I may be biased, but I really think FFF Friday stories should be a mandatory part of any IBCLC, CLC, or maternity RN training. This one, in particular, sums up everything that is wrong with how breastfeeding is handled in our society. It’s not about whether breastfeeding should be promoted or not, because right now, it’s going to be. That won’t change. But what needs to change – like, yesterday – is the completely asinine approach that we use to do so. We should be helping mothers, individual mothers, and not adhering to rigid “rules” about what breastfeeding is “supposed” to be, “supposed” to do, or “supposed” to feel like. If you don’t agree. please read Lisa’s story. Then let’s talk. For real – let’s talk, in an honest, open, intelligent way – and tell me how this is okay.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
I always wanted to be a mother from the time I was a young teen and held my infant baby sister in my arms as I rocked her to sleep. My mother raised and breastfed all seven of us. It always seemed perfectly natural, and this is how I pictured life… a sweet baby in my arms and latched to my breast. When I had my first child, he was totally perfect, and I was shown awkwardly how to latch him and get that working right. I proudly nursed him and continued after I left the hospital. It never entered my mind to even buy a bottle ahead of time because I didn’t plan to need one. I hadn’t even heard of the option of pumping, I just wanted to breastfeed. It went without my notice that my breasts never changed in pregnancy, that I never had let down, and that I never felt engorged or that supposed tingle feeling of milk coming in (because no one had ever told me while pregnant or even after what I should expect in the least even if it was working right). When we left my son had jaundice so we kept checking his levels, and within two days of coming home, we had the bili light suitcase. That’s just miserable, but I had no idea that his increasing lethargy, and jaundice was due to not enough to eat. I thought he wasn’t eating because he was lethargic from the jaundice. That’s what they told me would happen. I started to worry when I saw that he was always so tired, too tired to cry much, and he was looking thinner and more frail… bird like really. I hated not being able to hold him while he was under those lights, and could only do so to feed him. Finally, I listened to the voice I heard in my heart telling me he needed more… and I gave him some ready to feed formula I had gotten at the hospital. (thankfully before they banned such practices!) He eventually recovered, but my milk didn’t come in. Everyone assured me it would and I asked every known relative for help. I was doing it all right.. but a week went by, and nothing changed. I talked to the LC from the hospital who told me that it could be “normal” with a first baby and to keep letting him eat. She set me up with a pump. I spent so much time pumping and feeding, and desperately trying to sleep that I could hardly cope with the times my son was awake because I was so exhausted. At three weeks, I plain gave up and bought bottles. The doctor recommended formula because he was continuing to lose weight. To this day he’s quite healthy.. no allergies, asthma, or lower IQ that formula supposedly causes.
While I was pregnant with my second baby the “Every woman can breastfeed” campaign started. I had lost a few friends in new mommy groups online because of my experience, but I was redeemed in their eyes because I was DETERMINED that I would breastfeed this time around. I hired an LC before I was due. She assured me it was all possible and all I had to do was try hard enough. I told her of my previous experience, and she reassured me with all the common platitudes of “every woman can breast feed”, and “breast size doesn’t matter”. I even told her my breasts don’t get bigger in pregnancy, and this didn’t even faze her. I joined an online mentor group where they assign an experienced breastfeeder as your mentor to talk to about it and keep encouraged. I had my supply of oatmeal, bottled water, goats rue, domperidone, reglan, fenugreek, all the galactagogues, the books on correct latching, nipple shields, a hospital grade pump, an SNS kit, boppy, nursing bras, nursing pads, lansinoh cream, nursing cover, and even meditation tracks to relax me while I breastfed and walked me through breastfeeding hypnosis. I was SET!
My second son arrived just barely after Christmas day via induction for pre-eclampsia. He was also a little bit jaundiced when we took him home, but I figured that was normal. Two days later, again we had the bili lights, but this time not only the suitcase, but the bili blanket as well. They worried more about his levels, and he struggled more than his brother. He lost more weight, resembled a sickly struggling baby bird even more. Looking back, I should have seen these as warning signs. I hardly changed diapers.. another warning sign I should have seen, but I was FAR too focused on breastfeeding. I was latching him and feeding him every 2 hours if not every 90 minutes… feeding him till he wouldn’t suck any longer (about 30-40 minutes total), and then pumping for another half an hour to 45 minutes before grabbing about 20 minutes of sleep and starting all over again. I did this night and day.. could hardly stay awake, and my poor toddler suffered for it. I had to have people come in and help care for him because I literally did nothing but breastfeed. I still had no changes in breast tissue. I had no let down, no tingle, no engorgement, no leaking… nothing… but! When I squeezed, there was a drop there. My LC assured me that all was well despite his weight loss and my milk WOULD come in. I kept going.. popping the pills.. and the whole regimen until the 2 week appointment.
He had lost too much weight. He was classified as “failure to thrive” and I was sent immediately to the hospital. I was so exhausted, and confused! I was doing the right thing! I was breastfeeding more than ever before.. how could this be happening to me??? To my baby??? I bawled and sobbed all the way to the hospital. It was a grueling three days that we were there. I stayed the whole time feeling utterly horrified that I hadn’t realized something was wrong. They ran test after test after test on him, and filled him with IV fluids. That was the best I’d seen him look! Then one day they came in just after I visited the pumping room and brought back my container of milk. I proudly proceeded to put a nipple on the bottle feeling very happy that I’d gotten more than ever before! I had just produced 1/3 an ounce… from both breasts combined! The nurse and the doctor exchanged looks and looked a bit horrified. They asked me if that was common, and I explained no.. ¼ an ounce was common, but I nursed him very frequently. They asked to do an exam on my breasts, asked a lot of questions. They wanted to know what the LC had told me, what I was taking, how many wet diapers, and so on. At the end of this exam the conclusion was laid on me… there was nothing wrong with my son. The problem was with me. They talked about Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT). I was confused. I regurgitated “every woman can breastfeed!” and the doctor explained that just wasn’t true in my case, nor would it ever be. He said that no amount of supplements and trying and pumping would ever help me produce more than I was, and that exclusive breastfeeding was not possible for me. My world went spinning. I had done everything right!! Why was this happening to me? I took my son home, and began to feed him formula feeling like a complete failure. Very obviously I could not breastfeed him, and he needed all the calories he could get at that point.
And then came the rejection. Almost every mommy in those new mommy groups online rejected me. I was lazy they said. I just didn’t try hard enough. They listed all the things I should have done or should continue to try. I had done them all. There was no tongue tie, or latch issues… they utterly rejected the notion that I was a woman who couldn’t breastfeed… and I was called names, ostracized, and ridiculed. Even WIC laughed at me and said that I had given up. I bawled. I spent HOURS bawling and sobbing. I developed post partum depression, and no one cared. Not my doctor’s office, not the LC’s who were long since done with the failure that I was…. Not the mentor because I was beyond her advice or care. No one. I sobbed and bawled and was miserable. I remember very little of that son’s infancy because I was so alone other than my husband who tried to console me. I had done the best I could he said… I had given everything I had to give… but every woman can breast feed… I would reply. No joke… I had believed that lie, and it broke my heart.
It was years before I stopped crying and grieving over the breasts that I have apparently only for display. I was broken. My son was my consolation. Son #2 is still very healthy… despite all the evil wicked formula. He has no asthma, no allergies, and no medical problems at all. He is also ahead of his class in school and does not lack for IQ.
I experienced a miscarriage, and then fell pregnant with my third son. I knew from the start that I could not breastfeed. I didn’t even bother to try… not at all. What was the point really? I told the hospital up front that I would be formula feeding. They asked why, and did I know about the benefits of breastmilk? Yes of course I knew, but I had IGT… “you have what?” How can a hospital not have ANY CLUE what that is? Well…. Because ‘breast is best’ and ‘every woman can breastfeed’. They repeated these things so often I think they honestly believed them. Miracle of miracles though – this son passed all his meconium MUCH faster, and did not need bili lights at all! His Jaundice was very mild, and I found that I enjoyed him as a newborn so very much! I would hold him and feed him his bottle and sing to him. I found that the bonding thing wasn’t about the source of the food at all, but about love, and about caring for my sweet baby. Oh how I enjoyed that little boy! I was not exhausted, and I was fully capable of being the mother he deserved. I wished I had been properly diagnosed years ago! I could have enjoyed two previous babies so much more, skipped all the hospital bills and misery and worry!
WIC still didn’t believe that IGT was a thing. They told me I had to have x-rays to confirm it… that I didn’t have proof. If you ask me, I think they didn’t like that I had a legit medical reason they couldn’t “educate” me out of. The heavily leaning towards breastfeeding was evident… if you breastfeed, they give you twice to three times as much babyfood at that stage. I tried not to let the jabs from other mothers and the dirty looks when I pulled out a bottle get to me. It still stung some.
Then came five more miscarriages and immense heartbreak. I wanted desperately to have another child… and I wanted the feeling of breastfeeding again. I knew that wasn’t possible exclusively, but I could give what I do make right? As tiny as it is…. FINALLY! I conceived and though the pregnancy was rough, I made plans to combo feed, and to not give a flying flip what anyone else thought. I had been through enough grief and heartache, and I more than deserved to enjoy my daughter! I told the hospital staff when they asked that I intended to combo feed and that I could not exclusively breastfeed.. I had IGT. They smiled and said “Ok. Do you want the LC or would you like some formula brought?” There was no prejudice in the nurse’s voice. I asked for both. The LC came in, and saw that I was using an SNS system to feed formula. I explained that I had IGT, and don’t produce much, but I wanted to enjoy breastfeeding because I liked the feeling of it. She smiled, and asked if she could look at me kindly. She nodded and said she confirmed that diagnosis, and that she thought I was impressive by knowing what I wanted and finding the means to do what I could. She was very kind, and not pushy. I appreciated this. My daughter is now almost 3 months. My tiny bit of milk dried up at 2 months, but oh how I cherished the longest breastfeeding relationship I have ever have even if it wasn’t exclusive! How I wish that more nurses and LC’s had treated me this way!
If there is one thing I found lacking in this last experience, it is that I was never given instructions about how to safely prepare formula, or for that matter… how to prepare it at all. I was handed nursettes, or cans of formula and waved away. I am still learning all the better ways to feed formula despite this being my fourth baby. I find myself feeling angry when other women are bullied and mistreated as I was by WIC and all the people who lied to me, or weren’t educated on biology to know that not every woman can breastfeed. I would have loved to breastfeed more, but that was never a choice I could make no matter how hard I tried. Some women do have that choice to breastfeed… and some prefer to formula feed. I now respect all mothers. You never know what she has been through.
Want to share your story? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.