I wanted to breastfeed. I really, truly did. I was so committed to the decision to breastfeed, that I made nipple balm, bought a manual breast pump (so Allyn could bond with pumpkin) with storage bags, and added several nursing bras, some nursing shirts, two nursing covers, a nursing gown, and a new, light robe. I was completely sold on the dream of a loving, holistic, spiritual bond between my daughter and I as I feed her nutrient-dense, antibody primed, perfect temperature (and most importantly, free) milk from my body. I could practically feel the generations and generations of women that we hailed from lending me their strength and courage, I could hear positive and ferocious mantras in my heart;
I am woman! I am amazing! I can create and carry life!! I can feed another person with my body!!
And then Pumpkin arrived, in all her beautiful glory. She is amazing, and lovely and perfect, and has a tongue-tie. Not that was knew that at first- at first we thought she was just a sleepy baby (which she was). With all the Pitocin and Fentanyl they gave me, it made sense that she would be loopy. So when she didn’t latch immediately after birth, the nurses told me to just keep trying. They helped me try new ways of holding her, helped me align my breasts better, sometimes they even shoved my breast into her mouth for me. I met with a lactation consultant who told me that my nipples were too small, to use the areola to guide her to the milk, and gave me a nipple shield. Still nothing. She’d rarely latch, and when she did, it’d only be for a few seconds before she’d come off the breast.
I am woman, and I’m failing to feed my child.
And the more we struggled to breastfeed, the more jaundiced she became. The more jaundiced she became, the sleepier she’d get, and the more we would struggle to breastfeed.
She was starving, and her brain was getting very close to being in danger.
At least, that’s what (some of) the nurses told me every few hours. (Others were lovely.) They would come to do vitals, look at her feeding chart that I kept, and tell me;
“Breastfeeding is easy and natural. Every woman can do it.”
“Breastfeeding takes actual effort“
“Formula is no substitute.”
“Skin-to-skin promotes breastfeeding.” or “Try actually holding her.” (Namely said when I would put her in the bassinet to use the restroom.)
“Don’t let her sleep, the jaundice will cause brain-damage”
Other nurses told me I was doing great, that I was “doing everything right” and “she’s just a really sleepy baby”.
I would set an alarm and try to feed her every two hours, whether she was sleeping or not. And I would cry the whole time, and every moment in between.
When we weren’t feeding or getting vitals done, they would do frequent heel-sticks to monitor her jaundice. Her bilirubin levels were continuing to increase, if she didn’t flush them out soon- she would need intervention.
I was failing her.
After a day, the lactation consultant came back, and when she saw that we were still having trouble- she recommended that we supplement. “Just to flush out the jaundice,” she said, “then we can try again.” She told me that Pumpkin would be more interested in feeding once the bilirubin build up, and thus the sleepiness, was gone.
I was so relieved, my daughter was going to be okay. We would get her past this trying step, get her healthy, and then we could breastfeed and bond the way I wanted to. I wasn’t failing her anymore.
But, supplementing means that I need to pump to get my milk supply up. So, every two hours, I would wake her up and put her to the breast. We would try to breastfeed for 10-15 minutes, if (and when) she would get frustrated from not getting enough milk, I would formula-feed her, get her back to sleep and use the hand-pump for 15-20 min. Then I’d take a 30 min nap (or cry for 30 min, because baby blues) and do it again.
It got a great deal easier when a nurse saw my hand-pump and brought me a hospital double-electric. (It was glorious.)
But, will all my pumping, I was still only producing half a ml. We wrote it off as my milk hadn’t come in yet and focused on pumping to stimulate rather than to produce.
A few days of formula, and Pumpkin’s jaundice had gone down enough for us to leave the hospital. So, with some formula from the hospital, a follow-up appointment set with her doctor, and some patronizing instructions not to “give up and be lazy,” we brought Pumpkin home.
Yet, as the days passed and the jaundice went away- she still struggled to latch, and I still struggled to produce milk. Breastfeeding just was not working for us. Each time she was put to the breast, we would both get so frustrated, and we’d both cry. I felt like my milk was never going to come in. We followed the same schedule as before, but toward the end, I was (hand) pumping for 30 minutes, per breast, and only getting 1 ml, total, at the end of the session. But, we trudged on. I would add my tiny amount of breastmilk to her bottles. Bottles which we specifically bought to replicate the breast to help transition her back, in the hopes of finally breastfeeding.
Meanwhile, she was eating more and more formula- and looking better and better.
Not without problem though, even while drinking from a bottle, she had a clumsy suck and difficulty latching to it. That was when my step-mom pointed out that Pumpkin probably had a tongue-tie, which would cause her such issues.
So we changed bottles and, at 6 days old, Pumpkin, Allyn, and I went to the Lactation clinic. The lactation specialist weighed Pumpkin, inspected my bloody nipples, watched us feed, helped me completely drain my breasts (she ninja-ed some milk out of secret ducts), and discovered:
Pumpkin was only getting 2 ml per feeding. She needed 2-2.5 oz.
The lactation lady verified that Pumpkin did, in fact, have a tongue-tie. She also established that, based on the size of my nipples (too small), the distance between my breasts (too much), and my medical history (cysts and such), I likely have PCOS, which can cause low milk supply.
I can’t make milk and Pumpkin can’t drink it. One issue, maybe we could work around, but both? We were toast. So when the specialist looked me in the eye and told me that it was a good thing that we supplemented because I “will never exclusively breastfeed”, I was torn. Part of me was devastated that I was robbed of the magical experience that I was supposed to have with my child. Part of me was relieved that it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t fail at breastfeeding because I didn’t try hard enough, it didn’t work because my body just didn’t work that way.
I cried in her office, and she told be that I could try to supplement her formula, but I’d need to be aggressive about pumping. I’d definitely need to buy an electric pump (which we did), get a bigger flange (goodbye, bleeding nipples), and pump very often.
After two weeks of ‘power pumping’, my milk supply dried up anyway.
I cried again, but soon came to terms with it. I tried my absolute damnest to breastfeed, and I couldn’t. I gave it my all and still lost the chance to be the spiritual, holistic, breastfeeding mom that I wanted to be. But gained a happy, healthy, and very well-fed baby. And that’s what really matters.
I am woman. I am amazing. I did create and bring life into this world. I need help to feed my child, and that is okay.