FFF Friday: “I would appreciate people accepting that the pain I endured was real “

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

This week I had the pleasure of participating in an interview on the Lamaze International-associated blog Science and Sensibility. The comments got a bit heated (as one might expect), and I found myself frustrated by the refusal of some folks to separate a criticism of specific types of advocacy from a criticism of breastfeeding. That’s why I was so thrilled when I realized Cathy’s story was next in the FFF Friday queue. She so beautifully articulates why it’s so vital for breastfeeding advocates to understand how it feels to “fail” at breastfeeding. And her ultimate message is so profoundly simple, and so seemingly obvious- yet for some reason, it’s a difficult one to impart. I appreciate how clearly and intimately she illustrates a point that so many of us want to make, and find ourselves too frustrated, fed up, or defeated to defend.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Cathy’s Story

Well, my breastfeeding journey started 12 years ago, before the birth of my beautiful daughter. We lived in Canada at the time she was born and a “Breast Is Best” type of incentive was already in full swing. I had been informed well before conception that it was the ideal. After reading endless parenting books and scouring the information that my doctor had provided me, I had come up a list of priorities for my upcoming birthing experience. At the top of that list was breastfeeding. I had another important incentive. My mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer the year before I became pregnant. I knew that in addition to all of the positive benefits for the baby, breastfeeding my baby would also help me reduce my already elevated risk for developing breast cancer. I had read about the difficulties that one may encounter; cracked nipples, bleeding nipples, poor latch, thrush, mastitis, engorgement, avoiding bottles of expressed milk to avoid nipple confusion, etc. Nothing deterred me. In fact, I was so committed to the idea that I hired a doula. I cannot stress enough how important breastfeeding was to me, even before giving birth.

Fast forward, to the vaginal birth of a 9 pound 7 ounce baby. I just have to say, my body went through a lot. I did not have an episiotomy. My body was allowed to do what it needed to allow for Baby B. to enter this world. I am keenly aware that if I had not been fortunate enough to give birth in modern times, I would have likely bled to death. I was in rough shape, but my doula helped me with the first few breastfeeding sessions in the hospital and I was grateful. Even though I felt like I had been run over, apparently I got a gold star for breastfeeding. There were no swag bags. There was no crib-side formula. The nurses also checked to see if Baby B. was latching correctly. She sure was latching and even the expertly packed, medical grade lanolin was not helping my very sore nipples. I didn’t have much milk, but I knew that I shouldn’t until my milk came in. The baby was very intolerant of my lack of milk. They say baby size doesn’t matter, but I felt like my sizeable baby was hungry and angry at my boobs for not providing. She did survive, as I was told she would. And my milk did come in. It was the pain that was unbearable. I had to nurse in private because I cried with every feeding. But, I had read that the pain goes away if you are nursing properly. I was also assured by my doula and my doctor that the pain would subside. I had my gold star for Baby’s latch, so all I needed was to give my breasts time to toughen up.

Once home, I broke out in hives from head to toe. I’ve never had an allergic reaction. Not ever. I was not only miserable from the painful recovery and excruciating pain from nursing, but now I was an itchy mess. An itchy, pink mess because I could not and would not take anything for the hives while nursing. I was told I could apply calamine lotion, hence my pink and messy state. It was a really tough time, but I remained committed to breastfeeding, through tears and gritted teeth. Unfortunately, the pain never went away. As many lactating women know, there’s this little device called a nipple shield. It is supposed to help. I was so hopeful that it would, but I cannot even tell you the pain that I endured with that little devil. Now, if you are in the midst of a struggle yourself, I would still recommend trying the nipple shield, because for many it is a godsend. I have many friends who swear by the shield to help alleviate the pain. I cannot tell you why it didn’t work for me. I have tried it with each subsequent baby and it has remained that way with me with each attempt. On baby number four I even bought two different brands. I would have tried 20 different brands to find one that worked! I tried pumping…both a manual hand pump and an electric pump. I was hesitant knowing about nipple confusion, but I was at a point of desperation. I have been through three different electric pumps and one manual pump over the course of this 12 year BF journey. The manual pump is the only one that ever allowed for alleviated pain, but in a one hour session, I’d be lucky to get half of an ounce.

Apparently I wasn’t suffering from a poor latch, mastitis or thrush. I felt extremely anxious and guilty for not being able to endure the pain. My milk supply started to dwindle. I believe that my stress level was so great at this time that my body started to fail me and I felt like I was failing my baby. My doula kept encouraging me, but eventually I started to supplement with formula. I was crushed. This was in no way my goal. I had some pretty hefty reasons for nursing and it was one of the lowest moments in my life.

Baby number two and number three, wash, rinse, repeat. Baby number two also coincided with the return of my mom’s breast cancer and her eventual death. I was more determined than ever to make it work…and it never did. I was living in the U.S. by this point and I sought a lactation consultant. Surely my doula and my doctor had missed something the first time around. With each pregnancy I would get myself pumped up to breastfeed, somehow hoping that, this time, I would be able to endure the pain and sustain my babies without formula.

I just had baby number four. All of my babies have been big and Baby E. has kept that trend up. No Gestational Diabetes or excessive weight gain, just big babies! Once again, breastfeeding was my goal, but this time I decided not to beat myself up if it didn’t work out. My husband could not have been any more supportive. He fully believed in my ability to decide what was best for Baby E. As he had previously, he left the entirety of the decision up to me. I cannot tell you how wonderful it feels to have that kind of support from someone and I am beyond thankful for him, even if that support cannot completely alleviate my feelings of guilt.

The pivotal moment in this long, hard journey came from a well- intentioned family member. This family member is a lactivist and upon hearing I was in tears after pumping blood, she approached my husband about a L.C. My husband told her to please not approach me about, as he did not want any additional pressure placed on me. He knew my twelve year battle with my boobs and he did his best to deter the offer. Still, the family member did contact me to “gift” me a consultation. This stung me almost as much as the nipple shield had so many times before. It was insulting, not because I was opposed to help, but because I had just had baby number four. It was insulting for her to assume that I had never sought help before, that I just needed to be informed. I could not and did not reply to her offer. As well-intentioned as I believe she was, there is no place for this over-stepping of boundaries. When will it ever be alright for a woman to say that she gave it her all and for others to believe her?

I am now in a place where I am more content. I look at my four beautiful, mostly formula fed children and know that breastfeeding is not so exceedingly better for a child. No one would ever know that I am mostly a formula feeder unless I told them. It doesn’t mean that I still don’t still grieve over it, but I can now state that I formula feed without feeling like I need to explain why. I am fine with sharing that breastfeeding hurt more than giving birth without an epidural. I can say it because I have done it. I don’t want a medal or super-hero status, but I would appreciate people truly accepting that the pain I endured was real.

One of the most hurtful aspects to me personally is, knowing that people think that because I am 100 percent behind a woman’s right to choose how she feeds her infant, that I am anti-breastfeeding, and NOTHING could be further from the truth. I envy any woman who is able to breastfeed. DO YOU HEAR ME??? I ENVY YOU!!! I feel guilt, I feel sadness and I truly grieve over not being able to breastfeed for as long as I wanted to. My guilt has been almost crippling at times. Please don’t put me in a box marked, “Bad Mommy.” I’ve already felt enough guilt and sadness to last me a lifetime. I celebrate breastfeeding successes. But one person’s success doesn’t give anyone the right to berate a woman for her feeding choice.

There was recently a post online stating that breastfeeding requires “effort.” I have known that for my entire adult life and I went far and beyond putting in “effort.” We are not lazy. We are not uninformed. Just as formula shouldn’t be pushed on a woman, neither should breastfeeding. Should it be promoted? Absolutely! But in our promotion of BF, we need to make sure that it is never at the cost of a woman’s feeling of self-worth.

To all of you who can relate to my story, we are sisters. So many of you have shared your struggles and they seem so far beyond anything that I endured. I will cherish these stories forever, because knowing that I am not alone has been the biggest part of my continual healing.

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I love what Cathy says about the “sisterhood”. There is power in community- share your story and become an integral part of ours. Send it along to formulafeeders@gmail.com.

FFF Friday: “One thing I have in abundance is love and concern for my child.”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

Jennie is this Friday’s guest poster, and she makes a great observation about how easy it is to feel like modern parenthood is all about worry. From the first prenatal appointment through the day s/he graduates college (and I assume far beyond that, for many parents), we assume that our child’s “outcome” is solely based on what we do as parents. No, scratch that – as mothers. I don’t think most fathers are plagued by the same sort of mommy guilt (I blame Freud).

But like Jennie so beautifully illustrates in her story (whether she’s conscious of it or not), good parenting is somewhat unquantifiable. For every socially-endorsed “right” choice we make, there will be ten “wrong” ones made out of necessity, or because it ends up being the right choice for your particular circumstances. You really can’t win- so why play the game? Making your own decisions- ones rooted in “love and concern” and not based on fear or guilt- can not only be freeing, but also sets a tremendous example for your children. Strength, resilience and love are arguable the most valuable traits you can give a kid. Nine out of ten experts agree. Kidding.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Jennie’s Story

Despite my “advanced maternal age,” (I was almost 40 when my son was born), I had an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery, and expected to breastfeed with no problems.  At the hospital, everything seemed to fall into place.  The biggest surprise was my son’s size – we had been expecting a seven pound baby and one who weighed a little over nine pounds is what emerged.  The nurse placed my son on my chest after all the cleaning/weighing was out of the way and he latched on immediately.  I felt very proud and confident, despite that fact that the initial latch-on caused a searing pain that curled my toes.

By discharge date, two days later, my son had lost about half a pound.  Not too alarming. By chance, the lactation consultant at the hospital offered a complimentary weight check for the following day.  I don’t know what would have happened if she had not, for the pediatrician that I had selected was not interested in seeing the baby for another two weeks.  At that complimentary weigh-in, we discovered that my son had lost an additional four ounces, and the lactation nurse was concerned.  So was I.  With the lactation nurse’s help, we set up an appointment with the pediatrician for two days later and in that time, I breastfed constantly, even though my nipples were cracked and bleeding, and when I pumped, blood mixed in with the milk.

Soon, I started hearing from friends and family about their breastfeeding woes.   Of all my friends, only one had started out with effortless, successful breastfeeding. Everyone else had endured some combination of pain, latching problems, and low milk supply.  Some of those women succeeded in eventually being able to exclusively breastfeed their children.  But not all.

At the pediatrician’s office, we learned that my son had not lost any more weight, but he had not gained either. The pediatrician told me to start supplementing with formula.  This hit me pretty hard, even though I had been very laid back about things like receiving the epidural during delivery.  My husband, thank goodness, is a no-nonsense type of guy, and he told me that the pediatrician would not recommend formula if it was harmful and that supplementing was not going to erase any of the benefits of breastfeeding.  (Being a scholar, he also started sending me links to Google searches about infant malnutrition in the 19th century caused by breastfeeding problems…)

It seemed that my problem was low milk supply.  I was producing enough milk to maintain my son’s weight, but not enough to enable him to grow.   I will never know why. My age? I have a history of thyroid problems but recent bloodwork showed me to be within the normal range.  We began a long and tiring saga of supplementing, weight gain, no weight gain, more supplementing, pumping exclusively, using a supplemental nursing system, taking fenugreek and blessed thistle, probiotics, eating excessive quantities of oats and almonds, and all the havoc that that particular diet caused to my digestive system.

One of the things that I continue to dwell on, even now, is the lack of synchronization and coordination between the various medical professionals involved in the childbirth and postpartum process. I wish there was a way to make the entire process more clear and easy to follow.  While my OB was wonderful and supportive throughout my entire pregnancy, once the baby was born, the OB had little interest in what happens next with the actual baby.  The OB’s role is to tend to me, the mother, and my gynecological health.  Despite the fact that the baby’s food source is physically connected to the mother, the pediatrician had little to offer in terms of breastfeeding support.  And while the lactation consultants in my hospital were very down-to-earth, they had no knowledge of my medical history.  At one point, one of the lactation consultants suggested that I might be developing thrush, based on some redness on one breast.  She suggested that I start to treat it by applying an antifungal cream and vinegar. When I visited the pediatrician, she examined the baby’s mouth and did not see signs of thrush, and had no interest in examining me.  Just thinking about who I would or should call if I developed mastitis or some other problem kept me awake at night.

While the hospital where I gave birth had a lactation consultant group consisting of three nurses, I find it troublesome that this is somehow an “extra” service.  Initial consultation is free, but after that, it’s treated almost like a spa – if you want to splurge the extra money for a full consultation, you can do so (and I did), but doing so made it feel like some sort of odd luxury, instead of necessary medical assistance.  And while the lactation nurses were on call 24 hours, due to a mixup no one visited me that first evening after my son was born, despite my repeated asking, and the non-lactation nurses did not seem to be able to help.  So I was left alone in my room, still exhausted and sore from the birth process, with a hungry baby, and little idea of what was normal.  I had a difficult time understanding the breastfeeding lingo – I realize now that it is because I was not really experiencing “let-down,” for example.  My breasts rarely felt full, and once my son started nursing, I never really felt any sort of sensation to indicate that milk was flowing.  Concerned by the tiny amount of breastmilk that pumping produced, it was difficult to find sources that would indicate what “normal” output should be for a new mother.  Another thing that caused problems for me was figuring out which breastshield to use with my breast pump. The standard size was too small, and there was no way to test alternate sizes. I blew money on every size, and am still not sure I was using the correct one.  You would think that the lactation nurses might have had sample sizes to test with, but even after I showed them how the shields were working with my pump, they seemed non-committal as to whether I was using the correct size or not.   “Free” breastfeeding cost me quite a lot of money in the end.

After five weeks of struggle, my milk supply increased only slightly.  It was inconsistent.  My brilliant son figured out how to use the supplemental nursing system tube as a straw, and he really, really seemed to enjoy the bottle more than anything else.  I think he liked the angle and that he could look at me as he ate. I agonized over how much milk he might be taking from the breast at each feeding, and seriously considered buying my own infant scale to make sure he was gaining weight.  My pediatrician, seeing how distraught I was, and also noting that formula now comprised at least 70% of my son’s diet, told me that the stress was not worth it and encouraged me to switch to formula full-time. I appreciated her support.

I had originally given myself until I used all of my vitamin supplements as the deadline for stopping any attempts at supplying breastmilk to my son.  But at around six weeks, I reached the end of my supplemental feeding tube, so to speak.  By that time, I was only pumping 2-3 times per day,  and producing about 6-9 ounces of breastmilk, total.  My gigantic baby needed at least 30 ounces, and sometimes more.  My mother-in-law was dying, and I had returned home with my son after a day-long visit to see her.  My husband had remained behind to be with his mother.  Twelve hours had passed since I had last pumped, and for probably the first time, my breasts actually felt heavy. I thought I would try one last time to see if my son would nurse. No dice.  Then I tried unsuccessfully to pump while feeding my son his bottle – I’d read about women doing this all time – how hard could it be?  After two minutes, I threw the breast shield across the room in frustration, angry that in the 21st century, no one had invented a more efficient way to extract breastmilk from women.  Then I realized that infant formula and bottles were the technological innovation I had been seeking.  I decided it was time to end the era of breastmilk and move boldly into the future: exclusive use of formula. It helped that I had stumbled upon the Fearless Formula Feeder website the day before.

No one in my immediate circle of friends and family gave me any pressure or guilt about the formula. Everyone was supportive and encouraging.   My mother fed me and my sisters formula. My husband’s mother fed him formula.  We are all healthy, allergy-free, and, I think, intelligent.  The guilt and drama stemmed from my attempts to learn more about the medical benefits of breastmilk over formula and encountering awful statements all over the Internet from people who zealously believe that formula is the devil’s milk.  Funny how comments from complete strangers could upset me so much?

As a parent, the worry begins before the baby is even born.  Will my age or my husband’s age affect our child’s health? If I drink this cup of coffee, will it somehow affect my child’s development? Epidural during delivery? Looking back, I find it difficult to believe how much I agonized over each of those things (especially the epidural – turns out, I loved the epidural).  The worry doesn’t stop.  Following my pediatrician’s advice (which went against the advice of thousands of Internet know-it-alls), I started my son on solids at 14 weeks.  I tried avocado and sweet potato and banana, because it seemed like it might be “healthier” than the rice cereal. Guess what he likes best? The plain old rice cereal (and I agonized for fifteen minutes in the grocery store over which rice cereal to buy… I finally chose Beech-Nut, and I don’t remember why).  Then there’s work and daycare.  I returned to work four weeks ago.  My work is four hours from my home, and I commute with my son (we spend three days at my parents’ house while I work on-site, and then the rest of the week at home, while I telework).  He attends two separate daycares, sleeps in two different cribs at night, and only gets to see his father four days a week.  I feel conflicted about all of these things, but mostly I am proud that I am able to provide for my son, and I hope that he will understand that my husband and I have chosen this lifestyle in part so that we can offer him as many opportunities as possible.

At four months, my son has already doubled his birth weight.  He is thriving.  With all of the coordination, preparation, change and anxiety of returning to work, I was relieved not to have to add pumping breastmilk into the equation.  I am filled with great admiration for those friends I have who managed to return to work and continue nursing, but thankful that I do not have to add that to my list of worries.  And I am now confident that I have made the right and best decisions for my son.  All of those breastfeeding troubles feel like they happened to someone else, a long time ago, and my only regret is that I made both of us struggle for as long as I did.  There are so many other things that contribute to a child’s well-being and development besides breastmilk, including caring parents, and one thing that I have in abundance is love and concern for my child.

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Share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday: email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. Peace out, homies.

FFF Friday: I still feel a sense of shame…but I’m strong enough now to challenge it.”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

You may recognize elements of Fay’s story – she shared her experiences as part of the Baby Friendly informal poll earlier in the week. There’s a rawness here that might be painful to read, but it’s so incredibly brave of Fay to share her feelings, even when she hasn’t fully processed them. I think that for those in the thick of infant feeding hell, hearing triumphant tales from those who have risen from the ash can inspire hope; but just as importantly, the stories of those with one foot still caught in the postnatal version of Hades can offer solace, and the reassurance that they are not alone. I know that when I was going through my own struggle, reading something so powerful and brutal would have given me the gift of camaraderie, and the permission to feel whatever I was feeling. That’s an integral part of the healing process, too.

Also- I have to get political for a second here, and say that Fay’s story reiterates why posting warnings on formula cans is a damaging, ridiculous, and dangerous idea – and there’s a movement happening, right now, to make that idea a reality in Australia and New Zealand. Our friends down under at Bottle Babies are working hard to give voice to women who oppose this movement, and you can help them by taking a survey found here. As Fay says, “I was so, so scared of the formula tins – because they’re painted out to be so utterly utterly dangerous.” But what is far more dangerous is what this unfounded and ridiculous fear did to Fay’s mental health. We cannot allow this to happen to more women, over “facts” based on observational studies and rife with caveats. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Fay’s Story

When I deal with (ok, so it’s normally more of a verbal fight if we’re honest) militant pro-breastfeeding women, it always seems that they have some kind of mental ranking of “acceptable” reasons to bottle-feed. I tend to find that quite quickly, when they hear my story, they start to backpedal and slot me into one of those reasons. That doesn’t comfort me – I don’t need the approval of women who get their own sense of validation by belittling other women to make themselves look good – but I mention it because it continues to make me raise an eyebrow, and gives me a wry sense of amusement.

Although I intended to give breastfeeding a good go – I never got into the full-blown adulation of breastmilk as some kind of wonderful force of amazement that could cure all ills. I sat with a degree of scepticism through the breastfeeding part of my ante-natal class as they proclaimed it as guaranteeing immunity from eczema and asthma (my breastfed younger brother had the worst case of childhood eczema his consultant had ever seen) and told us how we wouldn’t die from ovarian cancer if we breastfed (my grandmother, having breastfed five children, died from a tumour there the size of a watermelon). When they got out the knitted breasts and they’d used the remains of whatever wool they had to hand – and mine was blue – I couldn’t really keep a straight face… then they didn’t have sufficient baby-sized dolls to practice good positioning – so I got this tiny thing – cue the jokes about premature babies, and the oh-so-helpful comments about “well you can’t really practice positioning on something that sized as babies aren’t that small”… I shall return to that point later.

Anyway – I planned to breastfeed because, well – they’re easily portable, not something I’m likely to forget when sleep deprived and trying to organise getting ready to go out for the day (even in my most un-caffienated state ever I’ve not managed to forget my boobs yet), and I didn’t fancy the faff of making up bottles at 4am. Add in the fact that the guidance seemed to have been set to make formula feeding as utterly inconvenient as possible – and it wasn’t so much a reverence for breast being best – but breast being easiest that was pulling me in. I thought I’d have a healthy attitude to it, and be able to roll with whatever fate handed me… I was wrong.

Week 33 of my pregnancy, Easter Sunday to be exact, and I’m sat there happily tucking into an excessively large chocolate Easter egg from hubby – and I start to get cramping pains in my stomach. I dismiss it, in a “woo hoo I finally have Braxton Hicks” kind of way and continue chomping (hey – it was nice chocolate – these things MUST be done!). Then I realise these pains are coming every five minutes, dither for a bit, and we go into the hospital – assuming I’ll be checked out, monitored for a few hours and then we’ll be on our way home.

I didn’t leave that hospital for a good couple of weeks.

To cut a long epic saga short – my waters had begun to leak, I was kept in to get the steroid injections to mature the baby’s lungs and, after a very traumatic, badly handled birth on the part of the hospital which isn’t really relevant here but included such noteable highlights as me being denied pain relief for 3 1/2 hours – but offered aromatherapy – which didn’t go down very well, and me doing almost all of my dilating on two paracetamol (which I think carries me bonus “mummy points” for being well-hard)… my daughter arrived at 33 weeks gestation, as a 4lb tiny little blue thing.

We were set up to fail from the start.

No skin-to-skin, no warm fuzzy fresh baby time – I didn’t even get to see her as she was rushed past me to NNICU. When they’d finished repairing the scene of devastation that was formerly my womanly bits, I was wheeled into the neo-natal unit, still completely numb from the waist down – and they pointed at her incubator… then kicked me off the unit and up to the ward for the night. No chance of bonding, no chance of even mentally processing that this was my child.

I was dumped on a darkened maternity ward and the Government leaflet on breastfeeding slung at me. When I pointed out that, since my baby was currently in an incubator, wired up to god-knows-what, and nowhere near me, that this might NOT be the opportune moment to be giving me this leaflet – the verbal barrage started and the leaflet, accompanied by the nurse, flounced out of the room. I just lay there – not quite able to deal with everything that had gone on – and kind of wondering what exact use the breastfeeding leaflet WAS to me, that night at 1am, with my baby nowhere near me, and no one looking much interested in helping me start to see if I could express some colostrum. Surely they didn’t expect my boobs to reach down the corridor, take a lift and get through security onto the ICU?!

The night, the worst night of my entire life, passed eventually and I was wheeled down onto the NICU and allowed to hold this tiny tiny creature. Remember the comment about the tiny doll at ante-natal… where it was dismissed as “babies don’t come in that size”… well mine apparently did. No one had prepared me for how to handle something so small – let alone manouver her onto my very large at the best of time breasts. Someone on the unit took pity on me and helped me try to express some colostrum – but then I was put into the first impossible position… “We’re going to put a feeding tube down your baby’s nose, your milk hasn’t come in yet so we’re going to give her formula… which brand?” Utterly numb from it all – I just let them choose and then had the horrible experience of watching them fit what would be the first of many NG tubes. They sorted me out with a breastpump nozzle and a steriliser – did a little bit of token helping me to try to get her latched on – but it was very much a “throw breast in vague direction of baby and hope it sticks” type of help. When you’re dealing with a tiny baby, with wires everywhere and this huge long tube dangling out of her nose – everything is about a hundred times harder to handle anyway… she couldn’t latch – she’d lick at the nipple like a kitten lapping milk – but that was it.

Time passed, I pumped and my milk came in (but weak in supply) – I fed what I could pump down her nasal tube, topped up with formula, but despite trying and trying and trying – she couldn’t latch, or when she could, she couldn’t maintain the latch – she was too small, too weak, too sleepy to do so. Add in the incessant interruptions of hospital life when you’re lying there half-naked fumbling away trying to get a large breast into a tiny baby, and the fact that ALL our breastfeeding lessons had been totally ignorant of the possibility of premature babies and how different it is handling them – and we were getting nowhere.

Because of various other circumstances surrounding the birth, and the fact that I was having to live on the maternity ward from hell, with no option to leave the hospital – and my mental health was starting to suffer. Trying to get her to latch every feed with no luck, having to do all her NG tube feeds, and pumping every two hours was absolutely destroying me. The tipping point came one night when I was talking to one of the staff whom I’d got very close to (she’d had a premature baby herself) and mentioned I had no idea how long we were going to be prisoners on the ward for, and she mentioned it was going to be an additional 2-3 weeks MINIMUM for us to be allowed to leave breastfeeding. Since we STILL had no sign of any progress with her being able to latch on, I asked for a bottle to try to feed her some of the expressed milk that was going down her feed tube… and she took, and I can still remember the figure now, 12 mls of the 34 mls she was taking at that point in time – and I cried. I cried with relief that I’d seen her ACTUALLY feed, by mouth, like a normal baby. And I cried because it was the first sign I’d had of any tangible progress, and because I’d been able to hold her close and provide that for her, rather than lie her down and hold a tube up in the air after a few fumbled breastfeeding attempts each feed.

Yes, I sold her out in that I took the “easy” route. I regret deeply that her mum wasn’t strong enough to stick out trying to get her to latch but I figured at least if we went home with me expressing, I’d possibly keep my options open and be able to get her to latch on when she got nearer being full-term. The amount she took by bottle rose steadily each feed and within a few days they were talking about removing her tube and sending us home. By this point I was taking domperidone and sniffing aromatherapy oils to try to increase my supply – but I was doing it, and she was feeding, actually feeding, and they took the tube out, and she did it all on her own!

So they let us go home, and I pumped, and I pumped, and I pumped… and dad did all the feeds, cuddles and being a parent thing… and I pumped, and I pumped… and we didn’t go out because I always needed to get home and pump… and I spent hour and hour and hour cleaning and sterilising breastpump parts.

I tried to get her to latch – with no luck. I tried nipple shields – no luck. All anyone gave me in terms of advice was “more skin-to-skin”… so I added that in among the interminable pumping. By now, my breastpump motor was starting to fail, as was my supply – but I kept going. In addition to it feeling like the ONE bit of my “mummy” hopes and dreams that HADN’T gone to hell because of her prematurity – the pro-breastfeeding camp, the propaganda about formula being akin to cyanide, the fear of how on earth did I make up feeds correctly (because they don’t give you that information easily any more for fear that it makes formula feeding “normal”) kept me going.

And I hit a wall – as she hit full-term, and STILL couldn’t latch properly – my supply was gone, my pump was really almost dead and my freezer stash had run out. We bought formula, and I sobbed so hard when we fed her it. I felt as though I’d sold her out by not sticking out the hospital – but I know if I had done, the toll it was taking on my mental health was so bad I would have attempted suicide soon, and I felt as though I’d failed her so badly as a mother – that my body had failed her and she’d been born too soon, and that my willpower had failed her in that she wasn’t breastfed. And I was so, so scared of the formula tins – because they’re painted out to be so utterly utterly dangerous. I remember once wailing to my husband that “I’m feeding her POISON!!!”

But I didn’t have a choice – circumstances had made the choice for me – she HAD to be fed.

And this 4lb little girl, sleepy and jaundiced who never woke and just lay in her cot… she’s thriving. She’s a ball of funny little baby who’s doubled her weight and is about to hit appearing on the growth charts and is catching up with her full-term peers fast. She’s not hitting milestones on schedule for her actual age (which she wouldn’t be expected to) – but she IS ahead of them for her age adjusted for prematurity.

Her mum’s doing somewhat less well, has PTSD from all we went through at the hospital in the NNICU, still feels guilt over it all, but is dealing with that – but does take pleasure every day in the biggest grins from the evil genius in training (she’s got the maniacal giggle down already) that is her little girl. I still feel a sense of shame if I have to bottle feed her in public, I still feel that I need to justify how she’s fed. I feel sadness and anger at how the hospital failed us in terms of their provision for preemie babies – but I’m strong enough now to challenge it.

And it isn’t the horrific faff and hazard that they made it out to be.

It’s not 100% positive, it’s not a choice I’m fully come to terms with – but there you go – my story.

******

Doesn’t matter if you’re still in the midst of your story, or ten years past it – telling it is important. If not to you, then to some random other parent on the internet. E-mail me at formulafeeders@gmail.com if you’re ready to share.

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