Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Breastfeeding: My Epic Tale of Woe

When I was twenty years old I underwent breast reduction surgery.

I had a lot of reasons for doing it: I couldn't exercise comfortably, my bra straps made deep grooves in my shoulders, and I had an absurd amount of back pain for someone who was just this side of her teen years.

The biggest reason was vanity. I couldn't wear "cute" clothing. I thought other people judged me. I felt ugly, sloppy, and self-conscious. So, full of desperation and covered by my father's insurance, I went to see a surgeon.

She warned me that this surgery could jeopardize my ability to breastfeed in the future. I had no thoughts of marrying or having children. After all, how was I supposed to get a man to marry me, as unattractive as I was? I told the surgeon that I didn't care, and the date was set.

I remember waking up from the surgery and feeling that a weight had been lifted from me, literally and metaphorically. Looking down at my new, smaller assets I cried with relief.

Five short months later, I found myself dating Nemo and realizing that marriage and children were not as impossible as I had thought. I started to feel the tiniest hint of regret for what I had done. I began to research, even before we were thinking of starting a family. I surfed the web and read Defining Your Own Success: Breastfeeding After Breast Reduction Surgery. Due to the method used during my surgery, the length of time that had passed, and my level of commitment, I convinced myself that I was going to be able to exclusively breastfeed my children.

And then I had CJ, and it soon became clear that things were not going as well as I had planned.

Though I had a natural birth unaided by epidural, CJ was born very sleepy and was completely uninterested in nursing for the first 12 hours of his life. Then he woke up at 6pm the day he was born, latched on as best he could on my pathetically flat nipples, and proceeded to nurse like a wild beast for the entire night. I would periodically unlatch him and put him in the bassinet, but within 10 minutes he was acting hungry again, fussing and smacking his lips. The longest bit of sleep I got that night was when they took him for some routine tests. Thirty minutes, tops. I told the night nurse about this and she chuckled and said that he was just using me as a pacifier. When she brought him back though she told me his current weight and he had lost quite a few ounces (more than normal for a newborn). And that's when I knew there might be a problem. He didn't need comforting, he was HUNGRY, and I felt absolutely terrible that I wasn't providing enough for him.

We had written that we needed to see a lactation consultant as soon as possible in our birth plan, because we foresaw some difficulties. They took their time sending someone up to see us the day after CJ was born, and though we explained the special situation to her she did nothing more than show us the football hold. We called them again the next day, and it was the same story.

The constant nursing went on and on, frustration looming over me, until the day we were set to be discharged and we called the lactation consultants one last time. I explained about the surgery and what we had done so far, and she was absolutely appalled that I had not been pumping from the get-go. I was similarly appalled that all of the consultants we had seen previously had neglected to mention this. This consultant got me set up with a pump, a Supplemental Nursing System, and renewed enthusiasm. Then we headed home, confident that all would be well.

The next few weeks were critical for building supply, and everything went wrong. The SNS they gave us at the hospital broke. We later learned that it was a temporary system and wasn't meant to be used for more than 24 hours--something the lactation consultant who gave it to us didn't mention. After that first week it became apparent that my milk wasn't coming in late; it wasn't coming in at all. Unluckily for me this fell during the holiday weekend, and though I called every consultant in the book in a panic, I couldn't get one on the phone. And so we started supplementing with a bottle.

For the next month I struggled with breastfeeding. I had a strenuous schedule of breastfeeding with or without the SNS (we finally managed to get a new one), supplementing with a bottle if he still seemed hungry, and then pumping for 15 minutes after each and every feeding session. My hands became chapped until they bled from washing the pumping equipment and SNS so often. Once we started the bottles, CJ preferred them and started to refuse to nurse for more than two minutes, and I had to work very hard just to get him to do that. I saw other lactation consultants who were optimistic that I would be able to breastfeed for the most part and supplement with a bottle a couple of times a day, but when it started to look that it wasn't going to turn out that way, despite all of my best efforts I became very depressed. CJ slept very well at night, just waking up every 3-4 hours to eat, but with all the pumping and washing up I was only getting an hour and a half of sleep at the most. I was tired. I was discouraged. And soon, I was skipping nursing sessions. By the time he was five weeks old, I wasn't nursing him at all.

I continued to pump, first 8 times a day, then I went down to 6, and when Nemo started his new job I started pumping only 4 times a day. I was getting maybe 8 ounces of breast milk a day--barely a third of what my baby needed. Two weeks before I went back to work, I made the abrupt decision to quit pumping all together. It was eating up 3 hours out of my day, and I wanted to spend all the time I had left at home with CJ, instead of watching him fuss in the swing while I prayed for the 15 minutes to pass quickly.

That was over two months ago, and I still feel like a failure. I am not a person who takes failure well (vanity, again). I schedule my day so that I never have to feed him outside the home, because I think that people judge me when they see the bottle. Really it is just me judging myself. Rationally I know that there is nothing wrong with formula. CJ is fine and will be fine. But I want so much to have that physical connection with him that other mothers enjoy with their babies. I want to do what mothers have been doing for thousands of years.

Plus, formula is freakin' expensive and cleaning bottles is a royal pain in the tush.

More than anything I want another chance. I think, if we are blessed with another child, things might turn out differently next time. I know I will probably never be able to exclusively breastfeed, but now that I have more knowledge and experience I have hope that I will be able to nurse longer and with less frustration than I did with CJ. That's all I ask.

See, he's fine!

1 comment:

  1. I have only admiration for you for trying as hard as you did and for doing what was best for CJ (and you)! You have to do what is best for your family - and that is what you did. Never should you have to apologize or feel guilty for that (yes, I know, easier said than done from someone who only has dogs to worry about).