2 week checkup, the pediatrician told me Connor had not gained enough weight back, and was concerned. She said we needed to consider supplementing, but gave me no answers as to what exactly was wrong or affecting breast feeding, other than I "wasn't producing enough milk". So, I diligently went online, contacted friends and went nuts taking supplements, eating oatmeal, and pumping round the clock to build my supply... then a chunk of my nipple came off. Oh well, shove the towel back in my mouth, muffle the scream, wipe the tears, keep going. Little did I know, I was barely more than the stuffed monkey doll to him.
I tried to make an appointment to see the lactation specialist at our hospital, and of course.. they were booked for 2 weeks. So now we're on week 4- Connor was getting 1 supplement bottle a day, and I was pumping round the clock after feeding him. He would nurse for 45 minutes to an hour every time, fall asleep, then wake up hungry about 10 minutes later. That would give me just enough time to pump and feed it to him. I wondered why there was always so much left to feed him, and why he was waking up hungry. This process was exhausting and left me with a little over 40 minutes of sleep nightly for 3 weeks. I was a weepy, emotional, sleep deprived mess.
When we finally got to see the lactation consultant, she had us nurse, gave me a nipple shield, and weighed him. She said in the 45 minutes he nursed, that he only managed to get out a half of an ounce. For his weight and age, he should have been drinking 2-3 ounces every feeding. She gave me a bottle of formula and told me the main objective was to get the baby back to breast, but make sure the baby is fed. I had high hopes in the nipple shield, and thought maybe if my nipples could heal enough, that I would somehow be able to feed him better. She was out of advice, but she knew another lactation consultant that she wanted me to get a second opinion from.. and so I went to her the next week.
When I saw the second lactation consultant, she immediately told me I had yeast. This was blocking my ducts, affecting my nipples, and causing the crazy pain I was in. She told me shoving a towel in my mouth to muffle the screams is not normal at 4 weeks in. Things should have adjusted by now. We should be further along than we were. She told me something else wasn't right. And so, she prescribed anti-fungal medication and a very strict regimen to follow to beat the yeast.. of which we still follow: 10 drops of Grapefruit seed extract in 2 tablespoons of water and swab on nipples after every feeding and for every waking hour; wash all clothing that comes in contact with my chest or at all with Connor in hot water with a cup of vinegar, after every use- all nipples, pacifiers, and pump parts need to be washed with hot, soapy water, then sanitized in the microwave, no more towels in the kitchen- use paper towels, taking high doses of probiotics, and using a special cream on my nipples. All this, in addition to using a hospital grade pump, and pumping every 2-3 hours (especially throughout the night when production can be higher)....
I was exhausted. BUT, I was feeding my son almost solely on breast milk. It was my mission in life to figure out this nursing thing and feed my son. I didn't care what it cost me physically or emotionally. I was desperate to give him any drops of liquid gold that I could.
At this point, I had begun to lose hope that we would ever have a real breatfeeding relationship. I felt like a milk cow, hooked up to a machine 24/7 just to feed my son, without any of those warm and fuzzy bonding moments I saw so frequently in the media. I was just a source of nutrition for my son, not his source of comfort.. and that broke my heart. I was the mechanical source of nutrition, but not the warm fuzzy mom he needed. I felt like I was failing him as a mother.
In the back of my head, something kept telling me there was more we didn't know. When I'm pumping out 25 ounces a day, but he's only able to transfer half an ounce? I don't think it's my supply. When I hear clicking if he takes a bottle or nurses? And how do we explain the chunks missing from my nipples? The shooting pain that feels like glass in my breasts all day- every day? I started doing google searches and reading articles, until I eventually came upon tongue tie. I read the symptoms to my husband one night, and we both agreed without even seeing the doctor: our son has tongue tie. SO... another appointment to the lactation consultant and pediatrician at 6 weeks in... And yes, he has posterior tongue tie.
At 7 weeks of age, we brought Connor to the pediatric dentist to have the laser tongue and lip tie procedure. It had been the hardest day since he was born, for me. I was a weepy mess from the moment we went into the room. I knew the procedure had to be done, and that the laser method was far more humane than the doctors who snip it with scissors... but it broke my heart to swaddle him and watch the doctor check in his mouth with his gloved fingers. They asked me how breastfeeding was going. While choking back tears, I had to tell them "It's not". Although we still breastfeed a few times a day, he doesn't get anything more than comfort out of it. I'm in nonstop, agonizing pain that I've just come to accept as a part of my reality as a mother. I was sent into another room to prepare to breastfeed once the procedure was over, and my husband stayed with Connor throughout the procedure. My men are SO STRONG. I started crying the moment the procedure began, as I heard Connor down the hall. There is something about the "pain cry" that absolutely kills me inside.
Throughout all of my experiences being pregnant and post-pregnancy, someone has had something to say that has been inappropriate and cast undue judgement on me for the decisions I've made. First it was the random ladies at the nail salon telling me how "selfish it is to be induced" and that "any responsible mother would never do that to her child"..
Then, it was with a VERY heavy heart, on the day I was at Target to purchase formula. I had spent several days in tears, several nights having complete breakdowns, journaling to find some peace and resolution, only to realize that I had a hungry baby and at the time was not able to feed him. So, I went alone to Target to purchase the formula to supplement. I struggled looking at package after package, wondering which would be best- Why can't I just breastfeed like everyone else?, and holding back tears... when a man raised his voice while talking to his wife (it was extremely obvious he was speaking indirectly to me), and said "I don't know why any mother would ever give their child formula. Don't they know breast is best? God, I feel so sorry for that baby. That is so selfish".
Then, I find a corner at the hospital to TRY to nurse my son, if nothing else, than to calm him down after his doctor visit. I put on our shawl cover, use my breast shield, choke back the pain and latch him on. He's happy and content, not getting much milk, but calming down. I'm out of the way of traffic on the third floor, and two ladies deliberately walk past me. One says "Ugh, can't they do that at home?", and the other ROLLS HER EYES. wow.
As Connor heals and we do his stretching exercises and OT exercises, I'm realizing that he and I will never have the traditional breastfeeding relationship. He has a disorganized suck, and there isn't a lot of hope in un-training what he's learned thus far. We're now going to see an ENT specialist, but not putting much stock in that. We will most likely need to try to nurse when I can stand the pain, pump as much as possible, and supplement when there just isn't enough.
Throughout this entire experience, I have found myself questioning and then defending my decisions. I have been judged. I have judged myself. I have constantly felt like a failure... and failing at anything is the biggest thing I fear in this world. I have cried buckets of tears. I have felt like I'm less of a woman, or that I am broken. I have endured immense pain. I have screamed into countless towels. I have used all the deep breathing techniques I learned in prenatal yoga. I have bled. I have tried and given my heart and soul to have a breastfeeding relationship with my son. I have stood, shaking, crying, asking my husband to give my son the bottle of formula, telling them both that I again, have failed him on food. "Mommy isn't good enough." "Mommy is broken". "Mommy is not a good Mommy, and my best isn't enough". I have questioned if I am ever going to be a good mother.
Everyone seems to have an opinion, and most of the time it's influenced by misguided, or uninformed hearsay. My new answer to "Breast or bottle?" will be "YES". Let them figure it out. There's two distinct feeding camps- the "I choose to breastfeed" and the "I choose to formula feed"... well my camp is the "I really, really, more than anything wanted to breastfeed and gave it my heart and soul, but now I pump a zillion times a day and give formula when he needs it"- camp. My feelings of failure stem purely from how society and the media label any mother who isn't breastfeeding. I'm not a failure for doing everything I can for my son, and I dare say that my commitment to pushing through this pain and leaving no stone unturned makes me even stronger. My son is healthy. He's gaining weight, and he's getting as much "liquid gold" as humanly possible. It wasn't the road I would have chosen, but it's the one we're on. For now, I spend every day trying to come to terms with these labels, understanding where I fit in, and trying my best to calm some of the deep judgment I've cast on myself.
For those of you who are ignorant to breastfeeding, please understand this. Sometimes, it isn't natural, and it sure as hell isn't always easy. Sometimes the mom has no choice, and being a good mom means doing what's best for your baby- pride aside. Please keep the comments to yourself, because you have NO IDEA what that mommy could be going through. She's just trying to be both food, and the nurturing monkey for her child, in the best way she knows how.