Leading up to Eddie’s arrival, the big plan was to breastfeed. I hadn’t given a ton of thought as to how long we’d go. I’d aim for at least 10 months, but if he had other plans we’d go with it. I knew going into it that it isn’t always easy, I mean, that’s why they have lactation consultants, right? I read all about issues surrounding milk production, latching, special diets, etc.
Turns out that it didn’t matter what I’d read or how I’d prepared, life had other plans. And let me tell you, it has been the most frustrating, guilt-laden, emotional journey I have ever embarked on.
Because Edison was born through assisted delivery, he was taken immediately to be evaluated. That meant we didn’t have any immediate skin-to-skin contact as I had originally hoped for. And after delivery, as soon as my adrenaline left, I was out of it. I literally could not keep my eyes open. I’d later find out that I’d lost quite a bit of blood. That fact, combined with the fact I pushed for almost 5 hours, had left me with no energy. I was conscious, but I didn’t have the energy to speak more than a mumble or even open my eyes look at my husband. All I wanted to do was sleep. All I could do was lay there.
From what I’m told, Edison was soon taken up to the nursery. Craig stayed with me for next half hour or so, until I was all taken care of. He then headed upstairs to see our son. The first meal Eddie had came from a bottle. Not from his mama’s bosom, but from a bottle, in a sterile nursery. Let’s talk about how that makes a mama feel. Pretty selfish. Sad. Guilty.
By this time, they’d also determined that Edison was having problems with his blood sugar. Big babies and little babies commonly have a problem regulating their levels. That led to over 24 hours of an IV and hourly blood sugar checks. Poor baby.
A few hours later, I had recovered a bit and they brought Eddie back down for skin-to-skin and breastfeeding. Except he wouldn’t latch. He was upset and crying and I was on the verge. Exhaustion and frustration were mounting. Desperate, I looked at the nurse and asked what I should do. I knew he needed to eat (because of his blood sugar) and it didn’t look like we were going to have success in that moment. She kindly reminded me that it was completely my decision, but if I wanted her opinion, it was better to give him formula for that feeding. Half relieved, I agreed. You’ll remember that my entire birth plan was centered around the idea of being open to whatever was best for baby. And in that moment, him eating was far more important that my pride and determination to follow through on my plan to breastfeed.
Over the next couple days, we continued to attempt, but it was quickly realized that my body wasn’t producing much of anything. I know it takes time for your milk to come in, but there wasn’t any colostrum or anything. Because Eddie didn’t have much of an interest in latching, they set me up with a pump. It wasn’t doing a darn thing. He continued to receive formula. And honestly, I felt awful. Not just about my inability to breastfeed, but just in general. Was this how women were supposed to feel after delivering a baby?
Forty-eight hours after delivery, I still had zero energy. I needed to be helped to the restroom every trip. It took all I had to stand at the sink to wash my hands. I slept hours upon hours. I hadn’t been out of bed to walk independently. I couldn’t get up to get my baby. I was useless.
After running multiple blood tests and hoping to see levels increasing, they realized that my body was not recovering as it should. What levels were they measuring? Erm? Not sure? Apparently there is a way for them to measure blood volume? My doctor told me that on average, women lose between 200-300mL of blood during delivery. Anything under 500mL is “okay.” Lucky me lost 800mL. And my body wasn’t catching itself back up. You could look at me and see I was low on blood. F’real. I’m a fair-complected individual, but I was just plain transparent. After a trip to the restroom, my lips would be white and my skin ashy. I was so dizzy, too. Anyway, all of that to say that to say that I landed myself a blood transfusion. Cue the thankfulness that I’ve spent years donating my O- blood. But, have you ever looked at the risks associated with a blood transfusion!?
That part is important because a lactation consultant later told me that it was no wonder I didn’t have any milk for Eddie. Women’s bodies default to repairing themselves before even considering doing something “extra” like milk production. And my body had a lot of extra repairing to do. So, between Eddie’s blood sugar issue and my blood transfusion, we certainly had an uphill battle.
Because of our small complications, we were in the hospital an extra day. We were discharged Monday night and it wasn’t until the following Friday that I finally had a breast pump to use at home. For those three days in-between, Eddie wouldn’t latch and I was paranoid about his blood sugar, so it was a week of formula feeding. At his first well-check, do you know the shame I felt telling his pediatrician that he wasn’t being breastfed? I tried to follow up with an explanation, but just fell over my words. Humiliation is all I felt. One week in and my baby is already being formula fed? I was a failure.
When I finally got the dang pump it didn’t result in much. It’s incredibly deflating to sit for 20 minutes at a time and have so little to show for it. I was giving Eddie what I could, but majority of his diet continued to consist of formula. All the while I battled guilt, depression, and feelings of inadequacy. All the while I absorbed words of “advice” and opinions from those I’m sure were trying to help, but unknowingly contributed to the feeling I just wasn’t measuring up as the mama I always thought I could be.
After playing phone tag for a week (!!!!!) with the lactation consultant, Eddie and I returned to the hospital seeking guidance. I went with the intention of getting help with his latch. But, after she gathered information and watched me cry my eyes out, she decided we had some ways to go before it was even worth working on that. I didn’t have a supply. Eddie latching on wouldn’t do a darn thing if I didn’t have anything to give him. I left with homework; I needed to pump 8-12 times a day. I was to pump every 3 hours. Every 4 hours through the night. The longest stretch I should go is 5 hours.
To recap: my child was currently sleeping no more than 3 hours at a time. Feeding him was taking 45 minutes, between actually feeding him, changing him, and getting him back to sleep. I was short on sleep. Highly emotional. And now, I was to sit my happy ass down every 3 hours for 20 minutes to pump? Oh, and at the end of 20 minutes be lucky to have a total of 60mL? You want to talk about rock bottom? I was there. Perhaps I was below all the rocks. I was in the dirt.
I cried all the time. All. The. Time. If Craig looked at me the wrong way, I cried. I cried from exhaustion. I cried at the beginning of every pumping session. I cried at the end of every pumping session. I cried when the dogs got overly excited. I cried when Eddie woke up to eat. Cry, cry, cry. I was a mess. I simply did not have the capacity to deal with anything.
I felt pressure from everyone. “Try this…” “Do this…” Again, well-intentioned I am sure, but no one was telling me a darn thing that I hadn’t already read or been told. I felt like an utter failure. Everyone had all these ideas of things that “should” be working and they weren’t.
I couldn’t give up. I was a mother. Mothers nurse their babies. To be a good mother, I needed to nurse my baby. Society says so. Research says breastfeeding is better. It was my fault. What was I doing wrong? Do you know how badly I wanted to give up? But surely I couldn’t admit that and be a good mother. I’d be letting my baby down. My husband. My family. I’d be judged by society. By my doctor.
I think ashamed is the best word I can think of the describe how I felt. On Christmas Day, I broke down and had a serious heart-to-heart with my sister. She’s always been incredibly close to me and she was far enough removed from the situation to be objective. When I say I broke down, I mean I broke down. I can’t think of a single situation that I have been more thankful for my kid sister.
I walked away from our conversation with new perspective and a decision. I was going to let breastfeeding go. I needed to; my hyper focus on the desire to breastfeed my child was doing far more harm than good. All of that energy I was putting into my milk production was going to be redirected to simply loving on my son. Those feelings of guilt and inadequacy had no place in my heart. I was being a damn good mama. My baby was fed. He was happy. He was healthy. Perhaps most importantly, he was loved. So, so loved.
Making that decision and following through led to a huge weight being lifted. I stopped crying. I was sleeping better. And truthfully, I think my husband liked me a little bit more. 😉
I have just spent 1,740 words explaining and justifying my decision to formula feed. I’d guess it’s safe to say that I still fear the judgement of others.
My purpose in sharing all of it? Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. That mama that’s pulling out the can of formula? You don’t know her story. You don’t know her child’s story. Don’t assume it’s her first choice. On second thought, even if you know for fact that it’s her first choice, it isn’t your choice to judge. I am willing to bet a whole bunch of money on the fact that mama loves her baby just as much as you love your own – breastfed or not.
Be kind to one another. If I’ve learned anything during my first month of motherhood it’s that everyone has a flipping opinion. Everyone thinks they know the best way. They’ll be quick to point out what you can be doing better. Don’t be that person. And if you’re on the receiving end, try your best to shut it out and know you are a great mama. Being a mom is damn hard. Know that your best is good enough.
More than a month in now, I can happily say that Edison is formula fed and thriving. He continues to firmly hold a place in the 95th+ percentile for all of his measurements. He’s sleeping for longer stretches. He’s discovering his world through bright, wide eyes. His personality is shining through. And if you were to see him as he gazed up at his mama or papa as he happily feeds off of his bottle, you’d see their faces shining unconditional love back down at him.