So far in my short but eventful career as a mother, I have found proficiencies and strengths that I never knew I possessed: tolerance for other people's bodily fluids, patience to depths I'd never fathomed, the ability to cook with more than one pan, multi-tasking taken to an expert level and finding tremendous joy in simple moments.
But there are some things I am just not good at. Things that I don't even WANT to be good at. And it's hard when that thing is breastfeeding. Because here in Seattle in this day and age, the prevailing sentiment is 'why wouldn't you do the best thing for your baby?' Breastfeeding is nature's intended way and by all means if you are a "good mom" you will embrace it and do it for a year as the books advise. But my first experience with Sidney was crash and burn all the way. Though going into this pregnancy, I thought perhaps it might go better. With a different baby who was closer to term and more robust than Sidney, there was a good chance. But what didn't change from last time was my anatomy which wasn't able to "transfer" milk very well.
The lactation specialists at the hospital gave me nipple shields to help Calvin have something longer to latch onto and but it hampered the simulation of milk production. I believe it was partially, if not fully, responsible for my milk coming in so late (Day 7 after birth). That's way too long as anyone who has had a baby knows. Why nature doesn't have milk in the breasts at birth, I will never know. Also, if you have a thrashing baby and they displace the shield, then you are back to fussing with a piece of silicon AND wrestling with a hungry, screaming baby.
Formula, our old friend
Because we were determined to try breastfeeding again, Ken and I soldiered on and of course this poor kid was getting nothing, not even the sacred colostrum--the general existence of which I am still highly skeptical. On Day 5 after Calvin was born, we staggered into the pediatricians' office for his checkup. Ragged from nights spent not feeding the poor boy by rocking him to sleep after he exhausting himself crying, we found out he had lost over 10% of his birth weight, was severely dehydrated and a little jaundice. Deja vu. The doctor said to immediately give him as much formula as he would take to get his weight up and hydrate him. We were more than happy to oblige and raced home to make him a 2-ounce bottle of formula that he wolfed down. We have not stopped giving him formula since. His latch further deteriorated and he made no effort to nurse after that so we gave up but decided to keep pumping.
Our post-partum doula was a big help in trying to stay positive and looking for ways to work with the pump only. I consulted her about how to increase milk production without the baby nursing. She thought perhaps a "galactagogue" (an herbal remedy to increase milk supply) might help. Fenugreek is an example of this. But I didn't need any of it because I realized that if no nursing was going on and the pump was the only way to get the milk out, there would be a huge problem when I was the lone adult in charge of the house and 2 kids. In the first weeks, we had always had a visiting family member (Mom, Angela, Joyce or Dad) plus Ken to help but soon it would only be me and there was no way that I could do it all. So just as a descent milk supply started to established itself, it was time to start thinking of weaning to coincide with Ken going back to work.
I'm a Bad Weaner
I had it in my head that ~6 weeks would be the goal because that was what Sidney ultimately received. Having heard about this aggressive weaning method somewhere, I just decided in week 3 to go about 5 hours between pumpings to start the ramp down when I had originally established an every 3 hour schedule. Of course, I became engorged because weaning like that is dumb. It has to be done gradually and I know that because I've done it before but as a sleep-deprived and desperate individual I could not be trusted to always make sound, reasonable judgments.
I advise anyone to avoid engorgement and mastitis at all costs. I didn't cry or lose it for any other reason during this post-partum period but with this mastitis thing, oh I cried ugly. I hated my boobs and wished I did not have them. It hurt so bad but unless you've had the condition you can't possibly fathom how miserable one can become. Just wearing a loose camisole was torture. I also spiked a fever of 102.4 and felt achey all over. After laying in bed for 24 hours going in and out of fever dreams, I called the OB who prescribed me some antibiotics. This worked for a day and then I had another fever spike. She then switched me to a different antibiotic and thankfully that one worked.
Incidentally, we had also been giving Calvin the breast milk as I started the antibiotics and we had been told it was safe. But usually women get mastitis and antibiotics when they are weaning an older child, not a newborn who's fragile digestive system is not fully set up. Almost immediately Calvin came down with a screaming case of diarrhea. We immediately stopped giving him the breast milk and double-checked with the pediatric clinic who agreed. But pouring that hard earned breast milk down the sink every few hours was like being punished for the same thing twice. To make matters worse, on day 8 of the day 10 of the regimen, I developed an allergic reaction to the antibiotics which expressed itself in an angry all-over body rash. So I was told by the doctor to stop taking the medicine. That was a few days ago. Gradually the rash is going away thanks to Benedryl, Calamine lotion and time.
The whole time, I felt like something, karma or mother nature, was giving me the middle finger. I realized despite trying to do the right thing, the best thing you can give your child is a sane parent who will make sure all their baby's and any other existing child's needs are met. If all I was thinking about was my painful boobs or a pumping schedule or how much I hate breast feeding, I'm not seeing the big picture or getting the job done.
I do hear from a few moms who admit they supplimented or flipped over to formula after trying and failing/disliking breastfeeding but it's often said a little defensively or as a shameful aside. Even I do that, but I should know after my first experience that it can go sideways very easily so why again would I beat myself up over it? I even threw in the towel a bit earlier this time so I didn't suffer as long in trying to force nursing to work--and that's a good thing. But still there is this self-imposed mental flogging moms do to themselves. Maybe it can't be helped. Despite that, I do have a walking, talking example of what a formula fed kid turns out like. Studies say formula fed kids get sick more often, have higher chances of obesity and aren't as smart as their breastfed contemporaries, but I look at my almost 3-year-old daughter and I don't see that at all. I would take another one just like her in a heartbeat. And it looks like that is what I'm set up to receive.
I wrote about this experience not to necessarily malign breastfeeding or garner sympathy for myself but to commiserate with anyone who has a rough experience with breastfeeding or feels bad about cutting over to formula. I would hope a new mom doesn't feel defeated so much by mother nature but rather empowered by modern chemistry and technology to do the best for herself and her baby. At least we don't need wet nurses anymore.
“Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” ― Albert Einstein