So last week I kicked off my breastfeeding series with my daughter’s story: The story of how there was never any question about breastfeeding her, until she was born 11 weeks early, and life laid out a different path before us. Today I’m sharing my oldest son’s story: The story about my re-determination to successfully breastfeed and the reality that life, once again, handed me.
After the extreme letdown and guilt I felt over not being able to breastfeed my daughter, I was fiercely determined to breastfeed my son. From the moment I found out I was pregnant. Yet again, there was never any question whether or not I wanted to breastfeed. I did, I did, I did! The only hurdle I needed to get over was being able to carry this baby to term. If I could do that, I was sure the breastfeeding issues I had with my daughter wouldn’t be a problem.
And after a practically 37-week-long anxiety attack — being pregnant again after having a preemie so early was a terrifying and wholly nerve-wracking experience (not to mention the copious ultrasounds and progesterone shots in my bum) — my little man Saurus (reminder: this is a pseudonym he picked out) was born, happy and healthy. Three weeks early, but still considered full term! (And yes, I know I still need to write his birth story. Coming soon, I promise.) I was thrilled! I had a baby that would be leaving the hospital with me. And a baby that would be able to breastfeed! Yippeee.
From the second we got to the hospital, I had made it known to my doctor and all of the nurses that I would be breastfeeding. I can’t even describe how proud I felt when my nurse wrote “exclusively breastfeeding” on the white board in my room. So you can be sure that when the nurse brought Saurus to me to nurse for the first time, I was all over that. Or more accurately, he was all over that. Saurus latched on successfully on the very first try and nursed like a champ! I couldn’t have been happier.
Unfortunately, that first successful latch and nursing session was also our last. Not the last attempt, but the last successful, happiness-inducing nursing session. From that point on, attempting to feed Saurus was a struggle. Every time I’d attempt to breastfeed him, he’d get extremely fussy. The first few times after our initial session I was able to eventually get him to nurse after 20-30 minutes of coaxing and repositioning and repositioning again, but he’d never go for very long. And eventually, after the first three or four tries, Saurus had had enough. When I went to try to feed him, he screamed his little head off. And then he just continued to scream. And scream. And scream. And then I started crying because nothing I did was helping. He was clearly hungry but wouldn’t eat. Even my husband tried to help us, but to no avail.
Finally the nurse came in to try to help. And? Nothing but more screaming and me crying. At this point, we decided we were both just far too gone — the baby and me — and since Saurus hadn’t really had much to eat in nearly 8 hours, we’d try to give him a bottle of formula to fill his tummy and settle him down. So much for me “exclusively breastfeeding.” I was (again) devastated. I had read so much about nipple confusion and avoiding giving a breastfeeding baby a bottle for at least the first 3 months . . . I didn’t want to do anything to mess up breastfeeding this time around, and not yet 12 hours into his life, I was breaking two of the biggest rules out there.
But determined I was still. I wasn’t giving up that easily. No way. So we kept at it. The remainder of our stay in the hospital was simply a repeat of everything we’d been through the first day. A few very short nursing sessions after 20-30 minutes of fussing each time were followed by Saurus’s refusal to go near my boobs at all and a massive screaming fit until we’d give him a bottle. And then we’d start all over again.
Needless to say, I wasn’t getting much rest, and instead of being excited to go home with our new baby on discharge day, I was terrified. I had no idea how I was going to keep this up at home while also taking care of my nearly 2-year-old. Oh, and myself.
“Keep at it,” family and friends and the medical staff encouraged me. “Some babies take a while to get it down,” they said. And I knew this was true. I had family and friends who struggled with breastfeeding for a few weeks until suddenly everything just clicked. I hadn’t anticipated this happening to me, but I wanted this so badly, so keep at it I did.
And here’s how a typical feeding session went: Saurus would start showing signs that he was hungry, I would scoop him up and attempt to breastfeed him, he would fuss and wiggle and do anything he could to avoid latching on, I would reposition him and try again, he’d continue fussing and avoiding my boob, I’d offer my other boob, he’d begin screaming and wailing, I’d begin crying, and about an hour or so after the whole breastfeeding attempt started, I’d give in and give him a bottle. Or hand him to my husband or mom to give him a bottle so I could go cry in the bathroom.
This went on for a couple of days. And then my milk came in. And I was so engorged that Saurus couldn’t even latch on if he wanted to. Which added another whole barrier and even more frustration and screaming and crying to the mix. And pumping. And more bottles. I got to the point where I simply dreaded feeding time. Like if I was given the choice between what I was going through and having to eat off my own arm to save myself from starvation, I would have chosen the latter.
Things just were not going how I planned. And I didn’t understand what the problem was. Why didn’t this baby want to breastfeed? What was I doing wrong? What was wrong with me? After a week of being home and trying everything in the book (and on the web and suggested by everyone I knew) and still feeling like we weren’t making any progress, I called a lactation consultant. Surely she could help us get back on track.
And sure enough, after sitting with us for all of 10 minutes — and after some poking and pulling and whatnot — she had Saurus latched on and nursing. He’d pop off every few minutes, but every time the LC would pop him right back on and he’d continue feeding. “See,” she’d say, “you just need to relax and do [this] and [this] and [this] and he should do just fine.” After 30 more minutes of hand holding and helpful tips, the LC left, and I was feeling better about the whole thing.
That is, of course, until I went to feed Saurus the next time. I tried everything the LC had showed me — everything that she did just 2 hours earlier that had him breastfeeding — but he wasn’t having it. And his screaming began again. I felt like such a failure. All of the memories and feelings of disbelief, inadequacy, anger, and guilt that I felt with my daughter came flooding back. And I finally broke down. Like really broke down. I remember falling into my husband’s arms in our kitchen and sobbing. And I said something so completely ridiculous like how glad I was we weren’t living in an earlier time because I wouldn’t be able to keep our children alive.
In that moment, I think my husband realized just how much I was struggling, and just how much I was hurting. And in that moment, my husband became my hero. Because he looked at me with such love in his eyes and told me that I was in no way a failure and that if I wanted to stop breastfeeding he would fully support me. All that mattered, he said, was that the baby and I were happy. And if that meant bottle feeding instead of breastfeeding, so be it.
And with that, I felt absolved. I was released of my anger and frustration and guilt. Of course my husband was right. We needed to do what was best for Saurus. For me. For our family. It was the same lesson I learned with our daughter. But for some reason I just needed to relearn it. Maybe it was because I was trying so very hard to make up for the loss I felt with Belle. Maybe it was because I hadn’t really, truly gotten over it the first time.
From that moment forward, my little man was bottle fed. And our feeding sessions typically went something like this: Saurus would start showing signs that he was hungry, I would scoop him up and give him a bottle, and he would drink from the bottle happily. There was no more crying from either him or me. He was happy. I was happy.
And once we got this down, the rest of it just fell into place. I was no longer terrified every time Saurus cried. I no longer dreaded feeding time. And I was no longer spending every waking minute trying to feed him or figure out why I couldn’t feed him — instead, I was able to spend more time with both my daughter and my husband. I wasn’t consumed with the ins and outs and rights and wrongs of breastfeeding. Because of this decision, I was able to be the best mommy I could be. To both of my children.
And again, regardless of the road that got me there, in the end, that was all that mattered.
Nothing is supposed to come more naturally to a new mother than breastfeeding. At least that’s what I always thought until I actually had kids. And then this little thing called life sort of changed all of my plans. This series is about my ups and downs with breastfeeding with all three of my kids — my journey through anticipation; disappointment; overwhelming, debilitating guilt; and, eventually, success. I’m sharing this journey with you not to come down on one side or the other in the whole breast vs. bottle debate (because as you’ll see, I’ve fallen on both) — and by no means do I want to start a debate about it here (so please, let’s not go there) — I’d simply like to shine a light on the fact that many women, and for many, many different reasons, struggle with breastfeeding. If you have ever or are currently struggling, please know that you are not alone.