It can take me an obscene amount of time to post an FFF story. Mostly, I just go in order of who sent what in when; other times, I choose specific posts because I want to highlight a particular issue that week. And other times, I am just a moron who somehow loses really great stories in the mess that is my inbox.
This is one of those times. Meghan’s story is one of the most raw, honest accounts I’ve read in awhile, and she wrote it a month after her second child was born, when I’m sure everything was incredibly fresh and emotional.
But, um…that child is probably over a year old now.
Most likely (hopefully) Meghan and her kids are thriving, and decisions about formula and breastfeeding are a distant memory. I really, really hope so. But for those who are still in the thick of it, this story needs to be posted. Even if it did take me a freaking year to do it.
So thank you, Meghan, for your patience. And for writing this.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
I tried to no avail to breast feed my first son. The hospital in which both of my babies were born are very much against formula leaving it as a last resort, they only offer the bottle when blood sugars are low or some other complication arises. There is no nursery to send your baby off too if you want to catch some zzz’s baby rooms in with you. Even my pregnancy with my first was difficult. I had to deal with feelings of inadequacies because I learned at 8 months that my baby was breech and he was big my doctor felt due to borderline preeclampsia and my babies size turning him might not be the best option. So instead of having a vaginal delivery which I desperately wanted I was going to have a c-section. That’s okay, I thought. At least I can still breast feed.
In the hospital me and the nurse tried to latch him on. Nope, not happening, it was a screaming wiggly nightmare. When he finally latched (after the nurse and the LC got him on- it took 2 of them) he fell asleep immediately and his head rolled off of my chest. Then it started all over again. At one point there were 3, yes 3 LC’s and a friend of mine who was a breastfeeding champion, attempting to get him to latch on again. Nope nothing, and then a few hours later more of the same. He was on strike. My baby boy was obviously not a boob man. On day 3 his blood sugar took a little dip, so here came the bottle. He loved it, downed it all. Then the screaming bouts of pure hell started. He cried for hours after. Only further adding to my feelings of grief for not being able to get him latched on. I was alone on my room at 2 a.m. Crying uncontrollably unable to comfort my little bundle of gas.
I tried to BF every 2 hours. The night we got home after I had not slept for 5 days, my husband at the time finally had a day off (yes that’s right he did not take any time off for our son’s birth- he went back to work the same evening he was born). I went to take a well deserved nap only to wake up 3 hours later completely engorged and in so much pain I thought some one had dropped an acme anvil on my chest. My night gown was covered in milk that had leaked down to my knees. My milk had come in, an abundance of it, and my breast tripled in size. I was so relieved. FINALLY, I thought. Now he will finally get some milk and we will be fine. I woke my son up and tried for hours to get him latched. He finally would, kicking and screaming, then fall asleep, roll off, and rinse/repeat .
I was in so much pain, sleep deprived but determined. I tried this torture for a grand total of 6 hours. Yes, 6 hours of this vicious cycle until my (now ex) husband woke up in a foul mood and took the baby into the kitchen and made him a bottle of formula. Or poison, in my watery dark circled eyes. I slumped my shoulders and buried my face in my hands sobbing. I reached for the pump to relieve my aching breasts. He finished his bottle, cried from gas pains and finally slept. We scheduled a visit with the LC, more of the same.
This went on for 2 weeks. I tried to pump for those weeks, but I was alone all the time with the baby cause his dad worked nights and slept during the day with a colicky newborn. The only way to get this baby to sleep after the initial hour of agony (gas pains) was to walk him around bouncing with each step or to take him for a car ride leaving this tired momma no time to pump. I had no support. My one friend at the time who wasn’t totally swamped with work or other life tasks was actually just rude about it. She had already expressed her displeasure with my scheduled c-section and my son’s circumcision. She told me to keep trying, she preached the benefits. The ear infections, the risk of SIDS, the bonding all the crap I had beat into me from every LC and mother I knew. Didn’t they understand I was exhausted, I was losing my mind?
I didn’t want to stop. I had the milk, I had the tools, but he just didn’t want it. I finally just gave up. The wave of guilt and self loathing washed over me. I couldn’t enjoy my baby, I could hardly get off the couch. I kept thinking of everything I couldn’t give him. Every bottle of formula, crushed me. It hurt me to the core of my being. I failed him. I felt so lost and had no one to talk too. Eventually I just pushed these things from my mind it got better once I went back to work, but still every time I saw a mother breastfeeding it would resurface. To the point of forcing a smile, and retreating to a bathroom to shed silent tears. Sometimes opening a new can of formula brought the tears on as well. I told myself I wouldn’t have any more children. My marriage was failing, my son had colic, and ear infections. He was a stressful baby, very loved but stressful none the less.
The experience actually made me not want more children even though I had dreamed of at least two.
Fast forward 3 years. I met the man of my dreams, he loves my son. He helps raise him. I thought, okay, I can do this again, maybe not the breastfeeding but the baby part. I want to have children with this man things will be better and different.
After a while that good old stick popped up 2 lines, turned blue, and screamed pregnant. I took about 8 if them. My first thought was fear, not happiness but fear. Happy came immediately after but all in I saw in that first instant, was breastfeeding, colic, and a marriage that collapsed under the demands of new parents who got hitched too quick. I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed- in fact I told my spouse I wouldn’t even try after we left the hospital, that this one would be formula from the start. He was very supportive; he had heard the story.
I forced breastfeeding from my mind. I knew I would try in the hospital but I would stop the moment I got home. I knew it would be another c section. What I didn’t know was hypertension and gestational diabetes along with bed rest was right around the corner. Giving me loads of time to think and rethink my decision. I forced the hope back like a damn lion tamer, no sir I would not put myself through that disappointment again.
Then… Here comes boy number 2. In the recovery room the nurse hands him to me and says it’s time to nurse. I cuddle him skin to skin for a moment, take a deep breath, and much to my surprise he latches on like a champ. I stare at him in awe, receiving much praise from the nurses and LC’s for the next few hours. Then there is a tiny spark of hope that I tried so hard to suppress for months. I feel a determination, I can do this!!!
He was content just being on the boob. Slept there for hours, cried anytime someone took him away from me. Then the problems started. They checked his blood sugar. It was low but not too bad, so they encouraged more nursing… any amount of colostrum is good they told me. So, a few more hours tick by of him on the boobs. The nurse checks him again and his blood sugar dropped more. She is now worried. An amazing LC comes to my room and she realizes the latch is perfect and although he is moving his jaw the suck is off. She then spends an hour and a half trying to get him to suck on anything, her finger, a dropper, we spend an hour expressing colostrum into anything even a spoon to just dump it in his open eager mouth. Nothing.
He is getting lethargic, and now throwing up even though he has had nothing to eat. Throwing up tons of amniotic fluid. Then they bring us the bottle. I welcome it, praying his blood sugar goes up. He is suckling, but not swallowing; it dribbles out of his mouth. An hour later they rush him away to the NICU, they have to get him to eat, his sugars are dangerously low. I am in shock what a difference a couple of hours can make
I am confined to a bed unable to bond with my newborn in the first 24 hours of his life. The tears flow freely and the guilt rears it’s head. My spouse is consoling me, telling me he will be okay. I get updates all through the night, he took a bottle but threw it up, he is getting a feeding tube, he is sleeping.
I am up all night, I finally demand they unhook me from everything less than 12 hours post op, I want to see my baby. I am reprimanded by the shift change nurse for not asking for a pump (which I didn’t know was available.) I take my painful first steps wait impatiently for the iv to finish, I am finally unhooked and in a wheelchair to go see my son. The second I come in the nurse informs me they just gave him a bottle but he threw the entire thing up so they might have to use the tube again, it is still in place.
I hold him and then I try breastfeeding. He greedily accepts, then we supplement with a sensitive formula. He keeps if down. I go back to my room for some much needed rest, then for the next 8 hours I force myself to walk to that room in the NICU every 2 hours to breastfeed and supplement and then back to my room to pump.
He comes back to us healthy and happy. I nurse, he gets a bottle, I pump. We get home, the nursing is going great, I am elated. He spends hours on the breast, then I pump. He cries until he gets the breast back. I have a sense that something isn’t right. I chalk it up to fear of failure. This is our routine for 2 days, until we go see another LC, for a weight, and jaundice check, and a consult. He has lost 5oz in 2 days!!! His jaundice has gone up significantly due to not getting enough to eat. She gives me hell about the latch and the positioning, his latch is good but not perfect. She wants me to do the football hold not the cross cradle. I am getting overwhelmed. He nurses for half an hour, all the while she is criticizing, and telling me not worry in the same breath. “Woman are designed to do this, breast is best, woman have done this through war and famine so you can too, your baby knows what to do, let him stay on the breast as long as possible.” In my head I keep thinking what if…I don’t make enough milk, how am I supposed to nurse around the clock when my ADHD 3 year old comes home from grandmas, what if my breast isn’t best?
Then she weighs him, the look on her face is enough to make me lose it, turns out I am only producing less than half an ounce between both breasts. Half of a measly ounce!!! She then pounds this into my head while I am sobbing and she herself is offering a bottle, “Don’t give up you need to give him breast milk because formula puts him at higher risk for SIDS.” The shock and anger in this tiny room is palpable. “Let me tell you a little something…with my first son I got postpartum OCD and anxiety, I never slept unless a family member or friend was awake watching my child sleep because I was terrified of SIDS.” I left the office feeling ashamed and heartbroken.
I went home and cried for hours, I made phone calls, I searched the web, I teetered between throwing in the towel soaked with sweat and tears or keeping on until I could add some damn blood to it. My mother finally came to visit and she told me simply and matter of factly, “honey there is nothing wrong with formula, enjoy your baby, stop stressing.” My spouse backed this up further: “Babe stop worrying, he is fine, he doesn’t care as long as he is fed.”
Finally I decided I would pump, and try nursing when my other child was sleeping. All the while supplementing. After all, I had done formula before, what is the harm? I felt a weight come off of me. My shoulders could move again. The tears stopped coming so often. I felt relieved. I tried fenugreek, I pumped every 2 hours like clockwork even at night. I tried hot showers, compresses, I spent tons of money on pumping supplies. I massaged, and ate the recommended calories and ate oats, and hummus. Teas and tinctures. I drank 70 oz of water a day. I did all of this to produce less than 8 oz of breast milk a day.
Then I had a thought: What if I spent as much time with my boys as I did pumping and cleaning pump supplies? What if I stopped applying the creams to my sore cracked nipples? What if I just pump when I feel like it, when my body says “hey you’ve got a little milk here!” instead of trying to force a supply that just won’t come? What if I actually enjoyed feeding time by watching my son look at me like I am the best mom in the world just by offering him a bottle, Instead of dreading the pump afterwards? What if it doesn’t really matter because he is a healthy happy wonderful baby regardless of how he is nourished? I remind myself often that he is thriving, that his big brother is a smart, funny, energetic, loving and talented preschooler and he was formula fed. That his father is one of the smartest and amazing people I know and he was formula fed. That I am an amazing mom who battled colic, and raised one son in my own for years while working. That I am a mom who fights monsters, kisses boo boos, plays make believe, watches Nick Jr happily and enjoys every second I spend with my children. That I am strong and brave. That I am human. That the naysayers and the moms who judge are insecure and set in their ways.
The first month of my second son’s life was an emotional, difficult journey for me. But my decision to use formula has been a well informed and empowering one. I feel better about myself, and my family. I can hold my head high and proudly say that I used to be a mom who judged until this epiphany. We as woman should never judge one another, least of all for our mothering abilities. We all have stories. Maybe we should listen with open minds and open hearts to our fellow mom friends. I am a mother and a damn good one and you know what? I was formula fed too.
Want to share your story? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.