When Breastfeeding Doesn't Go As You Planned

I have been following the blog, Hank and Lucy, since Henry and Lucia were born.  Their moms, Jamie and Celia, are eloquent, funny, and wonderfully honest about their transition to motherhood.  Last week, Celia bared her soul in a post about her struggles with breastfeeding.  I was so touched by her story, as she shared how she tried EVERYTHING to make breastfeeding work for her and her daughter.  In my mind, Celia is a complete rockstar for her commitment to her daughter.  I am so thankful that she had the courage to share her story.

 

 

About twelve years ago, I had a breast reduction. At nineteen I was still growing out of my bras, I was incredibly uncomfortable, I had the hardest time finding clothes that fit, and I was tired of being "the girl with the boobs". I'd been that girl since the fifth grade. After doing lots of research and finding the surgeon I wanted, I mustered up the courage to tell my mom. I was surprised at how supportive she was, but then again, she could relate. People (mostly my male friends) were shocked with the decision I'd made... "but all girls want big boobs"... "what about the scars, you'll have them forever". But none of that phased me; I would look at women with a smaller chest size and wonder if they had any idea how good they had it, and as for the scarring, I knew if that kind of thing was going to bother a guy, then he was not the kind of guy I wanted anything to do with anyway. None of that petty crap was going to stop me from doing what I knew was right for me. The day before the procedure, my doctor used a marker to draw incision lines on my breasts . He went over all the possible complications and side effects I could encounter down the line. One of the things he mentioned was that I'd probably have trouble breastfeeding and that some women reported not being able to breastfeed at all after the surgery. I have to admit, at nineteen, quite possibly the furthest thing from my mind was breastfeeding. I often wonder, had I known what I know now, would it have swayed my decision? I don't know... maybe I wouldn't have gone through with it, but at the same time, I've never once regretted the choice I made.

The operation went incredibly well and years went by before I even gave the whole breastfeeding thing a second thought. When I got pregnant we had just moved to Oakland and I didn't even have an OB. I finally found a doctor that I really liked an felt comfortable with. At my first prenatal visit, she brought up the whole breastfeeding issue. I explained that I was well aware of the situation, and she suggested that I see a lactation consultant as soon as one was available at the hospital. The months went on and as I got closer and closer to my due date, I knew my chances were low but I still became hopeful that I would be able to breastfeed, even if I'd also have to supplement. I tried to be as levelheaded about it as possible... always the realist, the last thing I wanted to do was set myself up for disappointment.

At 8 months, my mom threw a shower for me in LA. On the flight home, I sat next to a woman who was inquisitive of my pregnancy and explained that she had a two year old at home. I'm not sure how the conversation steered in this direction, but she shared her immense struggles with breastfeeding, and how after countless efforts and many tears shed, she finally had to throw in the towel when her son was just 3 months old. I could tell that her experience had wounded her deeply. It felt as she was trying to explain herself to me, a perfect stranger, and I couldn't understand why. I assured her that those kinds of things happen and that I, myself, would be faced with a similar battle. I came home and told Joe the story. I felt lucky that at least I *knew* what I was in for, that I had had fair warning.

Since Lucia was a cesarean baby, she didn't get to actually attempt to breastfeed until about an hour after she was born. The nurse put her on my chest and helped me direct my nipple into her mouth. She latched INSTANTLY. It was as if she had been doing it a whole lifetime. I had a feeling I was growing a little genius inside of me, so I was not surprised at all. I nursed her with ease for the rest of the day and things were starting to look pretty good. That night was when everything went south. She would latch, stay on for about half a minute and then pull off screaming and frustrated. I couldn't understand what was happening since it all seemed to be working splendidly before. The next morning, our nurse sat with me for an hour trying to get her to hold the latch, but it just seemed to be getting more and more impossible. The hospital ran some tests and I learned that my colostrum levels were extremely low and that L had developed low blood sugar and she was at risk for jaundice. We would have to supplement with formula and hope that my milk would come in soon. I had a meeting with a lactation consultant the next day, and by this point something had changed. Even though I understood why all of this was happening, I was DETERMINED to breastfeed and I was going to do everything it took to make it happen. It's funny how certain things don't seem like such a big deal until we're actually presented with the reality.

When we met with the lactation consultant, she introduced us to SNS. For those of you who aren't familiar, it's basically a way of supplementing formula while still familiarizing a baby with the breast by feeding a capillary tube into their mouth while nursing. It's kind of a nightmare. I would get L to latch, and Joe would carefully insert the tube alongside my breast into her mouth while slowly pumping a tube of formula. We'd have to be sneaky about it because she hated it, and I can't say I blame her. I was also instructed to pump regularly in order to get my milk to come in. For two days I pumped and got absolutely nothing. I was becoming a total stress case. Our pediatrician came by for L's routine checkup in the hospital, and knowing what I was up against, asked how I was handling it all. I broke down. I explained how desperately I wanted to breastfeed and how it was looking incredibly unpromising, and how I felt so helpless. She told me that she, too, had had very low milk supply and that after a couple months of SNS she decided she had put herself under too much pressure. "Don't lose sight of your baby, Celia... this time should be joyful", was what she said to me. Logically, I knew exactly what she was trying to tell me, because the truth is, I was losing sight. But when you've just had a baby, all logic gets thrown out the window.

After five days in the hospital, we took L home along with a rented breast pump. It took about a week, but I finally started getting results. And by results, I mean I was able to pump almost four ounces in the first two days we were home. Now I know that's barely anything at all, but seeing as I had come from producing absolutely nothing, I was elated at the prospect. So I pumped and pumped and gave L whatever I could in a bottle. I would hold the pump to my breasts and Joe would massage them trying to get every possible drop out, all while my mom was watching TV on the sofa next to us. Sexy, right? When I got to pumping three ounces in one day, I felt like a breastfeeding champ. Yes, that's still not very much, but beggars can't exactly be choosers. Joe returned to work and I continued to pump. I would gather all of my milk from one day in order to keep track. One day, I had gone from pumping three ounces to only pumping two. I tried not to worry and stay positive that I would be back up to three in no time. But the next day, I barely pumped one and a half ounces. I felt frustrated and ashamed, and I didn't know how to tell Joe what was happening.

On one of his nights off, I sat next to him while I pumped. I pumped for fifteen minutes and absolutely nothing came out. He massaged my breasts the way he had before and still, nothing. I kept the pump on for half an hour waiting for ANYTHING to happen, but just ended up sitting there with dry cups. I looked at him and I knew that it was over; I knew that I had lost. He took the pump out of my hands and just hugged me. I let out one of those cries where your heart is filled with so much hurt that your body can't even make a sound. And then I sobbed, and he held me the whole time telling me that it was ok and that I was amazing for trying so hard.

I've spent the last few months trying my best to get past this. At first, it was extremely difficult for me. When even formula companies are heavily promoting breastfeeding on their websites, it becomes difficult to let go. When the first question out of practically everyone's mouth is whether or not I'm nursing, I find myself wanting to search out the closest corner to hide in. I often think about the woman I met on the plane and I *get it* now. She felt the need to come clean to me before I started interrogating her, because EVERYONE interrogates her. I, too, feel like I have to tell strangers my whole background story so that I'm not deemed a horrible mother who took the easy way out. By the way, just in case you're wondering, formula feeding is it's own kind of monster. I spent weeks researching formulas, and all I'd ever come up with were the effects of not breastfeeding... according to the AAP, I'll probably end up with a child with learning disabilities that isn't properly bonding with me. Just try and feel good about yourself after reading that load of crap.

After reading Jamie's post about Henry's birth, I couldn't help but relate it to my situation. I could see how as mothers, women set themselves to an unattainable standard. EVERYTHING involving birth and raising a child is a struggle in one way or another, and shouldn't we pat ourselves on the back if we can accomplish any of it? Yet, we want to be phenomenal, we want to do everything right, we want it all to work out perfectly as planned. But truth be told, that simply isn't the way life works out sometimes. And I bet if you look really hard, there is beauty in those imperfections... like our babies.