I have two obsessions of late. 1 – in a word, Rigby. And everything that makes him feel like home. 2 – in another word, boobs. Mine, and their food-providing skills, to be precise. Since the day we came home from the hospital, I have been at war with my breasts. Some of you have just sighed and said, “I see where she’s going with this and that’s the whole problem…it’s not a war…her attitude is what is keeping this from happening.” You may be right. But I’m not sure who could’ve wanted it to work more than I did, and self-sabotage isn’t really my thing. As it turns out, I have a milk supply issue. So as with my natural birth plan, out the window goes my “exclusively breastfed baby” plan. And in the process, I have become – as Charlene Frazier would say – the tit monster. My very patient wife has had to listen to me try to process emotionally what was happening physically. So has our bff, our mothers, a few friends, and my cousin. And now you get to hear about it to. Once I’ve said it this time, I think I’m done. (That’d be a good thing to have happen the day before we visit the therapist.) So with sincerest love and apologies in advance to my very natural friends who will most naturally frown on this story, here’s where I stand on breastfeeding. And why we’re not.
I had latching problems in the hospital. Some of these little struggles took place in full view of our visiting friends and family. I think I had a pretty cool head about it, except for a 10-minute meltdown on our last day there. I knew that establishing a good nursing relationship between Rigby and me would take some time and patience. So I just tried to relax and “let it happen.” I took in all the advice the nurses and lactation lady had to offer and planned to put it to good use.
And then we came home and I got this sinking feeling…this tiny child still depends on me for life just as much as he did when renting space in my womb. I loved my time with him, set up in the nursery with the lullaby Nirvana playing. At first he did really well. He latched for 15-25 minutes at a time per side, and was ready to eat every few hours. The first few days I didn’t really think much of it…he was giving all the feeding cues I’d read about. His stomach is tiny, and breastfeeding at that age is just as much about bonding as it is about nourishment. Awesome. Except that somewhere along the line it turns into an issue of nourishment. The baby has to eat. MKL made a wise decision to start supplementing with formula after a particularly long and futile attempt at nursing one night. I’d still offer the breast with the bottle to keep stimulating milk production, but at least he was getting something in his belly. And then came the screaming and chest-pounding phase. Those were a dark 48 hours. He’d latch for a few minutes and then start to cry and beat his fists against my chest. I tried to stay light-hearted…even made a few “we are not Celine Dion” jokes. But we could tell something was wrong, and it was starting to take a toll on my psyche. As nutty as it sounds, it was hard not to take it personally. Like he just didn’t have a taste for his mom.
Everyone says breastfeeding is the most natural thing a woman’s body can do. Not so for me. I, apparently, needed some instruction. I was ok with that. I had talked with friends who told me not to get discouraged. They told me to use my resources and ask for help. So I did. I read every book and website on how to stimulate milk production and then called in the big guns: a home consultation with a lactation specialist recommended by our hospital and pediatrician. Late last week a polo-sporting, ponytailed soccer mom arrived at my door for a 3-hour discussion of my 100% sure shot at being able to feed our child on my own. Rigby got weighed and had his mouth examined (I tried not to take offense when she maligned my son’s frenulum. Frenulua – actually – she managed to insult both of them.); we did an observed feeding, and then he got weighed again. I was examined, lectured, and instructed to within an inch of my life. I was admonished for referring to the breast pump as a “medieval torture device.” And yet when she left I felt somewhat more confident about the chances that Rigby and I would eventually get on the same page. For awhile things started to look up. We were doing great on the supplement feeder tube and I was faithfully pumping away…despite feeling like a dairy cow.
By the time a woman has been pregnant and given birth, she has every right to claim her body as her own, and trust the signs it sends her. Mine was telling me, not so subtly, that the milk I wanted to feed our child would not be arriving anytime soon. My first clue? My boobs never got big! As a matter of fact, as I began to lose a little baby weight and was pumping them both for 2-3 hours per day, they were shrinking. Sore and shrinking. I can’t think of any two adjectives I’m less eager to associate with my breasts. There was no getting around it – these boobs are merely ornamental; kinda like my left hand – pretty, part of the overall ensemble, but not the least bit functional.
I’m quite sure that I could’ve done more to get the milk to come in. Teas, herbs, another trip to the acupuncturist, etc. But in truth, the whole thing was putting entirely too much stress on me and on our household. Feedings went from a beautiful bonding time between Rigby and me to a “feed and pump” routine that I had to do 8-10 times per day. The pumping (intended to stimulate milk) produced nothing, and I began to see a decline in my supply. Here’s where it gets a little bratty, folks: Frankly, I feel some sense of entitlement when it comes to making a decision that doesn’t involve a whole set of “extras.” We’ve already done hormone pills, shots, extra ultrasounds, ovulation predictors, acupuncture, herbs, and 8 individual inseminations to get here – not to mention 8 weeks of mid-pregnancy bleeding. If my body is telling me not to nurse, so be it. I will relax and go mix some powder and water. I was raised on a bottle and so was MKL. Rigby will do just fine. He’s perfectly healthy and a much happier kid now that he is getting more to eat. Peace and order have restored to our house, and that makes the whole thing worth it to me.
The pediatrician asked me yesterday if I’m sad about our decision. And if I’d made it to the end of this post yesterday, I’d probably have said yes. Absolutely. I hate being wrong. I hate quitting. I hate failing. I hate that we’ll miss out on all the health benefits of breastfeeding. I hate that I no longer have an excuse to walk around topless, and that my breasts are still the less-than-impressive rack they’ve always been, instead of those awesome plumped-up new-mommy boobs I’d been looking forward to. Fortunately today feels a little different. I’m able to sit back and focus on the dreamy little face currently fart-grinning from the bouncy seat. You know…this one…the face that melts my heart a hundred times an hour.
Eventually we’ll teach him to buy locally sourced food whenever he can. For now, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care where his food comes from – just that it’s delivered with love by his moms.