Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Five Breastfeeding Journeys

After having five babies I have some experience under my belt in regard to breastfeeding. It has not been an easy road. Breastfeeding my babies (or trying to anyway) has been filled with many, many tears and much guilt. The guilt came when I chose formula and essentially gave up trying to breastfeed Elaina and then Abigail (my two oldest daughters, who are perfectly healthy 8 and 6 year-olds, respectfully). This is long but summarizes each breastfeeding relationship with my children.

When I had Elaina, my first baby, I had her the typical Westernized way. In a hospital, with a whole team of strangers staring at my goods as she was forced into the world since I couldn't feel to push with my epidural. The first hands and arms to hold her were not mine and they were not her daddy's arms either. There was meconium in the water when the OB broke my water just a few hours earlier so they got her out, immediately clamped and cut the cord and took her across the room to deep-suction her and do who-knows-what-else to her as I lay helplessly in the glaring light of the delivery room, legs spread wide and feeling vulnerable, emotional and exposed and fighting to see over everyone's heads to get a glimpse of my daughter. My husband had been shoved out of the way by nurses who bustled about and were emotionless about the most amazing thing that had just happened to my life. (There was no emergency, btw.)

When they finally brought Elaina to me I held her so gently. I remember she was not swaddled or dressed yet as I distinctly remember feeling the squishy, cold, still-soft umbilical cord against my own flesh. She calmed immediately against my chest and blew bubbles, her little eyes swollen and red-rimmed.

I timidly tried to breastfeed her. I had no idea what I was doing, it felt so foreign and I was so nervous. I forgot everything from my breastfeeding class, there was no lactation consultant available on the weekend and the nurses were not trained to help new mothers with breastfeeding (this is a very sad and common thing but I know many places are trying to change that!). I ended up with open, bleeding sores. I was in so much pain and all the nurses would do is shove my baby at my breast and hold her there as she screamed into my bosom, then shrug and say "Keep trying!" before walking out. Thinking my new baby was starving I asked for those little premade formula bottles. By the time Monday rolled around and the lactation consultant visited me I needed wound dressings on my n*pples.

Turns out it was a very, very poor latch. She was suckling on just the n*pple. I had no idea that was wrong. And in retrospect I wonder if she may have had a tongue-tie because even with bottles it took her an hour to drink them for many months.

I tried to breastfeed Elaina for two weeks before I got a cheap, manual breastpump that I couldn't really afford. I was so desperate to breastfeed her. I stopped trying to put her at the breast and I pumped for the next two weeks. By the time she was a month old she was exclusively formula fed (I got on WIC).

I won't lie and say it was a completely terrible and bad thing. I felt tremendous guilt BUT those first bottles were the calmest moments with her. We finally both stopped crying and I just gazed at her. She had been so miserable and just screamed and screamed at the breast. I'd give her a bottle and all would be calm and I could actually just take in my new baby and I could see she was fed and full. Despite that I still felt guilt. I had nothing against formula or bottles. I just really, really had a personal desire to breastfeed my baby and felt like a failure when I didn't find the support nor get the proper education.

When my second baby girl came around I felt a little more prepared and a lot more determined. I didn't nurse her right away and I held her very, very briefly right after she was born. She would not stop screaming and screaming. It sounded so different from a typical newborn cry and I kind of freaked out, not sure what was going on. On top of that I was so nauseous from the Pitocin, epidural, having had no food for hours, etc. that I passed my baby off to a nurse for fear of dropping her or vomiting on her. So after an initial "Hello" to my new baby a nurse whisked Abigail off to the sink to wash her up. Abigail spent some time on the warming bed after that as I still fought the terrible nausea.

After the nurse finally gave me an anti-nausea medication I was ready to hold my new baby. We were rolled out to another ward of the hospital for postpartum recovery, rather than staying in the same room the entire time, as I had done with Elaina. Alone in my recovery room Abigail latched on immediately, even on my one side that is flat, much to my surprise. I thought, "Hey, wow, I got this!" But then it started to hurt. It had been hammered into my brain, "If it hurts the baby has an improper latch". I cannot even begin to tell you how untrue that statement is for some mommas. Abigail was born at the same exact hospital and on the same exact day of the week as Elaina (Saturday) so there was no LC until Monday. I fretted and freaked that I was doing something wrong. There were no wounds or sores, just extreme tenderness.

Then, the day after she was born, I found out my Abigail's collarbone was broken (from birth). I held her like she was spun glass. My poor angel was hurting and I felt like I was holding her all wrong. There is nothing that they do for broken clavicles. You just let it heal, no bandages. It explains why she cried as she did after she was born. I still cannot think about her birth without feeling such sadness for her pain and extreme anger for the one responsible for unnecessarily harming her (she was not stuck - the OB was impatient and I know this from witness accounts and from the medical notes from Abbie's birth).

I bawled my eyes out that night, alone in that room, as Daniel had gone home to be with Elaina. I remember how I felt that night and I just hate that feeling. I don't like recalling that.

Someone finally brought me a n*ipple shield since I was so concerned and upset about the tenderness when Abigail latched on. That thing became my nemesis. While it did allow Abigail to nurse (for two months, yay!) I also knew it was meant to be a temporary device and so I ditched it and started getting formula. I held out for as long as I could with that shield, tried weaning Abigail off of it to no avail, before finally giving up. The guilt I felt this time was worse because my baby had had a birth injury and I wanted to give her as much breastmilk as I could, even if it hurt me or inconvenienced me.

I have to mention here that it never once occurred to me with these two first babies that I could PUMP and bottle-feed if I had wanted to! I thought it was breast OR formula. Oh how naive and uninformed I was!

There is much I regret about Abigail's birth and our breastfeeding start. I shouldn't have asked the OB to come in that wasn't on-call. Turns out the actual doc on-call, even though his bedside manner stinks, is very supportive and gentle during delivery. And of course I kicked myself over and over again that Abigail DID, in fact, have a good latch and could have been a perfect little breastfeeder if I had stuck with it rather than freaking out at the first twinge of tenderness that first day.

By the time I was pregnant with Zoe I was beyond determined to do everything absolutely and totally differently than with my two oldest. I was bulldogged and determined to skip the epidural, to not be treated like a piece of meat on a cold slab at MY baby's birth and to breastfeed as long as I wanted.

This time I set mini-goals (make it to two weeks postpartum, then four weeks, then six weeks, then three months, etc.). This time I read breastfeeding books. This time I had Internet and a whole wealth of information and knowledge right at my fingertips. This time I had ZERO bottles or cans of formula in my house to tempt me to give up and go the easier route.

I had my third baby girl in a different hospital, with a midwife who supported my choice of least intervention. Zoe was birthed by my own pushing rather than someone pulling her out, brought right up to my chest and stayed there for a good, long while. She let us know she was not the least bit happy about being disturbed from her little nest in my womb, showing off her spunk early on.

The hospital was hopping with pregnant women so we were very, very quickly whisked away to the postpartum ward so another laboring mother could have the delivery room. I set out to breastfeed my baby once settled into the new room.

The tenderness that I anticipated was there. Her latch could use serious improvement. And for the next 17-months of her life I gritted my teeth and bore through a terrible latch that I could never help her correct, tried as I might at every single solitary feeding. I was determined my baby would be exclusively breastfed. And she was, despite my discomfort. The tenderness that I endured was not the same as when my eldest gave me open, bleeding sores. Instead it almost felt like burning, like a permanent sunburn. No wounds or bleeding, just tenderness for months on end. (It wasn't thrush either. It was most definitely her latch!)

I was still breastfeeding Zoe when I got pregnant with Judah. Pregnancy can dry you up and change what little milk is left pretty quick. Being dry when someone is breastfeeding hurts in a different way. It's like nails on a chalkboard. So at 17-months-old we mutually weaned. And I had a little respite from breastfeeding before Judah was born.

Judah was my birth center baby. The days of having babies in hospitals is behind me (unless serious need should arise). My baby boy was birthed into his daddy's hands. He stayed on my chest, skin-to-skin for a good, long while. He was pretty calm but the midwife rubbed him up good to get him to cry. But he was so uninterested in breastfeeding. I figured he was exhausted from birth. He'd kind of just sit there at the breast and not do anything that first night.

Judah was what I would call a "lazy nurser". I don't mean that in a mean way. It's just the term used to describe a baby who just doesn't really want to work all that hard at breastfeeding. He'd latch on, pull off, fuss, latch back on, pull off, fuss more... over... and over... and over again. Then give up and decide he wasn't going to wake up and take the breast for anything. Eventually he grew out of that and only did it on some occasions. Drove me batty! When you are full of milk you need baby to get it out!!!

I also had the same tenderness as before in the first days of nursing, as expected. And the uterine cramps that accompanied nursing those first postpartum days were so severe that I'd have to unlatch him, set him down and curl up in a tearful ball before resuming.

His latch and nursing improved over time, unlike Miss Zoe. That was great but it did take much effort! I breastfed Judah for about 14 months before I, again, became pregnant and it got to the point where nothing was coming out so we weaned.

Almost 3 weeks ago my fifth baby was born at home, into my own hands, in the water. His labor was my hardest but his entry and thereafter the calmest. Silas was so calm and serene in the birth tub those first moments. He didn't cry. He just kept trying to blink open his vernix-covered eyes to look around and rested against me as I gently poured water over the towel that was now covering him to help keep him warm. After the placenta was birthed, the cord was cut long after it stopped pulsing and I was in bed with Silas, chest-to-chest. I brought him to the breast, wondering what to expect. Would I have to fumble around trying to get him to latch as I tried with Judah those first hours? Would his mouth be so tiny and his latch so painful?

I put Silas to the breast, he latched on like it was all he knew to do and never looked back. Easiest, breeziest start to breastfeeding. I won't sugarcoat it and say it didn't hurt. There was a lot of tenderness the first week and it slowly diminished. There is this myth that says "If it hurts you're doing it all wrong!" That's simply not always true. Tenderness can be expected, especially in fair-skinned women, the first days of breastfeeding. There are signs to look for when pain does mean poor latch.


I hope this post helps other mothers out there to know that each breastfeeding relationship is unique. That if you've had a hard time with one infant it doesn't mean you (or they) are broken or that subsequent babies will struggle the same way.


The Mommy said...

Birth stories always amaze me and each one of yours is so different! I had a bad birth experience with the first, just because it was a life or death emergency, and I felt like I missed everything that I expected to happen. I truly believe that having the same midwife present to deliver my second daughter made all the difference in how that delivery happened. Due to my previous problems, a doctor was required to be on the floor and came in, but only to touch base with my midwife and then for the actual pushing. There was only my doctor, my midwife and a nurse (of course, me and my husband were there) present and the room was quite calm and peaceful. Even though I had a bit if an emergency shortly after the delivery, I felt like everything was perfect and my OB and midwife gave us the great birth experience that we wanted.

Karen Davis said...

I agree with you on the if it hurts you are doing it wrong myth....I'm sure it's a myth because sometimes I've been crying with pain and the rest of the time it's fine.