Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Breastfeeding and Guilt - My Take

Breastfeeding. One of the hottest button issues to talk about with fellow moms, or in general. I've wanted to write about my experiences with breastfeeding for so long, but I've hesitated. I've written about 10 posts in my head and have 2 in my drafts folder, but they never seemed right. I've never posted a comprehensive post about what I've basically spent the past 3 years doing every few hours.

There's been a lot of talk about breastfeeding in my Twitter stream lately, and Arwen wrote a wonderful post on the subject of Breastfeeding and Guilt. Go read it; it's great. Also check out Emily's comment, which is spot on. Rather than completely take over Arwen's comment section with my take on the situation, I thought I'd write about it here. I want to have a post talking about my experiences, especially since the situation with Teddy was atypical.

I've been very fortunate. Both of my children have had breastmilk for at least 17 months. But guilt has fueled both of these experiences. It's an odd guilt -- guilt that I'd failed Teddy in utero and in the first days of his life.

Tongue-tie runs in Dave's family. Dave is tongue-tied, and we always joked that if we had boys, they'd have it. While pregnant with Teddy, I knew that he'd probably be tongue-tied. I spoke to my midwives and my doulas about it as well as the nurses at the hospital. I lined up a 'breast-feeding buddy' through a city-run program so I could get support and I knew when all the clinics were all over the city. We took courses, I watched videos and bought reference books. Being a first time mother who'd never breast-fed before, I think I did as much as I could.

Teddy was born with a posterior tongue-tie. It's so far back that it's difficult to diagnose. The nurses and midwives didn't spot it. I knew that something was wrong, but it wasn't until we went to a lactation clinic that the IBCLCs spotted it, realized that he wasn't really latching, and got me pumping at the end of Day 2. I couldn't even pump enough to cover the bottom of the bottles; I don't think I've ever cried so hard in my life as I tried. By the time my midwife came by the next morning, Teddy was down from 8lbs 4 oz to 7lbs 3 oz with his clothes on.

Day 3 postpartum ranks up there as the worst day(s) of my life.

So Dave had to race out and get formula, and he bounced back right away. Every two hours, we fed him any milk I could pump and topped it up with formula. My milk started to come in that day, and he just kept gaining and gaining. The midwives came every 12 hours to check on him (LOVE them) and he was great. But we struggled to find ANYWHERE that would do a tongue-tie release.

He had the release done on Day 5, but it was only partial. He still couldn't get much when he latched, but I pumped my way into an oversupply so that he'd be drowning in milk. No word of a lie - I was getting over 1.5 L per day (50 oz). But when he was 2 weeks old, we got thrush and kept passing it back and forth. After several weeks of that, I gave up trying to get him to nurse and just pumped.

Oh, that pump. It SUUUUUCKED. And the stupid flanges (even 3 sizes up) were awful and kept giving me plugged ducts which lead to mastitis. Weeks and weeks of awful mastitis. The pump couldn't move the milk, so I had to hand-express to keep the milk moving. In the midst of all this, my Aunt Floriana died, so we were dealing with all her funeral, mourning, and I was just a hot mess.

Everyone around me told me that I could stop (maybe should stop) because it was too much. But I was like a woman possessed; my kid was going to get breast milk no matter what. Also, my supply was bullet-proof. Even with mastitis it didn't drop for long.

So I kept on going. I switched to hand expressing full time, and the mastitis cleared up, as did all the pain. It was SO MUCH more convenient and easier (especially during a 12 hour power outage), so I just doing it. I slowed down gradually when I realized that the entire bottom of our massive chest freezer was full of milk. I kept it up until Teddy was 14 months old, and I was over 5 months pregnant with Veronica. He had enough milk in the freezer to take him past 17 months.

I look back now and why was I so consumed with it? I think it's because I felt like I'd failed him as a tiny baby. I hadn't been able to advocate for him and he'd lost all that weight. I'd been unable to find a doctor to address the issue. I couldn't help my baby in the way he needed to be helped, but I COULD DO THIS. So that's what I clung to.

Now Veronica does not have a tongue-tie. She, however, had a complicated delivery. She was intubated 3 times and had chest compressions, and she just did not want to nurse right away. But her latch didn't hurt like Teddy's and she wasn't losing as much weight, so I thought we were on the right track with nursing.

Then Day 3 rolled around and we discovered that she'd lost 10% of her birth weight. She wasn't anywhere as dehydrated as Teddy had been, but it was not good. I am not ashamed to say that I sobbed like I'd been stabbed in the heart. But Jackie, my amazing midwife, realized that her suction reflex had been thrown off by the intubation. She suggested that we finger-feed her using the last lonely bag of Teddy's breast milk from the freezer. And she reminded me that on Day 3, the tears bring in the milk.


So I nursed Veronica and then Dave would finger-feed her as much extra milk as she wanted. But about 12 hours later, my milk came in with a vengeance. Seriously -- I felt my entire torso was undergoing electric shocks. She was no longer interested in finger feeding, and when Jackie came back to weigh her 24 hours later, she'd gained 7 oz. She regained her birth weight before she was 1 week old.

And yet - I was PETRIFIED that I wasn't producing enough milk. She was consistently in the 95th percentile for weight, and I was nervous before every weigh-in. I still catch myself worrying and she's 17 months old!

My terrible time with Teddy and my rough start with Veronica have caused me to stress about my supply. I won't chance cold medicine, as it is known to make your supply drop. I worried about missing feedings so much that I was never away from her for more than 3.5 hours until she was 14 months old. She never took a bottle. I am still rarely away from her for more than 4 or 5 hours.

I suspect that I'm also trying to atone for my failure to effectively nurse Teddy by nursing her as often as she wants for as long as she wants. I'd have given anything to have had it work with Teddy, so I'd better not take this for granted. Am I turning it into penance for my belief that I let her brother down?

This guilt comes entirely from my own psyche. Everyone around me has been so supportive of me and was so proud of how hard I worked for Teddy. Heck - I'm proud of how hard I worked to feed Teddy. But man - did the Mom guilt ever start early for me.

1 comment:

  1. You should NEVER feel guilt, as your love is always enough. You are a trooper though. You helped me soooo much with Morgan. Staying calm and hopeful is the key. When I was having my gallbladder attack I still had to pump in the bathroom floor in the ER while puking. THAT sucked. Then I still kept pumping while in the hospital with a broken hip every 4 hours for 5 days to keep my supply. Mothers are super human I tell ya.(=