Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Not an easy thing, nursing.

Today I don't want to pour my heart out about the economy falling apart, even though I fear for the future of my family. I don't even want to pour my heart out about Luke's upcoming surgery that we just scheduled for September 2, and how I'm dreading it every day that it gets closer.

Today I want to pour my heart out about something dear to me, that probably won't be to others. I want to rant about how my baby is becoming less and less of my baby. Every day.

Any avid followers of my blog probably know of the difficulties I have had with nursing my children (overactive letdown, etc.), but that I stick with it because I'm a huge breastfeeding supporter. However, I'm not the one who will stop you in the grocery store if you're giving your baby formula and try to give you a lesson on why that's so bad for your little one (yes, that actually happened to me with my first). I have been on both ends and don't judge anyone for how they decide to feed their baby, but for me, personally, nursing is all I wanted.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was determined, but I had no idea that anything could go wrong or that it would be such Hell. But it was. And I started making all the wrong decisions from hour one of his life, and it snowballed. I tried everything to make it happen. Everything. Everything that I knew, anyway. But I was naive, and even the experts I had helping me seemed to be, too. No one--not even the six lactation consultants--could figure out my problem. They said it was him, that he was just too stubborn. They said he had colic. They said nursing just wasn't for some babies.

I found out years later that they were wrong, about everything. But, in that time, I trusted them. After all, they were the experts. And I was just a first time mom. So we continued to try, trying every little gadget and technique in "the book," and the process was torturous.

By the age of six weeks, Sam gave up completely. No more staying up hours in the night trying to get him to suck while he screamed bloody murder. Because he just. wouldn't. do. it. Because he was too miserable--and so was I.

And because I didn't know I was the one with the problem, I didn't know how to help him. I felt helpless. I felt like a failure as a mother. And there was nothing (that I knew of at the time) I could do to change it. And when I knew I wouldn't get to nurse my baby like I'd always dreamed, I cried. For days, I sobbed. So I did the next best thing: pumped until he was six months old, so that even though we couldn't have the bonding that comes along with nursing, he could get the nutrients. (And, man, that was a pain in the ass.)

Then  I was pregnant with Josh, and the whole subject of nursing scared me because I was worried the same thing would happen with him that happened with Sam. I wanted to nurse him so badly, and I wanted it to actually be a good experience. Then a very dear friend of mine was an answer to my prayers. She revealed to me that she used to be a La Leche League leader, and when I told her the problems I'd had, I actually saw the light-bulb above her head turn on. Because she had had the same problem with both her kids. And so do thousands of other women, come to find out. Finally, I didn't feel alone! Finally, I knew it hadn't been colic that made Sam cry all the time.

She gave me information and a website so I could arm myself with knowledge and learn how to work around the issue. (If anyone wants it, let me know. It's literally a lifesaver. Whether you have nursing problems or just want to know more about nursing in general.)

And I spent hours and countless hours on that website, finding answers to every single question I ever had about nursing and why, no matter what I'd tried, it hadn't worked for me.

And I became an "expert" of sorts (quiz me, I dare you). And when I had Josh it was difficult, as I knew it would be (a woman with overactive letdown will have it with every child), but I was actually able to manage it. I worked around it, and it was a miracle. And I was able to live the dream I had of nursing my baby and sharing that special bond. He was a five-minute nurser, which made having a life difficult, especially since he ate that way until the time he was 13 months, but I wouldn't have traded it for anything. Because I was a mom, and my baby was my priority. Nursing him was my life.

Then I had Luke, and again I spent hours on the website, re-arming myself with knowledge. And just like with Josh, it was extremely difficult those first three months. He was miserable all the time, and just like Josh, he was a five-minute eater. Five minutes, with only an hour and a half between each feeding. Because that's all his poor, tiny tummy could handle.

But then he grew up and his tummy could handle more. And unlike Josh, it began to be insufficient. Five minutes wasn't enough. But because that's what my body was used to, that's all I would produce. I tried letting him eat on both sides then (usually, I'd only nurse on one side at a time, with both Luke and Josh), and that worked for a few months. He'd eat for five minutes on one side and five on the other.

Then by six months, that wasn't enough. And he would struggle and fight, and cry, cry, cry. But not in the same way he did as a newborn. This time there wasn't enough. And last month, the first time I realized this was a problem, I cried. I stayed up late at night in the rocker and cried with him--him because of hunger and me because of my failure to again provide for my baby.

I didn't want to give up. I kept offering him the breast, but he didn't want to work for it. He didn't want to wait for that letdown that wasn't coming, even after five minutes of sucking--that same letdown that only four months ago came too forcefully and too frequently. I don't know how it happened, and why it didn't happen this way with Josh, but for some reason, I was losing my supply. Probably because he didn't want to keep working so hard for something that was so lacking.

So I gave in and gave him his first bottle of formula. (Because regardless of the opinion of some people, babies will not eventually get hungry enough to give in and nurse. Instead they will give up. Instead they will cry themselves to sleep and starve. I know this because this is what I experienced with my first, and what a good friend of mine (who is a nurse at a NICU) experiences at work on a regular basis. And my baby's health is more important than hanging onto the hope of nursing.)

And Luke loved it. He loved that it flowed so easily and never stopped coming unless he stopped sucking. And for the first time in weeks, he was actually satisfied, actually happy.

So over the last month I have had to supplement, mostly before bed at night (as well as give him solid food 3 times a day, because he loves to eat). And it's been hard for me, but I've dealt with it.

And then over the last week, it's become an every-feeding thing. I nurse him first, let him get all the breast milk he can, and then, since he'll only nurse for about 3 minutes before he gets too upset to finish, I'll give him formula. And it's been this way at every feeding for the last week, with the exception of the feeding in the middle of the night, every night. At least I still have that.

But now he is drinking way more formula than he is breast milk, and I know it won't be long before he won't be nursing at all. And I'll lose my milk completely.

He is only seven months, and I'm so not ready for this to be over. I feel like he is pulling away from his baby-hood. Way sooner than I'd like.

But this time is different than my first. Even though I mourn that connection to him, I'm also knowledgeable and experienced enough now to know I'm not a failure as a mother. That I can still have just as good a bond with him if I cradle him as he sucks on that bottle and his little blue eyes are looking into mine. I'm not going to go into a depression over it, or cry for days over it. I know that formula isn't evil (I never thought it was). I know that just because I don't breastfeed doesn't mean I'm a horrible mother. At all. I don't think anyone who decides not to nurse is a bad mother. At all.

I'm just saying that for me, it's all I wanted to do. And it's hard that I can't.

But I have tried my best, and either way, I know Luke's still my baby, and I'm still his mother. And even though the only thing that makes my bond with him different than the one with his daddy, or anyone else, will be taken from me, no one can take my place as his mother.

And I'll remember that at least I was blessed enough to have that special, precious bond with him for these first seven months, and with Josh for thirteen.

So for now, I'll hold onto those middle-of-the-night feedings with all my heart. And I will never complain about waking up to feed him in the night again.


Shell said...

Wow, you did an amazing job. I nursed mine, but I have said many times that if I'd had to pump, I probably would have quit.

Jen said...

Nursing was one of the best decisions I've ever made!! It's so bittersweet when it comes time to weaning them. You should feel very proud of yourself!

Stasha said...

I am always amazed by the love and determination of mothers. Well done, Jennie. I understand the sadness but please don't ever think for a minute all this was anything short of perfect.
My son weaned himself after the first year. He just didn't care for it anymore. And there was a gap of a few months before he decided to like milk and all he had was his meals and water. Kids, they know...

Kristen said...

I nursed the twins. I tandem nursed them because everyone said I couldn't. But then Addison had reflux and screamed .... and Andrew had reflux and wouldn't suck (they were both 7 weeks early).

I was so ready to nurse Alexander. 1 baby. So easy. We had the latch. The perfect latch, but he wouldn't suck. They thought it was because he was just born... but ... it was the syndrome.

I pumped for the twins for 6 months and for Alexander for almost a year. When i finally decided to quit pumping... and allow myself to dry up - I forced him to nurse one last time... for me.

I can't believe I just PMHO on your PYHO post. Sorry. I'm feeling for you over here. xx