I am so excited to welcome back guest Summer Pierre. You might remember her “I-can’t-believe-she-had-a-baby-in-a-cab” post. Go ahead and read it again. Her new book, The Artist in the Office, is doing extremely well and is a personal favorite in our house. Below is an account of her struggles with breastfeeding. I know I can relate, as someone who had a baby who either screamed or fell asleep when placed on my chest. – MD
So as some of you know, I’ve had some struggles with breastfeeding. One of those struggles was just grappling with the SHOCK that it could be so hard. I am still grappling with that shock–as it has been renewed again and again over the last 3 months with each twist and turn I’ve had to manage. The newest shock is that I’m throwing in the towel, that it actually never worked for us and won’t. This is perhaps the most painful shock of all.
I wrote a post about this issue after things had gone to utter shit and I visited with a lactation consultant. I was very hopeful then, clinging to my little plan with my knuckles going white. I was bound and DETERMINED to get this BALL ROLLING, dagnabbit. Give me a plan and I am ready for the fight! Friends and acquaintances came forward with their stories of breastfeeding triumphs over tragedies. I got some wonderful e-mails from some of you with your own stories of feedings gone wrong and right. My fragile spirit rose timidly. So we went ahead, trying to get my milk supply up and to fix Gus’ supposed sucking issue so I could get rid of the nipple shield. Little did I know, that at that moment things were as good as they ever were going to be and the only thing that was going to REALLY change was my attitude. I’m glad no one told me this it of information. I would have been a basket case.
Sure, with night and day pumping, and herbs and oatmeal my milk supply eventually rose…for a time. Then it dropped again for no apparent reason so I had to go back to supplementing and pumping and pumping some more. I was panicked about the supplementing and would hate to give Gus any formula, freaking out every time I had to make him a bottle. I Googled (read: BAD IDEA) breastfeeding stories and testimonies about milk supply, about how it is very rare to not have enough milk while I pumped away night and day. Then just like that, my milk supply would still drop on its own for no reason. Gus also never NEVER wanted to nurse without the shield. We’d try, he’d sometimes latch on feed for about two minutes until he realized what he was doing and he’d suddenly wake up, INSULTED, like I’d just fed him a HORRIBLE IMPOSTER and it was OBVIOUS that I didn’t love him at all, otherwise I wouldn’t be putting THIS thing in his mouth. So back with the nipple shield, or what I like to call, the HATEFUL thing.
At the lactation consultant’s suggestion, I took Gus to see a craniosacral therapist. The therapist took one look at Gus and said in his very even-tempered calm craniosacral way, “I think you’re the one who needs the therapy.” He was right, of course. I was ragged with stress over how this was still not working. So I went. Nothing improved. The pediatrician did not agree with the lactation consultant on her belief that Gus had a sucking problem. So it was me again. And nothing improved.
After a tearful conversation with the lactation consultant (AGAIN) she gently asked, “Well, do you LIKE nursing?”
WHAT? HUH? What kind of crazy question is that? The thought had never even occurred to me. “Sometimes,” I answered, “when it works.”
“Well, why don’t you just feed him when it works?”
So that’s what I did, but it still required that I pump at least 3-4 times a day and sometimes my milk would drop anyway, but for about 2 weeks, it was okay. Except for the mastitis. That hurt like hell. And also the breast that produced milk, when it uh, FELT like it, no matter if I pumped the hell out of it. Sometimes it eked out milk, sometimes it just sputtered. At its best, it was about 50/50 with the formula, but I thought, I’ll take what I can get. Only, there was just one more problem:
The raging migraines that were starting to show up 3 times a week.
At first I didn’t equate them with the milk supply, but I started to notice that when I started a new dose of herbs and my milk supply went up, I’d be debilitated with violent migraines, the kind I used to get while on birth control pills. And you know what happened when I had migraines? I had to take medication, so it meant I had to PUMP and DUMP. And after 4 straight days of this, with Gus barely able to feed, he decided to tell my boob and its INFERNAL SHIELD to take a hike. He started to react as if I was offering a HOT POKER to his face instead of food.
Last week I had an appointment with my midwives, but for 3 days before I went off the herbs and I was curiously migraine free. So I asked the midwives if this could at all be a possibility, because these are HERBS right? Nature’s medicine! It turns out that YES it is a total possibility, because they aren’t just tinkering with my supply, but my hormones–so there you have it.
So last weekend I started the slow process of weaning myself from breastfeeding and I am just going to say it, it’s been very very sad. I had wanted in my heart of lowered expectations to make it to at least 6 months, but I can’ even do that. I need to be healthy and happy for Gus, instead of forcing my supply on myself and him. Having come from a breastfeeding culture, THE HIPPIES, I never in a million years thought this is the way it would go. Also, as a result of being around people that have never had ongoing supply problems, I haven’t had a lot of empathy. It’s been a lot of HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE? It’s possible, OKAY?
And while I’m on the subject I’d like to say to all the “experts” who write crap on web pages and in books about how RARE it is not to have enough milk, SHUT THE HELL UP. Tell that to the women in THIS video. Tell that to the woman who told me she got into a CAR ACCIDENT because she fell asleep at the wheel because she had been pumping throughout the night to get her supply up. Tell that to the other woman who told me about sitting at a support group at the La Leche League, with a ROOM full of low milk suppliers, where a woman bragged that her two month old had finally started gaining weight and was SEVEN POUNDS. A TWO MONTH OLD. (Even the La Leche League leader a.k.a lactivist was like, “Lady, it’s time to give your baby some FRICKN FORMULA!”).
It’s weird, in a society that doesn’t supposedly support breastfeeding, I haven’t felt a lot of support around not breastfeeding or knowledge about why women don’t breastfeed (thank you to those who have reached out their non breastfeeding selves to me!). It’s been a real eye opener–another in the long list that is under the title MOTHERHOOD.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go feed my healthy, thriving son.