There’s a fine line between acknowledging that feeling of failure and guilt are normal parts of the formula feeding experience, and accepting that it has to be this way. I personally despise the sentiment that “no one can make you feel guilty” because guilt is a real and valid emotion. The guilt may indeed come from within ourselves, but it stems from a deep desire to do the best for our children, and when there’s such a limited definition of what “the best” is, it doesn’t leave much margin for error.
I really want to reassure FFF Diane, the writer of the following story, that she DID try hard enough. That doesn’t mean that we should have a scale for such things; that some women are “excused” because they tried to breastfeed for a certain amount of time, or with a certain level of perseverance. I don’t believe that Diane should have had to feel like there was so much at stake, but I fully understand why she did… because I’ve been there myself. And until we see sufficient, systemic change which allows for individualized narratives of “good mothering”, we need to support women like Diane as much as we possibly can. I want her to know that she is an amazing mom no matter how or what she feeds her child; that she did not “fail” at anything, and that she is doing a tremendous service to other women by being open about her experience. This goes for all of you who have shared your stories here – you should be proud, and you should be thanked, a million times over.
I’ll start: thank you. 999,9999 to go.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
Labor, on the other hand, was a whole different ballgame. I was scared to death of labor. I vehemently did not want to be induced because I was afraid of it resulting in a c-section. In addition to being scared of the pain associated with a c-section, I had heard it was much more difficult to breastfeed after one, and I wanted to get started on the right foot. My 40 week appointment came around one day after my due date, and much to my disappointment, there was absolutely nothing going on. I was set up for an NST and BPP the following Tuesday and was told if anything did not look right, I would be induced that day, if everything was okay, they would let me go until Friday, which was 8 days past my due date. I went home and cried for much of the evening. At midnight, just as I was about to go to bed, I stood up and my water broke. We rushed to the hospital and I had a perfect labor. 12 hours from start to finish and only 30 minutes of pushing. It was no where near as bad as I had thought it would be. I made it known to the doctor, nurses, and my husband that as soon as my daughter came into the world, she was to be placed on my chest for kangaroo care and the beginning of our breastfeeding relationship.
Here are where the problems started. The doctor complied and immediately placed my beautiful 7 lb 11 oz daughter on my chest. I opened my gown right away to breastfeed. This is when newborns are supposed to be eager and alert, right? They are supposed to want to nurse right away from everything I had researched. She did not seem interested. She took a few lazy sucks at the breast and then broke away. I alerted the nurse who told me that her stomach was the size of a marble and not to be concerned. She fell asleep and we were transferred to the postpartum unit.
I told every nurse that came in my room that I felt like breastfeeding was not going right and requested a visit from the LC. They all told me the same thing – as long as she was having dirty diapers she was fine. After all, her stomach was only the size of a marble and she didn’t need much. I, on the other hand, couldn’t shake the feeling something was wrong. She would suck a little when I put her to the breast, but it didn’t feel like anything was coming out. Although, she was having dirty diapers, so my husband said he thought everything was fine. Being first time parents, we did not realize that all she was passing was meconium – there was no urine or stool in any of those diapers.
The LC finally came to see me 27 hours after my baby was born. After 2 minutes of observing me, she quickly realized that my daughter was getting absolutely nothing from me because I have inverted nipples and her suck was not strong enough to get anything out. She suggested that at each feeding, I should try to get her to latch for 15 minutes, supplement with formula, and then pump for 15 minutes. She also gave me a nipple shield. Even with the nipple shield on and some formula dribbled on it, she could not get my daughter to latch. When I pumped the first time, I literally had 3 drops of colostrum. Still, I used a glove to coat it on my finger and fed it to her off my hand. In the early hours of the morning, the night nurse came in to tell me that my baby had jaundice. She was starving because I wasn’t able to produce enough to feed her. She had been in the world less than 48 hours and I was already failing her. The next morning, the NICU doctor came in and told me that if we did not feed her formula, she would be admitted to the NICU while I was discharged to treat the jaundice. I could not fathom leaving the hospital without my little girl. I expressed concern that giving her a bottle would interfere with breastfeeding. He told me that once my milk came in, she would latch and drink, and there would be no harm done. I followed his advice and gave her formula so she could come home with me.
For the next two weeks, I tried to get her to latch at every feeding and pumped every 3 hours around the clock. I waited for my milk to come in. I waited to feel engorged. I waited for something to happen. It never did. She never latched. I never got engorged. I never got more than a slight coating at the bottom of the bottle when I pumped. This led to many tears and feelings of failure. I was so afraid of being judged by others for not trying hard enough. A friend told me to just throw out the bottles and eventually she would get the hang of it. I could not do that. I could not starve my daughter. It got to the point that I literally cried at every single feeding. I told my husband that I wasn’t doing the best for our daughter and she deserved a much better mother. I was not enjoying my time with her and I was resentful of the pump. Finally, after two weeks, my husband came home after work and night class to find me with the pump, with a few drops gathered in the bottom of the bottle. He asked how long I had been pumping and I answered 30 minutes. He gently told me it was time to give it up. I remember feeling so relieved that someone finally had given me permission to stop.
Today, my daughter is a strong, smart, healthy 7 month old. She has never been sick and is hitting all of her milestones early. In the scheme of things, what she is fed the first year of her life means so very little. I dare someone to tell me that my daughter is any less perfect or our relationship is any less strong because of the manner in which she is fed. I would like to say I will try to breastfeed my next one, I still feel like I didn’t try hard enough. I do believe there were underlying problems with her latch/ sucking reflux. For the first month of her life, she did not even have a good suck when taking a bottle. However, I don’t know if I will be able to take trying and failing again. Time will tell, but in the meantime, I will enjoy every minute with my darling girl.