Hi everyone and congrats on your babies! Here is my story, Please be kind. I've beaten myself up enough already- anything negative you could say I've already said to myself. I mostly wrote this as a way to process the past 6 weeks.
I knew I would breastfeed. I just knew it- it was integral to my idea of motherhood. My mom was a La Leche League leader while we were kids. I grew up around boobs. Everyone in my family breastfeed. I remember the first time I brought my (now) husband to a family event- at least 3 of my aunts were breastfeeding. And it was no big deal! I could tell he was a little embarrassed, but I was proud that the women in my family breastfed. It wasn't even a question- it was just what we did.
My baby, Amelia, was born on Valentine's day- I can't believe she's 6bweeks old already! Long story short, she had a rough start and spent her first 48 hours hooked to IV antibiotics in the NICU. The NICU nurses wouldn't let me feed her the first night until she had seen a Neonatologist. And after 20 hours of labor (uncomplicated, vaginal delivery) I was in no condition to fight with them- not to mention they scared me into thinking she was much sicker than she actually was. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather they were overly cautious. I knew it was important to stimulate breastfeeding right after birth, so I was set up with a breast pump and dutifully pumped every 2 hours. Even if I couldn't breastfeed her right away I was not going to let this interfer with our long term breastfeeding.
The next morning, I was ready to fight with the Neonatologist about the benefits of breastfeeding- I had seen Amelia's lab results and knew they weren't so bad (I'm a Social Worker and know just enough about lab results to make it sound like I know what I'm talking about). But, I didn't end up having to fight at all because the Neonatologist told me she was a healthy baby and I could feed her- but he still wanted her on antibiotics for 48 hours. I was able to start breastfeeding her, but she was still stuck in the NICU, so I was feeding her on their schedule, not on hers. I was feeding her every 2-3 hours and pumping after every feeding just to make sure I was covering all my bases. I have a picture of me breastfeeding her in the NICU. She is hooked up to IVs and monitors and I look exhausted. But it is my favorite picture from our stay at the hospital because it signifies to me how hard I tried to make breastfeeding work.
Once we finally left the NICU, she seemed to be nursing like a champ- her latch was good and she was really eager to nurse. But it seemed like my milk never really "came in". Even after we left the hospital and went home I never had any engorgement or leaking or anything. I thought I was just lucky- that I would be one of the moms for whom breastfeeding was easy. My nipples never got sore, there was no bleeding or anything. I had prepared myself for breastfeeding to be painful and I was giddy that it didn't happen!
Amelia nursed and nursed and nursed. I had read that babies wanted to nurse all the time when they are newborns, so I wasn't concerned. Amelia also hadn't been having a ton of wet or dirty diapers but I figured it was all okay- she's my first baby so I didn't really know what to expect. She slept a lot at the breast, but again, I just thought that was normal. My LLL leader mom stayed with us that first week and gave me suggestions and tips. She checked my latch and helped with positioning- all the things a good LLL leader should do. She agreed that everything was fine and my milk would come in soon. But it never did.
Every baby loses weight when they're born, so when we went to the pediatrician the first week we were expecting some weight loss. We were not expecting her to have lost even more weight the second week- she was down almost 15% of her body weight. So the Pediatrician wanted me start supplementing with formula- which I was very wary about. I knew it was a slippery slope- that supplementing would make it even harder to increase my milk supply. But at the same time, my baby was not doing well. She slept all the time and was hardly wetting any diapers. The Pediatrician assured me that as soon as she started gaining weight and being more alert, she'd be breastfeeding exclusively. I talked to my mom about it and she was also wary but we agreed that getting Amelia healthy was the most important thing. My mom told me what to look for so I could identify if Amelia was having "nipple confusion" and take care of it before it became a debilitating issue.
So we started supplementing half an oz of formula after every feeding. We started giving the formula to her in a bottle, but when her latch started to suffer, I insisted we see a lactation consultant at the hospital. The LC set us up with a "lact-aid" system so I could syringe formula to her while she's still latched on to me. The LC also made a "plan" for us: We were on a 3 hour rotation: First, I nursed her for 30 minutes, then I use lact aid to give her 2oz of formula, then I hooked myself up to a breast pump for 15 minutes. While I was fine with the plan, the LC made me cautious. I asked the her how long I'd have to do this, what she thought the outcome would be, etc and she kept giving answers like "I really can't answer that". Finally I just flat out asked her if she thought this would work and she again said "I really can't answer that". So I asked her if it didn't work if that meant we would just have to bottle feed and she said "well, you can always comfort nurse". Then she sent us away with 5 canisters of formula.
Her dismissal made me suspicious. I secretly assumed she was working for the formula companies- why else would a LC give out formula?? I called my mom in tears. We found a private LC in our area (who was also a LLL leader) and my mom offered to pay for the consultation. I set one up immediately. The new LC came to our house. She seemed really good and totally knew her stuff. She started out really positive and asked me a bunch of questions about what we've been doing, my medical history, etc. She was talking about how to decrease formula safely and what to say to the Pediatrician to get her "on our side". But then as we continued talking, it kind of became clear that there was something else going on. I had never had any breast changes during pregnancy- everyone talks about waking up one morning with HUGE boobs. I wore the same bras my entire pregnancy. The LC watched me pump (which was horribly embarrassing- I already hated pumping and I hated having someone watch even more) and seemed concerned when nothing was coming out. I told her I'd never produced more than 5ml at the pump- despite weeks of doing it every 3 hours. Ultimately she said the same thing as the other LC- I may just not be able to produce enough milk. That there is a thing called insufficient glandular tissue and that people who have it don't have breast changes in pregnancy, don't experience engorgement, and can't hear swallowing when their baby nurses. All 3 of these things applied to me. The LC continued her assessment- She checked my latch and checked Amelia's mouth and found no reason why she wouldn't be gaining weight. She actually said it was "okay to mourn" not being about to breastfeed.
So, at this point I've had two LC's and my own LLL leader mother tell me it's not working. That the most important thing is feeding my baby. I've tried Fenugreek, mother's milk tea, a lact-aid, weeks of pumping every 3 hours, skin to skin contact, beer, wine, breast compressions, oatmeal, lactation cookies, etc. And still nothing is working. My midwife offered to write me a prescription for Reglan, but due to my history with depression and anxiety I just am not willing to accept the potential side effects. I've gone through every emotion- guilt, shame, anger, disbelief, rage, depression, anxiety. I've read a lot on breastfeeding blogs that the people who formula feed are either A) lazy, B) selfish, or C) don't have the resources available to breastfeed. I don't feel like any of those apply to me As far as resources go- my own mother was a LLL leader! If anyone should have been able to breastfeed, it should have been me.
So now I'm just trying to figure out what this all means for my family. I still put Amelia to the breast when she's upset or not sleeping and it seems to calm her down immediately. I know she's not getting much food from me, but at least I comfort her. I hope that she gets enough milk from me that some of my immunities are passed on to her. I do what I can to maintain what little supply I have. I secretly hold on to hope that I will wake up one morning totally engorged. That for some reason it took over a month for my milk to come in.
I'm trying to look on the bright side. There is nothing better than staring into her eyes while she's eating- even if it is from a bottle. It's great that my husband can get up with her in the middle of the night, and I love being able to drink wine again without worrying. She's a thriving, happy baby who is gaining weight like she should. She is bright eyed and beautiful.
But I still fight feeling like a failure. I still feel like there is something "wrong" with me, that I'm "broken", that I'm dooming Amelia to a life of illness and lowered IQ. And I'm terrified of having to feed Amelia from a bottle in public or at a family event. I'm just starting out on my motherhood journey and it's so difficult that this first thing did not work out. I feel like I can't join mom groups or go to LLL meetings because I don't live up to their standards. I'm afraid to talk to other new moms because they might find out that I bottle feed my baby. I've been really isolated and afraid to go out in public.
But I'm working on acceptance. I'm learning that I'm not alone and that formula isn't poison. Even though I still have greif and "mourn", I'm sure it's just one of many ideas about motherhood that I'm going to have to amend. And we still have a breastfeeding relationship- it's just not what I expected. It is based on comfort and bonding- not on nutrition. This has been such a humbling experience. I'm used to making things work. I'm really good at taking a crappy situation and figuring it out- that's part of what make me so good at my job. And it is horrible that I can't do that in this situation. ut I can't and I have to accept that. After having a breakdown and sobbing in the pediatrician's office, I decided I was not going to spend anymore of my maternity leave feeling anxious and depressed about this. I am going to move forward and ENJOY my baby. How I feed her does not define what kind of mother I am or how bonded we are to each other. Like my mom put it, Amelia is teaching me how to be HER mother, not the mother I had envisioned.