Each week I share a bit about our growing baby, hint at the struggles and delights of parenthood, and show photos of our precious boy. Yet, motherhood has proven to challenge me in so many unexpected ways, much of which I do not necessarily talk about here. This week I am making myself vulnerable, as I want to take a moment to tell you about one of the most emotional and heart-wrenching journeys I have faced as a new mother, how I feed my baby.
I knew, long before experiencing motherhood myself, that nursing my future baby would be the only way. I’ve had so many beautiful examples over the years of breastfeeding mothers that it was one of the things I most looked forward to when I found out we were pregnant. I made connections with the local Le Leche League group, took classes, spoke with so many mothers, read books, blogs and prepared a “nursing” corner in our house anticipating this special time. But things did not go as expected.
The lingering narcotics in my system from the emergency C-section, uncontrollable shaking, and inability to use my arms and hands initially kept me from holding my baby for the first two hours after birth. But as soon as I was able to hold him in recovery, skin to skin it was and our first nursing session was underway. Although still groggy and recovering from major surgery, I remember the feeling of this first nursing session so very well.
Things continued to go well in the hospital. The lactation consultant said we had good technique and that baby was latching correctly. Although I had the expected sore nipples, I was confident going home that we had this! Not long after arriving home dad and I started noticing orange deposits in baby’s diapers. Come to find out it was called “brick dust” and was due to baby being dehydrated. His doctor wanted me to supplement each feeding with my pumped breast milk. This, I believe, was the start of our troubles…
We had to somehow feed baby this extra milk while still encouraging frequent nursing sessions. First we tried an SNS system which allows baby to nurse and get the extra milk at the same time through a small tube, even with my husband and mother assisting me, we could not make it work. So feeding him with a syringe was next, but he just would push the precious milk I had pumped right back out of his mouth. Struggling the first two weeks to get supplemented breast milk into him caused us to turn to the bottle, which we soon discovered was the only form of feeding besides nursing that Justice would accept. His wet diapers increased, he was gaining weight and things seemed to be going okay again. But, I was never able to pump much milk, 2 ounces total if I was lucky. The feeling of inadequacy crept up as I was on forums with other new moms who would show pictures of their pumped milk total of 4-10 ounces in a single pumping session. I could not even get close to that.
Our nursing sessions were long, could easily go an hour and a half, and baby was still so fussy. Right away I started participating in local breastfeeding support groups, with Le Leche League and consulting with other mothers for advice. In an effort to figure out why he was so distressed, I began eliminating things like dairy from my diet per doctors advice to see if it was some sort of allergy or sensitivity that was causing the discomfort. In the end, it did not seem to be food related. I had the feeling that I was not producing enough for his increasing appetite. So under the guidance of two different lactation consultants, the quest to increase my supply was on.
I am sure many new nursing mothers can relate, trying a concoction of so many things to get their milk supply up; drinking extra water, oatmeal each morning, brewers yeast, taking supplements like Fenugreek, Milk Thistle, and Mothers Milk tea, making lactation cookies… the list goes on. Baby was still fussy, and the quantity I was pumping kept going down. I fed baby as often as he wanted it, which meant I was doing very little else during those days but nursing. It was exhausting. Just to get a bit more rest in the evenings I would save my pumped milk so dad could relieve me for one feeding at night allowing me to sleep a couple of short hours.
Week 5 was a turning point. Baby Justice began to refuse to nurse every few feedings, pulling away and crying each time the breast was offered. Something was wrong. Back to the lactation consultants we went. They watched me feed Justice and said he is latching well and transferring milk just fine. My baby could nurse, he just refused to and we were not sure why? We did get his tongue tie corrected, yet it did not make any difference in his behavior. Then it was suggested we try taking him to a chiropractor. Although they were very nice and adjusted baby several times at no charge, it still did not impact him. The refusal to nurse got more and more frequent over the next few weeks. We exhausted so many possibilities… It was an emotional time, so many tears were shed from both baby and I. The reality is Justice preferred the bottle, I was putting so much pressure on him to nurse, it was turning into a power struggle, and that was the last thing I wanted him to associate with me, negative feelings when eating. Something had to be done.
I cried so hard when it came to asking dad to pick up some formula as a backup because I could not satisfy my son. When my adoptive daughter first saw the container of formula he brought home, aloof to the struggle at hand, she commented that I should not feed it to baby as “It’s poison.” Although this was not my mindset, her comment brought me to tears, and just thinking of that moment still brings up emotions. She had been watching me nurse over the previous weeks, and was touched so deeply how I was nurturing Justice and would recall how she wishes she had gotten that same love and care when she was an infant. A desperate night with a hungry crying baby and unable to pump enough milk to satiate my boy, I gave him the thing I never thought I would, formula. I could not even bring myself to be the one to feed that first bottle to him. But there were many more formula bottles after that… Gradually the sadness came in as day after day, my milk supply kept going down, all while the feelings of rejection by my son were dominant in my mind. I still offered baby the breast each day but he would turn away and cry if I pushed it. The last I remember him nursing was around 8 weeks. After that I was a full time pumping mom. The quest to increase my milk supply continued as he got both breast milk and formula bottles. When my supply withered down to a measly 15 milliliters a pump, I still could not bear to give up. I reached out to my OB and she gave me a prescription for Reglan. I held onto it for a bit hesitating, as a major side effect was depression, an added complication I was already trying not to let take hold of me during this time. But I gave in, and took the medication with a bit of success. My supply did get up to 2 ounces again, but it was short lived.
Dad had gone back to work, which meant I was on my own with baby for 4 days and nights each week because he worked out of town. Baby was still demanding as ever and so very fussy. In order to get my supply back up, I had to pump 8-10 times a day, yet I was alone and baby hardly gave me a chance to pump, all I could fit in was half that, plummeting my supply once again. By mid-November I was able to squeeze the last bit of milk out, Justice was 4 1/2 months old at the time. My last few pumps were dry. That was it, my final milk was fed to my son.
It was not until late in the journey that the notion of donor milk was introduced to us, I felt it was too late at that point and wish I had done the research before it was so desperately needed. I had to accept what was previously unacceptable to me. I was no longer a nursing mother, I could no longer give my baby my own milk, I had to be a full time bottle/formula feeding mom. Even at this point I attended a breastfeeding support meeting to see if there was anything else I could do. But I had to accept my fate. During this whole journey I felt Justice and I were not bonding. The rejection feelings were strong. I resisted the bottle he demanded for so long, yet that was the only way Justice wanted it. The lactation consultant saw how baby and I interacted, and without prompting, commented on how bonded we are together. I was shocked and actually explained how I feel quite the opposite. She disagreed with me and pointed out how he looks and responds to me, how attentive I am, and committed to giving him the best I can. That was the first time I started to see our budding relationship differently.
Baby is now on the cusp of turning 6 months old. He is growing so quickly these days, is healthy, and much happier (but no less demanding). While it is not perfect, I feel our bond is stronger than ever. He loves to hear my voice, lights up when he sees me and I can finally feel that connection I so deeply hoped for. I love this boy so very much, he gets kisses from me all day long and actually returns them in his slobbery sweetness. It’s difficult to accept that Justice prefers the bottle over nursing. Honestly, I still struggle with that fact. But I also need to realize we are all individuals with preferences, babies included. I am sure there will be many more unmet expectations as I raise him. This is just one test of many more to come, I am sure.
I cherish those nursing days we had together. I remember the complete exhaustion, sore nipples, roller coaster emotions, painful breasts and aching back. What I would give to go back to those days. One of my favorite memories was sitting on the edge of bed breastfeeding Justice, talking to my husband as he started massaging my feet, something he would do while I was pregnant. I must admit I am still a bit envious of those moms who are able to easily breastfeed baby and have an oversupply that they never have such concerns. I am so happy for them, yet I long to be that mom.
The journey has brought me here, bottle feeding my son. I am accepting that fact more and more these days. Now is my chance to create new memories around food with Justice. He is a distracted little guy these days and he eats best when he is half asleep. So I lay him down in our bed, cuddle up next to him and bottle feed the little man as he drifts off into dreamland. Justice still holds my finger while eating, he intently watches me (as long as he isn’t distracted by a passing kitty or teenager) and wants to grab at my face all the time. These too are sweet moments I can now recognize and cherish.
I am careful about judging others these days. A lot of unsolicited advice and opinions are freely handed out to new moms. As I sit bottle feeding my son I am questioned by individuals with good intentions and big assumptions. Our journeys are each as individual as we are, no two alike. What we do have in common is our humanity, our compassion. Holding judgement back and looking at the beauty of a mom so lovingly caring for her infant is how I hope to see others, and be seen myself.
(All photos featured this week were taken by my husband Bryn Higgins.)