FFF Friday: “I know we’re doing the right thing…”

Lisa’s FFF Friday submission is superbly written (her last paragraph is one of the most beautiful things I’ve read about formula feeding), but beyond that, I think it speaks powerfully to the common misconception that women who “fail” at breastfeeding were simply lacking support, motivation or information. However, there’s a caveat to Lisa’s story, which I have included, and this suggests that the biggest booby trap might be a refusal of the medical profession to acknowledge rare, but very real, breastfeeding difficulties. I think if we spent half the time and money we do on promoting breastfeeding into solving breastfeeding problems, we’d see the rates go up faster than you can say “booby trap”.

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I always knew that I was going to breastfeed. It wasn’t even an issue of “if”. I knew that my child would be breastfed. Why not? It’s easy – just pop that baby on! It’s free! It’s the best thing for your baby! The bonding you will feel with your child is incredible! It’s what your body was made to do!

Now, I didn’t go into it thinking it would be all sunshine and rainbows. I did know that we might have difficulties. So, I made sure to educate myself – I read the books, I went to the classes, I watched the videos, I visited the websites. I prepared myself for if things didn’t quite go as smoothly as I hoped. I learned how to latch, how to tell if the baby was swallowing, what the different holds were … I prepared myself as much as I could. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the reality of what our breastfeeding relationship became.

I gave birth to my beautiful healthy daughter, C, on a rainy October morning. Labour went smoothly, delivery took a while, but after 4 1/2 hours of pushing and the vacuum later – she was out. We nursed right away – for an hour – and things seemed like they were working just fine. We nursed in the hospital and I kept track on her nursing record of how long she ate, on which sides, what her temperament was when she was put on the breast, etc. After the first day, crystals appeared in her wet diapers. I remember the nurses saying that she wasn’t getting enough and to feed her more often. So I did. But C wasn’t latching properly and I could tell. It hadn’t become painful yet, but she was leaving lines of blisters on my nipples. The nurses and lactation consultants in the hospital weren’t overly helpful. Everyone told me something different. Pull her in this way, hold her head that way, push her body in this way, pull her chin down, pull her lip out, her tongue needs to be over her gums, hold her body that way. Try as we might, I could not get that baby to latch properly.

Despite the issues we were already having in the hospital, I was discharged. I still felt a bit hopeful. Sore nipples were common. That pain would go away. C would learn to latch properly. We’d work it all out. However, the toll it was taking on me emotionally already began to rear its ugly head. I had already begun to resent my daughter. I was terrified when she awoke because her being awake meant that she needed to be fed. On our way home from the hospital, we stopped in to visit my in-laws. C was fast asleep in her car seat. Everyone oohed and ahhed at her and all I could think was “oh my god, please please don’t wake up the baby … please!” Of course, she eventually woke up and needed to be fed. While everyone else sat upstairs in the dining room, eating dinner, joking, talking, and having a great time, I sat alone on the couch downstairs, desperately willing my daughter to feed without torturing me, silently sobbing and wiping the tears off her tiny little head.

When we got home, things continued to worsen. The blisters on my nipples changed to bloody wounds to black scabs. I called Public Health for help. A lactation consultant came to the house and showed me a few things. First, she said, C was a hot baby so our body heat was making her fall asleep at the breast. I had to remove my shirt, strip C down to just her diaper, and nurse her with a fan blowing directly on both of us. I asked her if it would always be like this. “Oh no,” she said, “Winter is coming soon, so she won’t be as warm”. Not exactly the response I was looking for. Next, she helped me pull C in, and while my husband held C’s hands away from her face, I latched her on and the LC propped some receiving blankets under my wrists for comfort, positioned the baby properly when she popped herself off, and did breast compressions when she started to fall asleep. All of the sudden, nursing my daughter became a three-person undertaking. This was not helping.

“It’s easy – just pop that baby on!” But first, strip yourself naked from the waist up, strip your baby down to her diaper, make sure that fan is on you, and grow two extra pairs of hands. It’s that easy!

Despite the help from the LC (who I had come by the house once more), I still could not get C to latch properly. Every time I would think she latched, she would jerk her head, and pull her bottom lip in. Breaking the suction hurt worse than letting her stay on with a poor latch, so most times I let her nurse improperly while my toes curled from the pain and I counted down the seconds until I could get her off me. I tried a nipple shield and C bent the plastic with her tongue. I felt angry that other people get to enjoy their babies and all I could think was please hurry up and finish eating so I can take you off me. I had no problems passing her off to anyone who wanted to hold her. Everyone gushed about how sweet and beautiful and perfect she was … and I just stared with vacant eyes because to me, she was simply a source of pain. What a horrible thing for a new mother to think about her newborn baby.

The bonding you will feel with your child is incredible! Really? Because breastfeeding was getting in the way of bonding with my daughter. She didn’t even look at me because she was asleep at the breast and I looked at her through blurred vision due to tears and resentment.

When C was 17 days old, I was feeding her and she ripped a blister off my nipple with her tongue. The pain I felt in that moment was the most excruciating pain I had ever felt. That was it. I decided then and there that I couldn’t do this anymore. I stopped putting her to the breast and decided to pump exclusively from then on.

I pumped and pumped and tried to stay a few feedings ahead of C. It was becoming apparent, though, that she was eating more than I could get out. I never really felt “full”, I never felt let-down, I never felt my breasts empty, I never felt engorged, I never leaked. I pumped for about two and a half more weeks – until nothing more came out. My milk just quietly dried up almost as if it had never been there in the first place.

It’s what your body was made to do! Really? Our bodies are also made to push babies out of our vaginas, but c-sections and mothers dying during childbirth are quite a reality. My body made milk, but not enough to sustain my child.

For a few weeks after we switched to formula, I felt absolutely horrible. I felt like I was just the worst person in the world. I felt like I was going to be judged by everyone any time I pulled out my baby’s bottle. I felt like I had failed her. Soon, though, that guilt turned to anger. How dare anyone judge me! I am feeding my daughter, taking care of her, and doing what’s best for us – how can that possibly be a bad thing? I think that C would much rather be formula-fed than have a mother who resented her. Happy mommy, happy baby. Besides, I was formula-fed. My older brother was breast-fed and I was formula-fed because I had problems latching (jaw surgery 18 years later…). Am I overweight? Heck no, far from it. Am I stupid? My two post-secondary degrees say otherwise. Am I sick? I had my first ear infection at 25 years old. I have no allergies. I am very healthy. Am I less bonded with my mother? She is my best friend. It’s gotten to the point now where I am very skeptical about a lot of the so-called “benefits” of breastfeeding and I get very angry when anyone so much as suggests that my daughter will now somehow be inferior to a child who was nursed.

Now, six months later, I am a very proud formula feeder. I look at my beautiful, healthy, strong, happy daughter and I know we’re doing the right thing. And when I hold her close, give her her bottle, and she gently touches my face and twirls my hair in her little fingers, I know she thinks we’re doing the right thing too.

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Then, just this week, I received an update from Lisa:

I’ve had some new developments with our experiences that I just wanted to add…
My daughter is now 9.5 months old. A few days ago, I came across a blog posted on the Bottle Babies Facebook site. It was a “cry for help” from a woman who’s daughter was having terrible difficulty with breastfeeding. I read the blog post and discovered something that I had never, ever heard about before: abnormal attachment of the maxilllary labial frenum. A light bulb went off. When C was very small, I remember remarking to my husband “do you think she’s going to have a gap between her front teeth because of that bump there?” That “bump there” was her frenulum that goes all the way from her top lip, down between where her front teeth will eventually erupt, and connects to her soft palate.

No one EVER told me about this. C was evaluated for tongue-tie and they found nothing wrong. For months, I’ve been dealing with the thoughts in the back of my mind that maybe I gave up too easily, maybe I just wasn’t strong enough to tough through the pain, maybe maybe maybe, what-if, what-if, what-if. I had never heard about this. Even Googling it now only results in a handful of websites that talk about the issues it may cause with breastfeeding.

The relief I feel now is incredible. It’s overwhelming. To know that there is an actual, real, legitimate, PHYSICAL, reason that my daughter was never able to latch and breastfeed is like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders. I wanted to share this with you because I want other women to know about it as well. It’s something that, for me, was never even on my radar.

We have her first dentist appointment on Wednesday where I will (hopefully) be getting confirmation that it is indeed an abnormal attachment and then we’ll go from there.

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Share and share alike. Send your story to formulafeeders@gmail.com. Oh, and do me a favor – if a few months go by and I still haven’t posted your story, send me a reminder email. Too many good stories have been lost in the cesspool of my inbox!!

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